Episode 403: Leadership Series: Improving K-8 Literacy Instruction
Looking to improve literacy in your classrooms? Join us in conversations with Assistant Superintendent Felicia Purdy to hear how she led the charge to improve literacy instruction for K-8 students of Seminole County Schools.
Looking to improve literacy in your classrooms? Join us in conversations with Assistant Superintendent Felicia Purdy to hear how she led the charge to improve literacy instruction for K-8 students of Seminole County Schools.
Ashley Mengwasser: Hello, educators. Welcome to Classroom Conversations, the platform for Georgia's teachers. The Classroom Conversations Podcast Series is a production of the Georgia Department of Education and Georgia Public Broadcasting. I'm Ashley Mengwasser, your host, the voice leading our conversation, here to bring you a Classroom Conversations first: our flagship episode on the topic of leadership. Today, we'll overview leading effective literacy instruction to improve K-8 education. And this is a real page-turner, partly because our guest is so candid and fascinating in her leadership role, partly because we are talking about literacy. Our 33rd US President, Harry S. Truman, is known for saying that, "Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers." Our guest is no exception, consuming texts and podcasts daily that propel her district forward. She's a real heavyweight in the literacy leadership arena and a pretty big deal. Felicia Purdy is a former classroom teacher and former coach, now entering her fourth year as Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning with Seminole County Schools in Donalsonville, and that's bordered by Alabama and Florida, so a bit of a drive. Felicia has a proven ability to improve elementary schools and has been a major change agent for her system. Whether a leader or a teacher, you can expect to glean some benefits from our episode today. Hi, Felicia.
Felicia Purdy: Hi, Ashley.
Ashley Mengwasser: How long was your drive from Donalsonville to Atlanta?
Felicia Purdy: It takes about four hours to drive from Donalsonville to Atlanta.
Ashley Mengwasser: That's a long stretch to come here for 30 minutes. I hope it's worth it.
Felicia Purdy: I'm sure it is.
Ashley Mengwasser: We'll do our best to make it so. This one also, do you possess any superhero abilities that you can think of?
Felicia Purdy: I don't possess superhero abilities per se, but I do wish that I had an Easy Button. Do you remember back in the early 2000s when Staples, those commercials came out with Staples and it was the Easy Button commercial?
Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, the Easy Button, yes.
Felicia Purdy: Yeah, yeah. This work is hard. Working in education in today's dynamic is difficult and it's challenging, and so an Easy Button would be a fantastic addition to my tools.
Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. That would be like your superhero tool on your tool belt.
Felicia Purdy: Yeah, that's right.
Ashley Mengwasser: Are you recognized as a celebrity in public?
Felicia Purdy: Well, when you live in a town of 9,000, you can't go anywhere without being recognized. So yes, the Piggly Wiggly is definitely a place of recognition.
Ashley Mengwasser: They know who you are-
Felicia Purdy: They know who you are.
Ashley Mengwasser: ... in rural Georgia. Well, thanks for clearing all that up, Felicia. Onto a more serious note. Superintendents and assistant superintendents have some pretty hard, high-level work to do in our school systems. You're managing operations, you're identifying areas of need, you're providing targeted leadership to meet those areas. What would you say, just in a couple sentences, are the core components of your role as the assistant superintendent?
Felicia Purdy: Yeah. So the core components of my role specifically are really centered around providing leadership for strategic planning and school improvement processes, as well as supporting the work of the district around academic improvement, and really specifically speaking to curriculum, instruction, professional learning, assessment, and then just the evaluation of programs to determine whether or not those are being effective or not within our system.
Ashley Mengwasser: Right. You can clean house and overhaul programs if they seem to be not working, so that's pretty powerful. What do you want people to know about superintendents and assistant superintendents that they may not?
Felicia Purdy: Oh, something they may not know?
Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah.
Felicia Purdy: Well, I can't speak for everyone else, but I think it's important to remember assistant superintendents such as myself, I was a practitioner, I was a classroom teacher, and that was where I started my journey in education and I always will consider myself to be a teacher as long as I work in this field. Ultimately, my primary responsibility and our primary responsibility within school systems is teaching and learning.
