Kelly Kulsrud. Photo courtesy of Lectio.
Kelly Kulsrud. Photo courtesy of Lectio.

First, the bad news: We are sad to announce that Kelly Kulsrud, our director of reading proficiency, has left Strategies for Children (SFC).

The great news, however, is that Kelly has become a co-founder and the executive director of Lectio, an organization that builds on our efforts to boost literacy outcomes for children in Massachusetts. As Strategies for Children continues to grow its community-level work, we look forward to partnering with Kelly in her new role at Lectio.

Lectio is the Latin word for reading. And the organization’s goal is to apply the best research and thinking to the hands-on work of supporting children’s reading—in communities, districts, and states.

“Despite great promise and tireless efforts, most children’s literacy programs and services produce only negligible effects,” Lectio’s website says.

Lectio’s solution: “We guide stakeholders through a comprehensive analysis of their literacy programs and services, focusing on their goals, design, desired outcomes, and resource allocation.”

Nonie Lesaux. Photo courtesy of Lectio.
Nonie Lesaux. Photo courtesy of Lectio.

Kelly will work with Lectio’s principal and co-founder Nonie Lesaux, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the chair of the Massachusetts Board of Early Education and Care. In addition, as long-time readers of this blog know, Lesaux is also the author of a report we commissioned in 2010 called, “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success.”

“Turning the Page” made five recommendations for boosting children’s reading outcomes:

1. Improve program design and impact

2. Assess children’s language and learning as well as the quality of the reading services they receive

3. Provide more training and education for the adults who work with children

4. Use “language-rich, rigorous and engaging reading curricula” in early education and care settings and in pre-K-to-third-grade classrooms, and

5. Partner with families

Based on Lesaux’s research and Kelly’s fieldwork in a number of cities — including Holyoke, Springfield, Worcester, Boston, and Springfield — and also on their collaboration over the past five years, it became clear that communities needed more help with the first recommendation: improving program design.

“They didn’t have a strategy for analyzing impact and effective resource allocation,” Kelly said in a recent interview.

One example is Holyoke where 43 community partners work to improve children’s reading. Their commitment is inspiring. But what the city didn’t have was a way to evaluate what each partner could do best; and there was no method for weaving these efforts into a cohesive whole for positive change.

Kelly’s work with Holyoke enabled the city’s many partners to focus on their own literacy-building strengths and essentially create a city map of what each partner could do best. This enabled the partners to work together in a more strategic way to achieve the gold standard of literacy programs: measurable success.

Kelly tackled the issue of measurable success in a 2014 conference that she organized. Based on “Turning the Page,” the conference shared strategies for ensuring that literacy volunteers are in fact boosting children’s reading abilities; because while it’s fun to see a bank vice presidents reading to children at the library, it’s even better if that v.p. can have a measurable positive impact on children’s reading skills.

Lectio will keep this vital work going by offering two capacity-building services: three-day institutes and on-site assistance.

The three-day institutes are more intensive, and they are designed to train teams.

“The team aspect is absolutely critical,” Kelly says. “It creates a chance for participants from different sectors or different areas of a school district to develop a common language and move in a strategic manner toward common goals. It’s essential planning time that often doesn’t otherwise happen.”

At an institute that was held last month, a team from New Jersey included staff from the state’s Department of Education, the United Way, and NIEER (the National Institute for Early Education Research) as well as a school superintendent and a United Way staff member.

Lectio’s Program Design Evaluation Tool helps team members look at the “disconnect between program design and desired outcomes…” Using this information, participants engage in a “Strategic Mapping and Planning Exercise” to put limited resources to work by charting and evaluating “their programmatic landscape” and engaging in “facilitated strategic planning.”

A key theme of Lectio’s approach is helping participants develop plans for change that are based in reality — taking into account whatever political, financial, and social challenges they may face and then calibrating their goals and implementation accordingly.

And while community-wide efforts can sometimes spark turf wars, Lectio’s approach has much more often enabled teams to work more collaboratively because they have a clear sense of their own and each other’s strengths.

Two more institutes are scheduled to be held in May and June of this year.

The other option for teams is to sign up for Lectio’s on-site assistance services. These services can be used as a precursor to the institute or a follow-up step. Participants can also opt to use only on-site assistance.

Lectio’s goals for our country’s children are inspiring. As its website says:

“Our mission is to unlock the power of our collective commitment to America’s youngest readers. We work to ensure that all children’s literacy efforts and those they serve reach their potential, and that all stakeholders see the results and impacts they intended.”

So while we’re sad to see Kelly leave, we hope you’ll join us in celebrating the exciting work that Kelly and Nonie Lesaux will be doing at Lectio: tapping the collective commitment that promises to transform children’s lives.