Despite a strong showing in the Connecticut Mastery Test overall in the field of reading, 24 percent of Region 12's grade 1 to 5 students did not meet grade-level expectations in reading during the 2008-09 school year.

This was the message Holly Hageman, the school district's director of curriculum and instruction, brought to Monday's Board of Education meeting as she made the case for hiring a literacy specialist to serve the district's three primary schools.

"If we don't get children up to their grade level in reading by third-grade," Ms. Hageman said, "tt effects their future education and can effect their performance through life."

She said having a literacy specialist on board would provide direct intervention during class periods. The specialist would oversee literacy tutors already on staff and provide professional training for teachers. This would make a "patchy" program that now exists an efficient one, she explained.

"Our principals, our teachers, our students are making terrific gains now," Ms. Hageman added, "I want to get that point across. But I think they would make tremendous gains with a literacy specials onboard."

Responding to her pitch, the board approved hiring a literacy specialist for the 2009-10 school year, and possibly retaining the position into the 2010-11 year.

The position will be paid for with stimulus package money from the federal government. The money was specifically awarded to the district to use of special needs students' services or early intervention staff to catch problems early on before a student falls into the special needs status.

The total stimulus grant, called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant, is for $381,564, coming over a two-year period. The grant will be combined with an already existing IDEA grant the school receives to pay for the literacy specialist.

The grant money will also pay for a range of equipment and instructional supplies for special needs students.

The literacy specialist will concentrate his or her service at Washington Primary School where most of the 76 region-wide students who are below grade-level expectations in reading are, Ms. Hageman said. The specialist will also serve Booth Free School in Roxbury and Burnham School in Bridgewater.

"I think this is a fabulous program going forward," said board member Kelly Lott of Roxbury.

Board member Valerie Andersen of Washington voted against hiring the literacy specialist. She felt the CMT scores were strong and, with improvement showing in reading across the grade levels, the position was not needed in these tight economic times.

--It's the children who are below the basic level of reading proficiency that we have to do this for," said board member Frannie Caco of Washington. "We have to give our K through grade two students this attention. It's to catch the ones that aren't reaching goal. We need this position filled."