Kristen Jones currently serves as the Curriculum Director for Enid Public Schools in Enid, Oklahoma. She has a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Harding University and a masters in Teaching, Learning, and Leadership with Reading Specialist certification from Oklahoma State University. She is currently pursuing an MBA in Educational Leadership from Oklahoma Christian University. Kristen first became a LETRS trainer in 2013 and has continued training teachers throughout the last 8 years. Throughout her career, she’s had experience as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, site level instructional coach, district level instructional coach, and has served as Curriculum Director for the last two years. “I loved to read as a kid and I still read for pleasure when I have the time. That early love of reading set me up for a career helping others on their own reading journey,” said Kristen. Kristen looks forward to continuing her advocacy for the science of reading through her current public school position, her position as a board member for The Reading League Oklahoma, and through continuing to train teachers in LETRS.
For our podcast, we talk with Kristen Jones, LETRS Literacy Champion and Curriculum Director at Enid Public Schools in Enid, Oklahoma. This inspiring educator will share how Enid Public Schools used literacy professional learning to transform teacher knowledge and raise student achievement.
Jones will discuss steps taken by Enid Public Schools as they implemented LETRS professional learning district-wide. She’ll also address how the training increased teacher knowledge of the science of reading and transformed the school district and community, leading to the school district becoming one of the winners of the first Dr. Louisa Moats Award for Excellence Implementing the Science of Reading.
Jones will also address:
Why her district chose a program aligned with the science of reading
How the district encouraged teacher buy-in
Challenges faced in a district-wide implementation
Tips for administrators to roll out a new literacy professional learning program
“Enid Public Schools has strong leaders who ‘owned’ the challenge and are fully committed to the idea that almost all kids can learn to read. It has talented teachers who have dug into substantive learning about reading science, and who are working diligently to refine their teaching skills. I would like to express my sincere admiration for these educators and congratulate them on making a significant, transformational contribution toward the improvement of student literacy in their district.”
–Dr. Louisa Moats, LETRS author
Narrator: Welcome to EDVIEW360.
Pam Austin: I want to know, why do you think the science of reading is important knowledge for teachers?
Kristen Jones: I had a mentor several years ago who told me that some students will learn in spite of us, but all students should learn because of us. And that sentiment was really powerful to me. And I think when you understand the science of reading, when you understand how the brain processes language and how the right instruction at the right time can prevent many reading difficulties, and how those science of reading practices are effective for everybody, you have a deeper understanding of your impact as a teacher so that you can be the teacher who students learn because of you.
Narrator: You just heard Kristen Jones, curriculum director of Enid Public Schools. Ms. Jones is our guest today on EDVIEW 360.
PA: This is Pam Austin. Welcome back to the EDVIEW 360 podcast series. We're so excited to have you back with us. I'm conducting today's podcast from my native New Orleans. Today, we are excited to welcome Kristen Jones, curriculum director of Enid Public Schools in Enid, Oklahoma, and prize recipient for the Dr. Louisa Moats Award for Excellence in Implementing the Science of Reading. Ms. Jones is our guest today for EDVIEW 360. Welcome, Ms. Jones.
KJ: Hi, Pam. Thanks for having me.
PA: So glad to have you here. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you became involved in education?
KJ: Absolutely. So I actually just started my 18th year in education. I started with a bachelor's in elementary education from Harding University and then a master's in reading from Oklahoma State University, and after that spent eight years as a reading specialist; I worked primarily with kindergarten through fifth grade students who were struggling readers and then transitioned into an instructional coaching role. And in 2014, I joined the team here at Enid Public Schools. I've been a district instructional coach and have transitioned now into the position of district curriculum director.
PA: Oh wow, reading and literacy. That's been your life, hasn't it?
KJ: Yes, ma'am. It's definitely a passion of mine.
PA: Which explains why you were chosen as one of our LETRS® Champions and your district was chosen as one of the winners of the Dr. Louisa Moats Award for Excellence in Implementing the Science of Reading. Can you tell us how your district decided to use a professional learning solution, and how did that all come about?
KJ: I originally was introduced to LETRS in 2012. At the time, I was a participant and then became a trainer in the second edition of LETRS. And even though I'd had a master's in reading—it's my passion, it's what I wanted to do, so I had continually participated in professional development, but when I learned what LETRS was about and how much I learned in LETRS, how much I gained beyond what I originally had, I knew I had to share that with others, and I knew it needed to be a part of my training and my support for teachers in whatever capacity that looked like.
