Literacy Center Celebrates 11-Year Partnership with Delta School

The University of Mississippi Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction is celebrating its 11th school year of successful partnership with Dundee Elementary School in Tunica. 

University of Mississippi literacy teacher Angie Caldwell has played a key role in the partnership between the Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction and Dundee Elementary School in Tunica. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Each year, CELI literacy specialists work with Dundee faculty to ensure the more than 200 students at the P-5 school are proficient readers by the end of third grade. Throughout the school year, CELI offer resources to help faculty make data-based decisions and set paths for improved student outcomes using research-based practices for literacy teachers. 

With this support, the school has made great strides over the years. Dundee holds an A rating from the Mississippi Department of Education and is one of the highest-performing schools in the Tunica County School District. 

“My specific job is to support literacy teachers and help them teach reading to all children, especially in low socioeconomic areas of Mississippi,” said Angie Caldwell, UM literacy teacher for CELI. “It’s important to help these teachers build this foundation for our students.” 

In 2008, less than 20 percent of Dundee fourth-graders had proficient test scores in English Language Arts, according to MDE data. A short time later, CELI stepped in to partner with the Delta school. By 2010, 88 percent of Dundee fourth-graders scored proficient or better on the statewide reading assessment. By 2014, the school had achieved its first A rating from MDE. 

“Teaching a child to read will change his or her life trajectory, and that’s very important for them in order to be successful in all aspects of life,” Caldwell said. 

Dundee’s partnership with CELI has evolved over time, beginning with examining data to identify areas that needed improvement and providing professional development in literacy instruction. 

Principal Natasha Bates has worked at Dundee in various roles for 15 years. She is a UM doctoral candidate who plans to finish her dissertation in May. 

“My favorite thing about working at Dundee is the people and their work ethic,” said Bates, a Centreville native. “Teachers want students to do well and students want to learn. It’s a great place because everybody does what it takes to make sure that we’re successful.”

Bates has worked at Dundee since she graduated from Alcorn State University in 2004 and was a fourth-grade math teacher when CELI partnered with the school. A principal for seven years, she works closely with Caldwell to ensure teachers and students have the tools they need to succeed.

“Ms. Angie mostly works with our kindergarten through third-grade teachers, making sure literacy supports are in place, so students are prepared for the statewide third-grade literacy assessment,” Bates said. “CELI provides that foundation for our students, so we don’t struggle a lot with students who get to third grade and aren’t proficient readers.”

CELI was established in 2007 by the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning board of trustees and began with a mission to support educators in providing effective literacy instruction to all students, particularly students in low socioeconomic communities. Funding for CELI is provided by the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation, of Jackson. 

“Based on the work that we have supported at Dundee Elementary School, we know that all children can learn to read proficiently when provided effective instruction by caring and supportive educators,” said Angela Rutherford, CELI director and UM professor of teacher education. “There are no excuses – Dundee students are expected to achieve, and they do.” 

Teachers at Dundee agree that CELI has made a difference, not only for students but also for teachers. Mausherea McCoy, a second-year pre-K teacher at Dundee, said Caldwell has helped her become a better teacher. 

“Last year, when I was having trouble teaching phonics, Ms. Angie helped me by modeling for me what to do and how to do it,” said McCoy, a Tunica native. “When I did it in the classroom the next day, it helped a lot.” 

The 11-year partnership between CELI and Dundee Elementary has made a positive impact on both students and teachers at the school. 

“I hope that we continue our partnership for many years to come because I think that CELI has been very beneficial to Dundee over the years,” Bates said. “You really can’t do anything unless you have that foundation in literacy. It’s a big part of everything.” 

By Meaghan Flores

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