About St. Louis Suburban Council of IRA

a professional organization of educators and individuals actively engaged
in the development of literacy throughout the Greater St. Louis Area.

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2012 Fall Leadership and Literacy Institute at Lake of the Ozarks



Save the date! The fall leadership and literacy institute is coming. This event is being hosted by the Missouri State Council of the International Reading Association (MSC-IRA) on August 2-3 at Port Arrowhead Resort at the Lake.

August 2 is geared toward local council officers with information on strengthing the local council and planning for positive change.

August 3 is aimed for ALL local council members. You will get information on digging more deeply into the Common Core State Standards, getting your students ready to become deeper thinkers, and engaging students in conversation to build reading comprehension.

As always, there will be fun door prizes and OF COURSE, shopping at the Outlet Mall! 

MSC-IRA has invited each council to send a team of 4 from its Executive Board. One complimentary room for Thursday night will be provided which will sleep up to four people. Also, meals are included. If you as a local Suburban Council of the IRA member wishes to attend on August 3 only, a nominal fee of $20 per person will be charged. 


Please RSVP to Mitzi Brammer by July 26, 2012 by emailing mbrammer@ssdmo.org.


See you at the Lake!

Legislative Report – April, 2012


Legislative Recap Report


Mary-Eileen Rufkahr

Legislative Representative

As always, there were many legislative issues of interest to Missouri educators during this year’s session of both houses.  Following is a list of the bills that passed and those that did not pass.


Charter schools:

SB 576 (Stouffer) - The bill expands the authority for charter schools to cover the entire state, expands the list of entities allowed to sponsor charter schools, creates a statewide chartering commission and makes some of the changes needed to improve the accountability and transparency of charter sponsors and charter schools. The bill does not require existing sponsors to participate in and to pass a comprehensive review process before being allowed to sponsor new charters or renew existing charters.

Gifted Program Reporting:

SB 599 (Schaefer) - The bill requires districts to include reporting for gifted education programs in their district report cards. 


HB 1219 (Elmer)  VETOED - Governor Nixon vetoed the bill on March 16 and the legislature did not override the veto. The Senate passed SB 592 (Lager), a similar bill, but the House did not pass the bill. 

The bills made several changes to the state's anti-discrimination law in employment, disability and housing and significantly limited and weakened “whistle-blower” protections. 

Higher Education Omnibus Bills:

HB 1042 (Thomson)

SB 563 (Dixon)

The original bill modifies the term lengths of the board of governors of Missouri State University so that no more than three members' terms expire in any given year. The HCS and amendments add the provisions of several other higher education bills and amendments from this session:

 SB 482 (Stouffer) relating to Alzheimer's disease research projects,

HB 1201 (Sifton) correcting the law regarding the Education Commission of the States,

HB 1855 (Wallingford) to create the Missouri Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Initiative within the Department of Higher Education,

SB 681 (Lager) to revise residency requirements of regents of Northwest Missouri State University, and

SB 811 (Dixon) authorizing land conveyances by the Missouri State University Board of Governors,

SB 655 (Green)/HB 1502 (Jones) to create the Higher Education Capital Fund,

HB 1803 (Korman) to allow a document showing school social work degree program completion for graduates meeting other criteria,

HB 1192 (Koenig) to require the Missouri Higher Education Savings Program (MOST) to expand investment offerings,

HB 1214 (Torpey) to require the Missouri Small Business Technology Centers to manage a virtual network for entrepreneurs, a provision limiting designations of public college personalized license plates, and authority for community colleges to own property outside the territory of the community college district. 

Career and Technical:

SB 599 (Schaefer) – DESE to provide staffing support for career-related student organizations and to establish standards allowing private schools to establish local FFA chapters.

Ft. Zumwalt School Board Terms:

SB 450 (Rupp) - Governor Jay Nixon signed the bill into law on April 2, allowing it to go into effect for school board elections on April 3. The bill specifies that any St. Charles County school district that becomes an urban school district because of the 2010 federal decennial census will continue to have terms of three years for its school board members. Without specific language to the contrary, the default school board term length for an urban school district is six years. The bill applies to the Fort Zumwalt school district because it contains more than half of the population of O'Fallon, and that city now meets the urban district population criterion. 


