District level advocacy results in change

District level advocacy results in change:
Lessons from San Francisco Unified School District

Years of advocating for improvements to San Francisco Unified School District’s literacy plan are finally paying off. What started as a few people speaking up at occasional board meetings has grown to an energized movement that has won the attention of district leadership, the school board, local community, and the media. 

San Francisco USD has been a balanced literacy district for many years. Some of the most well known balanced literacy programs include Lucy Calkins Units of Study, Fountas & Pinnell Classroom, Fountas & Pinnell LLI, and Reading Recovery. You will find all of these programs in SFUSD schools. Balanced literacy materials and methods do not work for a large percentage of kids, and are especially inappropriate, even harmful, to those with dyslexia, yet SFUSD has stood by this model for many years, until now. As a result of growing advocacy, the district may be on the cusp of change.

What lessons can we learn from San Francisco, to help build a movement in other districts:

1. Build a coalition
The San Francisco Dyslexia Parent Support Group served as a critical space for parents to meet, learn from one another, and join forces. At their monthly virtual meetings, parents helped one another understand their children’s needs and how to get them help. Fed up with what they had to go through, many parents then turned their energy towards improving the system so others won’t experience the same heartache and expense. 

Teachers who understand the problem also joined the movement. As a result of a wave of recent media attention and exploding facebook groups on the topic, many educators have realized they weren’t sufficiently prepared to teach kids to read.  Teachers are learning the district-provided materials and the assessment and intervention practices they are told to follow are ineffective. Not all teachers feel safe raising criticisms of their employer, which is why the voices of those who choose to speak out are so important. 

A variety of other professionals, including psychologists, a pediatrician, and leaders from business and the public sector, added diverse perspectives on the problem. The literacy coalition also connected with other parent and community groups, which helped to amplify their message.

2. Expose the problem
Having the statistics on student performance in your district is critical. You need to know where the gaps are because the general district data often does not reveal which students’ needs are not being met. Two helpful resources are here and here.

In the case of San Francisco, the student achievement data showed a catastrophic problem. But, it was the findings of a K-5 curriculum audit, which elevated the conversation. All of a sudden, the typical excuses weren’t acceptable, as the findings of the audit pointed to a new why behind low reading performance: majorly deficient curriculum and methods of instruction. 

3. Get involved
In San Francisco, members of the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education have advocated for screening for risk of dyslexia and structured literacy for years.

Every district has stakeholder groups, such as CACs, LCAP Advisory Committees, School Site Councils and parent groups such as PTAs. These bodies offer important platforms for advocacy. When people advocate from across diverse committees and associations, leadership listens.

Connect with one of the eighteen Decoding Dyslexia CA parent support groups. If there is not a group in your community, we’ll help you get one started. You can email us at info@decodingdyslexiaca.org.

4. Spread the message
In just this past school year, members of the San Francisco coalition wrote op-eds, hosted inspiring talks and informational events, and brave teachers fed up with SFUSD’s practices were even radio show guests. Love it or hate it, social media is also important in growing a movement, and advocates got vocal there too.

So, the work is not near over yet, but the real conversation has begun. San Francisco advocates await the second wave of curriculum audit findings, expected in September, and from there they hope the district will develop a literacy plan based in the science of reading that San Francisco students deserve.

Warriors’ Gary Payton II Inspires Youth with Dyslexia

(Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

The NBA player shares his own story, which underscores the need for universal screening for early readers in California.

You may know Gary Payton II (aka GPII) for his incredible moves on the basketball court, but he recently showed a group of kids with dyslexia that courage can also be found in the reading of books. In a recent Read to Achieve Reading Rally sponsored by the Golden State Warriors, Ross Stores and Decoding Dyslexia CA, Payton II demonstrated both his perseverance and bravery in reading a book about dyslexia to a live audience of kids with dyslexia and their families.

Dyslexia is an often misunderstood and under-diagnosed learning difference that makes the complex process of reading much more challenging. Researchers at the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity estimate that it potentially impacts 20% of the population.  Payton II’s story, like many kids with dyslexia, is one of a bright child who doesn’t understand why they can’t read with ease like other kids.

The Reading Rally featured GPII reading from the graphic novel, Doctor Dyslexia Dude, by Dr. Shawn and Inshirah Robinson, illustrated by Brandon Hadnot.  The story details many of the challenging experiences kids with dyslexia face in school and with their peers.  Payton II shared his own message with the kids telling them, “don’t ever give up”, “don’t be afraid to ask for help”, and “get it done.”  His openness and willingness to read aloud had an impact on both dyslexic kids and their families:

The best thing to me was hearing GPII tell of his own personal struggles with having dyslexia and how he faced those challenges. –Jayden, age 11

-My boys really enjoyed hearing Gary Payton II read aloud. To see someone they idolize show a vulnerable side was very empowering for my dyslexic son, and very eye-opening for my older non-dyslexic 16 yr. old son. They were both riveted and engaged.- Jennifer

 –I appreciate you normalizing dyslexia for my son. It was so important for him to see a face like his own, as he has been struggling to come to terms with his dyslexiaLenore

 –It is important for kids with dyslexia to have role models, so they can see that people with dyslexia get to a place where they are not struggling and get to a place where they are successful.Megan

(Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

Payton’s dedication to supporting kids with dyslexia did not end with the Reading Rally.  He personally donated tickets to several upcoming Warriors’ games to kids with dyslexia and their families. One lucky recipient of the tickets, Jayden and his grandparents, brought two friends with dyslexia to a recent game against the Detroit Pistons. The kids not only got to watch an NBA basketball game and spend time with GPII before the game, but for them it went deeper and it was “encouraging to know that GPII has achieved so much in his life already.”

Decoding Dyslexia CA (DDCA) understands the inspirational impact that positive role models such as GPII can have on our kids with dyslexia. Lori DePole, Co-State Director of DDCA, shared, “Listening to an NBA superstar share his struggles with reading and school due to his dyslexia shows our kids that dyslexia does not define you. Gary Payton II is one of only three NBA players that have publicly spoken out about their dyslexia. It is our hope that other athletes with dyslexia will share their story and help raise dyslexia awareness.”  DDCA looks forward to working together with GPII and the Golden State Warriors in the future. Go Warriors!