Christie Biggerstaff joined the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) in the Office of Teaching and Learning on July 1 as the director of early literacy.
KDE secured the initial funding for the position through the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund, part of the American Rescue Plan Act. The position will receive sustainable funding from the Kentucky state legislature through Senate Bill (SB) 9, referred to as the Read to Succeed Act. Sponsored by Sen. Stephen West, SB 9 provides a multifaceted approach to improve reading outcomes for all students. Per the legislation, KDE, local districts, schools and postsecondary educator preparation programs will play a role in creating systemic improvement in reading outcomes for students in grades K-3.
As director of early literacy, Biggerstaff will oversee the implementation of the Read to Succeed Act and development of statewide supports for early literacy.
“I am genuinely thrilled to welcome Christie to the Office of Teaching and Learning and the KDE Team,” said Chief Academic Officer Micki Ray. “Christie has much expertise to contribute to the implementation of SB 9, including the statewide professional learning and eventual literacy coaching model.”
Biggerstaff said she is elated to join KDE and is ready to deep dive into transformational opportunities for Kentucky teachers and students.
“Kentucky’s state reading data shows that we are losing the race centered around one of our most precious assets – literacy. It is the foundation on which our children’s futures are built,” she said. “Our children deserve the very best. The teachers and staff throughout Kentucky are phenomenal, and I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, they are capable and ready to take back the lead with respect to early literacy.
“We anticipate that the Kentucky Reading Academies, which emphasize building teacher capacity to address early literacy and the diverse needs of Kentucky’s youngest readers, are an essential first step in equipping educators with the knowledge, skills and tools to bolster student success. ”
Biggerstaff most recently served as the elementary instructional supervisor for Monroe County Schools. In statewide assessment data, Monroe County has some of the highest BRIGANCE Early Childhood Kindergarten Screen scores in the Commonwealth.
Monroe County’s approach to literacy success starts way before students enroll in the school system, said Biggerstaff. Under Biggerstaff’s leadership, the Early Literacy Preschool Liaison Program in Monroe County centered on making connections with community and home daycares and preschools to bridge the gap between home and school. The liaison assesses children with the BRIGANCE screener and then works with small groups to prepare them for reading or to advance their literacy skills.
“We knew in order to find success with building strong readers and learners, we had to reach and teach them as early as possible,” said Biggerstaff. “We knew that being in a small, rural district with a high poverty rate, we had to expose children to text, phonics and skills even if it meant going to them outside of our brick-and-mortar schools.”
A unique characteristic about the Monroe County School District is that it has preschools, daycares and Head Start programs housed inside all three of its elementary schools, with students as young as 2 and 3 years old in its hallways. Biggerstaff said this practice allows all the staff in each program to align resources and information. The goal is a strong foundation for kindergarten and beyond.
For students needing accelerated learning and intervention in reading, Monroe County works with its grade-level teachers to establish goals and intervention plans. Biggerstaff said creating standards alignment and implementing high-quality Tier 1 instruction helped pave the way in ensuring Monroe County teachers and staff have the same goals in front of them when it comes to early intervention and a multi-tiered system of supports.
Biggerstaff was drawn to education because of her mother, an elementary school teacher, and dreamed of having her own classroom one day. A graduate of Monroe County High School, she began her career at Gamaliel Elementary School (Monroe County) as a 4th- and 5th-grade reading, writing and language arts teacher.
“As a teacher, my classroom goal was to continually instill a passion and love for reading and writing into my students, but above all else, I wanted to ensure that my students knew that I loved them and would do anything in my power to help them be successful,” she said.
After being in the classroom for four years, Biggerstaff served as her school’s assistant principal for four years and then principal for an additional four years. Under her leadership, Gamaliel Elementary was named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. For the past eight years, she has served as the district’s elementary instructional supervisor.
Biggerstaff believes community engagement is “not only necessary, but critical” to early literacy success, and builds the foundation for all future learning.
“Literacy gives our students access to information and plays a significant role in reducing inequality in the access to education, employment and civic participation. Literacy builds self- esteem and overall quality of life,” she said. “We want all of our children to have access to a bigger, better, brighter future than we can imagine, and that begins with a strong literacy foundation.
“For a community, an investment in literacy is an investment in itself. Higher literacy rates equate to higher economies and create jobs.”
Biggerstaff received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, a master’s degree in library media education and a Rank 1 in educational leadership from Western Kentucky University. She also has an instructional supervision degree and educational specialist degree for advanced coursework in instructional supervision from the University of the Cumberlands.
Biggerstaff is married to Kirk Biggerstaff, superintendent of Cumberland County School District, and together they have three children.