Tenure Repeal, Layoff, Evaluations and Test Scores:

HB 1526 (Dieckhaus), SB 806 (Cunningham) - The Senate briefly debated HCS/HB 1526 on May 18, before laying the bill over for the year. Senator Lager withdrew his SA 1 regarding evaluation and offered an amendment to the layoff statute to address other factors while leaving evaluations as the primary basis for layoffs. Senator Engler offered a substitute amendment to repeal the entire section regarding layoffs.  Engler's amendment was defeated 12-20 on a standing division vote. The bill was laid over, and Senate work on bills was done for the session. HB 1526 (Dieckhaus) and SB 806 (Cunningham) contained various provisions, such as tenure repeal, weakening of layoff protections and imposing detailed state mandates on teacher evaluations tied to student test scores.   


Teaching Evaluation, Improvement Plans, Study:

SB 654 (Lager), HB 1366 (Fitzwater) - SB 654 would require school districts to establish high-quality teacher and teaching evaluation systems and commit resources to implement high-quality evaluations. The bill was heard by the Senate Education Committee, but did not come to a vote. The bill also requires districts to establish standards for professional improvement plans. HB 1366 contained similar language. 

Formula underfunding “crash”:

SB 454 (Pearce), HB 1043 (Thomson) - The bills would spread the impact of formula underfunding to both formula and non-formula districts, beginning next school year, the first year the formula will be fully phased in. The existing law’s wording is unclear on how the impact of underfunding will be distributed, possibly producing a massive shift of funding from formula to non-formula districts. The language was debated on other bills and blocked by a filibuster by Senators Lamping and Schmitt.


DESE has recently announced its plan for distribution of formula aid next year. The Department plans to use existing law that applies beginning next year during underfunding to hold the state adequacy target fixed at the current value of $6,131, rather than phasing in increases provided by law based upon changes in performance districts that would have raised the adequacy target and the cost of the formula. However, DESE plans to prorate payments to all districts based upon available appropriations using that $6,131 base amount, as it has in preceding years, rather than to further reduce the adequacy target. 


SB 599 enacted language to allow school districts receiving fine payments from the 2011 Doe Run settlement to receive those payments without having a deduction in state aid based on counting such fines as increased "local revenue" under the formula calculation.

State Board Intervention in Unaccredited Districts:

HB 1174 (Lair), SB 677 (Pearce) – House leaders killed SS/HCS/HB 1174 on May 18 by refusing to bring the bill up for a final vote. The bill had originally passed the House 148-0 and passed the Senate in a slightly different form by a 31-0 vote. Representative Dieckhaus stated, while the House had no real issues with HB 1174, the House would not vote to approve the bill until the Senate passed HB 1526 regarding teacher layoffs. When the Senate did not bring HB 1526 to a vote, House leaders made good on their threat  and killed HB 1174.

 SS/HCS/HB 1174 would have revised the timelines and options for State Board intervention when it classifies a district as unaccredited. The bill allows the State Board to consider possible changes in governance when classifying a district as unaccredited, rather than waiting two years and automatically lapsing the district. The bill also incorporates language to require that the State Board hold a hearing in the unaccredited district to help bring community resources and stakeholders together in support of a district improvement plan.

Unaccredited districts & Turner v. Clayton:

SB 456 (Pearce), SB 839 (Lembke), SB 451 and 706 (Cunningham), HB 1997 (McNeil), HB 1830 (Stream)

St. Louis County Circuit Judge David Lee Vincent ruled on May 1 that section 167.131, RSMo, the transfer law upon which the Turner v. Clayton decision relied, was unenforceable in the Turner/Breitenfeld case as it violates the limitation of the Article X or "Hancock" limitation that the state may not require a new or increased level of activity or service without providing full state funding for that activity or service. The judge also concluded that it would be impossible for SLPS and receiving county districts to comply with the law under the forecast transfer of more than 15,000 students from St. Louis City to county schools, and thus the law is held to be void.


If the decision stands, it appears to remove the need to seek a legislative change to restore local control regarding the enrollment of non-resident students seeking to transfer from unaccredited districts, at least as it relates to students transferring from St. Louis City and perhaps from other unaccredited districts.


SB 456 (Pearce) and HB 1830 (Stream) would have required school districts to establish criteria for the admission of nonresident students from unaccredited districts based upon availability of qualified instructional staff in existing classroom space.. 

