Park City School District leader honored for implementing reading initiatives
Teaching literacy has always been a part of Julie Hastings’ adult life. She helped kids learn to read while teaching elementary school and she worked with educators to improve their teaching methods as an instructional coach. Her dedication to improving literacy throughout the district is the reason PC READS selected her as the recipient of its annual award.
PC READS, a nonprofit that supports students with reading disabilities, presented Hastings with the Elevating Literacy Award at its annual fundraiser on May 3. Hastings is currently the elementary curriculum specialist for Park City School District, and she has championed the implementation of the district’s new reading initiative Wilson Fundations. The method was recently adopted by all elementary schools in the district.
Hastings said she has had many sleepless nights over the last few years while pushing for district-wide changes in reading instruction. To have PC READS recognize the work she and other teachers have put in to make it successful was incredible, she said.
“Knowing the complexity of everything that we’ve done in the last three years, it felt amazing to have a spotlight on that, and to know that it was a lot of hard work,” she said.
Hastings began teaching in elementary schools in Boulder, Colorado, in 2000. She taught around Colorado and Idaho before accepting a position at McPolin Elementary School in 2004. She worked as a teacher, media specialist and instructional coach, and then moved into her current role in the district two years ago.
She said she has tapped into her passion for teaching literacy in all of those positions. Literacy is a foundational skill for success in a student’s life, she said.
Hastings became aware of the Wilson Fundations Language Training program when the Hall Family Fund, a Park City-based foundation that supports programming for dyslexic students, approached her a few years back. It was interested in donating funds to the district to improve reading education, particularly for students with dyslexia. Wilson Fundations uses a unique, multi-sensory approach to teaching reading, and it focuses on phonetics.
The instruction is beneficial for all students, but especially for those with reading disabilities, Hastings said.
Hastings researched the method and thought it would be a good fit for Park City schools. She worked with teachers at McPolin Elementary School who were interested in piloting the program. Once they implemented it, they passed their knowledge onto other teachers in the school and throughout the district. The Hall Family Fund and PC READS helped pay for teacher training.
Hastings managed the partnerships and coordinated the teacher training. She wrote a guidebook for teachers that helped them identify struggling readers and recognize what methods would best help them. All kindergarten through third-grade teachers at the district’s elementary schools now use Wilson Fundations.
Hastings said she charted her own path while figuring out how to implement a district-wide shift. Sometimes, asking teachers to change was difficult. She is proud to see where it has come over the last couple years, even as she continues to work out some kinks. She said students, especially those who struggle, are receiving better support in the classroom and teachers feel more confident about their instruction.
She said it has been a team effort to implement change, and she was happy to lead the charge.
“While I’m super honored to have received the award, the teachers are the ones on the ground doing all the work with the students,” she said.
Teachers who worked with Hastings over the years, such as second-grade teacher Jana Tallis, said Hastings was persistent, strong and ambitious.
“Julie exemplifies the meaning of leadership,” she said in a quote read at the fundraiser event.
Hastings said she was stunned when PC READS President Elissa Aten called her and said she would be receiving the award. She was not only shocked that she had been selected, but also that PC READS was honoring a district employee. She said the two organizations had been at odds a few years back because of differing priorities.
Three years ago, she said, dyslexia was not widely discussed in the district.
“I appreciated that all of the collaboration and all of the work in the last three years has come to fruition in establishing a really nice relationship between PC READS and the school district,” she said. Aten said Hastings was selected because of her dedication to improving literacy for all students in the district. She said the nonprofit likes to recognize people making a difference in the reading community.
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Amendment G seems straighforward, but behind the language about supporting people with disabilities are legislative compromises decades in the making.