Literacy leaders: no input sought before job cut

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BELOIT - Leaders of the Beloit Literacy for Life initiative and Nutrition and Health Associates are upset over the School District of Beloit's decision to eliminate the job of Director of Early Literacy Rachelle Elliott.

Leaders told the Beloit Daily News their objections relate to the elimination coming as a surprise, and for not being given the courtesy to provide input prior to the decision.

"It's just sad that no one thought to contact the Literacy for Life initiative," said Tara Tinder, executive director of the Stateline Community Foundation which launched and funded the initiative. "I would have hoped there would have been more thought for the work that has been done and is being done now and what impact it will have for our community."

"This public-private partnership has done exceptional work and Rachelle has been a major part of that success. For this to happen doesn't make any sense to me," said Bill Flanagan, retired Beloit College executive and a leader with the Literacy for Life Initiative. "I can't understand how that could have happened, or what they were basing this decision on."

"I think it's a tragedy. We serve the highest risk population and Rachelle comes in and models great preschool pre-literacy. She is such a wonderful proponent for early literacy," said Sue Stein, the executive director of Nutrition and Health Associates which runs the Rock County WIC (women, infants and children) program.

Interim Superintendent Tony Bosco revealed the position was being eliminated on Monday. The position of "early literacy coordinator" listed in the new organizational chart will replace the position, and Bosco said Elliott could apply for it.

"Our Early Literacy - Literacy for Life initiatives will continue and we are actually looking to expand the program over the next couple of years," Bosco said.

Bosco said the district will be expanding 4K and birth to 3 services.

The vision, he said, is to have leadership come from the superintendent to executive director of school leadership to the early literacy coordinator position.

"We are excited about where it's going," Bosco said.

When asked why the district did not contact community leaders involved with the Literacy for Life Initiative for input before making the decision, Bosco responded, "I just asked for contact information and will be talking to them directly as soon as I can get to them."

Tinder and Flanagan said Elliott played an integral role, networking with community entities and developing trust with families. She would go to various organizations in the community such as Head Start, Even Start, Merrill Community Center, doing playgroups and educating parents about the importance of early childhood literacy which includes talking to babies as well as playing with small children and ways to teach them beginning STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts.

The goal of early exposure to literacy, primarily through a child's parents or guardians, was to get them on the same playing field as their more socioeconomically advantaged peers in terms of vocabulary and school readiness.

The community initiative has partnered with healthcare providers so pediatricians provide books to families. It connected with various businesses, and passed out thousands of books at events. Culver's was a partner bringing police and fire personnel to read and pass out books.

Flanagan said Elliott had developed trust with families who came to her for counsel on teaching their children early literacy and promoted goodwill and cooperation with community partners.

Stein agreed.

"It was so gratifying to have someone come in and model parenting skills, literacy as well as STEM skills," Stein said. "This is horrible to hear."

Stein said Elliott saw the big picture of literacy and was hands-on.

"They had such a go-getter. She was non-stop. She built a program with us that's been so well received," Stein said.

Flanagan said he intends to speak with school board members, incoming Superintendent Stanley Munro and anyone who will listen.

The Beloit Daily News reached out again to Bosco to inquire when Elliott's contract expires and if she will be working in another capacity in the district. The newspaper did not receive a response by press time.

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