A Statewide Focus on Adolescent Literacy: Alabama

A Statewide Focus on Adolescent Literacy: Alabama
A Statewide Focus on Adolescent Literacy: Alabama

The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization that bridges youth policy, practice and research for professionals at the national, state and local levels.  The trip, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will enable participants to learn about statewide efforts in Alabama focused on improving adolescent literacy through the Alabama Reading Initiative.


Equipping all youth with literacy skills is fundamental to preparation for success in college and the workplace, as well as future economic independence. A student’s literacy skills and ability to read and comprehend information has effects on education across all areas of academics. For most students, instruction in reading ends in elementary school, though deficiencies in literacy skills continue to affect adolescent learners. According to NAEP data, two thirds of students in the 8th and 12th grades score below “proficient” in reading. A statewide reading initiative in Alabama is addressing this literacy gap, and in recent years has focused programming on adolescent learners.
AYPF led a field trip to Birmingham, Alabama that enabled state policy leaders to learn about Alabama’s progress in addressing the need to improve literacy skills among adolescents. The Alabama Reading Initiative Project for Adolescent Literacy (ARI-PAL) is a statewide initiative focusing on secondary education that was launched in 2006. Though the Adolescent Reading Initiative (ARI) had already been in place for eight years, the majority of resources had been allocated to the early grades. Since the first implementation of the program in pilot schools in 14 different districts, implementation of ARI-PAL has reached diverse districts across the state through a combination of local, state, and federal funding. ARI-PAL schools implement a whole-school reform model focused on collaborative leadership, assessment, accelerated intervention, professional development, and strategic learning. Participants on the AYPF field trip learned about these essential components of reform, as well as the policy context at the state level, how the statewide initiative has been taken to scale, and the curricular and staffing implications at the state and local levels.


To view a summary report of the key issues explored on the field trip, please click here.




Carol Belcher has worked as an Education Administrator with Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI) since 2003, responsible for data and evaluations.  Ms. Belcher graduated from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama with a B.S. and Master’s Degrees in Elementary Education and School Counseling.  She received her Education Administration Certification from the University of Montevallo.  As an educator, Ms. Belcher taught 5th and 6th grades before becoming the first Elementary Counselor to be employed in her district.  Ms. Belcher was named principal of West Blocton Elementary School in 1998.  WBES was one of the first 16 sites to be named as an Alabama Reading Initiative Literacy Site in 1998.  In 2001, during her tenure as principal, West Blocton Elementary was named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.  Her accomplishments include presentations to the National Staff Development Council, the US Department of Education Reading First State Directors Meeting and the Alabama Counselor’s Association State Conference.

Reeda Betts has worked for the Alabama Reading Initiative since 2001.  She served as a regional secondary literacy coach before joining the state staff as an education specialist in 2005. Ms. Betts became an education administrator in 2007.  She now serves as the state coordinator for the Alabama Reading Initiative Plan for Adolescent Literacy (ARI-PAL).  She received her B.S. and Master’s Degrees in Secondary English Education from Troy State University and her Education Administrator Certification from Alabama State University. While teaching, Ms. Betts became certified through National Boards for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) in the area of adolescent and young adult English/Language Arts.  She taught 7-12 grade English, 7th grade reading, and 12th graduation examination remediation classes.  Ms. Betts has presented at various national, regional, and state conferences including, the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) annual conference, the National Staff Development Council (NSDC) annual conference, the International Reading Association (IRA) regional conference, the Louisiana Superintendent’s annual conference, and various Alabama sponsored reading, writing, and career and technical education conferences.   She has been published in Alabama English, and is the author of The Alabama Reading Initiative Sails Toward a New Horizon:  The ARI-PAL Maiden Voyage. 

Tommy Bice joined the Alabama Department of Education on June 2, 2008, as the Deputy State Superintendent of Education for Instructional Services. Dr. Bice has responsibility for the areas of Curriculum and Instruction; Assessment and Accountability; Federal Programs; Special Education; Prevention and Support Services; Instructional Leadership and Evaluation; Information Systems; the Alabama Reading Initiative; and the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative. His previous work experience includes serving as a special education teacher, psychometrist, alternative school director, career technical director, high school principal, and local superintendent. During this time he also served as adjunct professor at Auburn University and was the State President of the Alabama Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and President–Elect of the School Superintendents of Alabama. Dr. Bice received his B.S. degree and Ed.D. degrees from Auburn University and his M.S. degree from the University of Alabama in Birmingham. He has furthered his education through post-doctoral work at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Harvard University. Dr. Bice’s family consists of his wife Nancy and their three sons: Andrew, Bennett, and Cambron.

