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The Q&A: Penny Schwinn

In this week's Q&A, we interview Penny Schwinn, deputy commissioner for academics at the Texas Education Agency.

Penny Schwinn is responsible for overseeing the TEA Assessment and Accountability Division, as well as Standards and Programs.

With each issue, Trib+Edu brings you an interview with experts on issues related to public education. Here is this week's subject:

Penny Schwinn is responsible for overseeing the TEA Assessment and Accountability Division, as well as Standards and Programs. In May, the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin was awarded $4 million by the Texas Education Agency to design and launch the state’s new literacy and reading-to-learn academies.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Trib+Edu: What are the state’s new literacy and reading-to-learn academies and how did they come about?

Penny Schwinn: Reading Academies were first developed in Texas in the 1990s as a statewide effort to increase reading levels for all children through a train-the-trainer model of professional development for thousands of Texas teachers.

Gov. Greg Abbott has continued to make reading a priority, and both he and the Legislature supported the use of funds to reinstate these important professional development opportunities for teachers in Texas.

We are currently working with both reading and math academies, beginning with younger grades (K and 1 for reading last year) and progressively building on that work.

Trib+Edu: What is the goal of the academies and how can they help Texas schoolchildren?

Schwinn: As with all initiatives in TEA — and in our districts — the goal of the academies is to improve reading for students in Texas.

Last summer, over 40,000 spaces were filled in the full academy suite of opportunities, meaning that thousands of teachers were able to access professional learning from our partner organizations.

As we have seen in previous iterations of the academies, we expect that the conversation around the art of teaching a child to read will continue to grow, and that academic achievement will grow with it.

Trib+Edu: How will the course content for the academies be developed and what factors are taken into consideration when developing this?

Schwinn: The content of the Reading Academies will be a joint effort between TEA and UT-Austin. The work of the Meadows Center has certainly shaped the expertise and research-based content that will be included in the experience.

Additionally, we are incorporating feedback from practitioners throughout the state to develop and build on the work of last summer, integrating updated videos, time to discuss and practice the content in real time, and to potentially also allow for follow-on support through micro-credentials and Reading Excellence Teams.

These additional opportunities will provide the critical support, coaching, and mentorship for cohorts of teachers, which we know is integral to the work. A one-time professional development will not sustain learning, so we feel optimistic and excited that we have found ways to expand the impact of the academies through other initiatives and efforts.

Trib+Edu: What impact will the academies have on schoolchildren and Texas teachers? 

Schwinn: Children in Texas are always the first priority of any initiative. In our review and discussions of the content, we want to make sure that we are creating an experience that allows teachers to truly interact with the material, discuss implementation, and personalize the content to the specific groups of children they will be teaching when they return to their classrooms.

We continue to be encouraged and excited about the enthusiasm that we are seeing from teachers in being able to grow in their practice and engage in a statewide effort. This engagement only deepens the level of knowledge and skill building that comes from any professional development opportunity, and we therefore expect to see strong student outcomes in reading levels, as well as on the STAAR.

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