Students, teachers, parents and school officials gathered at Cullman City Primary School Monday afternoon to watch as the school was named the grand prize winner of the Dr. Louisa Moats Award for Excellence Implementing the Science of Reading.
CCPS was the winner out of 27 schools from around the country that applied for the award, which is meant to celebrate schools and school districts that demonstrate excellence in teaching the science of reading and in using the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) professional development program.
As the grand prize winner, Cullman City Primary School will receive a trophy, a $5,000 cash prize, a certificate of award, 30 LETRS champion t-shirts and 30 LETRS champion journals.
The award was presented virtually Monday afternoon, and CCPS students and staff members were joined by members of the Cullman City School Board, Cullman City Schools Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff and Alabama State Board of Education member Cynthia McCarty to watch the proceedings.
After the celebration following the primary school’s announcement as the grand prize winner, CCPS Principal Tricia Culpepper said she was happy to see the efforts of teachers and staff members be recognized at such a high level.
“It’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s really affirming for our school and teachers and our staff, because they’ve worked really hard in implementing the science of reading.”
McCarty said she visited the primary school a few weeks ago to see some of the teachers using their literacy education training, and she is happy to see all of their hard work be recognized.
“I’m thrilled to see Cullman Primary School be acknowledged for all the hard work and effort that the leadership, the teachers and the staff have put into teaching their children how to read,” she said.
The award is named in honor of Dr. Louisa Moats, a literacy expert who co-created the LETRS program to prepare educators to teach reading to their students.
Moats also served as a guest judge for the contest’s six finalists, and was the one who announced CCPS as the grand prize winner during Monday’s ceremony.
She spoke highly of the video that the school included in its application, and pointed out that CCPS is a Title I school with a Head Start program, meaning that it is not in a privileged community or a school with a lot of students who come in with a solid reading groundwork already built.
“You are building that, and you know how to build it, and you know the value of getting kids early into doing the right things,” she said.
Culpepper said first grade teacher Shannon Dutton was the one who came to her about entering the contest, and school resource officer Seth Sullivan — who also owns a production company — put together the video that was submitted as part of the school’s award application.
“It is just a happy day for us at the primary school,” she said. “Our teachers work really hard in preschool, kindergarten and first grade to lay a solid foundation for reading.”
Culpepper said the primary school first began using the LETRS program last year after it was recommended by the state for schools to use to make sure they are meeting the requirements of the Alabama Literacy Act, which will require students to pass a reading test at the end of the third grade.
The program is a two-year commitment for teachers and staff, and involves online professional modules and course work that is similar to college course work, she said.
Culpepper said the school has several teachers who have already completed the two year course, and more who are in their first year now, and there has already been a marked improvement among the students’ reading skills in that short amount of time.
“We can see tremendous gains as we have implemented this,” she said.
Culpepper also made sure to thank the Cullman City School System for providing the professional development days and making time available for teachers to work together on their course work.
“We’re very fortunate in having such a supportive superintendent and school board,” she said.
Dutton said she was feeling very emotional after seeing the school win the award, but her happiness wasn’t coming from the prizes that will soon be on their way.
“It’s about knowing that our students are bold and confident readers and watching them succeed,” she said. “That’s what tugs at my heart strings about this experience.”
The students in the classroom wouldn’t be able to say what the LETRS program is, but they are seeing the benefits of the teachers’ professional development as they are able to better grasp their reading skills, Dutton said.
“I’ve had 68 percent growth from the beginning of the year to now using these practices, so I absolutely attribute that to their success,” she said.