On December 12, 2019 the Michigan’s ISD/RESA Superintendents and General Education Directors met at Gratiot Isabella RESD to participate and collaborate in the MAISA - GELN Early Literacy Summit.  Dr. Jennifer Sell, GELN Chair, welcomed the joint leadership group to a full day of creating the conditions necessary for accelerating improvement in literacy for all children in Michigan.  

While establishing the importance of our work this day, Dr. John Severson, MAISA Instructional Committee Chair, pointed to our playbook for improving literacy achievement including the essential research-informed instructional practices, coaches, and training.  He stated with urgency that it is up to Superintendents to provide statewide leadership for this work and that to fail is to leave kids behind.

Dr. William Miller explained our intended outcome for the day would be to expand on the 2017 ISD Superintendent Commitments to the Essential Instructional Practices in Early Literacy to new commitments that ensure networking for equity statewide.  He emphasized we have the special opportunity to make the difference necessary to create breakthrough improvements in early literacy achievement in Michigan by taking on both the responsibility and liability of tackling literacy. 

To help us frame the next horizon for literacy in Michigan, Dr. Nell Duke, University of Michigan, reminded us of the 2017 “All-in” commitments superintendents made to early literacy and celebrated our progress as a state:

  • We’re closer to a state-wide research informed vision for effective Tier 1 literacy.
  • We have more coaches and our coaches know more.
  • We have PD resources.
  • We’re working increasingly systematically.

Dr. Nell Duke noted that while we’re making gains, Michigan’s achievement in literacy is still too low.  She encouraged us to remain focused on and committed to the following foundations of the MAISA-GELN Essentials Initiative. 

  • A small set of research-supported instructional practices
  • A collective vision
  • Alignment
  • Economies of scale

She cited specific examples of things ISDs can do:  
Here are a few, 

  • Recognize the Essentials as an equity move.
  • Don’t support bringing in people who do not know the research well.
  • Redouble our efforts.
  • Focus  building capacity to provide school-based PD, especially coaching.
  • Really support professional learning for coaches, now more than ever.
  • Give this time!

Check out a recording of Dr. Duke's Presentation HERE

Dr. Kyle Mayer, of Ottawa Area ISD and the MAISA Early Literacy Taskforce, introduced the MAISA Collaboration and Equity Matrix to uncover what we need to do to erase the inequities in Michigan with respect to students and schools having access to literacy supports.  He encouraged us to imagine what it might look like in the upper right quadrant of the matrix where ISDs collaborate beyond their borders ensuring all schools and students receive the services and resources they need to improve regardless of their zip code.

The Early Literacy Task Force Lead Team (Susan Townsend, Sean LaRosa, and Kyle Mayer) led the group in a protocol to review and reflect on our original five commitments.  Individual ISD teams identified their accomplishments since 2017 and placed them on the Collaboration and Equity Matrix. This activity showed us that accomplishments are predominantly localized with limited state-wide collective impact. 

After reading from “Thinking in Systems, A Primer”, by Diana Wright, Dr. Kristy Cooper Stein, Michigan State University, facilitated discussion and activities around the question, “Do the ISDs across the state of Michigan constitute a system?”.  After robust activity and dialogue she followed with a whole-group discussion around the question, “What would it take for all the ISDs across the state of Michigan to constitute a system that effectively addresses the purpose of ensuring equitable access to literacy?”  Dr. Stein helped us connect our targets of state-wide collaboration, equitable access to services and resources, and collective impact into rich images of our desired state.

ISD teams, led by the Early Literacy Task Force Leads, returned to the MAISA Collaboration and Equity Matrix to discuss possibilities in the High Collaboration/High Equity quadrant that might lead to new commitments that collaboratively scale the work to reach full implementation of the Essential Instructional Practices in Early Literacy: K-3 statewide.  

Dr. Stein discussed the importance and value of forming an alliance where different groups come together for one cause.  She emphasized the importance of sustaining the original five commitments as a foundation for ISDs even as we establish new commitments to create collective impact, and finding ways to hold ourselves accountable.  Using artifacts from the activities throughout the day she established consensus support for the following themes:

  • Sharing expertise and resources across ISD boundaries
  • Collaborative Learning across ISD boundaries
  • Mindset Shift from -
    • “doing the essentials” to deep understanding and full implementation, and 
  • Individual ISD implementation to collective impact
  • Powerful communications to all teachers and across organizations and associations

Dr. Miller supported the importance of the original five commitments as the foundation for ISDs and the critical need for all coaches to participate in the statewide network and complete all ELTF professional learning in the trajectory outlined by Susan Townsend.   He emphasized the role of communicating with your legislators about this work, holding ourselves accountable, and identifying the systems problems we can work on across associations.

Dr. Miller  and Jennifer Sell closed the day with a final discussion resulting  in the following Superintendent Commitments for consideration.

ISD Superintendent's commit to:

  1. Legislative: Interact with legislators in the context of the Literacy Essentials professional development. Establish the Essentials in statutes (codify).
  2. Share literacy resources and expertise statewide (via MAISA ISD regions and/or locals)
  3. Commit to having ALL coaches participate in the statewide professional development and support network (led by highly qualified ISD or regional coaches)