State Revenues/Streamlined Sales Tax:

SB 548 (Purgason), HB 1571 (Oxford), HB 1356 (Funderburk) and HB 1215 (McNeil) - The legislature failed to pass comprehensive legislation regarding tax credit accountability, including bills such as SB 548 and HB 1571.  These bills sought to ensure that tax expenditures are efficient in accomplishing a public purpose and to protect the revenues the state needs to fund public schools, public higher education and other vital services. HB 1356 and HB 1215 would enact the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement. The House did not pass either bill and House leaders maintained that the positive revenue impact of the bills be offset with corporate tax giveaways to make the bills “revenue neutral.” The bills would help ensure that more of the sales and use taxes that should be collected for purchases in Missouri from online and remote sellers are actually collected.  The bill also helps level the playing field for Missouri-based businesses that are already collecting and remitting state sales tax and facing increasing competition from online and remote sellers who do not collect sales taxes. 


The House approved HB 1639 (Nolte), but the bill did not pass the Senate. The bill reduces the taxes on business income and corporate income, and reduces the amount available for historic rehabilitation tax credits. The bill will significantly reduce state revenues by as much as $180 million per year within three years. 

Collective bargaining:

HB 1418 (Colona) - The legislature did not pass legislation regarding collective bargaining for public employees.  The bill would treat all public employees fairly and is built on broad consensus among public employee groups and public employers.


Paycheck Deception:

SB 553 (Brown) – This bill would have banned labor union payroll deductions for any purpose, including collection of union dues and impose additional paperwork mandates on political contributions. The Senate debated the bill briefly but did not bring it to a vote.


“Fair” tax:

HJR 69 (Funderburk) - HJR 69 is a proposed constitutional amendment, which, if approved by a statewide vote, would replace the state personal and corporate income taxes, corporate and bank franchise taxes, existing state sales and use taxes and local earnings taxes with a greatly expanded and increased sales tax on most sales of goods and services. The HJR did not pass the House.



SB 842 (Lamping), HB 1741 (Leara)

School Retirement - The Senate gave first round approval (Perfection vote) to SCS/SB 842 , but the bill was never brought to a final vote in the Senate. The bill would enact into permanent statute provisions similar to the Funding Stabilization Policy adopted last year by the PSRS Board of Trustees. The original bill would have frozen the PSRS and PEERS contribution rates at current levels until the system becomes 100 percent funded, while the SCS version allows the system to raise the contribution rate for PSRS by 1/2 percent per year, if needed.


Public College Retirement Plans

The House approved HB 1741, but the bill did not pass the Senate. The bill would stabilize the institutional contribution rate for the College and University Retirement Plan (CURP) at seven percent. CURP is a defined contribution plan for instructional staff at public colleges and universities other than the University of Missouri System. The CURP institutional contribution rate is currently set at one percent below the normal cost of the MOSERS plan for state employees. Recent changes to reduce the benefits and cost of the MOSERS plan for new hires will reduce the normal cost of that system. The bill decouples the CURP rate from MOSERS, ensuring that institutions will continue to contribute seven percent to the plan on behalf of employees.. 


SB 706, (Cunningham), HB 1718 (Scharnhorst) “Bryce's Law” special education voucher

SB 706 (Cunningham) would have created procedures for vouchers and open enrollment of public school students across school district boundary lines under certain circumstances, but the Senate did not pass the bill. The bill was drafted in the form of a response to the Turner vs. Clayton decision, but created a program of vouchers allowing public funds to support students attending private and religious schools. 


The House defeated an amendment to HB 1854 (Gris more) offered on May 2 by Representative Scharnhorst to add his HB 1718 to the bill. The amendment was defeated by a vote of 51-104. The bill would create an 80 percent tax credit for donations to private “scholarship granting organizations” providing payments for certain disabled students to attend private or religious schools or out-of-district public schools. The bill allows an unlimited total amount in tax credits for “contributions” to a scholarship fund, though the bill only allows students diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, Angelman Syndrome, or cerebral palsy to receive funding under the program.

Virtual Charter Schools:

SB 735 (Nieves), HB 1629 (Barnes) - SB 735 and HB 1629 would have allowed nonresident students to attend a school district or a charter school to access virtual courses or programs. Neither bill was passed by the legislature. Under the bills, the state would pay the district or charter school 72.5 percent of the statewide average per pupil spending the previous year. 

