by Dale Harper
As the Keystone State Reading Association (KSRA) in Pennsylvania prepares for its 2012 Annual Conference entitled “Read and Shine” to be held in the charming Champion area in the breathtaking Laurel Highlands region outside of Pittsburgh this fall, members look back with fondness and triumph on the bevy of barricades that mounted against them in the autumn of 2011.
On October 27 to 29, 2011, KSRA hosted a successful 44th Annual Reading Conference entitled “Literacy: Share the Passion” in the quaint Pennsylvania Dutch region of Lancaster, PA. After two years of preparation and challenging hurdles, a program of some of the best and most knowledgeable speakers from all over the country was brought together for the three-day conference.
KSRA 2011 Conference Committee members
Most presenters spoke about the two hottest topics: Core Standards and RTI. Publishers and vendors came through with incredible support. Visiting authors included two Caldecott winners as well as other award winners. Spirits were high, and President-elect and 2011 Conference Chairperson Dale Harper, Poster Artist Joan Lengel, Editor Angee Cobb, Photographer Christine Kurman, Logo Creator Hank Grasso and the rest of the conference committee worked around the clock to make it a conference to remember.
However, financial, political, and environmental obstacles arose that made success seemingly impossible.
During the 2010-2011 school year, severe budget reductions continued. Stimulus funds were gone. School districts had their budgets cut to bare bones, and districts had to eliminate teaching positions. Many districts told their staff that no school staff would be able to go anywhere, even if they were presenting at a conference.
Politicians Tighten Belts
Professional development was the next hurdle to overcome. Some months before the conference, the Governor of Pennsylvania announced that all five hundred school districts in the state did not have to offer professional development to their staff for two years. This was a tremendous blow to the conference, especially since the conference was offering presenters that were on the national committees for Core Standards and other speakers that are some of the best in their fields. We were concerned that many educators in the state would not be able to experience this level of professional development, even though Core Standards would soon be implemented.
Old Man Winter Arrives Early
On the last day of the conference (Saturday), there were eleven inches of snow with roads closed, trees down, and an incredible amount of accidents. An October snowfall is very rare for this area of Pennsylvania. It was treacherous. Therefore, the teachers that were coming only Saturday—because their school districts would not get substitutes for them during the week—did not come.
Against the Odds
Anything that could go wrong, did! However, the quality and quantity of presenters was so incredibly high that districts sent their staff anyway, and some people paid their own way just so they could experience and learn from these great people.
Irene Fountas, who has it all—research, materials, assessment, and intervention—lived up to her phenomenal reputation.Roger Farr connected his strategies with the Core Standards, and Richard Gentry also spoke about his three big ideas to promote reading success and meet Core Standards. Karen Wixson explained RTI and even sent her PowerPoint for our website. Ellin Keene spoke of New Horizons in Comprehension, and Maureen McLaughlin, IRA’s Vice President, talked about Content Area Literacy. In addition, Victoria Risko, President and national committee member for Core Standards, presented on Comprehension and Core Standards. There were many others that wowed the crowd with their expertise. Their knowledge and energy made their presentations most worthwhile and unforgettable.
In addition to our presentations, we had two lovely Authors’ Teas. Participants had hot beverages and met with the authors as they took turns sharing a little about themselves and their work. Author signatures on the logo mugs made them a collectable favorite to take home. Our author and illustrator line-up was equally as impressive. Jerry Pinkney, 2010 Caldecott winner, received a standing ovation as he shared his talents and treasures. Paul O. Zelinsky, winner of multiple Caldecott Awards, was there as well with his new book. Other award-winning authors included Ralph Masiello, Peter Catalanotto, Kevin O’Malley, Floyd Cooper, Marisa Paolicelli, Sneed B. Collard III, J. Patrick Lewis, and many more.
Our goal was achieved with a “win-win” for everyone! We met the IRA and KSRA goals with the best program we could create and gave it to the largest number of people possible. We wanted to let the sponsors know how much they are appreciated especially during this financial crunch. We gave them as much exposure as possible to thank them for their sponsorship of some the most knowledgeable presenters in the fi eld. Even in these challenging times, everyone benefits if we work together, remain active, participate, and share the passion of promoting literacy.
Dale Harper was the Keystone State Reading Association President-elect and 2011 Conference Chairperson, firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is reprinted from the June/July 2012 issue of Reading Today. IRA members can read the interactive digital version of the magazine here. Nonmembers: join today!