Former teachers share views on end of reading program

Retired teachers and parents gathered at USD 257's school board meeting Monday to share their concerns about the end of the Accelerated Reader program.


Local News

May 14, 2024 - 2:17 PM

Retired teacher and school volunteer Linda Garrett, standing, talks to USD 257 board members about her experience using the Acclerated Reader program. Iola Elementary School has announced plans to end the program and limit time volunteers have to read with students each morning. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Accelerated Reader is an educational tool — and like any tool, it’s useful only when used properly. That was a recurring theme in comments from parents and retired and current educators who shared their concerns about plans to end the decades-long reading program at Iola Elementary School.

The comments were addressed to USD 257 school board members, who did not discuss the matter because of a board policy to not respond to public comments during the meeting. However, board President Jennifer Taylor briefly touched on the issue at the start of the meeting, anticipating what the crowd of about a dozen had come to discuss.

The board would not interfere in IES administrators’ decision to end Accelerated Reader, Taylor said. She noted it is a program and not part of the curriculum, so it doesn’t fall under the board’s purview.  

“Our administration and our teachers work extremely hard and do an amazing job, and we wholeheartedly support … their decisions regarding appropriate programs for our schools,” Taylor said. 

The Accelerated Reader program allows about 45 minutes each morning for volunteers to read books with first-graders and help with the testing portion of the program. 

Volunteers will still be encouraged to come to the school, administrators said, but perhaps with a different program and at a different time.  

Linda Garrett, who retired after 45 years teaching in the district, suggested newer teachers and administrators lacked training and understanding of the benefits of Iola’s program, which has been in use in Iola since the 1990s. 

“The people who are making the decision to end this program, have they had the training? If the answer is no, perhaps that’s where you start,” Garret said.

She noted lawmakers passed a bill that allows Gov. Laura Kelly to establish the Kansas Blueprint for Literacy advising committee to redesign the teaching of reading and focus on evidence-based research. If local and state officials studied how the Iola district successfully adapted Accelerated Reader to fit student needs, they might see the benefit, she said.

“Are you truly investigating what’s being recommended to you is best for our students?” she said. 

Dimity Lowell, whose daughter attends IES as a first-grader, said she conducted her own research and spoke with other area school districts to better understand how they view Accelerated Reader. She said she was unclear why the district was making the change.

“If it’s a money issue, then I stand in front of you as a representative of Iola Senior Citizens Inc. and we will provide the money needed for it,” Lowell said. “If it’s because you need a change, well, change is scary but I understand change is necessary too. We’d like answers.”

Because of the board’s policy, none of the members spoke about her concerns. 

Lowell said her daughter likes Accelerated Reader because she can learn at her own pace. 

“She especially likes working with volunteers. She likes visiting with the people in the morning,” Lowell said. 

Dizera Benham spoke as a special education paraprofessional and parent of a first-grader. Her daughter struggles with reading and the Accelerated Reader program has helped by encouraging her to meet reading goals. Benham also said the program can be adapted to meet the needs of special education students. 

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