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From left, Ashley Lepard of East Side Elementary works with Hardy Hope participants Marquise McMurray and Joeric McLemore while they are observed by Hamilton County elementary principals. Hamilton County's elementary principals gathered at Hardy Elementary to learn new tips for boosting literacy throughout their schools on June 27, 2017.

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Hands-on learning: educators gather at Hardy to learn from each other

The halls of Hardy Elementary have not been quiet this summer, as the school is serving as a learning hub for Hamilton County students, teachers and principals.

Dozens of elementary principals gathered at Hardy Tuesday morning, shuffling in and out of first- and third-grade classrooms, watching some of the district's top teachers implement a new literacy intervention with summer school students.

Ruthie Panni, principal at DuPont Elementary, said she's constantly working to find ways to help her students succeed, and it's helpful for her to see literacy intervention in action, and not just hear about how it should work.

"It's good to see it and see it messy," Panni said. "I got to see how it worked in real life, with real kids and real teachers."

Panni said that helps her brainstorm and plan how to bring the intervention to her school, which she hopes will boost student outcomes.

Throughout June, groups of teachers and administrators have been coming to Hardy for a variety of hands-on professional development opportunities, watching seasoned educators effectively implement strategies in their summer school classrooms.

Jill Levine, chief academic officer for Hamilton County Schools, said that in the last year the district has emphasized hands-on professional development, wanting educators to learn best practices from each other.

"Principals sometimes have to see it to believe it," Levine said, adding that she's optimistic principals will implement the new approach to literacy intervention that was modeled Tuesday.

Nearly 60 percent of Hamilton County's third grades are not reading on grade level, and research shows students not on grade level by the end of third grade are much more likely to struggle through middle and high school and less likely to reach graduation.

Hamilton County Schools has placed a focus on literacy this past year, requiring all elementary and middle schools to implement guided reading, which is a model designed for small groups of students reading on the same level.

The new intervention principals observed Tuesday is based on guided reading, but gives students struggling to reach grade level a larger dose of literacy instruction. The model has students rotate among three literacy activities for 45 minutes every day.

Karen Hollis, elementary operations director for Hamilton County Schools, told the principals the method is proven to help students reach grade level and stay there.

"This is not the silver bullet, but it's close," she said.

A portion of the funding for the summer program at Hardy comes from the Tennessee Department of Education's Read to be Ready grant program, which awarded more than $8.5 million to districts across the state to lead summer camps focused on strengthening literacy in early grades.

The grant helped with the cost of transportation for students and provided them with dozens of books to take home to start their own libraries. The grant also allowed the district to pay about a dozen teachers who are new to Hamilton County to come work in the summer school classrooms with the veteran teachers.

The district hopes exposing new teachers to quality instruction and this literacy model will prepare them to effectively teach their own classrooms when school starts in August.

Levine said the program this summer at Hardy is benefiting students as much as teachers.

"Students are getting access to the best teachers," she said. "And teachers also get to see what the best instruction looks like."

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at krainwater@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @kendi_and.

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