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Escambia Reading Coach Lisa Hale Named Top in the State

Pensacola News Journal

Escambia County School District Reading Coach, Lisa Hale, works with second grade student Trey Franko at Navy Point Elementary School. Hale is Florida's Elementary Reading Coach Teacher of the Year and is working to help improve reading scores in the district. / Tony Giberson/tgiberson@pnj.com

When Lisa Hale graduated from college with a brand-new reading specialist degree, she felt like a literacy rock star, ready to run a classroom of her own.

But when Hale, 35, started her teaching career in New York in 2000, she found out quickly that despite her training, there were still some things she didn't know about teaching a classroom full of diverse learners.

She had a successful career in New York and Georgia before coming to Florida 10 years ago. Here, she's had a successful career teaching primarily first and second grades as well as exceptional student education classes.

Fast-forward to today, and Hale still works in local schools, but she is no longer a classroom teacher.

She serves as a mentor, friend and supporter of classroom teachers.

In only her second year as a reading coach for the Escambia County School District, she was named Florida's Elementary Reading Coach of the Year by the Florida Literacy Association and Just Read, Florida!

She was selected out of a pool of reading coaches nominated by the state's 67 school districts.

Her goal as a reading coach is to provide professional development to new and veteran teachers at Navy Point and Warrington elementary schools as new educational trends and techniques emerge.

"The first year was hard, but now we have the trust built," Hale said. "They're willing to try new strategies."

The Grinch

On a recent Tuesday, Hale met with the fourth-grade teachers at Warrington Elementary before jetting off to the media center to perform a literacy demonstration for teacher Lisa McCandless and her first-grade class.

While reading aloud "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," Hale stopped every few pages to ask the students third-grade level questions about the story. She helped make it fun by having them do hand motions when she got to a vocabulary word in the text.

"What caused the Grinch to hate Christmas?" she asked the children. "Turn to the person next to you, and I'm going to give you 10 seconds to talk about it."

Ten seconds later, Hale asked the students to tell her what they had come up with.

"The noise!" one called out.

"He did not like the presents," another said.

By the end of the lesson, the students were having fun and learning.

Working with Hale, they crafted a solid sentence to summarize the story: "Dr. Seuss wrote 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas,' a fiction book, which shows how the Grinch learns a lesson that Christmas is not about presents but a time to be merry."

Positive reaction

McCandless said the demonstration helped her and that she will use this method, which is new to a lot of teachers, in her classroom.

"I ask her for everything," McCandless said. "If you ask her a question, she finds the answer."

Hale said after she models a technique, like she did on this day, she talks with the teacher about any concerns and reviews steps that might have been confusing.

"Once the teacher feels comfortable, I watch to see if there are any teaching points that would make them more successful, and we work together to link their own personal teaching styles with literacy procedures that will increase student achievement," Hale said.

Teaching teachers

Many elementary schools have a reading coach to work with teachers on strategies to improve students' reading.

Reading coaches spend a lot of time on professional development for teachers and demonstrating strategies for them in their classrooms.

"It's really important to see that teachers understand new practices and techniques and they feel comfortable using them in their classrooms," Hale said. "The ultimate goal is making sure teachers feel comfortable to increase their student performance."

Hale is the first Escambia reading coach to win the teaching award at the state level.

"Her interest is to help people," Navy Point Elementary School Principal Linda Brown said. "She brings a wealth of ideas to the classroom for teachers. The teachers love her."

Brown said she has noticed positive changes at the school since Hale started coaching teachers there last year.

"We started out with maybe one or two teachers who would attempt to do the 'Daily Five,' a method for reading that gives students choices in how they're going to go about their learning," Brown said. "Now it has just blossomed into full grade levels doing it because of Lisa.

"She is very much aware of the trends and good practices for reading. She researches, studies, practices and finds ways to do things."

'Positive addition'

Warrington Elementary Principal Peggy Tucker said Hale is a positive addition to her staff.

"She's had a strong impact by providing professional development and follow that up by going in the classroom and modeling for teachers," Tucker said. "That will trickle down and have a positive effect on students' reading achievement."

Hale spends Monday and Tuesday of each week at Warrington. She spends Thursday and Friday at Navy Point and switches from one school to the next every other Wednesday.

Additionally, she holds districtwide training sessions for teachers every now and then.

"I love working with the teachers," Hale said. "I like being their support, making sure I have every resource they need to make sure their students are making gains."