Funds from Learning Levy already paying dividends for early readers in Lake Oswego

PGM PHOTO: ASIA ALVAREZ ZELLER - Kelly Troike works on syllables with her second grade intervention groupKelly Troike, instructional literacy specialist at Westridge Elementary School, started her intervention reading group on a recent Friday morning by focusing on syllables. The group of second graders sat tall while working with Troike.

She'd break the words into syllables and the students would say the whole word.

"I like how you're blending your syllables," she said.

Then the students moved into an exercise where they switched out syllables to make different words. Troike calls this "language manipulation." When students excel at this it points to proficient phonological awareness — being able to process and manipulate language.

"The word is public — change the 'pub' to 'gar,'" she said.

"Garlic," the students said in unison.

They did the same with other words like "lizard," changing it to "wizard."

When residents voted "yes" on the Learning Levy last year, they approved a slew of academic improvements, one of which was an increased number of reading support/learning specialists.

The school district first approved the levy — which is a tax based on assessed property values — in 2000 as a response to changes in statewide education funding, and it was renewed in 2004, 2008 and 2013. In 2019, the district asked voters to approve a $.25 cent increase in the levy, bringing it from $1.39 to to $1.64 per $1,000 in assessed property value.

Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Scheile said in an email that prior to the 2019 Learning Levy, reading support and learning specialists were part-time, splitting their focus between schools. Levy dollars were used to extend all six specialists to full-time. PGM PHOTO: ASIA ALVAREZ ZELLER - Diagrams on the wall help students with different syllables.

"That means a learning specialist no longer travels between two schools," Schiele said. She added, "these specialists work with the students who need the greatest amount of support."

Troike was already a full-time employee at Westridge before the levy passed, but that wasn't the case for every reading specialist in the district.

"The job that I did used to be funded by the (LOSD Schools) Foundation," Troike said,

The levy impacted different schools in different ways.

Troike said the levy added a half-time reading specialist to each school. For Westridge that meant that their half-time learning specialist — who works with students with Individualized Education Plans — was made a full-time specialist, giving her more time with students and more opportunity to collaborate with Troike.

"That's made a huge impact on all learning — especially English language arts because now I have a chance where I get to plan alongside her, (and) we get to plan and go to trainings together," Troike said.

She said when they went to the first training together they were able to plan for how to help specific students. Even though they don't see the same students — because Troike doesn't work with students on IEPs — they're able to think through strategies for students together behind the scenes.

"That's been one of the biggest impacts that we've had is that collaboration, and that ability to really reach more kids and dive deeper to more specific skill targets," Troike said.

Specialized instruction is important because reading is foundational to learning. If a child can't read well, they aren't set up to learn well.

Lake Oswego's general affluence and high performance as a district doesn't shield kids from reading difficulties.

"Reading struggles happen across all socio-economic barriers ... we have our fair share of kids with persistent reading difficulties," Troike said.PGM PHOTO: ASIA ALVAREZ ZELLER - Troike uses multi-sensory tools to help students understand the shape of letters.

She said this district is fortunate to have such involved parents, and ones who are willing to pass levies for higher quality education.

"We also have a mindset in the district of early intervention," she said

Troike is able to help 54 kids a day with specialized reading instruction. The levy has ensured that specialists are able to address the needs of more students.

"My goal is to really work my way out of a job," she said.

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- Thank you for LO Learning Levy passage