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UM's Organization Helps Delta Elementary School Earn A

CELI literacy specialist Olivia Pasterchick explains a literacy workstation to a Dundee Elementary student. Courtesy of  University of Mississippi News.
CELI literacy specialist Olivia Pasterchick explains a literacy workstation to a Dundee Elementary student. Courtesy of University of Mississippi News

With support from the University of Mississippi’s Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction, or CELI, Dundee Elementary School in Tunica has earned an A rating from the Mississippi Department of Education, making it the highest-rated school in the Tunica County School District.
The latest MDE data shows third- through fifth-graders at Dundee achieved significant academic growth this year, especially in reading. The school reported that 94.4 percent of students improved in reading and nearly 67 percent of students are reading above the 80th percentile for their grade; more than 10 points higher than the state average. This upturn has helped Dundee, which has 216 children in grades P-5, rise from B to A status in 2014, and Principal Natasha Bates attributes much of this success to ongoing curriculum support from CELI.
“A lot of the strategies that we’ve put in place in reading are a result of our ongoing partnership with CELI,” said Bates, who earned a specialist degree in educational leadership from UM in 2010. “They work with our teachers to identify areas for growth and provide strategies for our teachers to use in the classroom.”
Established in 2007, CELI provides professional development, research and service to reading teachers throughout Mississippi. It is also an official affiliate of the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling organization, which provides continuing education for literacy teachers nationwide.
“When you can help a child learn to read, you help improve their life trajectory,” said Angela Rutherford, CELI director and founder. “We’re happy to see our ongoing partnership with Dundee is having a positive impact on children and educators.”
At Dundee, CELI specialists work primarily with recently hired teachers. They offer resources to help faculty make data-based decisions and set paths for improved professional performance and student outcomes by utilizing the latest research-based practices for literacy educators. One example includes helping implement individualized workstations for students, allowing them to improve in reading based on their skill level. The center has worked with the Mississippi Delta school since 2008.
“The teachers at Dundee are very driven and really want to see their students excel, and I think that makes the difference,” CELI literacy specialist Angie Caldwell said. “We work with Dundee teachers to help them constantly evaluate how they can improve. Every strategy we recommend is based on data and research.”
Third-grade teacher Suzanne Wheeler, who received an elementary education degree from UM in 2006, noted that CELI literacy specialists provide not only teaching resources, but also valuable feedback on how she can improve her craft and align lessons with Common Core state standards.
“Right now (CELI specialists) are helping me create a writers’ workshop for my students,” she explained. “We’ve set a schedule and identified benchmarks and the types of prompts we can use to help children practice the types of writing they will be tested on. They’ve been a fabulous resource.”
Bates hopes Dundee will continue to be a model for student success in her district and hopes to continue the partnership with CELI.
“At Dundee, our goal is to cater to the whole student, whether that’s emotionally or academically,” she said. “We’re here to mold productive citizens and we thank CELI for its help in making sure our students are prepared to succeed at the next level.”
HottyToddy.com staff report

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