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Whatever the Level, Reinforcing Reading Is No Joke

Jerry C. Gross is superintendent of the Conejo Valley Unified School District. Janice Somple teaches English at Westlake High School

In her article, “A Telling Picture Gives Lie to a Thousand Educational ‘Innovations,’ ” (Ventura County Perspective, March 21), Mary D. Dodd belittled a Read Across America Day event in honor of Dr. Seuss that took place at Westlake High School in the Conejo Valley Unified School District.

Surely Ms. Dodd did not mean to suggest that celebrating the work of Dr. Seuss and holding events to reinforce the Read Across America program are, as she put it, “a joke.” This program was similar to having guest readers on Presidents Day give speeches and offer historical vignettes on the role of presidents such as Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington. Does she believe these programs “flaunt sound educational principles”?

The students pictured are a college preparatory English class at Westlake High, a school at which 63 students won advanced placement awards this year and at which the most recent SAT scores were 115 points above the state average, 91 points above the national average and 169 points above the average score at La Habra High School, where Ms. Dodd taught.

It is obvious that teachers, administrators and parents place a strong emphasis on academic success, which has been a hallmark of our school district. We should hasten to add that we could not agree more that both low-performing and high-performing school districts can score better, and our district’s new strategic plan, to be in place July 1, will include a number of measures to raise the bar for our students.

The purpose of Read Across America Day was to reinforce in students a love for reading that indeed begins with books such as those written by Dr. Seuss. Making connections with children’s, adolescent and adult literature and especially real life is the challenge of all English teachers. And one need not look far to see traces of Shakespeare, Eliot and Beckett in Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go.”

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The Times, like all local papers, ran articles that celebrated the nationally sponsored National Education Assn. Read Across America Day. At Westlake High School alone, many community and business leaders were asked to read their favorite works in the spirit of the joy of first learning to read. Guests read not only Dr. Seuss but European folk tales, Edgar Allan Poe stories, and poetry, to name but a few.

As for the students’ attire, Ms. Dodd obviously misread the Times article that explained that classes were invited to replicate that time and joy in their lives by wearing pajamas and sharing children’s snacks. Ms. Dodd missed the larger picture.

Rather than cast unwarranted aspersions on a program that is working, it would be more productive to expand on innovations that have proven successful by reinvigorating the joy of learning. In this way we can tap an ever-diminishing enthusiasm for learning at the high school level.

Ms. Dodd references California’s new reforms as one way to “check on administrative inefficiency and boondoggles.” Teachers and administrators serve on the same team in this district, with a history of close working relationships in our mutual effort to serve students and parents effectively.


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