MO Accountability Portal/School Info:

HB 1140  - HB 1140 passed the House, but did not pass the Senate. This bill requires the Office of Administration to maintain public school, city and county government accountability information on the Missouri Accountability Portal. The bill also requires information regarding state travel expenses incurred by the Governor to be maintained on the Portal. School districts and public charter schools must annually provide detailed employee compensation data, the school calendar, the district budget, and school policies to the department in a commonly used electronic format as specified by the department. 


Voter ID:

HJR 89 (Schoeller) - This bill would have authorized the legislature to enact voter photo ID requirements, but it was not approved by the House. The ballot title of SJR 2, a similar joint resolution already approved by the legislature, was recently rejected as defective by a Missouri court. Due to the court ruling, the proposed constitutional requirements for voter ID and early voting will not be placed on a statewide ballot at the November 2012 election. SJR 2 would have allowed the legislature to enact a bill to require any person seeking to vote in a public election to provide election officials a driver's license or other government-issued photo identification. The SJR also authorized early voting up to 17 days prior to the election date.  

Student Study Plans:

HB 1609 (Nasheed) - The House passed HB 1609 as an amendment on SB 599 (Schaefer), but the language did not pass this session. The bill would require each school district to ensure that every student develops a personal plan of secondary and post-secondary study prior to the end of the student's eighth grade year. 

Promotion of Students:

HB 1425 (McNary) - HB 1425 would have required each school district to establish a program for student academic progression. The House did not pass the bill. 

Anti-Bullying Policies:

HB 1049 (Allen) - The House passed HB 1049, but the Senate did not pass the bill. The House version of the bill expands the law regarding school anti-bullying policies and removes the language preventing school district policies from prohibiting bullying perceived as being motivated by certain enumerated categories.

Student Immigration Status:

SB 590 (Kraus) - The Senate General Laws Committee voted to approve SB 590 but the Senate did not pass the bill. Among other provisions, SB 590 requires all public schools to determine whether enrolling students are born outside of the United States or are children of an unlawfully present alien. In such cases, the bill requires the parent or guardian to notify the school of the citizenship or immigration status of the child.  

Teacher Contract Renewal Dates:

HB 1157 (Rowland) - HB 1157 would delay the deadline for the notification of reemployment and the offering of teacher contracts for probationary teachers from April 15 to May 15. The House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee approved the bill, but the House did not vote on the bill.

Mandatory Reporter Requirements:

HB 1491 (Haefner) - HCS/HB 1491 would have required individual mandatory reporters of child abuse or neglect, such as teachers and nurses, to report suspected abuse or neglect directly to the Children's Division, rather than reporting to a designated agent at the school, such as a counselor or administrator, and relying on that agent to make the report. The bill was later amended onto HB 1515 (Schad), but was not enacted into law. The bill includes whistle-blower protections preventing administrators from inhibiting reports and protecting employees from sanction for making reports.

The House passed HCS/HB 1169 (Franz). The provisions were eventually approved in SB 599 (Schaefer). The bill changes the reporting requirements and investigatory authority for allegations of child abuse relating to spanking by school personnel. The school district report shall be made to local law enforcement, rather than the county juvenile officer, and the investigation shall be made by local law enforcement in the county.

Vision Screening:

SB 641 (Pearce), SB 649 (Ridgeway) - SB 641 would extend the sunset on the state mandate for kindergarten and first grade students to have eye exams by an optometrist before entering school.  Neither bill was passed by the legislature. SB 649 implements the recommendations of the Children's Vision Commission and maintains requirement for all students to have vision screenings at the beginning of kindergarten, first grade and second grade. SB 649 also requires every child who is referred for a comprehensive vision examination to receive one comprehensive vision examination performed by a state licensed optometrist or physician.

School Services:

SB 451 (Cunningham) - This bill would have enacted additional authority for school districts to cooperate with other entities to provide school services and own and operate school-related facilities, but the bill did not pass the Senate.

Administrator Compensation:

SB 543 (Chappelle-Nadal) - SB 543 would have enacted several requirements regarding administrator evaluation and compensation. The bill did not pass the Senate. SB 543 would have required districts to reduce administrative costs by at least the same percentage as the district reduces instruction cost by reduction in force, required DESE to establish an evaluation instrument for superintendents and granted a three year MSIP waiver for any districts that are consolidated and for any district experiencing more than a ten percent increase in enrollment due to a boundary change.


