The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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April 8, 2013

Tutor program touted: Johnstown district using new system

— The I and I in Pennsylvania’s RtII tutoring program stand for Instruction and Intervention.

But Greater Johnstown School District Superintendent Gerald Zahorchak uses an additional I word to describe it: Intense.

The district implemented the program during the current academic year.

The district already had a tutoring system in place, but as Zahorchak explained, “This is probably as intense as it has ever been now.”

The new system, formally called Response to Instruction and Intervention, is designed to close achievement gaps and help students graduate at proficient or higher levels.

“We’re seeing some early signs of progress,” said Zahorchak, as the end of the school year approaches.

RtII offers a tiered system to helping students improve academically.

Tier I is regular classroom instruction. Struggling individuals can receive Tier II tutoring, where the student-to-teacher ratio is 10 to 1.

Anybody who needs extra help can get one-on-one lessons on Tier III.

“When you get to that level – that one-to-one support – you get to know the kids,” said the district’s federal programs coordinator, Raymond Arcurio. “You really get to have a good relationship with the kids.”

A student’s needs are assessed by examining data from classroom work and tutoring sessions.

“There is communication between teacher and tutor,” said Lynne Williams, reading/math facilitator at West Side Elementary.

“Tutors are trained in instructional strategies and complete lesson plans to meet the group’s needs. After 20 days of instruction, progress monitoring is administered. After a review of that data, it is determined who needs Tier III intervention. That is provided one-on-one with a certified teacher with a lesson plan for each individual student.”

A major goal of the program is to make sure classroom work and tutoring instructions are in sync with state guidelines.

“In the areas where we did not have alignment, we’re working very hard at getting aligned,” said Zahorchak, Pennsylvania’s former education secretary.

More than two dozen district staff members are involved in the program, as either teachers, RtII coordinators, facilitators or paraprofessionals. Fifteen local college students assist, too.

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