CBSD’s Rising TIDE of Literacy Joins ‘Tiny Library’ Movement

CBSD’s Tiny Library

The Columbia Education Foundation provides mini-grants to Columbia Borough School District employees to fund innovative ideas and initiatives.  The District goal for the 2016-17 year is to increase the overall literacy of not just the school but the surrounding community. A grant was written to provide for the building and implementation of Tiny Libraries. The purpose of these innovative literacy storage units is to allow people in the community to take a book or leave a book and build a true community of readers.

LNP Delivery
Used LNP Newspaper Machines

Once the grant was awarded, a search was conducted for waterproof units that would allow for the safe storage and exchange of books. After searching local retail stores, the options for affordable outside storage units were slim. It was at this time that an article about the Tiny Library Movement sparked an idea to contact LNP and ask for a donation for defunct newspaper machines. LNP not only donated but delivered five machines to the District for re-purposing for our Tiny Libraries. The Columbia Borough School District custodial staff prepared the machines and shipped them to a local Columbia Business, Joe’s Body Shop, for painting.

It is my pleasure to announce that the units are currently in the community providing 24hr. access to books. The four units have been placed at locations near all of our District buildings. Please support our Tiny Libraries by visiting to either take or leave a book. 

Dr. Gregory M. McGough, CBSD Director of Curriculum/Coordinator of Federal Programs


Assessment Anchors Secure Meaningful Learning in the Tumultuous Sea of Student-Centered Instruction

Pic taken by G. McGough
Pic taken by G. McGough

I have had the pleasure to attend multiple department/grade level meetings in the District to begin promoting our curriculum day on 13 Jan. 2017. I wanted to post this blog to support my message as the District begins the process of using professional development to build teacher capacity in curriculum design.

At the current time, one of the hard truths that the District must face is that standardized assessment (PSSA, PASA, and Keystone) scores are used as the measuring stick of Pennsylvania public schools and teachers. Although I am NOT in favor of designing curriculum and instruction that only teaches to the test, it IS important to use the data from these assessments to determine areas of strength/growth in the District. The difficulty is that focusing on just biology, literature, and algebra creates a “tunnel vision effect” that severely limits the academic vision of the District.

Although the District is emphasizing the assessment anchors/eligible content of the core subjects, we are broadening our vision to include educating the whole child. In the past, Districts have always requested that non-tested subject area experts support the standardized-tested subjects by adopting some of the core standards.  The District would like to inspire teachers to expand this notion to allow for collaborative sharing to occur across/between ALL academic disciplines. Imagine addressing a music standard in mathematics or teaching an art skill in social studies. The sum of the holistic learning experience is stronger than the separate academic parts.

The District envisions classrooms where students are directing their own learning and development in rigorous academic projects that build upon foundational skills from a multitude of academic/elective disciplines.  The transition to student-centered instruction/assessment techniques is exciting and can lead to some interesting learning opportunities that mirror real world issues/problems. As long as the District anchors the learning experiences/outcomes to eligible content standards, our students can redefine their worlds while surpassing the expectations of the State-mandated assessments.

It is going to be a great year for Columbia Borough School District.

Dr. Gregg McGough, Director of Curriculum/Coordinator of Federal Programs


Learning Maps and the AAA Model of Curriculum Reform

On Thursday (17 Nov. 2016) evening, the CBSD Curriculum Leaders’ Council convened in the high school library/media center. The evening’s agenda focused on two distinct but interrelated topics, curriculum progression maps and the AAA Model of Curriculum Reform.

In an effort to move the District forward in the area of curriculum development, my office decided to group our curriculum leaders by academic discipline and have them develop a curriculum map that illustrates the learning progressions of students. The purpose of this exercise was to visually map out the actual progression of all potential course selections from kindergarten to graduation. The conversations were enlightening as the maps began to take shape. Teachers were able to determine how their particular grade range fit within the larger academic continuum. This 10,000 foot view makes visible the invisible learning pathways that flow through our curriculum.

Image taken by G. McGough
Image taken by G. McGough

The transition to the Pennsylvania Core has had a major impact on what is being taught and assessed in Pennsylvania schools. For the past year or two, the District has contracted curriculum mapping services from the Lancaster Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13. The professional development provided teachers with the basics of curriculum writing and an introduction to the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Standards Aligned System (SAS) website. IU13 provided a wonderful foundation upon which the District can now build a dynamic 21st Century curriculum that meets the needs of diverse learners. Our long range curriculum goals include designing student-centered learning projects that are supported by a 1:1 technology integration. Although we have a far reaching vision on the academic landscape of what learning can be for our students, we cannot overlook those students who currently populate our classrooms.

