LANCASTER, OH: Lancaster City Schools welcomed Governor Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Education and Workforce Director Steve Dackin to Medill Elementary School Thursday morning to experience the success the district has had since implementing a rigorous literacy and phonics program in both elementary and middle schools.
While literacy has been a prime focus for the district for decades, the implementation of instructional coaches and a school-wide literacy plan for each school began in 2019 and has led to Lancaster City Schools exceeding Ohio School Report Card standards as high as 68 percent for third-grade students and 67 percent for fifth-grade students in 2023. Currently, the district is utilizing instruction designed by EL Education that involves the entire class in its instruction. The adoption of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) approved 95 percent Group Tier 1 and Tier 2 Phonics Program and the Orton Gillingham Level 2 and Supervisor Training took place in 2023.
The Governor’s tour included a visit to a first-grade class taught by Natalie Hetzler featuring 95 percent Phonics instruction, a second-grade class featuring small group discussion led by Christina Hartman, and a third-grade classroom demonstrating the EL Curriculum module with Denise Mauck. School board members then assembled in the library with Governor DeWine, Dackin, Lancaster City Schools Superintendent Nathan Hale, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jeromey Sheets, the district’s team of instructional coaches, including Donna McCance, Brenda Zeiders; and Medill Elementary School Principal Jennifer Woods.
Steve Dackin was quick to congratulate the district on its initiative. “Kudos to you and your leadership,” he said. “I’m really impressed, Governor. I just think they have figured out how you distribute leadership throughout a school district to do what’s right for every student.”
“And they are doing it with unrelenting focus, too,” agreed Governor DeWine. “We have been touring around to a lot of different schools, determining what works, and this is working. So, thank you.”
Governor DeWine also asked Dr. Sheets and Superintendent Hale what advice they have for school districts that are in the initial stages of rolling out similar literacy programs.
“You have to be willing to buy into the fact of how important literacy is and be willing to pick the best program,” Sheets said. “We had other options for training that would only take 18 hours, but we chose in Lancaster to put our teachers through two years of training because we want our kids to have the best-trained teachers in the state of Ohio.”
The question of funding such a program was raised by the Governor and much credit was given by Superintendent Hale to the LCS School Board.
“Our school board understands the importance of literacy and we are fortunate to have the financial capacity to implement these programs right now,” Hale said. “What Dr. Sheets and his team have achieved is incredible. We have kindergarteners entering schools at a 25th percentile in terms of readiness and we see them climbing up to 60th and 70th percentiles by third grade. It speaks volumes about the programming they have put into place.”
For additional information about the literacy programming taking place in Lancaster City Schools, contact Dr. Jeromey Sheets, Assistant Superintendent/Director of Elementary Education, firstname.lastname@example.org.