Ashley Mengwasser: That's right.
Felicia Purdy: And so that's something that you have to always remember. And even though that I'm no longer operating within that context of a teaching position, my favorite days at work to-date are still when I walk in classrooms. I love going into classrooms, I love being with teachers, I love being with students. And if I ever lose that drive, then I would have to change professions because that's really... That's the work.
Ashley Mengwasser: There is a palpable energy.
Felicia Purdy: There is.
Ashley Mengwasser: Kind of like how I feel in front of the camera or microphone, I think if you work in education, you feel that buoyance you are in a classroom. That's a pretty powerful thing. You also told me that your perspective changed once you got outside of the classroom and were in a different role. How so?
Felicia Purdy: Yeah. Well, as a teacher, your perspective is really bound by your four walls and your influence is bound by those four walls, but those four walls within your classroom, it's really just one subset or one system, subsystem within a large body of systems within the school and the district. And when you step into a leadership role, you're now dealing with multiple systems and subsystems and multiple stakeholders. And so it really broadens your perspective to scale depending on your role, whether that's in a building or within a district, and you no longer just make decisions based on yourself and what's in your best interest. You make decisions of what's in the best interest of the children that you serve and the faculty that are under your care and guidance as leadership.
Ashley Mengwasser: Right. Well, consuming professional content is a big part of your job and your own professional development that you do, and part of your intrinsic joy. You told me you're an avid podcast listener. What are you reading or listening to right now that's really informing your approach?
Felicia Purdy: I am an avid podcast listener, and I actually was listening to a podcast by Wiley Blevins on the way over here, speaking of literacy leadership.
Ashley Mengwasser: All right!
Felicia Purdy: But I would like to say first, that it is my belief that as an educational leader, you can't lead work you don't know about.
Ashley Mengwasser: That's true.
Felicia Purdy: And so one way that leaders and teachers can grow in themselves so that they in turn can support the growth of others is by listening to podcasts, reading books, following blogs. Tim Shanahan's blog is fantastic, or really, social media has a huge presence in our current environment. So just invest in yourself and your own professional learning would be my call to action.
But to answer your question, at the moment, like I said, I have an unhealthy addiction to podcasts.
Ashley Mengwasser: Well, now we're getting to the real meat.
Felicia Purdy: Yeah, it's very unhealthy. I do listen to them when I am by myself so that I don't bother anyone else, but my favorites right now, in the context of literacy, I have three favorites. The first one is Melissa and Lori Love Literacy. It's fantastic.
Ashley Mengwasser: What a cute title.
Felicia Purdy: Yeah. And what's wonderful about that podcast is they're both teachers and they're just trying to work their way through the dynamics of our current state of literacy with the shifts between balanced literacy and the science of reading and where their state's at so that they can support others in their growth within that work. So that's a fantastic one. Amplify has another fantastic podcast called The Science of Reading. And then I will say that the Literacy View was the one that I was just listening to on the way over here, and they just hosted Wiley Blevins and his episode dropped this week and it was fantastic.
Ashley Mengwasser: His episode dropped this week.
Felicia Purdy: Yes, it dropped this week.
Ashley Mengwasser: Can I help perpetuate your unhealthy addiction by asking you to promote this episode?
Felicia Purdy: Absolutely.
Ashley Mengwasser: That would be wonderful.
Felicia Purdy: I'll absolutely help you promote this episode, Classroom Conversations.
Ashley Mengwasser: Thank you. Now, the thing about addictions though is they're a bit uncontrollable and compulsive. So are you listening in the closet, listening in the car, listening in the shower?
Felicia Purdy: I am listening in the shower.
Ashley Mengwasser: Good! That's some good listening time.
Felicia Purdy: Yes, it is good listening time. It's productive.
Ashley Mengwasser: Some are singing, some are listening to Classroom Conversations.
Felicia Purdy: That's right.
Ashley Mengwasser: Exactly.
Felicia Purdy: So listen to Classroom Conversations in the morning when you're getting ready to go to work.
