Amalia Lopez became a high school English teacher because she thinks functional English is one of the greatest gifts you can give anyone trying to navigate life in the United States. So it may have been fate that she landed a job in the low-income, heavily immigrant California Central Valley community of Lindsay in 2009. That year, after decades as one of the most underperforming districts in the Valley, the Lindsay Unified School District was embarking on a bold and pioneering project to switch from a traditional education system to its own community-sourced, performance-based learning system. Out went A-F grading, social promotion and even the terms “student” and “teacher.” In came competency-based structures, student empowerment, and terms like “learner” and “learning facilitator.”
At the heart of the Lindsay system is literacy. “We view literacy as the wheel in the middle that every other spoke comes off of,” says Lopez, who now manages a $28 million federal grant that was awarded to the district in October of 2017 to develop teacher and leader capacity.
EdSurge recently asked Lopez to share insights into Lindsay’s transformation from a chronic underachiever to a nationally recognized model of competency-based education whose four-year college entrance rate is twice the national average for low-income communities. She discussed the role that Reading Plus, an adaptive reading intervention program, has played in her district’s literacy success. And she emphasized the impact of text choice on reading motivation and why that is especially powerful in a community where 75% of the residents are both English learners and living below the poverty line.