Math and Science Tutoring for St. Louis School District:

HB 1466 (Nasheed) - The House approved HB 1466, but the bill did not pass the Senate. The bill creates a pilot program for tutoring centers for struggling students in any St. Louis City public school.

Professional Article April 2012- Engaging Children in Deep Comprehension Through Conversation



Engaging Children in Deep Comprehension Through Conversation

Dan Rocchio, Ed. D.

Adjunct Professor, Maryville University

        Think about the last time you couldn’t wait to send a text, tweet, or email to a friend to share your passion about a book, movie, song, or internet article. What was the line or passage that was so compelling? Let me share some personal examples. My wife and I love the movie, A League of Their Own, and one of our favorite lines uttered by Tom Hanks (aka Jimmy Dugan) is “there’s no crying in baseball.” The humor in this line makes me laugh so hard that my stomach aches, and I enjoy it thoroughly each time we revisit the movie. On a professional note, I love to quote a line from Nichols’s Comprehension Through Conversation (2006). When talking about how teachers can facilitate deep comprehension of text through conversation, she urges teachers to help children “get at the heart of a story and use it to live smartly in the world” (p. 72). Both examples noted above are “aesthetic” responses to text. I was not only intrinsically motivated to read

       Nichol’s work and watch the Tom Hank’s movie, but I was so excited by my emotional connection to these passages that I wanted to share them immediately. Keene’s (2012) new book, Talk About Understanding, reminded me that an aesthetic response is not only a significant indicator of deep comprehension, but also a crucial goal for our literacy instruction.

       In this article I will share three books that have changed my teaching of deep comprehension through conversation. In an attempt to synthesize the key ideas in the two texts mentioned above, I compared Keene’s outcomes and indicators for deep comprehension with the “overview of instruction” charts in Nichol’s text, and found that both explications of deep comprehension are comparable. The two exceptions are the inclusion by Keene of outcomes related directly to empathy and aesthetics. For example, the aesthetic outcome for expository text is framed this way: “We feel a sense of wonder about the complexities and nuances related to a concept we are learning. We may feel compelled to reread portions and dig more deeply into the topic”(p. 18). Keene uses several real classroom videos (i.e., the DVD comes with the text) to unpack her ten key outcomes and indicators of deep comprehension. Both of these texts would be helpful as teachers revise units to meet the reading, listening, and speaking standards from the Common Core. 

      If you need to choose between these texts, I recommend the Nichol’s text because the examples of questions for fiction and nonfiction are outstanding, and they have added significantly to the practical schema of questions I use in my teaching (i.e., see the revised schema below). I also prefer the Nichol’s text because I had the opportunity to engage in a dynamic book discussion of this text with 8-10 teachers from the Rockwood School District during the summer of 2011. At the present time, I am using the Nichol’s framework as I teach alongside my colleagues in Rockwood. We are especially fond of Nichols’s term “purposeful talk” to describe talk where participants work together to “co-produce meaning” (Peterson, 1992, cited in Nichols, 2006, p. 7). This term also includes the notion that participants work together to …”develop ideas that are bigger and better than any individual could have conceived on their own” (Bohm, 1996 as cited in Nichols, 2006). Although the Nichols text is a practical guide for facilitating deep comprehension during conversations, it does not include teacher think-alouds that model comprehension and conversational strategies within the context of a conversation. This is a crucial step that I have added to Nichol’s framework because students often do not transfer these strategies from mini-lessons.

      Once you have had some experience with helping students apply the comprehension and conversational strategies necessary to engage in the purposeful talk of authentic fiction and nonfiction texts, you might want to consider purposeful talk comparing several texts on the same topic. Nichols (2009) book, Expanding Comprehension with Multigenre Text Sets, is an outstanding resource for helping your school or district develops inquiry units that will comply with and go beyond the Common Core Standards. Nichols has included a useful framework for organizing multigenre text sets, and she includes a complete list of text sets for two inquiry units. The first edition of the chart below was included with an article I wrote last spring of 2011 for the Suburban IRA Newsletter (i.e., visit the Suburban IRA online archives for March 2011). This version is shorter because it only includes changes to the original chart. Revisions are based upon the readings noted in this article along with the work of Dorn (2005). The most important thing to remember about this list of questions is that we need to model how to ask these questions in the context of conversations so that students will learn to use them independently. I look forward to your comments. 