KJ: When I came on board with Enid in 2014, one of our goals at the time was to improve reading, right? Everybody's looking to make reading better. And one of the ways we knew we needed to do that was with some additional training for teachers. And so we had kind of hit this plateau in terms of our growth, and we felt like giving our teachers more tools and more knowledge would be helpful. And so we started doing the second edition of LETRS here in 2015 with a cohort of about 30 teachers. It was administrators, teachers, instructional coaches, and at the end of that class, it was just infectious. And so every summer and every school year, we continued to offer LETRS training over the course of several years.
PA: Oh, so it's been a journey, a journey that started in 2012 and grew from there, right?
PA: I've just loved hearing your story. The phrase “make reading better,” I love hearing that phrase. I have to say it again: Make reading better. And you use LETRS as a way to make reading better. You mentioned the tools and the knowledge that was there, and it was for different… from other PD experiences. And I'm just going to have to tell you, Ms. Jones, I agree with you 100% because I had a similar journey. I won't go into mine, but I so appreciate what you shared. So you've kind of answered this question already: What made you choose LETRS professional learning? Tell me a little bit [about] when you dove into it. Can you expound on that for me?
KJ: Yeah, LETRS was really attractive to me and to our district because it really got at the why behind what we were asking teachers to do every day. We were asking teachers and telling teachers that they needed to teach phonemic awareness, they needed to teach phonics, but we really hadn't explained why those components were so critical and why those components were going to make a difference for students. And so we really felt like… that LETRS provided that why and really filled a gap that made the classroom practice make more sense.
PA: All right, that's great. And for those of you who don't know, “LETRS” stands for Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling. And it is a professional learning that aligns with the science of reading, authored by literacy experts Dr. Louisa Moats and Dr. Carol Tolman. LETRS provides educators with the background, the depth of knowledge, and the tools to teach language and literacy skills to every student. And that's why it provides the why, as you were saying; that depth of knowledge is so important. It's different—and you mentioned that, Ms. Jones—it’s different from other professional development because every single concept and skill is solidly based in research and how reading and language work. Thank you for letting me share all of that. I just want everyone who's listening to be in the know; when they hear “LETRS,” they understand what it is.
KJ: It is very different from other professional development because it isn't about a specific program and it's not about a single strategy. It really gets at the science and what the brain does and how kids’ brains change based on how teachers instruct. And it's a really powerful thing to understand.
PA: All right. So we can change the brain, who'd have thought? Tell us about your rollout plan for LETRS in your district because I can imagine this was something that was extensive. Was there any pushback to the program or the science of reading in particular? And if so, how did you address it? I know I just asked a lot. We'll just take one part at a time. Let's start off with that rollout plan: What did that look like?
KJ: Sure. So, when we started the second edition, everything was totally voluntary, right? It was teachers that signed up, and if you've done much professional development from the instructor side, you know that teachers who sign up to be there are those who are really invested in learning the content. But we also knew that everybody needed this information, whether they felt like they did or not. So, when we started the third edition of LETRS, we set a district goal to have every teacher K–5 go through that training. We have several struggling readers here, we have several English Learners here, so just stopping at grade three wouldn't have gotten us where we needed to go in terms of our reading growth. So, we targeted K–5 teachers and wanted everybody to do that training. However, we also knew that in order for us to have the support for that training in buildings, we needed the leadership to be on board.
KJ: So our rollout with the science of reading started with our elementary administrators. We listened to the “At a Loss for Words” podcast from American Public Media. We sat down as an administrative team and listened to it together and stopped at various points to discuss what we were hearing and started talking about what practices we saw in the building and came to this general consensus that we could really do better. We could do better for our kids, we could do better for our teachers. And so that was when presenting the solution of, "Well, here's how we can do better. We can do LETRS 3rd Edition." We decided then to have them go through—as an administrative cohort—through that third edition first together. Having them on board and having them in a group together meant that we could have a lot of discussions about the LETRS content, but also through the lens of what does it look like to see that instruction in the classroom?
KJ: Certainly, they participated in the teaching strategies and learned how to deliver the instruction. Then we could have an additional extended conversation about what it looks like to see that in the classroom. So, by the end of that training, we had achieved what we wanted. All of our principals were on board and infectious, and we started signing up teachers for LETRS. And during last school year—as weird and crazy as that was, 2020–2021—we had 170 teachers that enrolled in LETRS, whether they'd had the second edition or not. They enrolled with LETRS and spend a year studying and learning and growing their own professional knowledge.
