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Idaho Teacher of Year: Focus on early reading

Erin Lenz, Idaho Teacher of the Year, addresses the Senate Education Committee on Monday (Betsy Russell)
Erin Lenz, Idaho Teacher of the Year, addresses the Senate Education Committee on Monday (Betsy Russell)

BOISE - Idaho Teacher of the Year Erin Lenz, a first-grade teacher at Winton Elementary in Coeur d’Alene, told state lawmakers today that the key to education is a focus on early reading skills.

“I am not going to talk about the hot topics in education today, not about education reform, not about teacher evaluation or performance pay, not about college or career readiness,” she told the Senate Education Committee. “What I share with you today has direct implications, though, for all of these issues, and I am absolutely passionate about it: Making sure that every child learns to read.”

Said Lenz, “It is imperative that we look at cost-effective means to make sure students are reading at grade level before they leave the primary grades.” She recalled a young boy in her first class as a student teacher, who was in the fifth grade, but only read at a second-grade level; he inspired her to find ways to prevent that.

“Over time, the discrepancy between a struggling reader and his peers grows exponentially,” Lenz said. “I work daily with students who walk in the doors feeling defeated when their efforts to read go unrewarded. This is devastating.” She said at Winton, the whole school went to work on this problem. “We followed research that said ‘intervene early,’ ” Lenz said.

“As a result of these changes, 99 percent of our students scored proficient or advanced in reading last year on the ISAT,” she said, even though nearly 65 percent of the school’s kids are on free or reduced-price lunch. Said Lenz, “All schools need kindergarten and first-grade teachers who are experienced and effective in teaching reading.”

Senators on the committee had high praise for Lenz’ presentation; she also spoke to the House Education Committee this morning. Lenz, who said she’s been a member of the Idaho Education Association throughout her teaching career, thanked the IEA for paying for her travel and lodging to address lawmakers today.

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said, “Coeur d’Alene has been blessed with an overly proportionate amount of teachers of the year, and for that I’m grateful.”