As the curriculum director, I felt the need to develop a transition plan that will allow the District to leverage the capacity for our Curriculum Leaders and teachers to create a responsive curriculum that truly meets the needs of our learners. I designed the AAA model to allow for quick short-term adjustments to the curriculum so that our drivers of learning can move forward and have greater impact with our current population of students. Just like AAA, this fix will allow us to get moving toward a long-range solution of 21st Century curriculum reform.

On January 13, 2017, the District will have another curriculum writing event. During this time, my office along with the support of the curriculum Leaders’ Council, will roll out our AAA Model. The day’s professional development will follow a four-step process: analyze standardized data, select 3-5 assessment anchors, design standards-based lessons, and develop common assessments. It is our hope to take this curriculum work and scale it up to meet our ultimate curriculum destination.

Dr. Gregg McGough, CBSD Director of Curriculum & Coordinator of Federal Programs

Title I Parents’ Tips for Literacy: Making Connections


Image captured by Dr. McGough
Image captured by Dr. McGough

Last night, the faculty and staff of Columbia High School welcomed Dr. Mike Smith to his first faculty meeting on his second day in the District. In an effort to provide consistency in leadership for The Rising TIDE of Literacy, I prepared the professional development for our second Tovani Literacy strategy, Making Connections.

As a CHS faculty we discussed how architect’s are to blame for some of the learning problems in schools because of their design of the physical space. In an effort to ease the planning of high schools, architect’s grouped similar subjects together so that they could place all the utilities (plumbing, electric, etc.) in particular sections of the school. The science department needed labs outfitted with similar utilities, so they were all grouped in one corner of the school. The difficulty with this design of physical space is that the learning that occurs in these spaces became segmented. Students expect to only learn reading skills in English class and computational skills in mathematics classes. Our physical space has caused our learning to become divided into neat little boxes by subject. Authentic learning requires students to think between and sometimes outside of all their academic boxes.

The Pennsylvania Core Standards require students to move from memorization of concepts to application of learning. The application of learning requires students to be able to draw from the sum total of their entire educational experiences. The students need to be taught how to make connections. The administrative team will be sharing the Tovani Making Connections Reading Strategy with their staff during the second marking period.

The second Tovani Literacy Strategy that was introduced to the CBSD staff deals with helping students to make connections between new material and prior learning. When students read, in any class, they will be expected to connect the new learning with prior experiences. Teachers and parents should begin seeing evidence of this strategy in the margins of their student’s reading assignments. The students will be making the following connections:

  1. T2S – (Text-to-Self) The student explains a personal experience in the margin that connects to the reading.
  2. T2W – (Test-to-World) The student explains personal knowledge (movies, songs, etc.) that they have learned that connects to the reading.
  3. TST – (Text-to-Text) The student explains how what they are currently reading connects to another reading that they have done in the past.

This literacy strategy will help the student to begin taking an active role in his/her reading by making connections to all of their prior learning. Active readers tend to have higher levels of comprehension and retain the information for longer periods of time. We need your help!


To make connections, students need to have background knowledge in many academic areas. The easiest technique to develop background knowledge is to read the newspaper as a family and discuss the stories. During the discussion, parents can ask their students to make the same connections that they are using in school (T2S, T2W, and TsT). The classification does not matter as much as the reasoning that the student develops. Once students begin making connections between their learning, they will be able to apply their learning in new and unique situations. Thank you for your help.

Dr. Gregory M. McGough, Director of Curriculum & Coordinator of Federal Programs

Parents & Educators Continue the Conversation Around Education Reform

This artifact houses the collaborative responses of the 13 Oct. 2016 Title I Parents' Meeting. The picture was taken by Dr. Gregg McGough.
This artifact houses the collaborative responses of the 13 Oct. 2016 Title I Parents’ Meeting. The picture was taken by Dr. Gregg McGough.

The Columbia Borough School District annually receives Title I Federal funding to supplement the core educational programming. The US Department of Education allocates this funding in hopes of inspiring high poverty/high need schools to use innovation to transform learning for ALL students. Schools that receive Title I funding have requirements that must be fulfilled each year. One of those requirements is the hosting of a Title I Parent Meeting. After decades of academic research, it is the belief of the US Department of Education that educational reform can only be cultivated in communities where the school and parents work cooperatively to rethink what it means to learn.