Ashley Mengwasser: Exactly. Thank you for that shameless plug.
Felicia Purdy: You're welcome.
Ashley Mengwasser: Yours is a smaller rural system. We talked about that a little bit when I first met you, and tell us a little bit about the makeup of the district and the literacy landscape there.
Felicia Purdy: Yeah. Well, first of all, I just want to say that I have an honor, and it is truly a pleasure to work and represent the Seminole County School System. But we are located in the southwest most corner of the great state of Georgia. And like you said earlier, we border Alabama and Florida state lines, but we're a small, rural community where agriculture is our main industry. It is the primary industry. We have a saying in our district that we have the best schools in Southwest Georgia, and that's really our mission. I mean, our mission is we strive daily to truly make that a reality and provide the best schools in Southwest Georgia. And so our district is made up of a diverse population of students. We have approximately 1,350 students enrolled pre-K through 12, which is very rural compared to the Atlanta Public School System, for example.
Ashley Mengwasser: Very.
Felicia Purdy: But of that makeup, it's diverse. We have 100% that have been identified as economically disadvantaged, 50% white, 41% African-American, about 9% that are multiracial. And then of that, about 10.8% of those students have been identified for special education services. So you can see, we have a variety of needs within our system, and it's quite a challenge, but it's a challenge that we all have embraced and are really excited about. But the literacy landscape within our district has really gone through a transformation over the past three years. But if you were to walk in our elementary literacy classrooms, you would see students engaged in speaking, listening, reading, and writing on a daily basis. You would notice that our teachers have access to high-quality instructional materials that are intended to support each component of our comprehensive literacy block. And that block is grounded in the science of reading, and it's approximately 140 to 160 minutes of daily instruction. And that instruction addresses the areas of phonological awareness, basic and advanced phonics, vocabulary, morphology, fluency at the sentence and passage level, comprehension, and written expression. So it has definitely been a transformation, but one of my favorite educational researchers is Nancy Frey. She's a researcher, but she's also a practitioner. One thing that she says is that every student deserves a great teacher, not by chance, but by design. Really, that is what we've done in Seminole County and the work that we're engaged in. We've designed a literacy block that ensures that all students have access to a guaranteed and viable curriculum to ensure equity. And it's been beautiful. It's been challenging, but it's been great work and very honorable work. I think that one thing that literacy leaders and legislators need to understand is that purchasing those materials that are high-quality alone, it's not a magic wand. It's not going to solve all your literacy issues. It's not enough just to procure those resources. You've really got to provide your teachers and your leaders with training on how to implement those curricular resources and then train your teachers on how to be responsive and to make decisions in the moment that's being responsive and attending to the needs of their students.
Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. You've taken the place from a school system where there was a little bit of a block in terms of literacy to creating and designing a literacy block for literacy. That's a tale of transformation that's ongoing there, as you mentioned, in your time, and it's been a major collaborative change with your role and with educators. So to totally pull back the curtain in your trademark transparent style, Felicia, can you tell us why you were brought to the school system in the first place?
Felicia Purdy: Absolutely. Well, when our superintendent, Mr. Mark Earnest, began his tenure as the Superintendent of Schools, and that was approximately four years ago, he really found himself in an environment where our elementary school had just been placed on the TSI list, and that stands for Targeted Support and Improvement. And actually that-
Ashley Mengwasser: It's a list you don't want to be on.
Felicia Purdy: Yeah. It's not a list you want to be on. It's not the list we wanted to find ourselves on. So in response to that news, he brought in the Office of School and District Improvement, and they conducted an assessment of our schools so that we would have a report and an assessment of really what the processes were in place at that moment in time. And so from there, he just decided to surround himself with instructional leaders to support that work. And that's really when I joined the team. And we are a team. You're right. I mean, this work is not done in isolation. This work is done together in lockstep with your board of education, with your district leaders, your school leaders, your teachers, your families. So we began this journey and we really started with addressing the findings of that report and we looked at our current practices of the school. And what the committee found was when they came into our schools, they found that our teachers really operated under a fragmented culture.
