• Councils & SIGs

New SIG Addresses District Literacy Leadership Issues

by Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell; Estanislado S. Barrera, IV; Bonnie L. Hoewing; Kim Skinner; and Tynisha D. Meidl
March 17, 2014

Several years ago, a group of longtime International Reading Association members interested in and concerned about the literacy knowledge and dispositions of school district literacy leaders petitioned the International Reading Association for formal recognition of a new Special Interest Group (SIG). Unified by a common interest centered on the pivotal role of district-level educational administrators—principals, assistant principals, curriculum supervisors and directors, all levels of superintendents, and any individuals who typically make crucial literacy decisions for their districts—these founders used grassroots measures and social media to reach out to literacy colleagues in the effort to establish this new SIG. In March 2013 the originators of the new District Literacy Leadership (DiLL) SIG received validation of the significance of their endeavors with IRA Board of Directors’ approval of this new special interest group. Moving quickly, the founding members of DiLL sent notices to those who might be interested in meeting while in attendance at IRA 2013 in San Antonio. With little advance publicity, charter members and others interested in district literacy leadership convened for the first time in San Antonio, hosting an hour long informational meeting.

The inaugural meeting on Sunday, April 21, 2013 in San Antonio was all too brief but absolutely inspiring. Thirty-two current IRA members (including an IRA member from Africa) affirmed interest in and exchanged ideas about the notion of reaching out to district literacy leaders, culminating the session by brainstorming about the future direction of the DiLL SIG. Results of the inaugural meeting's discussion included plans to create by-laws, build a website, and successfully submit a proposal for IRA 2014 in New Orleans. During this initial collaboration, several attendees also inquired about the likelihood of future SIG journal sponsorship, and others queried about the creation of an annual award to recognize an outstanding district literacy leader. These serious considerations are ongoing.

Seeking to Collaborate and Inform

The purpose of the DiLL SIG is to provide a forum for literacy educators, such as teachers, coaches, and specialists, who interact daily with building principals and district administrators to explore the skills sets and knowledge district level administrators such as principals, assistant principals, curriculum supervisors and directors, and all levels of superintendents, should possess in order to make informed literacy decisions. Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell, chair of DiLL, is also a former assistant superintendent of 64 elementary schools in Baton Rouge. Estanislado (Stan) Barrera serves as co-program chair of DiLL and was a former Title I administrator in Texas. 

Sulentic Dowell articulated the need for a SIG: “Literacy leadership is vital in order for any educational entity to move forward; from a school campus to a district, the decisions district literacy leaders make impact children’s lives and those decisions need to be informed by research and practice.” 

By providing a space for collaboration, literacy and educational leadership researchers and the public can present perspectives and engage in dialog about district literacy leadership concerns.

Given the importance and complexity of literacy and language learning, literacy leadership at the school, district, state, national, and international levels requires current literacy knowledge. The DiLL SIG will provide opportunities for individuals to explore the knowledge and skills that literacy leaders should possess, including but not limited to: 

  • literacy content knowledge
  • knowledge of best practices spanning developmental age ranges
  • knowledge of school structures that support literacy 
  • the importance of access to print (literature)
  • knowledge of instructional strategies used by educators, librarians, coaches, and
  • skills required to supervise, lead, and evaluate literacy teaching, coaching and learning 

An Open Invitation

Join the effort that established the need for this SIG. Our first formal conference session will be at the 59th IRA Annual Conference in New Orleans, scheduled for Saturday, May 10, 2014, from 3:00-4:00 p.m. At the session, titled District Literacy Leadership (SIG): Recognizing, Acknowledging, and Operationalizing Literacy Expertise at the Elementary Reading Level, a panel of district leaders and literacy experts from Louisiana, Arizona, and Missouri will share experiences as district literacy leaders. Aligned with the conference theme, the teachable moment "happens" in elementary schools when a quality teacher, engaged students, families, communities, and a principal with literacy expertise coalesce. Elementary principals need to be skilled in ways to supervise & evaluate literacy educators, understand the complexity of literacy processes, be mindful of the myriad instructional strategies used by great coaches and educators, and balance the demands of leadership and supervision to promote consistent, high-quality literacy instruction. In this session, panelists will explore the quality of school-level leaders and the practices they engage in, as part of the district literacy leadership continuum. All interested attendees are encouraged to attend. 

For information on joining the DiLL SIG, contact any of the authors/officers listed below or visit the DiLL webpage

Margaret-Mary Sulentic DowellMargaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell, Ph.D.,is Associate Professor of Literacy and Urban Education at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, and Director of the LSU Writing Project,

Estanislado S. BarreraEstanislado S. Barrera, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of reading and literacy at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge,

Bonnie L. HoewingBonnie L. Hoewing, Ph.D., is a reading faculty member at the Maricopa Community College District in Phoenix, AZ,

Kim SkinnerKim Skinner, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of reading and literacy at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge,

Tynisha D. MeidlTynisha D. Meidl, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of teacher education at St. Norbert College, DePere, WI,




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