Questions That Lead to Deep Comprehension & Improved Student Questioning for Fiction


1. What passage in the text moved you to tears or laughter?

2. What passage in the text was so compelling that you wanted to reread it often or share with a friend?



1. Did you feel empathy for any of the characters? Explain.

2. What techniques did the author use to tell us about the main character?

3. Are the characters believable? Why or why not?

4. Why did the authors craft the characters in this way?


Plot (including conflict/problem and attempts to resolve the problem)

1. What is the key problem/conflict so far in the story

2. Who has the power in this text?

3. How does the main character try to solve the major problem in the story?

4. Is this a fair representation of the world?

5. How can we change the world?



1. Whose point of view is used to tell the story?

2. Why do you think the author picked this character to tell the story?

3. Whose point of view is missing?


Questions That Lead to Deep Comprehension & Improved Student Questioning of Nonfiction


1. Do you feel a sense of wonderment or passion for this topic? Explain

2. How has this text inspired you to learn more about this issue?

3. How has this text helped you think like a scientist, or historian, or mathematician?

4. How does this reading relate to issues in our classroom, the school, and the world?



1. How does this information compare with the facts and opinions from other sources on this topic?

2. Has the author presented the information without stereotypes or bias?

3. What experiences does the author have that makes you think the information is accurate?


Author’s Point of View

1. What does this mix of fact and opinion tell me about the way the author is thinking?

2. What does the author’s word choice tell me about the author’s perspective?



Dorn, L.J. & Soffos, C. (2005). Teaching for deep comprehension. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Keene, E. O. (2012). Talk about understanding. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Nichols, M. (2006). Comprehension through conversation. Portsmouth, NH:Heinemann.

Nichols, M. (2009). Expanding comprehension with multigenre text sets. New York:Scholastic

President’s Message – April 2012


Currently on my nightstand, I have a stack of reading materials. In my nook I am reading the book, Enough Alread) (Cohen, 2012), about claiming contentment in a busy life. Then there is Navigating Implementation of the Common CoreState Standards (Reeves, et al., 2012) that I am reading for a book club in which I participate. I am re-reading the newest

edition of Best Practices in Literacy Instruction (Gambrell, et al., 2011), and then there is a magazine or two on the pile. Sound familiar? Of course, all of these pieces of text serve different purposes for me. This is no different for our students. As proficient readers, we are able to switch much more easily from text to text, and we seem to have an innate sense of our purpose for reading.

I wish this were as easy for our students who happen to be struggling readers! Sometimes teachers forget about the importance of teaching purpose for reading and that different texts serve different purposes. This is one of those foundational skills for comprehension. Of course, there are so many other skills that contribute to reading comprehension. Reading comprehension IS a complex area!

I am excited that Dr. Erica Lembke, from UM-Columbia will be our guest speaker for our upcoming Spring Banquet. She will be talking about reading comprehension across the grades and strategies that can assist students in becoming more engaged thinkers as they process text.

Finally, since this is my last message to you, I wish to thank all of you who have participated in our organization either through your presence at our general meetings, or participation in local or state level literacy professional development offerings that we sponsor or support. I am grateful for an excellent Executive Board that has helped plan and implement our program this year. It has been an exciting year and certainly one that has been “charged for change!”

Mitzi Brammer, Ph.D.

President’s Message February 2012


President's Message February 2012     

       On one of the many education-related blogs that I read, an article posted by Dr. Frank Trujillo caught my eye. He began his article by noting how he sometimes felt powerless and small, overwhelmed and inadequate, basically that his teaching was futile. As he reflected, he reaffirmed that he is endowed with talent, ability, and strength. Additionally, he has the ability to think and plan and to implement, to adapt, and to orchestrate instruction. When Trujillo goes broader and reflects on his power within a larger system, he recognizes that in the eyes of his students, he IS the system. Ultimately, this teacher concluded that it only takes one person to make a difference in a child’s life and it might as well be him.
      Sometimes we forget about all of the great things we do in our classrooms and schools that make the difference. We do some of those things so effortlessly that they become routine and we don’t recognize them as “great” any longer.
       I am pleased that this month we focus on some of the great things that schools/districts in our area are doing toward boosting student achievement, particularly in the area of literacy. It is my hope that you will be able to join us at our February General Council meeting as we meet diverse groups of teachers and administrators from St. Louis County in roundtable discussions who are making that difference about which Trujillo spoke. Have a fantastic February!
Mitzi Brammer, Ph.D.