Ashley Mengwasser: Interesting.
Felicia Purdy: And I will say, let me just say that I have the honor, the staff that I work with, I would not trade for any other teacher or any other staff in this state. They're fantastic. But at that time, they were functioning like one-room schoolhouses and that is not... Not being able to operate under a shared vision and not working together is not going to produce the results that we wanted to see. And so we set forth to really develop a shared vision and a shared set of core values around literacy instruction. And that's where we started our journey. We established a coherent vision for literacy learning, and we knew that when educators worked together in unison, that we could ensure high literacy outcomes for all students.
Ashley Mengwasser: Right. You said you had no choice but to shift, and you did.
Felicia Purdy: We did.
Ashley Mengwasser: So talk to me about what those rates are today.
Felicia Purdy: Yeah. So rates today, we had a lot of different action steps that didn't just happen overnight. Change takes time. And so this is, we're going into year four of this work, but I'm proud to say that we have been removed from the TSI list. We've met exit criteria.
Ashley Mengwasser: All right!
Felicia Purdy: Yes, we're very proud of that. And that in the last three years, our third grade reading proficiency scores have increased from 62% of students reading on or above grade level to our most recent 2023 score showing that 75% of our third-graders are now reading on grade level. And we're really proud of that.
Ashley Mengwasser: A huge leap.
Felicia Purdy: It is. And what we're seeing is every single year annually, we make room and stride in the right direction.
Ashley Mengwasser: Exactly. Well, onto the particulars of your approach, which I imagine our listeners are dying to know about when it comes to literacy leadership. Can you start us with the definition? What, in the simplest terms, is literacy leadership?
Felicia Purdy: Well, I think in the simplest terms, literacy leadership is really just a subset of instructional leadership. And it's very clear to me that schools and districts, they must be run by instructional leaders. And obviously, we all have operational processes and legal responsibilities, and it's very convoluted with your roles and responsibilities, but at the essence of it, schools are about teaching and learning. And so my primary goal as a literacy leader is really to empower our teachers. And I think that should be the goal of any leader is to empower their teachers with the knowledge, the skills, and the resources to realize student success within their classrooms.
Ashley Mengwasser: And you're equipping them with such confidence to wield these resources as powerful tools to produce the outcomes that you know want your schools to have. So in what ways does literacy leadership serve as that key to the school improvement you've sought and achieved already?
Felicia Purdy: Well, research shows that literacy leaders really attend to seven systems within their building or within their school district. And first and foremost is leadership. The assistant principal and the principal in a building, they're the linchpin. I mean, they are the ones that set the tone. They schedule. Let me backtrack. They complete the master schedules and a master schedule will make or break a school. But really, they have to have a deep understanding before they can lead staff of this work. And it's okay if they don't, but be willing to get in the sandbox and do this work with your staff. That's honorable to me. Another component. The second component would be assessment, making sure that you have the appropriate assessments, a balanced assessment system in place so that you can attend to the data and monitor the work that you've put in. Universal instruction, that's really, if I had to be honest, if most school systems really had a deep conversation and were reflective about the work that they're doing and where some of the breakdown is, it's usually and typically it's in Tier 1. What are we providing to all students? And if you're not garnering an 80 to 85% success rate, then I would charge you with, challenge you with reviewing your Tier 1 practices.
Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah, review, evolve.
Felicia Purdy: That's right. Review, evolve, refine. It doesn't mean overhaul because curriculum fatigue is real. Right?
Ashley Mengwasser: Explain that.
Felicia Purdy: So in many systems, I'm going to implement something for a few years, I'm going to buy the resources, but sometimes they don't necessarily always provide the professional development training and support for their staff to implement those resources. And so then two years goes by, they're not seeing those results, they throw the baby out with the bath water and they buy something new. And the problem wasn't necessarily with the material, it was with the implementation of the material. And so making sure that you're providing your staff with the appropriate professional development, which is another system, you're communicating with families and community about the work that you're doing, and so that you are better equipped to meet the needs of the building. The last two would be database decision-making and intervention. How are you attending to the data and what it's telling you? And then how are you supporting the students who are struggling and need continued and more intensive supports?
