With each issue, Trib+Edu brings you an interview with experts on issues related to public education. Here is this week's subject:
Tracy Weeden is the president and CEO of Neuhaus Education Center, a nonprofit education foundation dedicated to reading. Weeden joined Neuhaus in July 2015.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Trib+Edu: What are your goals as president of Neuhaus?
Tracy Weeden: My goals include ensuring that we’re reaching the greatest critical mass of leaders of literacy. That would be central office principals and teachers who touch students every day and impact reading and literacy. This is a continuing challenge nationally, and it’s actually an issue at the root of who we will be in 10 years as a country.
There’s been a firestorm of state legislation nationally so it’s really a moment to seize for us to have the opportunity to impact students learning to read for the first time as a civil right.
My goal is to impact the greatest number of students and not just regionally, not just nationally, but even internationally. It changes the nature of how children can function in the world as adults.
Trib+Edu: I understand that you have plans for expansion and outreach at Neuhaus. Can you tell me about that?
Weeden: One of the things that I saw is that people who happen to know us and come by our facility love Neuhaus. However, there are plenty of people who don’t know who we are and what we do.
One of the key things I’ve been focused on is helping with that communications strategically so that decision-makers know who we are. One of example of that is we had our first Neuhaus literacy summit this week. We called it Unlocking Literacy, and it was well attended and was very successful.
Another thing that I’ve done is hired a director of state partnerships. He has two team members who are helping do proactive outreach in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Colorado and Ohio. That’s where we see real interest.
We have partnerships with Southern Methodist University and William Carey University in Mississippi.
One of the folks who was training to be a certified academic language therapist through William Carey University went on a trip to Lebanon and she met a gentleman there and he was interested in what we do. He traveled with his team; they have a non-profit and they wanted to help children to read in Lebanon. So we started a partnership in Lebanon.
We have one partnership that has surfaced in Belize and another that has surfaced in Uganda.
Trib+Edu: One thing that I find interesting is your dyslexia program. Can you tell me about that?
Weeden: Neuhaus provides evidence-based professional development to educators. We provide resources for families and for adults. In 2015, we trained about 2,800 professionals and in 2014 about 2,600. It’s pretty powerful the scale of what we’re able to accomplish.
The beautiful thing about Neuhaus is that because we understand the science of reading, when we take on a partnership it’s all about customizing to impact the pain points of a school district. It’s a model where you just don’t learn in isolation from practice.
Family engagement is crucial to us because there are parents I have spoken with and it brings tears to my eyes at times when I hear the struggle that they’ve gone through to identify the challenges of their students and getting them the support that they need.
We do have a family engagement and adult literacy department, and that department offers support to parents. They received more than 300 contacts from parents and families concerned about dyslexia and reading difficulties in their students in 2015.
Trib+Edu: When you go home at the end of the day, how do you know you’ve done your job?
Weeden: I would say there are two ways I would define that.
One would be quantitative data. What we do is data driven. If we don’t see a trajectory of growth for students who are being served by teachers and leaders literacy, we haven’t fulfilled our promise.
Secondly, I would say is through qualitative data. We gather from our workshops, training, courses and conference qualitative feedback from the people we serve.
I believe in a holistic way of seeing our work that gives us a deeper understanding, a closer understanding of what’s really happening.
The one thing that I haven’t told you that would be good for you to know about me is that I grew up in inner-city Detroit. I’m the oldest of seven.
My mother was a struggling reader. She is truly the person who I think about all the time when I do this work because she grew up very, very poor. She was determined that the seven of us would be raised as avid readers. She watched what middle-class families did with their children that she had exposure to. She took us to the library and to the museum.
We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had a lot of love and support.
She tells me her stories about being a struggling reader dreading being the one that had to read next orally and actually being humiliated by a teacher who struck her and slapped her across the face because she asked a question about something she was struggling with.
She decided to take what could have made her bitter, and it made us better.
Disclosure: Southern Methodist University was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune in 2013. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.