Mark E. Dixon serves as Deputy Director of the Governor’s Policy Office and the Governor’s Education Policy Advisor. In addition to developing Governor Riley’s education agenda, he also serves as liaison to the Alabama Department of Education, the Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education, and the State Board of Education, of which the Governor serves as President. In order to promote and implement the Governor’s agenda, Mark sits on the executive boards and is an active member of the Governor’s Congress on School Leadership, the ACCESS Distance Learning Task Force, and the Governor’s Commission on Quality Teaching. Most recently, he chaired the Governor’s Council on Pre-K Policy that developed Governor Riley’s expansion plan for First Class Pre-K. Mark was also a member of the 2008 class of Leadership Alabama’s Alabama Leadership Initiative.


Denise P. Gibbs is Director of the Alabama Scottish Rite Foundation Learning Centers and serves as a reading specialist and RTI consultant for school systems across the country.  She has more than 30 years of teaching experience at all levels and is the author of two books:  RTI in Middle and High School: Strategies and Structures for Literacy Success (LRP, 2009) and Leading the Dyslexia Challenge: An Action Plan for Schoolwide Identification and Intervention (LRP, 2004).  Dr. Gibbs is currently serving as an RTI consultant for the Alabama State Department of Education.  Dr. Gibbs is a founding member of the Alabama Branch of the International Dyslexia Association and served for three terms as Branch President.  She is currently serving on the branch board as Immediate Past President.  She is a Fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, served two terms as President of the Speech and Hearing Association of Alabama, served as a member of the Alabama Board of Examiners for Speech Pathology and Audiology, and served as a member of the Legislative Council of the American Speech-Language Hearing Association. She has worked with dyslexic students throughout her career and has conducted numerous workshops and professional presentations for teachers, administrators, educational diagnosticians, and speech-language pathologists.  She has served as a consultant to school districts across the country as they have established programs for students with dyslexia and other reading disabilities and most recently has assisted schools in developing comprehensive literacy programs within an RTI context.  Dr. Gibbs received a BS and an MS in speech-language pathology from the University of Montevallo and an Ed.D. in Special Education from the University of Alabama.

Johnny Johnson has been an educator for almost 40 years; first as a math teacher, and as an administrator for the past 33 years. As an administrator he has served as Assistant Principal, Principal, and Assistant Superintendent. He retired from the Columbus Municipal School System as Assistant Superintendent in Columbus, Mississippi and is now serving as Principal of Aliceville Middle School, Aliceville, AL. He also retired from the United States Army Reserve as Division Command Sergeant Major. Mr. Johnson earned his undergraduate degree from MS Industrial College, Holly Springs, MS, where he graduated cum laude and earned his Masters and Educational Specialist degrees in Mathematics and Education Administration from Mississippi State University, Starkville, MS. He was selected as Mississippi Principal of the year in 1993 and was second place winner in the United States. He was selected as a member of Who’s Who in American Education in 1994. He was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree Human Letters from Mary Holmes College. He presently serves on the 4-County EPA—Vice Chairman, MS Regional IV Housing Authority—Vice Chairman, United Negro College Fund—Co-chair of Fundraising, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity—Past  Chairman, 100 Black Men of Columbus—Past Chairman, and member of the National Education Association. Mr. Johnson is married to the former Fairie Lawrence and is the father of two children: Tiffany, a teacher in Fulton County, GA; and Cory, a high school football coach/teacher in Lovejoy, GA. The Johnsons have four grandchildren: Justin, Tyler, Jonathan, and Kaitlin.

Caroline Novak is co-founder and president of A+ Education Partnership. A+ partners with education, business and elected officials to shape policy, to improve teaching and learning and to engage communities in creating great schools for every child. The goal of A+ is to increase the number of students who graduate from high school ready for college, work and citizenship. A+ played a critical role in developing the Alabama Reading Initiative and continues to support the State Department of Education’s literacy efforts. The Alabama Best Practices Center, a division of A+, works directly with districts and with the state ARI staff to support the learning of adults working in Alabama schools. Caroline serves on the

Steering Committee of the Education Commission of the States and the Southern Regional Education Board.

Bio Picture

Sherrill W. Parris is an Assistant State Superintendent of Education for the Alabama Department of Education.  From 1998 to 2007, Mrs. Parris served as the administrator of the highly successful Alabama Reading Initiative.  In 1997 she served on the Alabama Reading Panel, a group of professionals from the business community and from education who worked together to develop the Alabama Reading Initiative which has grown from 16 schools in 1998 to its current 907 schools. The Alabama Reading Initiative is a K-12 comprehensive strategy to bring the best research on reading instruction and the best teaching practices to classrooms in Alabama.  Mrs. Parris’s focus is clearly centered on literacy, and her goal remains to make all Alabama’s children successful readers. Sherrill Parris received her undergraduate degree from Auburn University.  She received her master’s degree in Elementary Education and her Ed. S. in Elementary Education and the Principalship from Livingston University (University of West Alabama).  Her professional career began as a social worker with Foster Family Care and Adoption at the United Methodist Children’s Home in Selma, Alabama.  In 1979 she began work with her life’s passion, education.  After 14 years in the classroom in both the private and public sector, Ms. Parris assumed the responsibility of administrator and became a principal with Selma City Schools in Alabama.  Her work within the local school system was the springboard to directing her passion toward all of Alabama’s children.