Ashley Mengwasser: Right. You mentioned professional development in terms of literacy. What types of PD are the teachers in your district involved in?
Felicia Purdy: Well, over the past few years, our teachers have been engaged in a lot of professional development, more than they've had in a long time and they'll tell you that. But it's been great. It's really been job-embedded. The last few years, that's been our focus is job-embedded professional learning. And the focus for the last three years has really been on interpreting assessment data once we put those assessment systems in place so that it would inform their instruction and be able to drive their instruction within the classroom. And then the second part of that would be around implementing those new curricular resources that we procured. Like I said a moment ago, many districts, the initiative itself, the resources itself, they don't fail. It's the fact that we don't spend the funding and allocate the funding and spend the time implementing those resources with consultants or coaches within those classrooms. It's really more about interpreting and then applying in that setting. And so we did a multi-year contract at our elementary school with BBB. It's an educational enterprise, a consulting company. And their literacy consultant, the one we contracted with, she really walked with us along the way. She got in classrooms, she co-taught, she modeled, and now I have model classrooms where they can do and continue and sustain that work and support within our buildings. In addition to curriculum-aligned professional development, we really established a goal to train all staff on the science of reading. And so one way that we've done that is through the LETRS training, and LETRS stands for Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling. And this work's been instrumental. We had a cohort of 10 go through LETRS training this year, and we have 20 set to go through that cohort next year. And so our goal is by '25-'26, so the '25-'26 school year, all of our K-8 ELA teachers, our special education teachers, and our literacy interventions will all be LETRS trained.
Ashley Mengwasser: That's incredible.
Felicia Purdy: Absolutely.
Ashley Mengwasser: It's really like a multi-year rollout here. Like you said, the change takes time. It's not just one-and-done. It's constant application. The year 2025 sounds like Futurama to me. I can't even get my head around that. I just want to move on to what the current culture is that you're seeing. What do you find to be an exciting shift that's taking place in schools, and what literacy challenges do you see?
Felicia Purdy: Well, I think one of the most exciting shifts around literacy comes from the fields of cognitive science and neuroscience, and really what I'm speaking to there is more about functional MRIs and what that's telling us and what it's been able to suggest and really confirm for us about how the brain learns to read. So that's exciting. It's very exciting to me, since you know, I'm a podcast nerd.
Ashley Mengwasser: I can see you trembling over there.
Felicia Purdy: Yeah. But the reality is what it really leans into is when you know better, you do better. I can't imagine someone not wanting to do better for the schools or the classrooms and the students that they serve, but it's also a challenge.
Ashley Mengwasser: Yes, yeah. I know you're huge on research, which I love. I mean, that just grounds absolutely everything that you're doing. So what literacy challenges do you see in schools?
Felicia Purdy: Well, this same knowledge challenges current beliefs and practices. Right?
Ashley Mengwasser: It does, yeah.
Felicia Purdy: And no one wakes up in the morning, I was telling the lady earlier, no one wakes up in the morning and says, "I'm going to change everything that I've done for the last 20 years today." And so that's hard. That's hard work. And as a leader, you have to have grace and understanding. You've got to give yourself grace, and you've got to communicate grace because it's really a journey and it's going to take time. And in listening to the podcast that I was listening to with Wiley Blevins on the way over here, he had a really good profound statement about there's a lot of information being thrown at teachers right now, a lot of information, that they're not comfortable with, that they don't have a background of. Our in-service programs didn't prepare us for this work. And unfortunately, sometimes it's only learned at the surface level. But to really do this work, we've got to get deep. And that's something that I think is a challenge. You can throw this work at your schools or your teachers or your school districts, but it's going to take time. And that's the real challenge. It's not something that you can just do and transform overnight. It takes years to truly develop deep understanding of this work.
Ashley Mengwasser: It takes time to permeate.
Felicia Purdy: Absolutely.
Ashley Mengwasser: What would you say is the single most important thing that our district leaders out there can do to support literacy instruction?
