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Reaching for the Stars

Indian River Academy (IRA) students, parents, and educators had plenty to cheer about during Florida’s annual Celebrate Literacy Week in January. Not only has the Title I elementary school in Vero Beach surpassed its own self-described “lofty goals,” it’s now ranked among the top 1 percent of the state’s schools for improvement in English Language Arts.

“We set some lofty goals for ourselves and our students,” said Kimberly Smith, the school’s literacy coach and a certified Fundations® Facilitator. “We could see our students’ capability in the classroom, and their confidence in learning, just skyrocket.”

One of the most diverse and impoverished schools in its district, Indian River Academy has made a complete turnaround thanks to a community-wide approach toward literacy proficiency that includes using Fundations with fidelity for the foundational reading skills component of its K-2 literacy plan. The partnership includes teachers, administrators, parents, The Learning Alliance nonprofit community organization, volunteer tutors from AmeriCorps and nearby Indian River State College, and others.

IRA is within the School District of Indian River County, a Wilson Implementation Network district that includes 13 elementary schools. The district began systematically implementing Fundations during the 2011–2012 school year after piloting the program for a year. Indian River Academy began using Fundations in 2012–2013, and, according to Principal Diane Fannin, this has been an integral component of IRA’s success.

“With the right instruction, dedicated staff, and community support and involvement, our kids are making tremendous gains,” she said.

This year, an astounding 80 percent of IRA’s kindergarten students performed at or above proficiency on the Standard Achievement Test (SAT-10), far exceeding the 67 percent educators had hoped to achieve. Twenty-eight percent of those students scored in the 90th percentile. Proficiency among first graders topped 73 percent on the SAT-10, with 12 percent in the 90th percentile.

“By offering a truly embedded literacy coach, extra class time, and volunteer tutors who are trained in structured literacy, IRA had the second highest performance in the district for kindergarten and first grade,” said Liz Woody, co-founder and director of professional development for The Learning Alliance, which provides financial resources and other support services.

On the Florida State Assessment for students in third, fourth, and fifth grades, IRA was ranked 15th out of the state’s 1,796 elementary schools, and 22nd out of Florida’s 3,196 schools overall.

The school’s stellar performance is an outcome of Indian River County’s nationally recognized “Moonshot Moment” to achieve 90 percent literacy by the end of third grade. The Moonshot Moment is a collaboration of philanthropists, nonprofit organizations, businesses, governmental organizations and other concerned residents, including chair and founder, Raymond J. Oglethorpe, former president and CEO of America Online Inc., (AOL).

As Indian River Academy’s literacy coach and Fundations Facilitator, Kim oversees K-2 implementation and early intervention. With a keen focus on ensuring fidelity, her work includes coaching teachers, assisting with their lesson plans, and leading reviews of student data on unit tests and other benchmarks.

The professional development she’s received from Wilson, which also includes Wilson® Reading System Level I Certification, has been instrumental, she said.

“The in-depth training and mentoring I received from Wilson provided me with the deep knowledge to know what to do for kids and how to best support my colleagues in the classroom. Being with the teachers, planning with them, and working through problems or barriers that arise has given us a sense of belief in each other and the satisfaction of knowing we can set and achieve high literacy goals. Quality instruction, high goal setting, and working together as a team are crucial.”

Pictured: Indian River Academy’s First Grade Chair Allison Biandis, IRA Literacy Coach and Fundations Facilitator Kimberly Smith, and Kindergarten Chair Alexis Moyer are among the team of educators and community leaders instrumental in affecting Language Arts success at the elementary school.