Last Spring, the District met its annual obligation by hosting the Title I Parent Meeting; only two parents were in attendance. Although we were few in number, our conversation lasted an hour and a half and proved to be both thoughtful and inspiring. A promise was made by the parent participants to increase attendance for the next Parents’ Meeting.

On October 13, 2016, Columbia Borough School District held the first of two scheduled Title I Parent Meetings. The District truly understands the need to build the capacity of our parents in pushing for school wide reform measures, so we planned multiple meetings. Good to their word, the attendance soared 1350% to 29 parents in attendance. One of the activities that everyone participated in was a design workshop activity called “What’s On Your RADAR?” Participants were given Post-It notes and told to write down their educational concerns. They were then asked to prioritize them on the poster board in order of importance. The most pressing issues were to be placed in the center of the radar. ALL schools have room for improvement; this activity allowed our parents to share the most important concerns they have for our three schools. Goal alignment between parents and teachers is essential for true academic collaboration.

Following our Title I Parent Meeting, the CBSD Curriculum Leaders’ Council convened for its October meeting. The group continued to discuss the District literacy initiative and collect curriculum artifacts from all subject areas. One key area of conversation that was prompted by the Parents’ Meeting dealt with increasing rigor across the grade levels. The group agreed that the District needs to continue to develop a  K-12 curriculum that is aligned to the Pennsylvania Core Standards. Alignment means that all the standards and eligible content for a academic area are organized in a coherent sequence so that there is a logical progression of learning from kindergarten to post-secondary training/schooling. The curriculum serves as the foundation upon which a teacher can build innovative lessons and assessments.

On October 21, 2016, the District held a mandatory professional development activity on the topic of suicide awareness and then spent the afternoon working on curriculum initiatives. The District contracted with IU13 to continue its third year of curriculum development with our teachers. Some groups were receiving introductory training while others uploaded curriculum maps and common assessments into the SAS Curriculum Mapping Tool.

The main purpose of this blog post is to demonstrate the District’s passion for developing the capacity of parents to aid in school reform initiatives. The parents spoke, and we are listening. We look forward to our continued collaboration as we push Columbia Borough School District to new heights.

Dr. Gregory M. McGough, Director of Curriculum & Coordinator of Federal Programs

Curriculum Leaders’ Council (Aug. & Sept.): A NEW LMS for Professional Development


The Curriculum Leaders’ Council met for the second time this school year (15 September) and worked off of the following Google agenda. Our first meeting in August was convened to support the initial implementation of the reading strategies for The Rising TIDE of Literacy.


The hybrid learning model is being expanded to include more teachers/learners in the middle school. This digital instructional model is a harbinger for the eventual implementation of a 1-to-1 learning program. In an effort to expedite/ease teachers into this transformational shift in instruction & assessment, the administrative team decided to implement Schoology as a learning management system (LMS). This virtual platform will allow for the sharing of professional development resources and materials that support our District Goal. This particular LMS was selected because IU13 uses this system to manage resources, and our teachers, who have received curriculum writing training, have been taught how to use the platform.

Schoology Sign up

Step 1: Create a Schoology Account using your district email.

Step 2: Click “Join” under the “Group” pull down tab.

Step 3: Enter the group access code (including the hyphen).

Step 4: Click on “Resources,” which can be found on the left hand side of the opening page.

Step 5: If you are having issues, here is a link to a YouTube Tutorial for How to Sign Up for a Group In Schoology.

Rising TIDE of Literacy

The Curriculum Leaders’ Council discussed the first few weeks of the District-wide literacy implementation. Thesnap-2016-09-16-at-09-19-21 prevailing theme of our discussion was one of cautious optimism. Teachers see the need for literacy instruction but feel nervous about whether or not they are implementing it correctly. Our Couoncil’s consensus is that there is no one way to correctly teach literacy. We feel that it is important for all staff to develop a “growth mindset” around the infusion of literacy skills into every subject area. The four literacy strategies that will be implemented this school year will look dramatically different as students apply the skills in their lessons. It is important for individual teachers to look for how Setting a Purpose & Pace can impact student literacy skills. Please remember that the term literacy is defined as the ability to read and write. It is our duty to allow the term literacy to be broad enough to encompass all the learning materials in our various subjects/disciplines. Students have to read music, equations, nutrition labels, historical documents, short stories, poems, magazines, paintings, and much more.


