News Release

R.O Hardin literacy program leading the way

District says program has led to improvements including having 8% of kindergarten students being below grade level literacy, 77% are within and 15% are above grade level.

Information provided by Hollister School District

R.O Hardin Elementary School hosted educators from throughout the state- and as far as Oregon- on March 7 to learn about the school’s  groundbreaking early literacy program involving partnerships with Seaside-based Chartwell School and the University of California at San Francisco Dyslexia Center.

R.O. Hardin revamped its early literacy approach about five years ago after applying for a grant to help fund the Chartwell partnership. Like at many other schools, its educators had faced immense challenges in this area and were seeking alternative solutions.

Principal Lilia Espinoza explained to the crowd of about 30 visiting educators how the partnership with Chartwell School had been recommended to help develop R.O. Hardin’s early literacy curriculum ‒ which now focuses on small-group instruction using the Chartwell model, the Preventing Academic Failure reading program and ongoing neuroscience analysis from the UCSF Dyslexia Center.

Progress levels have been remarkable. This is a big reason why so many outside educators ‒ hungry for solutions to the early literacy challenge ‒ came to observe R.O. Hardin’s classrooms in the event organized by Chartwell School.

69% of kindergarten students were below grade level with literacy before the school year, 25% were within and 6% were performing above grade level. Now, 8% are below, 77% are within and 15% are above grade level.

Espinoza and district administrators, including Superintendent Erika Sanchez and Director of Educational Services Colleen Myers, spoke to the visiting educators ‒ and others from Chartwell and UCSF ‒ before breaking into small groups to observe classrooms.

There are inherent challenges for schools such as the pandemic, a lack of staffing and the tendency for funding to come and go. While those realities aren’t lost on educators, it’s also appropriate to celebrate partnerships like those with Chartwell, UCSF and the San Benito County Office of Education.

The mantra “Students deserve the right to read” has motivated the district. Although funding challenges have reduced the number of intervention teachers, the district has been largely reliant on consistent training for teams of instructional aides who allow for more individualized teaching in small groups.

R.O. Hardin and some other schools ‒ including Cerra Vista and Sunnyslope schools ‒ had started this approach to literacy shortly before the pandemic hit. That meant they were in a position to continue with the early literacy programming while other schools had to hold off to a degree. Once students returned from distance learning, a more robust implementation took place at the elementary level. By next year, the district expects full implementation of staffing and intervention models at all schools, possibly even for middle school grades.

Observers on March 7 were in awe of the school’s success. This wasn’t the first visit from outside observers to see R.O. Hardin’s literacy program at work, and representatives from the Sacramento Office of Education are set for an upcoming observation day as well.

Bob Wise, a Chartwell board member and former congressman and governor of West Virginia, was among the visitors March 7 and has been watching Hollister’s progress for about three years.

After observing R.O. Hardin classrooms, visiting educators attended an additional discussion about neuroscience at the district office.

Neuroscience is the other part of the equation and where UCSF steps in by providing applied science to help improve instruction. UCSF work helps to determine areas of the brain that are more or less active. This makes it easier for teachers to identify sources of students’ literacy deficiencies, and whether they are rooted in physiological or behavioral causes.

As of January of this year, due to a change in state law, the district had to start deploying a dyslexia screener in an attempt to identify students with the disorder as early as possible and address this and other literacy challenges sooner than later. This also will help to further authenticate identification of special needs students who can be misidentified as such when other causes may be involved.


Hollister School District