Felicia Purdy: Oh, that's a loaded question.
Ashley Mengwasser: Isn't it though? But you know I want a perfect, little, pretty one-sentence answer.
Felicia Purdy: Yes. I think that, like I said earlier, you can't grow others unless you grow yourself and there are many district leaders who are fantastic leaders, but don't necessarily know the research. So I think that before you can lead this work, you really need to inundate yourself with the research and what that says so that you can take a step forward in the right direction.
Ashley Mengwasser: Start with the research. Okay.
Felicia Purdy: Right. Start with the research.
Ashley Mengwasser: Strengthening foundational reading skills has been huge in grades K-3. We know that gets a lot of focus, a lot of district resources. How are you leading efforts with those older elementary students and the middle graders who are seeing significant literacy needs who are outside of that K-3 window?
Felicia Purdy: Yeah. Well, in Seminole County, our work within literacy is really synergized with our work within MTSS, which are multitiers of systems and supports. So it's really synergized around that, our MTSS framework. And so in specific regard to students in grades four-eight, any student in grades four-eight in our system that demonstrate a significant literacy need, they're identified through that MTSS process through a set of entrance criteria that we've established locally. And we use multiple assessment data points to target those students with specific literacy needs.
And then from there, we really align, strategically align the interventions that we provide those students to their needs. So if they have word recognition or decoding deficits, they receive word recognition decoding interventions. But if they've mastered their decoding skills and they've shown proficiency, then we provide them, but they're still struggling with vocabulary fluency, comprehension, which is really more of that language comprehension piece-
Ashley Mengwasser: That's where the energy goes.
Felicia Purdy: ... then that's where the energy goes. We've also allocated staff to meet those needs. So at the middle-school level, because we are a K-5 system, and then we have another school building that's 6-12, at the middle-school level, we have one literacy intervention specialist who attends to that work and provides services. And then at our elementary level, we have three literacy intervention specialists that attend to the K-5 students and their needs.
Ashley Mengwasser: That sounds like a big job too, especially with specialists on the end. Do they have badges that they carry?
Felicia Purdy: They do carry badges. They are my pioneers, and really, that's the group that we began this work with and so I'm so proud of them. They have come so far, and they're part of that first LETRS cohort, and they tell me all the time that this is the stuff, "This is really what I should have learned in college."
Ashley Mengwasser: Look at that.
Felicia Purdy: Yeah. But they have just grown and blossomed as professionals, and I'd be proud to put my child in any of their classrooms.
Ashley Mengwasser: Amazing. Well, they're like the special agents now.
Felicia Purdy: That's right.
Ashley Mengwasser: Leading the charge on the ground.
Felicia Purdy: They're our special literacy agents.
Ashley Mengwasser: The special literacy agent, SLA. So many acronyms in this series. I love it so much. What strategies do you use for those stakeholders? And you listed them earlier, you're talking about principals, the teachers themselves, parents, the community. How do you get those stakeholders on board with literacy changes, especially our teachers, like you said, who already have so much to contend with? How do you do it?
Felicia Purdy: Well, Kotter's, I don't know if you're familiar with Kotter's Change Model or Change Theory, but basically says that when you're making organizational changes, you have to start with a sense of urgency. And unfortunately, for Seminole, our sense of urgency was mandated, right?
Ashley Mengwasser: It was the list.
Felicia Purdy: Right, it was being on this list. But when we started the work, we really started with instilling that sense of urgency and making stakeholders aware of what is our data saying? What disparities are between our subgroups? What's our current practice look like? What does our current practice and what does our current outcome data look like within literacy? And that wasn't just something that we did internally. We brought in our family connections, our community stakeholders, our retired educators, and we really began to educate them all about where we currently were and what our vision was for moving forward. And so I would start there, and then from there, we formed a team of teachers and leaders who really walked hand in hand in this work together. And so we didn't do it in isolation. It was really a team. A team made decisions about which curricular resources we were going to select. A team made decisions on how we were going to implement what supports they needed. A team gave us feedback. We have impact teams in Seminole County, and they really monitor those school improvement plans, which are fed from and really derived from our district improvement plans, our strategic plan, and a team monitors those within the building, and they let us know where they're at, what they need.
