WESLEY CHAPEL — Rayquon Locke couldn't stop smiling as he waved his report card at Danna Scranton.
"Check it out," the Weightman Middle School seventh-grader urged the achievement coach, who has helped Rayquon overcome some obstacles in his reading lessons. He gets help reading because of low FCAT scores, a result, he said, of paying too little attention.
But now he beamed. He had bumped near-failing grades to B's to A's. Scranton heaped on the praise, and Rayquon's grin grew even wider.
"She helps me a lot," he said. "I wanted to show her how good I'm doing in classes and how she's helping me. I am doing better."
Linda Bigelow, Rayquon's Read 180 teacher, lauded the assistance that Scranton has offered her classes, which are filled with the school's lowest readers.
"So many kids in here don't want to be in here," Bigelow said. "Danna's really great. If you have a problem with a student she'll talk to them and they come back a changed person."
Such stories have Pasco school district officials enthusiastic. They created dozens of student achievement coach positions this year, using millions of dollars from the federal stimulus package, aiming to improve student outcomes in new ways.
These coaching positions, in special education and reading literacy, also help tie together two other district initiatives that have won only grudging support from some corners — Learning Focused Strategies and Response to Intervention. The coaches help teachers use data to identify areas where they might improve instruction, and then guide them to the teaching strategies that might get better results, modeling as needed.
"It's like all of these things are starting to line up for teachers now," said Monica Verra, the district's director of special education.
Veteran teacher Donna Black, one of Weightman's teaching team leaders, also praised Scranton's addition to the staff.
"She doesn't just monitor and help the ESE students," said Black, who has Scranton in her class as a co-teacher daily. "We have so many students who are not labeled ESE, but they're struggling. She's not selective about who she helps."
And she does it in a way that makes teachers feel comfortable, Black added.
"She's not there as a boss for us. She's there as a resource," Black said. "I hope they continue the funding."
Scranton said that rapport was exactly what she had in mind when she applied for the new position last spring.
"I envisioned me going into classrooms and focusing on small groups of students, and coming up with interventions with the teachers," she said. "Then tracking that and determining whether or not the intervention is appropriate. ... I really anticipated the position involving lots of training, which it does."
Most of the time, Scranton said, teachers know the strategies she brings. In the bustle of daily instruction, though, they don't always have the time to reflect on what might best help the struggling student and then recall every possibility.
"I'm the observer," she said. "I'm taking in information to give the teacher feedback. ... A lot of times the teachers say, 'I knew that.' I'm just bringing it back up to the forefront for them."
Quite often, Scranton confided, she finds the best ideas in other teachers' classrooms. She just has the time to share them all.
Working with a team of reading teachers, for instance, the group came up with a reward system that keeps students focused on their work. Sometimes she spends weeks planning and guiding a teacher. Sometimes, she needs only a few hours or just a few minutes.
Scranton comes without the threat of evaluation, or of reporting back to the administration at all. She's more a teacher of teachers, whose sole purpose is to improve instruction so all children can learn.
It's not that Scranton or the coaches at the other schools have all the answers.
The job remains fluid, Verra said, with monthly training to make sure the coaches can learn new methods themselves — including lessons from the successes and failures they have experienced in the field. In that way, the collaborative process continues toward getting all students, regardless of labels, moving toward educational success.
"The challenges we face today require more perspectives to solve them," Verra said.
It's true, Weightman principal Shae Davis said, that schools increasingly see overlaps between special and basic education.
"What is being done is not only for ESE students," Davis said. "The whole class can benefit."
Just ask Rayquon Locke.
"She comes into my class to help me with work. And if I need help, I'll go in to see her," he said. "She explains it better than the other teachers do. ... She helps me a lot. Now I want to do better in school and make it to high school."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.