2012 Reading Poster Contest Winners Announced


Winners of the 2012 St. Louis Suburban IRA Poster Contest Announced

      At the February 16, 2012 general meeting, the winners of the St. Louis Suburban IRA Poster Contest were announced. There were many wonderful submissions. The winning posters will be submitted to the state level for competition. Posters at the state level will be judged at the State Board Meeting scheduled for this spring. Winners will be announced in the Missouri IRA newsletter and in contestants' local newspapers. Congratulations to our local winners! The following students' posters placed first, second, or third in our local contest:

Kindergarten – 2nd Grade Category:
1st place:  Faith Johnson, 1st grade, Brennan Woods Elementary, Northwest R-I School District
2nd place:  Caden Kerschner, 1st grade, Brennan Woods Elementary, Northwest R-I School District
3rd place:  Marissa Liberman, 2nd grade, Brennan Woods Elementary, Northwest R-I School District

3rd – 5th Grade Category:
1st place:  Sammy Davis, 3rd grade, Brennan Woods Elementary, Northwest R-I School District
2nd place:  Lexie Farmer, 5th grade, Brennan Woods Elementary, Northwest R-I School District
3rd place:  Grace O’Malley, 4th grade, Brennan Woods Elementary, Northwest R-I School District

6th – 8th Grade Category:
1st place:  Molly Stuckmeyer, 8th grade, Northwest Valley Middle School, Northwest R-I School District
2nd place:  Maria Stoentcheva, 7th grade, Rogers Middle School, Affton School District
3rd place:  Ziyodakhon Abdurokhmanova, 8th grade, Rogers Middle School, Affton School District

A Summary of Overmeyer’s “Reaching the Reluctant Writer” by Beth Knoedelseder


“If you read a poem carefully enough, the poem will teach you how to read a poem.” This was only one of many statements Mark Overmeyer made in his presentation on November 10, which was sponsored by Linda Carron from Zaner-Bloser. When starting a writing assignment, Mark advised teachers to be clear about the genre and have the students write with the intention within a genre.  When discussing examples of personal narratives that include appropriate humor, Mr. Overmeyer read from Jeff Kinney’s book Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Jon Scieszka’s book Knucklehead. Humor is an important component when writing, and he said that it is often a motivator for reluctant writers.  He conducted a writing activity where everyone paired up to write a letter from a prized turkey to the farmer in order to persuade the farmer to choose another option of meat for Thanksgiving dinner.

Besides humorous and persuasive essays, Mark suggested teaching about “small moments” and real world stories for the upper grades. He suggested using books by Gail Gibbons to create an "expert book."  This is a different type of research project which requires that students know at least eight facts about their topic in order to be an "expert."

Conferencing with student writers was another topic which Mark discussed. He believed that the purpose for looking at students’ work is to find the strong points in the writing.  Teachers should always start with the sentence, “One thing I am learning about you as a writer is this…” Teachers should also begin the conference by connecting with the student's interests.  This is helpful when building a relationship between the teacher and the student writer.  

For more information about Mark Overmeyer and his teachings, log onto his blog: markovermeyer.wordpress.com.

A Virtual Teacher’s Lounge by Mary-Eileen Rufkahr


         The new year is a time for refreshing one’s outlook, rethinking some ideas and reflecting upon our role as educators in the classroom.  Our colleagues can provide a wealth of support for us as we journey through our career; now with access to the web, we, as teachers, can connect with other educators throughout the world, and tap into the support they can offer as well.

         edWeb.net is a professional social network designed specifically for the education community.  Think Facebook plus Linkedin with an education emphasis.  Once you register on this free service, you can invite colleagues to join, connect with professional learning communities, start a discussion, upload photos and videos, share ideas and more.  Find the home page at:  http://www.edweb.net.

