fb-pixelWinchester, Lexington parents push school committees on literacy Skip to main content
THE GREAT DIVIDE

Following Globe investigation, Winchester, Lexington parents push school committees for literacy reform

Winchester parents rallied over concerns about how literacy is taught in the district before a School Committee meeting Tuesday at Winchester High School.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Parents in both Winchester and Lexington on Tuesday evening attempted to pressure their local school committees for improved literacy instruction, following a Globe investigation into how some of Massachusetts’ wealthiest communities are teaching kids to read with faulty curriculums.

Parents from both communities spoke during the public comment portions of scheduled school committee meetings. Winchester parents also rallied in front of Winchester High School.

“We see the data, we see the changes happening in other towns,” parent Nina Samuelson told the Winchester School Committee. “We are asking for leadership.”

A Globe story published earlier this month revealed that Winchester and Lexington were among more than 100 districts using an early elementary reading curriculum the state education department considers “low quality” for promoting discredited teaching practices, such as encouraging students to guess at unfamiliar words based on pictures. Last week, Governor Maura Healey proposed a five-year plan to invest in better curriculums and teacher training.

In Winchester, parents engaged in a sometimes tense back-and-forth with Superintendent Frank Hackett following a presentation on Winchester’s preliminary fiscal 2025 budget. Parents questioned how the budget would support high-quality reading curriculum across all of the district’s classrooms.

Advertisement



“We know we have room to grow,” Hackett said, adding there will be future opportunities for in-depth conversations about literacy, including a planned discussion at the School Committee’s Feb. 13 meeting. The district may use an outside facilitator, he said.

About three dozen parents gathered on the front steps of Winchester High before the meeting began, many bearing brightly colored signs, including one that read “Learn how to read, not guess.” Another said: “Our kids can’t wait!”

Winchester parents rallied outside of Tuesday's Winchester School Committee meeting to push for literacy curriculum changes.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Dave Boschetto and his wife brought two of their four children to the rally. Boschetto said he’s heard of other districts shifting their reading curriculums to better align with reading science and questioned why Winchester wouldn’t do the same.

Advertisement



“We think it’s a shame the Winchester School Committee hasn’t taken up that issue after three full years of advocacy and having all the information at their fingertips,” he said.

It’s not the first time the School Committee has heard from concerned parents. Several spoke at the its Jan. 16 meeting, the Winchester News reported. The same day, more than 300 parents signed an open letter offering support to the district’s elementary and middle school teachers in the wake of the Globe investigation.

“The recent Boston Globe article helped shed light on significant leadership and equity gaps in Winchester’s elementary schools,” the letter said. “But what the story left out is your incredible efforts to address these gaps, even with the limited resources and professional development made available to you.”

The responsibility for developing educational policy and curriculum content, the letter said, should not fall on individual teachers but on the Winchester School Committee. The letter was penned by United for Literacy, a parent advocacy group that since forming in 2021 has pushed the committee to make changes to how schools teach reading.

A Winchester assistant superintendent previously told the Globe that curriculum decisions are best left to teachers.

In Lexington, parents also pressured the School Committee to shift the district’s literacy instruction, calling for a wholesale adoption of a new science-backed reading curriculum, improved dyslexia screening, and better reading interventions.

“Lexington is landing on the wrong side of the science when it comes to literacy,” said Jennifer Elverum, adding the district “is falling behind other districts that have already stopped using these outdated programs.”

Advertisement



But Jessica Caverly, a literacy specialist with the district, defended the district’s work.

”It is we teachers who understand the depth and breadth of the work that is necessary to ensure that all students learn in their journey at LPS,” Caverly said. “It’s not one-sided, teaching literacy. It’s dynamic and ever changing just like our students.”

At another point in the meeting, Lexington administrators provided the School Committee with a presentation on the district’s literacy efforts. Approximately 85 percent of Lexington Public Schools students in grades one through five performed at or above grade level in reading on an internal assessment this fall, according to the district. The presentation materials noted, however, that the district “continues to acknowledge the challenge of achievement disparities” among Black, special education, and low-income students.

Lexington has already begun reviewing its English Language Arts curriculum, officials said.

One of the curriculums under scrutiny in both districts is called Units of Study. The president of Heinemann, the New Hampshire-based publisher of Units of Study, previously told the Globe, “it has been incorrectly stated that Heinemann and its authors teach children to guess.”

The original version of Units of Study, however, encourages students to use “picture power” as a main tool for solving unknown words. In an update released last year, the curriculum introduces “slider power,” for sounding out words, while retaining picture power as an alternative option, according to materials viewed by the Globe.

Advertisement



Other advantaged districts have been using Units of Study, too, including Lincoln Public Schools, where superintendent Parry Graham noted in a Jan. 19 email to parents that the curriculum “has been a topic of controversy recently.”

Lincoln School Committee chair John MacLachlan signaled he wants to see change, and repeated his past calls for administrators to set specific goals to hold themselves accountable for eliminating reading achievement gaps.

“The School Committee has been constantly asking for the curriculum to be revised, based on high-quality evidence-based curriculum, so we are putting pressure on the administration to do exactly that,” he said at a meeting earlier this month.

“You have our blessing — take action.”

Staff writer Naomi Martin contributed to this report.




Mandy McLaren can be reached at mandy.mclaren@globe.com. Follow her @mandy_mclaren. Christopher Huffaker can be reached at christopher.huffaker@globe.com. Follow him @huffakingit.