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10,000 NC teachers start intensive training to boost children's reading skills

North Carolina’s latest push to help children read has gotten under way, with almost $50 million set aside by lawmakers and more than 10,000 teachers enrolled in science-of-reading classes.

The state Board of Education got an update this week on the first batch of districts to launch the training, known as LETRS. It takes about 160 hours spread over two years.

Officials say the pilot districts have had to rearrange academic calendars to clear time for the training, hire subs for sessions during school hours and pay stipends for after-hours work.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Union, Cabarrus, Catawba and Anson county schools are among the first cohort. So is Winston Salem-Forsyth, which made a presentation to the board.

The district’s chief academic officer, Nicolette Grant, told the board the work is worthwhile but tough on teachers.

“Just as a community if we could just validate and thank the teachers,” she said. “This is a tremendous undertaking — a great learning experience, but it is a lot to ask for teachers as they’re also dealing with students who are coming back with a year and a half of learning loss and socialization loss.”

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt agreed: “We have to thank those who went first, because it’s a heavy undertaking, not just because of the time and the mental energy, but we’re asking most teachers to do a paradigm shift of the way they’ve been teaching early literacy for years.”

The General Assembly had approved $12 million for the LETRS program when it approved the mandate this spring, and added $37.5 million as part of the new two-year budget. It’s the latest twist on the state’s Read to Achieve act, passed in 2012 with a goal of getting all third graders reading at grade level. Despite millions of dollars spent on summer reading camps and other efforts, North Carolina's scores showed little progress even before the pandemic. In 2021, after COVID-19 disrupted in-person classes, proficiency rates plummeted.

The next group of districts, which includes Iredell-Statesville, Gaston and Kannapolis schools, starts LETRS training in January.

Copyright 2021 WFAE

Ann Doss Helms covers education for WFAE. She was a reporter for The Charlotte Observer for 32 years, including 16 years on the education beat. She has repeatedly won first place in education reporting from the North Carolina Press Association and won the 2015 Associated Press Senator Sam Open Government Award for reporting on charter school salaries.