Ashley Mengwasser: Eyes and ears.
Felicia Purdy: Eyes and ears, right. But it provides you with an opportunity for buy-in, and I'm not going to sit here and tell you that it's a perfect world. It's not. We have critical mass on buy-in, but there were staff that decided this was not the work for them and that's the reality of change. Sometimes it's your season and sometimes it's not. And that's okay. And so anyway, it wasn't perfect work, but definitely bringing in others to be a part of that team and that process would be my recommendation.
Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. The urgency piece is interesting, and so is the discomfort of it anytime you have a big unilateral change like this. But I think the point is that you've now taken the system with this buy-in from such fragmented, siloed classrooms to everybody really sharing a unified vision.
Felicia Purdy: First and foremost, I'm a product of public education.
Ashley Mengwasser: Same.
Felicia Purdy: And I believe in public education. I mean, I've never worked in a school or worked for a district who didn't want the absolute best for the children that they serve. And they do that work annually, daily, monthly, year after year. And good teachers, which are across this great state, good teachers, good leaders, they pervasively engage in professional development. They want to do what's right for their children that are within their buildings, within their classrooms, and they typically come together for continuous improvement efforts. I mean, we have improvement structures within the state where all schools are required to develop school improvement plans and really enact those plans to ensure that we are providing students with the best and the highest quality of instruction that's within our control. And so I would say to those that are skeptical, I put my own children in the hands of public educators, and I would encourage you to do the same.
Ashley Mengwasser: Do you have any final words for leaders who are just beginning to build the literacy capacity in their schools? And then also on the flip side of the coin, any words for teachers who are receiving this hard but necessary professional development?
Felicia Purdy: I guess for leaders, we know that many Georgia students live in poverty. Most Georgia students live in poverty or what's deemed as being an impoverished situation. But we also know that students that live in poverty can be as successful as their more affluent peers.
Ashley Mengwasser: That's so true.
Felicia Purdy: But it's our responsibility to make sure that there are strong leaders in place, there are valid programs, and that those students have access to well-prepared and knowledgeable teachers. And that's where I would start. That would be my charge to leaders that are beginning this work and making sure that you're really attending to those three buckets: building strong leaders, ensuring teachers have access to high-quality materials, and then investing in their growth and development. And I really feel that you will come out on the other side of that being successful and seeing positive student outcomes. As far as teachers, I would want teachers to know that a well-written curriculum is needed. Going back to that research, research shows that students perform better and have better outcomes when they have a framework to operate within within a classroom, it's well-written curriculum, and have access to high-quality instructional materials, but teachers are at the center of a classroom. And when you walk into effective classrooms where students are meeting their goals annually, the teacher is the most important piece. And having a knowledgeable teacher, that is really the best impact and our best weapon as we move forward into really addressing the literacy needs of our state and our school systems.
Ashley Mengwasser: We love our educators here on Classroom Conversations, and we want to support everything that they do. And what you've just shared is such an inspired vision. It's like urgency with a purpose though. It doesn't feel like panic, it feels like inspiration. So, thank you for sharing your vision. I think you do possess superhero abilities, I do think you need to carry a specialty badge, and I would be surprised if you're recognized at the airport as well as the Piggly Wiggly. So thank you for the powerful work you're doing, Felicia, improving K-8 education in Seminole County.
Felicia Purdy: Thank you, Ashley. Thank you for having me.
Ashley Mengwasser: I'm really glad you were here. Listeners, we have just learned from a legend of the lasting link between literacy and leadership. So many L's in that sentence. Where literacy is on the rise, there is likely a pretty impressive leader holding teachers up, instilling that confidence that is needed to help make good instructional decisions that lead to the outcomes all school systems want. I can't leave without doling out my usual fist bump of appreciation. So for this one, I'll say you're a great leader. I'm Ashley. Back next week with more card-carrying members of George's educational system. Bye for now. Funding for Classroom Conversations is made possible through the School Climate Transformation Grant.