The Council recognizes that the District is in its third year of curriculum development with content experts from Intermediate Unit 13. The discussion became very spirited as teachers began calling for professional development because of perceived gaps in the vertical alignment of curriculum. In an effort to make informed decisions, curriculum leaders were charged with the task of printing copies of the Curriculum Maps that have been uploaded to Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Standard’s Aligned System (SAS) curriculum mapping tool. This will allow the Council to determine where professional development, in the area of curriculum writing, is needed this school year. Curriculum development is a continual process that never ends as educational institutions redesign programming to meet the dynamic needs of the community.

Dr. Gregory M. McGough, Director of Curriculum & Coordinator of Federal Programs

Every Teacher is a Teacher of Reading & Writing (May 19, 2016)

Picture captured by G. McGough
Picture captured by G. McGough

At the April Curriculum Leaders’ Meeting, I shared a TEDx video by Simon Sinek where he shared the secret on how leaders can garner organizational support for innovative change. He explains that the secret is in how leaders frame their beliefs when trying to inspire a team of collaborators to share in a common vision. He is often quoted as saying, People don’t buy WHAT you do; they buy WHY you do it. As a new leader, I have been reading multiple texts on how to be a servant leader who has strong beliefs that guide WHY I do what I do on a daily basis. When a servant leader can clearly state his/her belief in a succinct WHY statement, people, within the organization, can make a conscious choice to join the group promoting change or oppose the change because it does not fit within currently held beliefs. Before explaining the changes that will occur with our new literacy initiative, please take a look at my original WHY statement that I shared last month at different faculty meetings:

Why? “To serve and empower educators/learners at every level to use data and innovation to constantly push the boundaries of what it means to learn.”

In an effort to empower both teacher/learner, one needs to use objective data to determine weaknesses in instruction/assessment practices. In my first couple of months in my new position, I have reached the realization that my primary role as a servant leader is to use data to identify objective areas of potential growth and then develop a coalition of teachers/staff/admin to work toward solving the perceived problem.

Let’s look at the data. The most recent district Keystone data reported that the Winter 2015-16 Literature Performance Levels for Proficient/Advanced was 52.4%. This is a significant increase from Spring 2011 when the Literature performance levels for Proficient/Advanced was 31.6%. It is important to note that the district is trending in a positive direction, but WE, as a district, cannot be content with 47.6% of our Keystone-tested students scoring at basic/below basic. We are not alone. Just last week I attended an IU13 literacy session, and they stated that literacy rates across the State have stagnated since 1992. They are launching a literacy program of their own titled, Literacy is for Life. We need to realize that we have a systemic issue that we as a district need to address with focused, schoolwide reading and writing interventions.

It is important to note that the schoolwide literacy approach has been used in multiple schools to increase student learning and promote positive school reform. One famous example is at Brockton High School. If you want to be inspired, please take a moment to watch the following YouTube video: NEED TO KNOW / School of Thought in Brockton, Mass. / PBS.

As the administrative team met in early Spring to discuss the various literacy initiatives at all grade levels, it became apparent that the success of any schoolwide program hinges upon getting buy-in from the K-12 classroom teachers. Our mantra for the upcoming 2016-17 school year is going to be that every teacher is a teacher of reading and writing. No one is better at teaching literacy in the content area than a content expert. This summer the administrative team is going to be planning/coordinating a professional development/support schedule that will provide the foundation for the district literacy initiative. After discussions with building level administration, curriculum leaders and curriculum consultants from IU13, we have determined that the faculty at both the middle/high school will be referring to Cris Tovani’s text I Read It But I Don’t Get It as a literacy strategy resource. This practical text will empower ALL teachers by providing them actual strategies and tools (paper/pencil and digital applications) to help students read complex texts at their reading level. Please do not label this as just a lock-step book study; the purpose of the Tovani text is to serve as a resource guide for the high-impact, tech-infused reading strategies that will be implemented throughout the year. At this point, the admin team is looking at implementing one strategy a month so that it has time to make a real and lasting impact on the reading levels of students.

