Casas Christian School is a 2022 recipient of Learning Ally’s Winslow Coyne Reitnouer Excellence in Education Award, an award recognizing exemplary educators and schools. Principal Joshua Kempf says, “Our mission is to meet each student where they are in their learning process. The “readiness-level” approach is a core value to identify literacy needs in small group instruction.”
Voted Best Private Christian School in Tucson, Arizona for four years, this school is unique because of its “readiness-level” education philosophy valuing the whole child.
Whole Child Learning - A Top Priority
Mr. Kempf’s teaching team conducts its mission with consistent needs assessment, continuity of instruction, an instructional SIS support team, and close relationships with families. SIS stands for Student Instructional Support, a team assisting teachers in meeting individual needs. After evaluating scientific research studies on evidence-based reading instruction grounded in the science of reading, Casas took a 180-degree turn in the reading curriculum -- from a balanced literacy approach to a structured literacy program. School leaders participate in professional development workshops like the Learning and Brain conference to broaden their knowledge of the science of reading and then share it with other school staff.
Student Instructional Support
Classrooms conduct learning in small group rotations where the SIS teacher and classroom teacher work with subsets of students on decoding multi-syllabic words, another subset on specific comprehension strategies, and another on depth and complexity with higher-level texts. The beauty of this model is there is no stigma or labels attached to students because SIS teachers work equally to approach, meet, and exceed standards. The team also models for students how to advocate for themselves and to set growth and achievement goals.
Schoolwide Screening to Advance Literacy
The SIS support staff provide critical, systematic, and explicit instruction. Within their processes are school-wide screenings to identify learning gaps as early as possible. Teachers are trained in dyslexia to help identify and provide reading support. Students with cognitive challenges such as executive functioning receive an accommodation plan and SIS assists teachers in breaking large assignments up into smaller chunks, providing note-taking support, and the use of appropriate assistive technology. “We’ve heard incredibly positive feedback from parents, teachers and students about Learning Ally’s resource,” says Mr. Kempf.
In their school-to-home relationships with families, Casas has grown dramatically in their efforts to connect with families who are expecting the school to help their children love learning, and to feel valued and connected, especially during the global pandemic.
In this effort, teachers send visual representations home so parents can see what is going on in the classroom, along with having an open line of communication regarding readiness-level groupings and progress. “Students with all types of learning needs flourish regardless of their ability or circumstance,” says Mr. Kempf. “It is our job to let them know that they are ‘okay’, just as they are.”
Mr. Kempf recalls a conversation with an Instruction Support Director presenting Learning Ally data about a sixth grader with learning barriers. “The data showed a positive trajectory toward literacy growth in fluency and fundamental skills,” he said. “Learning Ally is a massive resource for teachers to monitor reading progress and learn about students’ reading behaviors. We believe our model is beneficial for any school who wants to provide more individualized instruction by adapting and meeting each student’s abilities at their ‘readiness level,’ and to use resources and support to advance them forward academically, spiritually and emotionally.”
On behalf of the Learning Ally organization, we congratulate Casas Christian School and Principal Joshua Kempf for exemplary service to improve literacy for all learners.