PA: Oh, how strategic. I just love your story, Ms. Jones. Getting buy-in at that administration level, at this building level, building that consensus and making it infectious. I love the direction that you took as a district. So, I'm imagining that if there was pushback, it was probably minimal. Am I correct in saying that, or did you have any pushback?
KJ: We really haven't had pushback in terms of the training itself. We knew that to implement the science of reading, we needed to build that teacher knowledge base, but we also had to have a curriculum piece that was going to support and be an application of that teacher knowledge, to make that LETRS learning just come to life in the classroom. And so we selected a science of reading-aligned curriculum that we wanted teachers to plug into in the classroom. So, any kind of pushback that we've run into has largely been in response to that curriculum piece. I think a lot of times, education, professional development, and education curriculum, even, is almost set up like a buffet, right, where we can pick and choose the pieces that we need. But that's not really how LETRS works and that's not really how the science of reading works.
KJ: And so to really implement that and really make sure that we were being intentional about the science of reading in the classroom, we had to have these curriculum pieces in place, and teachers initially kind of felt like it took away their choice and their autonomy and how they run their classrooms, so that's really kind of where our pushback was. We've talked to them about how that curriculum is just a piece of their day—it's 30 minutes, it's 45 minutes of their overall day—and talked to them about where they can have their personal stamp on things. So, I'd say any of the pushback that we've had has really been around that curriculum piece.
PA: Wow. And it seems that you all addressed it very directly. Right?
KJ: We did. I really believe in being transparent with people, and “Here's the why, here's why we're doing this, here's what we're asking, here's why we're asking this thing.” And, really, if we're going to implement science of reading, we can't cherry-pick, right? What we want to do, we're all in on this deal, and here's how you can be all in with us, and here's where you have room to maneuver and be an individual.
PA: Great. “All in,” I love that phrase as well. So, once teachers had been fully trained in the science of reading, what changes did you see? You mentioned the challenges with the curriculum, but what changes did you see in your school district and community?
KJ: I think our biggest change is that we're talking about reading differently. Our youngest students are talking about how phonemes are produced or why words are spelled the way they are. Our teachers are analyzing their data a little differently; they have more insight when they're looking at student writing and spelling. Our administrators are talking about growth differently—we're not talking about just moving reading levels, we're talking about an improvement in skills. We've changed how we think about intervention; it's not just red, yellow, or green, it's “What are those foundational skills that kids need?” The knowledge that we've gained from LETRS and the science of reading curriculum that we put in place are shifting things for everybody and just having everybody think differently about that task of reading.
PA: That is great. So it's not just the change in the teachers and administrators and their discussion about reading and literacy, it's the change in which the students think about their learning. So, teaching and learning, the discussion must be wonderful.
KJ: Absolutely. And when you go into classrooms and you hear kids talk about “That's a voiced sound” and “That's an unvoiced sound” and “Here's what my tongue does when I make that sound” and “Here's why this word is spelled that way,” you know that they've internalized the types of word study and the types of understanding about the English language that they need to be successful readers. And our parents are starting to see it. They're coming back to us and saying, "Wow, my kid’s coming home and saying these really interesting things. Where did they learn this?" So we can share with them, “We've changed some of our practices and here's what we're doing, and here's the benefit we're seeing in students, and thank you for seeing the same thing that we are.”
PA: That is wonderful. And having been a LETRS trainer myself, it just warms my heart to hear you speak. I want to know, why do you think the science of reading is important knowledge for teachers? You told me a little bit about this, right? You gave me some information and you really expound upon it a good bit. Can you tell me a little bit more? Why does it make a difference on how students are taught to read?
KJ: I had a mentor several years ago who told me that some students will learn in spite of us, but all students should learn because of us. And that sentiment was really powerful to me. And I think when you understand the science of reading, when you understand how the brain processes language and how the right instruction at the right time can prevent many reading difficulties, and how those science of reading practices are effective for everybody, you have a deeper understanding of your impact as a teacher so that you can be the teacher who students learn because of you. And it really translates into using those practices to benefit all of our students and further all of their success in reading.
PA: I can tell you, I just love “learn because of us.” I think every teacher wants to be able to say “My students learn because of me.”
PA: This past school year has been unlike any other, and you mentioned despite the challenges of these last few years, you've seen some interesting things still happening and teachers learning and growing despite this year. How do you think LETRS prepared your educators for the challenges they faced when they returned to the classroom this current school year?