One of the key elements of the successful implementation of a literacy initiative is to begin by preparing the learning spaces by providing proper funding for the teaching staff to purchase highly engaging material for classroom libraries. In an effort to strengthen our literacy in the early grades, Kindergarten through sixth grade will be running a reading pilot with materials from both Journeys (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and Wonders (McGraw Hill). Every teacher from grades 5 through 12 will be receiving $250.00 to develop their own content-specific classroom library. By flooding the classrooms with books the teachers will be able to channel the reading in their specific content area so that students can be swept up in the rising Tide of Literacy.

Please continue to follow my office’s blog so that you can stay informed about our new initiative. Have a great end to the school year.

Information Items:

  • The Susquehanna Center for the Creative Arts  is providing FREE summer art classes to Columbia Borough SD students.
  • A core group of teachers is receiving advanced copies of the Tovani text and will be attending the Marzano Conference to help develop ideas for infusing essential reading/writing skills into all coursework.

Dr. Gregg McGough, Director of Curriculum & Coordinator of Federal Programs

Columbia Borough School District

Guardians of Literacy: A Title 1 Parent Meeting (April 28, 2016)


Pic taken by G. McGough
Pic taken by G. McGough

On a rainy Thursday, Columbia Borough School District(CBSD) hosted its Spring Title 1 Parent Advisory Meeting in the media center of Columbia High School. Although the group was small, the scope of the conversation was large and informative. The group reviewed and discussed the Parent Involvement Policy and future actions the district could take to promote greater parent participation. It is the belief of CBSD that parents are the student’s first and BEST teacher. For the upcoming school year (2016-17), the district will be exploring multiple communication channels to reach out to parents to increase involvement with our school improvement initiatives.

The second agenda item of our parent meeting focused on informational items delivered in an effort to support the literacy initiatives of CBSD. The focus of the

Pic taken by G. McGough
Pic taken by G. McGough

small presentation was the importance of getting reading materials into the hands of ALL students. We discussed Jim Trelease’s tip to read at least 15 mins. every day. For those with younger students, this may include reading aloud to the child. The conversation then shifted to opening up our definition of reading materials. Whether its comic books, graphic novels, magazines, or even junk mail, it is important to support various types of fiction/non-fiction reading. A special thank you to Joe Miller of The Comic Store for donating FREE comic books that were distributed to attendees.

The importance of pleasure reading and its impact on success in school cannot be overemphasized. If you can provide your young learner a good reading text, they will feel valued as a reader. Notice that I did not say BOOK? As a former English teacher, I would love to pass a law that forced all students to read the great works of literature, but this is just not realistic. It is important to allow readers the freedom to select texts that speak to them and their current needs. A young man who reads an auto magazine should be encouraged to develop his analysis/comparison skills as he reads the various entries.

As summer approaches, please begin thinking about encouraging your student to read at least 15 mins./day.

One of the unique features of a blog is its dynamic/interactive nature. If you have any suggestions to increase parent involvement, please click the Leave a Reply tab at the bottom of this post.

Special Thanks: I would like to take a moment to thank Kate Foehlinger and her cafeteria staff for preparing a wonderful table of refreshments for our honored guests.


Dr. Gregg McGough, Director of Curriculum & Coordinator of Federal Programs

Columbia Borough School District

(April 14, 2016) C&I Committee Meeting

  Why blog picIntroduction:

It has come to my attention that the larger school community would like to be aware of our monthly discussions at the Curriculum & Instruction Committee Meetings. This blog will be my office’s effort to share the most relevant information. By no means will I be able to capture the entire happenings of the session, so I will ask our Curriculum Leaders to please weigh-in, when necessary, in the comments area of the blog.

Guiding Philosophy:

In an effort to inspire the type of leadership that empowers teachers and students to take control over innovative learning practices, I decided to share a TEDx talk by Simon Sinek titled How Great Leaders Inspire Action. This talk is built on the statement, “People don’t follow WHAT you do; they follow WHY you do it.” As my office begins the transition of leadership, I hope to be a servant leader who uses my simple WHY statement to help inspire educational innovation and change.

“To serve and empower educators/learners at every level to use data and innovation to constantly push the boundaries of what it means to learn.”

Information Items:

  • April 28th: Title 1 Parent Advisory Meeting (6:30pm at CHS Media Center)
  • Thaddeus Stevens was awarded a 3-year National Science Foundation(NSF) Grant to inspire girls to enter STEM careers.
  • If you have time, please continue to voluntarily post what it means to learn in Columbia Borough School District on Twitter using #CBSDlearns.