Kyle Heath

Cleburne ISD Superintendent Kyle Heath discusses student literacy with the Cleburne Rotary Club on Thursday. He said their goal is to ensure all their students are reading at their grade level. 



Ensuring students at Cleburne ISD are reading at grade level is one of its goals.

CISD Superintendent Kyle Heath discussed student literacy with the Cleburne Rotary Club on Thursday at the Cleburne Conference Center.

Literacy is one of the club’s initiatives, and Heath thanked the club for supporting the school district.

“Here in Cleburne, our primary focus and goal certainly is to produce students that not only can read and [are] literate but be functional in society,” he said. “So it’s more than just about literacy. Literacy is critically important.”

He recently received a call from a parent complementing how their child’s assistant principal shook hands, gave high fives and greeted each student who walked through the school’s doors. 

They encourage their administrators, teachers and staff to do similar things each day to go along with the Capturing Kids’ Hearts initiative, a leadership training program that encourages building relationships between teachers and students to impact student behavior, motivation and achievement. The district implemented the program in 2015. 

“Students need to know that we care, not just what we know,” he said. “Fundamentally, that’s the first most important resource as schools that I think we need to offer as a community — that everyone’s important and that everyone matters.”

Their goal is to not only produce productive citizens but to also produce students who are “life ready.”

“We all in this digital age get bombarded every day with negativity,” he said. “We know sometimes kids get kind of absorbed into that. ... It’s important that kids have positive role models, people who will believe in them.”

To help students with literacy, the district is in its third year of participating in a two-way dual language program. Students with either Spanish or English as their home language have the opportunity to receive instruction in all core classes in both languages, in the first step toward the ultimate achievement of bi-literacy. Participants are immersed daily in each language to gain a 50/50 balance. 

“When we say kids are not reading, we don’t mean that they can’t read,” he said. “They’re not reading at what we would expect for them to read yet.”

Although 99 percent of U.S. adults can read at some level, he said the average reading level is around the eighth-grade. Only 18 percent of U.S. adults read at a 12th-grade reading level.

“So when we talk specifically about literacy, we need to raise the bar,” he said. “In order to raise the bar, we have to raise the level of expectations. We also have to provide the tools and the support that is needed to improve literacy in this country.”

Chris Jackson, CISD executive director of research, data and accountability, said for the past two years district officials have focused on being very clear about their definition of literacy and what structural model looks like in the district.

“I don’t know if you are aware, but we kind of went through a reading wars philosophy over the last 20 years about whole language versus phonics-based instruction,” Jackson said. “The research really supports that struggling readers, especially students who even suffer from dyslexia, benefit from very explicit phonics-based instruction. We are making sure that phonics-based instruction is very clear and relevant in our early grade levels.”

They are also monitoring all of their elementary students at the beginning, middle and end of the year, he said. 

“We’re tracking the progress of all our students in the elementary grades at these three checkpoints during the year and making sure that our students are progressing at the level that they need to be at,” he said. “If they’re not making sure that they receive the interventions that they need.” 

Being able to express yourself in written form is the ultimate assessment of whether someone is literate, he said. 

“Our elementary principals have been very careful and very specific about focusing on early literacy and developing goals for their students on their campuses,” he said. 

Cleburne High School will host an open house at 2 p.m. Jan. 5 to showcase the renovations of the old campus into a Career & Technical Education Center.

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