KJ: Our educators are absolutely in uncharted waters with how much instruction's been disrupted, how many gaps that our students have faced, and our LETRS-trained teachers are confident in their knowledge about how students learn to read. They are well-trained in determining which skills students may be missing so that we can be more effective in our intervention time in addressing those needs. It really has created a sense of urgency. Everybody's got a sense of urgency because you're having to fill such large gaps, but when you have this knowledge base and you can be really targeted about the decisions that you make and you can be strategic about how you spend your time, it allows you to fill gaps in a more targeted and strategic way.
PA: Very well put—a sense of urgency, but you know what direction to take, you know what the tools are. You can pull them out of your backpack, right?
KJ: Absolutely. Yeah. The more you have in your toolbox, the better to address some of those things.
PA: Most definitely. Well, Ms. Jones, your district was one of the first-ever winners of the Dr. Louisa Moats Award. Can you tell us a little bit about how that came about? What made your district decide to enter?
KJ: We are so proud of all of the work that our teachers have done and that our administrators have done in the science of reading, and so when there was an opportunity to be recognized for that work, we felt like it was something we wanted to go for and apply for. One of our elementary principals—Sherri Hendrie—actually is the one who filled out the application and accepted the award earlier this year. She had seen the difference that the science of reading had made in her school, and she knew from talking to her colleagues around the district [that] they were all seeing the same thing, so applying for an award that would allow our teachers and our district to have recognition for the hard work that we've done, really, it was a pretty easy choice.
PA: Oh, I'm certain. When you know you're moving in the right direction, when you know you're doing the right thing, it does make all the difference in the world. So you gave me some information for why you applied, but why do you think your school district was chosen as a winner? I know there are probably many districts out there who said, “I think I'm going to apply” and maybe felt similarly. What made Enid school systems stand out?
KJ: I think it's probably two things. I think it was our commitment; when you go into the science of reading and you go into LETRS, it's a commitment, it's a “We're all in on this and this is the direction we're going,” and so I think that commitment was evident in our responses and in our application. I think the second thing that probably made us stand out was the fact that we started with our leadership. We started with principals and made sure that our leadership was on board and could support the professional development that their teachers were going to get. And I think that, from talking to other districts, I feel like… that that is probably not common. I don't think every district kind of approaches it that way. I think, from the districts I've talked to, they really kind of focus on teacher professional development, which is so important. But I think because we started with our leadership, it's allowed that to be more infectious for our teachers.
PA: Most definitely. I have to agree with you. You know, leadership makes a difference, and when we have instructional leaders will understand the science of reading, it makes all the difference in the world. So, we are nearing the end of our podcast. Are there any final tips you may have for districts that are planning to roll out a professional learning solution?
KJ: I would say reach out and visit with other districts—tap into that wider education community. It's really tough if you think you're going to go it alone and you're feeling like you're the only one in your boat, but there are a lot of districts around the nation that are trying to figure out how to make this transition. So, tap into that knowledge, tap into other people who are having the same experience. Everybody's journey is going to be a little different, but the amount of support that you can gain from other districts and other educators is very helpful.
PA: Right? Because we're all in this together, aren't we?
KJ: Absolutely. Definitely trying to come together as an educational community.
PA: Now, finally, if you could wave a magic wand and change anything in the world of education, what would you change and why?
KJ: I would want to change how and how much the science of reading is talked about and embraced in teacher education programs. There are a lot of states with higher-ed initiatives whose teacher education programs are dedicated to teaching the science of reading to those who are coming into this profession, and I believe we need more of that. As a public school district, we're going to absolutely continue to invest in and grow our teachers professionally, but when they come out of a program that's not shared anything with them about the science of reading and into a district that's trying to implement the science of reading, they start to feel behind. And now brand-new teachers who are trying to manage a classroom and learn curriculum and all of those basic “getting in the classroom and being a teacher” things are now trying to catch up on a knowledge base that really requires a lot of thought and study, and it becomes just a really tall order. So, if our pre-service teachers started building that knowledge base in higher education, school districts can refine and deepen that knowledge rather than starting from scratch.
PA: “Build on a solid foundation.” I'm waving that magic wand right along with you, Ms. Jones.
KJ: Definitely need a little magic in that area.
PA: I agree 100%. Well, thank you for joining us today, Ms. Jones. It's been a pleasure visiting with you. Tell us how we can learn more about you and your school district.
KJ: So, our district website is Enidpublicschools.org. There is information about our curriculum team on that page, and there's an option there to reach me for messages.
PA: Excellent. So they'd be able to contact you directly.
KJ: Yes, ma'am.
PA: This is Pam Austin bringing the best thought leaders in education directly to you.
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