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Explicit phonics instruction is raising the bar in Tennessee

African American teacher helping her elementary school students

Overview of Franklin Special School District:

  • Location: About 30 miles south of Nashville in the historic city of Franklin, Tennessee
  • 3,200 students K-8
  • 39% Black, Hispanic, and Native American
  • 31% free and reduced lunch
  • 15% English learners
  • 15% students with learning disabilities.

95 Percent Group products in use

Located in the historic city of Franklin, about 30 miles south of Nashville, Tennessee, Franklin Special School District (FSSD) serves a fairly diverse population. As its name suggests, it is truly a special place, having received a particular act of legislature in 1949 allowing the district to change its funding sources and approve its own budget—thus making it the first “special school district” in Tennessee.”

The missing piece

Teachers in FSSD were spending extra time planning to ensure the lessons would be explicit and include the right components of foundational literacy. “We were already using 95 Phonics Lesson Library®, but there had continuously been requests from teachers and staff for a few years to have more consistent phonemic awareness and phonics instruction for all students,” said District Associate Director of Schools for Teaching and Learning, Dr. Mary Decker.

Teachers kept saying they needed something else. Every school was doing something different, piecing things together, trying to fill that gap for K-2 Phonics. But nothing was going deep enough.

Summer Carlton


Curriculum and Professional Learning Supervisor, Franklin Special School District

The previous year, one of their elementary campuses had piloted 95 Phonics Core Program® (new at the time) for Kindergarten and had a lot of success. “Although adapting to the new program was challenging for teachers—learning new routines, staying consistent with the fidelity of the different pieces and the language involved, etc.—by the end of the year the teachers had really embraced it,” added Summer Carlton, curriculum and professional learning supervisor for Franklin Special School District. It was at this point that they decided to look more closely at implementing this more structured, explicit program for K-2 districtwide.

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