Literacy Initiative Focused on Effectiveness (LIFE)

NiswongerCAREThe Niswonger Foundation and Greene County Schools have joined in partnership to increase third grade literacy. This pilot program, is serving as a “laboratory” for developing best practices and the most effective program design, specifically focusing on the needs of rural schools. Fundamental to both of these efforts is the belief that literacy is the single most important factor for ensuring that children have an opportunity for a successful future.

A working definition, for purposes of this pilot initiative, is that literacy is achieved when a person has the ability to read, write, compute, and use technology at a level that enables him/her to reach their full potential. The Niswonger Foundation and Greene County schools have agreed to support each other throughout this process by accepting certain responsibilities; all centered on assisting the teacher, student learning, and sharing information to learn what works and what does not. Professional development, expert consultation, classroom technology, and instructional materials are being provided by the Niswonger Foundation.

This three-year K-2 literacy initiative is designed to improve foundational skills necessary for reading mastery. The program staff and teachers are identifying the “best practices” in early literacy teaching methods. This initiative also provides teachers with the support they need to ensure engaging and effective instruction. Through a data driven, personalized, and highly supportive process, the end goal is to dramatically improve third grade literacy scores with a program that can be adaptable to other K-2 classrooms. At the end of the pilot program, it is planned that more schools in the region can benefit from the knowledge gained through the methods used, such as the following:

  • Scheduling: Provide small, daily, fluid Early Learning Groups (ELG’s) to meet students where they are and ensure their progression;
  • Data: Review multiple sources to inform teachers regarding appropriate next steps;
  • Teacher collaboration: Extend planning time for instructional team discussion of data, student needs, strengths/weaknesses, and provide a sense of shared responsibility;
  • Instructional Assistants: Provide training and support to build abilities and confidence to deliver instruction in ELG groups
  • Parent/Community Involvement: Focus on the importance of community engagement. Establish engaging activities for parents/guardians, and design volunteer opportunities for community partners; and
  • Replicability: Design to be replicated in other K-2 classroom settings in the region and beyond.

LIFE Program Goals


  1. Students in the participating pilot schools will meet or exceed the State of Tennessee’s goal by striving for 80 percent of students scoring proficient or advanced in English Language Arts on the 3rd grade assessment as measured by the 2019-2020 TN Ready Assessment. The State of Tennessee has set a goal of 75 percent of 3rd grade students scoring proficient or advanced by 2025.
    • Track annual positive trends in reading proficiency by increasing discussions about data with a focus on progression from year to year.
    • Provide professional development along with the curriculum and related resources for teachers to use across grade levels for reading and writing instruction
  2. Participating pilot schools will experience a 30 percent increase in the number of students scoring low need (Tier 1) from the beginning of each school year to the end of each school year using the iReady monitoring assessments at each grade level.
    • Educators will also review data from Running Records, along with the Easy CBM Benchmark assessments, and the progress-monitoring instrument to show positive trends of progress for all K-2 students.
    • Educators will focus on students both below grade level as well as those on and above grade level to ensure ALL students are making adequate yearly progress.
  3. At least 90% of the certified teachers and instructional assistants working with the K-2 initiative will participate in professional learning opportunities for providing effective literacy instruction.
    • Educators will gain an understanding of progress monitoring, and use this tool to drive instruction.
    • Educators will be equipped with the related resources and knowledge to make major shifts with instructional practices and strategies.
    • Educators will establish a “build and grow” learning technique through educator communication and collaboration.
    • Educators will gain knowledge through professional development opportunities and related resources that foster effective literacy instruction and writing curriculum for K-2 students.
  4. Pilot schools will plan for at least two parent involvement events annually with a focus on stakeholder engagement and support of the early literacy initiative and the goal of improving elementary reading.
    • Establish family and community involvement and accountability.

LIFE Program Expands to Hancock County


With the generous support of grants from the Walmart Foundation and the Annenberg Fund for Schools, the LIFE program is being expanded to Hancock County Elementary School, beginning Fall 2017. Lessons learned in the pilot year of the Greene County LIFE initiative will ensure a successful implementation. The Niswonger Foundation extends sincere thanks to the Rural Schools and Community Trust for support of this work.

Meet the LIFE Staff

Larry Neas

Larry Neas

Project Coordinator

Amanda Carpenter

Amanda Carpenter

Literacy Specialist
Greene County

Sara Holt

Sara Holt

Literacy Specialist
Hancock County