Denise Perkins has been an education specialist with the Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI) for one year with her primary responsibilities being the work of the Alabama Reading Initiative – Plan for Adolescent Literacy (ARI-PAL).

ARI-PAL focuses on improving all content instruction in grades 4-12. Earlier in her teaching career, Ms. Perkins taught Chapter I/Title I for six years teaching struggling readers in grades K-3.  She then taught sixth grade for two years in a self-contained setting with full inclusion of special needs students.  After moving to Alabama, Ms. Perkins taught sixth grade English classes for two years before becoming a literacy coach.  She began her work with ARI as a building level literacy coach for a middle school and a high school.  Before becoming an education specialist at the state department, she worked as a secondary regional literacy coach for seven years supporting schools across the state.  Ms. Perkins earned her B.A. from the University of Louisville, her B.S. and Reading Endorsement from Indiana University, and her Master’s Degree in Education from Indiana Wesleyan University.  She has presented at the National Staff Development Council annual conference, at the International Reading Association annual conference, and at state conferences for Alabama and Louisiana.


 Martha Rizzuto has been an educator for 30+ years.  For fifteen years she was a classroom teacher and has been an administrator for the past 25

years.  As an administrator she has served as Principal, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Director of Special Education, and Director of Student Services.  Dr. Rizzuto is currently the Superintendent of the Tarrant City Schools where she has served for the past 5 1/2 years. Dr. Rizzuto earned a doctorate at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1996.  She has served on Governor Bob Riley’s Commission for Quality Teaching since 2007.  She was recently appointed to a three year term by the AASB Board of Directors for Alabama Risk Management for Schools Board of Trustees beginning July 1, 2009.  The Tarrant Board of Education, including Dr. Rizzuto, has been accepted to participate in the Alabama Association of School Boards Governing for Achievement Project (2009-2010).  In addition, Dr. Rizzuto is currently participating in the Superintendents’ Leader Network (co-sponsored by SSA and the Alabama Best Practices Center).  Previously she served on the SSA Conference Planning Committee (2005-2006), the Alabama Staff Development Council Executive Board (2003) and attended the University of Alabama Superintendent’s Academy (2004). Dr. Rizzuto is currently a member of School Superintendents of Alabama (SSA), American Association of School Administrators (AASA), Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools (CLAS) and Alabama Association of School Boards (AASB).

Deann Stone is the Director of Federal Programs with the Alabama Department of Education.  Prior to her current assignment, she was the Coordinator of the Accountability Roundtable, a collaborative of all sections of the Alabama Department of Education with a mission of facilitating a seamless system of data-driven support and services for the purpose of assisting all schools and LEAs in meeting annual measurable objectives.  Dr. Stone was the former coordinator of the Alabama Teacher Leader Network, a network for teachers designed to provide opportunities for participation in activities structured to form and support leadership teams. Dr. Stone assisted in the development of the Alabama Leadership Academy (ALA), the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative (AMSTI), the Alabama Success Initiative, and the Alabama Learning Exchange (ALEX).  She has worked collaboratively with principals of Priority Schools to develop and implement a school improvement plan that identifies and addresses the weaknesses of the school through the review of data. Dr. Stone is a former local technology coordinator and teacher.  She is the mother of two daughters currently attending the University of Alabama.







ARI-PAL Training Modules and Supporting Materials*:

Day 1:

Day 1 Training Module

Day 1 Agenda

Alesha Narrative

Answer Key for Facilitators

Anticipation Guide

Adolescent Brain Research

Chart for Skillful Readers

Essential Elements for Adolescent Literacy Text

Glencoe Math Text

Jot Note Directions

Left-Right Brained Partners Chart

Math Anticipation Guide

Math Jot Notes

Rules for Say Something

Semantic Feature Analysis Chart

Characteristics of Skillful Readers

Day 2:

2009-2010 Purposeful Planning Guide

A Tale of Two Classrooms

American Idol Text

Biology Text

Cloze Procedure

History Graphic Organizer

History Lesson Text

Purposeful Planning One Pager

Reciprocal Teaching Directions

Scenarios: Mr. Smith and Mrs. Jones

Strategic Planning Graphic Organizer

Day 3:

Day 3 Training Module

Blank Lesson Plans

Coaching Cycle Graphic

The Coaching Cycle Jot Notes

    *For further information on ALSDE training modules, contact:

Reeda Betts (rbetts@alsde.edu)

Denise Perkins (dperkins@alsde.edu)

Wendy Warren (wwarren@alsde.edu)


Loretta Goodwin
American Youth Policy Forum
1836 Jefferson Pl
Washington, DC 20036

Andrea Browning
American Youth Policy Forum
1836 Jefferson Pl
Washington, DC 20036

A Field Trip — Birmingham,  Alabama, September 30 -October 2, 2009

Related Information


The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.