Pittsfield $500K Grant Boosts Literacy


Morningside and Crosby elementary schools will share a $500,000 grant over the next five years to work with the Bay State Reading Institute on implementing new literacy and language arts curriculums. Under the grant, those schools ultimately hope to boost their skill levels and assessment scores.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education announced that the Data Driven School Transformation Partnership — which combines the Holliston-based Bay State Reading Institute (BSRI) and 12 Massachusetts elementary schools — was one of 49 initiatives in the nation to receive funding through the highly competitive Investing in Innovation (i3) grant program.

Nearly 1,700 organizations submitted proposals to the $650 million program, which comes from the 2009 federal stimulus initiative. The grants are intended to bring local educational agencies and nonprofit organizations together to enhance student achievement and close achievement gaps.

BSRI will help Morningside and Crosby develop new English language arts curriculums, in-house assessment systems, literacy coaches, intervention programs for struggling students, extensive professional development for teachers, and leadership training for personnel who will lead implementation of the new curricula. In addition to earning federal approval for their initiatives, each i3 grant recipient had to secure 20 percent in private-sector matching funds in order to receive the grant, which will be received by Sept. 30.

“This is a major coup for Pittsfield, as [this partnership] has been very successful in turning around other elementary schools during a pilot program in other communities,” said Barbara Malkas, Pittsfield’s deputy superintendent of schools.

Barbara Gardner, executive director of the 5-year-old nonprofit BSRI, said that based on data collected from BSRI’s pilot schools, literacy benchmarks typically improved by an average of 72 percent in the first year of the partnership, and similar gains were made in each subsequent year. Morningside Principal Joseph Curtis said that although the school already has a new reading program, the English language arts component will be a boost for students and teachers. “Currently we instruct from grade to grade but not in a consistent way,” Curtis said. “We need a common language, a common set of tools, which we really don’t have at all. When we all have the same language and tools, kids will be learning better. And kids will do better on their assessments if they’re writing better about what they’re reading.”

Pittsfield is the only city participating from Berkshire County. Other BSRI partnering communities include Fitchburg, Gloucester and Westfield.

Looking at third-grade reading results from the spring 2010 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System [MCAS], 76 percent of Crosby students scored at a level of “needs improvement” or “warning/failing,” and 71 percent of Morningside students performed at those levels. “It’s just a wonderful opportunity,” said Kay Latham, Pittsfield school district’s reading coordinator and director of the Title 1 program, which serves schools with populations of low-income students who aren’t performing at grade level.