How WITS Programs Align with the New CPS Reading Plan

Tena LatonaPartnerships, Programs

text reads: How WITS Programs Align with the New CPS Reading Plan

Over the last two years Jane Fleming, Chicago Public Schools Director of Literacy, has led the creation of a robust vision for literacy in CPS.  WITS was excited to have a seat at the table alongside other literacy partners to provide input to the PK-12 Vision for Advanced Literacy. The vision includes expanded access to teacher professional development, a strong focus on diverse texts, access to literacy curriculums, and resources for bilingual learners. To learn more about the full plan and Jane Fleming, read this Chalkbeat Chicago article.

WITS is the largest provider of literacy programming in CPS. WITS’ mission and the vision of the Department of Literacy align in key areas that focus on developing students into strong readers. Here is how WITS aligns with the shifts outlined in the Department of Literacy vision.

Ensuring equitable access to effective and rigorous literacy instruction and redefining professional development

To advance student literacy, support must be extended to the educators who instruct them. The primary goal of RLTA Study Groups is to empower teachers to become classroom, school, and district-wide literacy leaders. By focusing program design on the needs and goals of educators, WITS provides relevant, effective professional development and networking opportunities that support long-term literacy goals. This proactive approach to service promotes teacher retention and motivates educators to thrive in the public school system.

The cornerstone of the program is the RLTA Summer Institute, when Awardees come together to improve their literacy instructional practices, tailoring their experience to gain the techniques that are most applicable to their students. During the Summer Institute, Awardees:

•            Receive access to 200+ hours of teacher-led professional development workshops

•            Study current educational texts in the RLTA Library to plan their upcoming school year

•            Earn Continuing Professional Development Units (CPDUs)

•            Receive a classroom library grant to increase students’ access to books

Participation in RLTA is open to all CPS pre-kindergarten through eighth grade teachers, as well as special education teachers, reading specialists, and librarians. We believe that strategic alignment with CPS’ literacy priorities will enhance program fidelity, boost participation and retention rates, and increase crucial support from administrators.

Using data to create conditions for literacy equity in schools

WITS believes in meeting students where they are in their reading development and championing the personal growth of students.  WITS measures program success by comparing the literacy growth of students in WITS programs against the national average – a mark that WITS students consistently exceed. WITS seeks to have at least 65% of participating students across all WITS programs out-perform the national average in reading level growth based on the Fountas & Pinnell system. WITS uses this data to select books, design programs, create innovative activities, and develop new trainings for staff and volunteers – all of which increase our impact and advance our mission to increase reading growth rates in WITS students.

Increasing access to high-quality, culturally responsive texts

This is a cornerstone of who we are. We believe deeply in celebrating the unique experiences of our diverse student body through literature.  The Annual WITSummer Books campaign is a celebration of our students’ growth as readers. WITS students earn a curated set of brand new, culturally diverse books, extending learning beyond the school year and creating pride through ownership. WITSummer Books increases access to books at schools by building classroom libraries for teachers who are selected as Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardees.  Each year WITS provides 5,000 books to students in CPS and builds classroom libraries for 130 teachers. 

According to We Need Diverse Books, in a survey of 2,000 schools, 90% of educators believed children would become more enthusiastic readers if they had books reflecting their lives. Everyone deserves access to books that reflect their own experiences, which is why WITS curates a selection of books culturally relevant to our students around the city.

WITS has also extended its commitment to elevating the voices of diverse authors with the creation of WITS Study Hall. The purpose of the group is to engage in conversations about racism and celebrate and enjoy the wide range of genres and stories by BIPOC authors.

WITS is proud of its 30-year legacy supporting the literacy development of CPS elementary students. Our engaged relationship with the Department of Literacy will amplify our abilities to Build Communities and Empower Readers.