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Administrators want board to fund reading program

| Thursday, Jan. 9, 2003

Avonworth School District administrators are asking the school board to fund a summer reading program they say will save the district money.

The six-week reading program was started in 1999 and initially was funded through a grant from the Pittsburgh Foundation. That grant expired.

District officials, however, told school board members that the program is worth its $33,825 cost because it reduced the number of students who needed to attend alternative schools outside of the district.

"If this program can stop even three kids from attending school outside of the district, it will save money," Assistant Superintendent Valerie McDonald said.

Eventually, the program also will help the district comply with the No Child Left Behind Act, federal legislation that sets more stringent academic standards throughout the country.

The six-week, half-day program, on average, has had about 20 children a year between kindergarten and third grade participating, McDonald said. The program's cost includes transportation and lunch.

Not all students who are recommended for the program participate. Last year, for instance, 19 students were recommended, and 11 students participated.

But school administrators say they want as many students as possible to participate, which is one reason transportation is provided.

"Most of the kids who cannot get here to the school are the kids we want we really want in the program," said Avonworth Elementary School principal Rege Mullen said.

Participation is based on a variety of standardized test scores and, even more important, teacher recommendations, Mullen said.

The program, district administrators hope, will reduce the number of students who persistently lag in basic reading as they get older, McDonald said.

"It is much more difficult, and less likely, to correct children's reading deficiencies as they get older," McDonald said. "Anything we do at an early age is money well spent."

Each year, the Avonworth district has about 25 students attending some kind of alternative program outside of the district, often at great expense, McDonald said.

"Over the years, alternative education programs cost the district a lot of money," she said. "We have been looking for any way to reduce this expense."

Board members, who recently heard a presentation from the summer reading program's director, Kathy Elder, appear likely to approve the program.

"It's obvious to me that this is a useful and constructive program," board member Michael Mohr said.

Board member Susan Abramowich, whose daughter, 6, was in the program last summer, said her daughter now has advanced reading skills and a strong interest in books.

"I think it's a fantastic program and worth every penny spent on it," she said.

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