         It’s Not All Flowers and Sausages is the name of a blog written by a second grade teacher who goes by the cyber-pen name of “Mrs. Mimi.”  Mrs. M writes that her blog is for ”teachers who rock and are frustrated by the day to day drama that gets in the way of interacting with the children.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but sometimes a girl has gotta vent. . .”  Mrs. Mimi’s insights can be found at:  http://itsnotallflowersandsausages.blogspot.com.

         The Book Whisperer is a blog maintained by 6th grade language arts teacher Donalyn Miller.  Ms. Miller believes she can turn even the most reluctant (her word is “dormant”) reader into a student who can’t put their books down.  She writes about how to inspire and motivate student readers and responds to issues facing teachers in the literacy field.  The Book Whisperer can be accessed at:  http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/book_whisperer.

         The challenges of teaching at the middle school level are reflected on at Rush the Iceberg.  At the site, commentary and support are offered for teaching students at this level.  Go to:  http://www.rushtheiceberg.com.

         Need some new ideas on books that will engage and entertain your students?  Look no further than the Reading Year blog at http://readingyear.blogspot.com.

         Finally, check out a blog maintained by two teachers who live and work miles apart, but share their ideas with each other (and the rest of us), on how to help students improve upon their writing skills.  This blog can be found at:  http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com.

Legislative Report by Mary-Eileen Rufkahr


          On October 21, 2011, Governor Jay Nixon signed into law Senate Bill 1, better known as the “Facebook Law.”  This bill revises and simplifies the existing Facebook Law, SB54, regarding school policies on employee-student communications.    SB54 was enacted during the 2011 regular legislative session and featured the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act and established the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Chldren.  SB54 became controversial based on the provisions regarding electronic communicatoins between teachers and their current and former students.

         SB1 maintains local control and regulates that teachers, parents and students can provide input regarding board policies that affect them.

Billionaire Rex Sinquefield is funding a petition drive to pass a constituional amendment in 2012 that would eliminate Missouri’s personal income tax and replace it with the “Everything Tax,” a new, ten percent statewide sales tax.  Examples of items to fall under the proposed new tax include:  milk, diapers, car repairs, emergency room visits and baby food.

         Oppoenents of the new tax fear it will cause hardship on families struggling economically, single parent households and senior citizens.  There is also concern that the new tax will cause funding for education programs to be drastically reduced.

         The Missouri Senate will convene on Wednesday, January 4, 2012 at 12 noon; the House will begin their session on Thursday, January 5, 2012, also at 12 noon.

Literacy Mini-Grant: Have You Applied Yet? February 2012






Sandi Coleman, Marcie Burkemper


Have you submitted your application for a St. Louis Suburban IRA mini-grant for the 2012-2013 school year yet? The St. Louis Suburban Council of the IRA administers a mini-grant program for literacy-based instructional activities in the communication arts curriculum. Mini-grants up to $500.00 are available to IRA member teachers or teams of teachers and administrators in grades pre-kindergarten through twelve.

Projects funded by the mini-grant program are intended to enhance the literacy instruction in classrooms for students to improve academic achievement in communication arts—reading, writing, speaking, listening, and informational literacy. Mini-grant projects must be aligned to the Missouri Show-Me Standards and the Grade Level Expectations (GLEs)/Common Core Standards. The mini-grant program targets educators who are interested in strengthening their instruction by infusing literature and/or trade books into curriculum content areas. Applicants should plan a mini-grant project that is both needed and timely. Instructional creativity and innovation are encouraged.

The application deadline for this school year is March 15, 2012. Application forms may be obtained online at the Suburban IRA website: http://www.stlsuburbanreading.org/. They will also be available at the February 16th Suburban IRA meeting. Applications may be submitted via US Mail or electronically to:


Mrs. Marcie Burkemper

Title I Coordinator/ Affton School District

Mesnier Primary School

6930 Weber Road

Saint Louis, MO 63123



Please keep in mind that electronic submissions must adhere to the deadline and include all components, a supervisor‘s letter of support, and electronic signatures. Applications will be reviewed by the Board of Directors of the St. Louis Suburban Council of the IRA who will make the decision of mini-grant awards. Applicants will be notified about the status of their mini-grants in April 2012. Recipients of the Mini-Grant will be announced at the Spring Banquet. All grant funds must be spent by May 31, 2013 and a final report of your grant activity(ies) be submitted by June 15, 2013.