By Dawn Greenberg
It’s both a comfort and a joy that Dr. Lyn McKay, despite the unrelenting demands of her job as the Superintendent of the Chappaqua Central School District, remains an avid book lover–and even finds time to read, both for professional development
In fact, Dr. McKay has a Ph.D. in Reading in addition to her Supervision and Administration Cognate. Growing up in New Jersey, reading was always an important part of her family life from her earliest years. Early favorites included the Nancy Drew and Clara Barton, Nurse, series.
She notes that her family read the newspaper twice daily–the early morning delivery of the main paper and the evening independent paper. She was also an avid reader of comics, including Little Lulu.
“As I got older, I became a Dickens fan and then when my children were young and I was studying children’s literature at Columbia, I would read children’s classics to my own children. We loved Make Way for Ducklings, all the Angus books, and Play with Me.” Lyn’s favorite book was everybody’s favorite: The Secret Garden. “I periodically pick it up and read it even now. I just think it’s the best.”
Dr. McKay has three children and eight grandchildren with whom she happily shares her love of reading. She has two favorites she reads with the grandchildren who range from one and a half to 16-years-old.
For the little ones, Hurricane by David Weisner is one that is read very often. For those who are elementary and middle, they read A Christmas Carol together during the holidays when Dr. McKay sets up her Christmas Carol village.
To my delight, Dr. McKay and I had a chance to chat about her own as well as the District’s philosophy as it pertains to reading and her impression of the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival. Here’s our conversation:
DG: Thinking about reading in our schools, I think obviously our teachers do a fabulous job with it. And in letting the kids drive what interests them I think that’s so important. What do you think our strengths are and what is your overarching philosophy?
Dr. McKay: My overarching philosophy is that students need to read a lot and have a lot of choice in selecting books. We want children of all ages to love reading.
Dr. McKay: Everyday.
DG: Even in the summer?
Dr. McKay: Especially in the summer.Students should be reading what they enjoy and talking to their parents and friends about their favorite books. During the school year, as well, students should be reading during and after school each day. In our elementary school reading workshop, for example, teachers provide time for silent reading and small group book discussions. They also ensure that students select books that are on their instructional and independent levels. In other words, students are reading books that are neither too difficult nor too easy, which allows them to continually master reading skills. Teachers teach students how to select books that are on their reading levels so students do not struggle unnecessarily.
DG: Absolutely, I mean it’s hard to keep my third-grader from Harry Potter and he is not there yet.
Dr. McKay: Choice is important, too. We provide a variety of genres in our classroom libraries. We want to ensure that children are reading nonfiction as well as fiction. My own 12-year-old granddaughter loves biography. She is not in one of Chappaqua’s schools, but she probably has read more biographies at her age than I have.
DG: I love biographies. I am very much a non-fictional person.
Dr. McKay: The reader’s and writer’s workshops are critically important to us because they include vast classroom libraries that provide students with a variety of choices and ranges of reading levels to choose from. We now have more classroom libraries and choice reading at our middle schools and even at our high school than we did even five years ago.
DG: So you don’t say, “You have to read…,” you say, “You can choose to read…?”
Dr. McKay: I would say both. Students should read daily and have some choice about what they read. Frequently, students select from a large variety of texts. At times, teachers require particular books and support students as they read them. At other times
students choose from teacher-selected genre. In addition, students should have opportunities each day to read for pleasure. One question you asked was about how we provide for the student who struggles and the student who is an avid reader. It is through the reader’s workshop structure, which allows teachers to easily differentiate and ensure students are reading at the appropriate levels.
DG: Right, which I think is a strength in our District.
Dr. McKay: I see it as a strength.
DG: And what would you think is a recipe for success for infecting your kids with a love of reading. If they are reluctant, what can we all do to combat that?
Dr. McKay: My answer is, “Read aloud to your children and enjoy talking with them about their favorite books.” There is lots of research indicating that reading aloud to students makes a significant difference in their comprehension and infuses a love of reading. As parents, we often think of reading aloud as what we should do with two-year-olds or four-year-olds or five-year olds, but reading aloud to older students is important as well.
I remember when my husband was reading aloud Les Miserables. He read the entire book aloud to our middle school daughter and she loved it. Children get so much more from read aloud than learning the content of a book. It increases language development, motivation, and curiosity. At the same time, parents and children can build strong relationships through read aloud.
DG: Emotional ties to the reader?
Dr. McKay: Yes. Parents sometimes think, especially with preschoolers, that it’s best to work on phonics and focus on letters and the sounds of the letters, but reading to young children is actually more important and having conversations about reading is important too. I am not talking about asking children questions about a plot, but rather having discussions about what a child predicts will happen next in a story or about what a child is curious about, for those kinds of discussions build critical thinking along with the love of reading.
One evening in June, I was in the iLab at the high school. One of our teachers, Jacqueline Abair, was having a reading and writing celebration with her ninth and tenth grade English classes. She had students write their favorite literary quotes on the walls and display their written works on posterboards.
There were parents and administrators there, and what was very exciting was the way she turned the iLab into an environment that celebrated reading and writing. The students who introduced the work stood up and read poems and then said to the audience, “Now I want you to listen to the poem a second time so you can feel it and know what it’s about.” It was a beautiful event.
Dr. McKay: It was a celebration of reading and writing in an incredible environment with a real audience. It was really so exciting!
DG: What do you think about our little book festival that we’ve started? I noticed you there with your granddaughter this year.
Dr. McKay: What really impressed me was the volume of books, the number of authors, the number of students who were just enthralled with the books…and the llamas. For my granddaughter, I don’t know what she liked more, the many books or the llamas, and I really mean that!
Dr. McKay: She loves reading and animals.
Dr. McKay: So if there is a llama and books, you will have a very happy girl.
DG: Any favorite authors you enjoyed meeting?
Dr. McKay: We didn’t have a favorite; we just walked from one to the next to the next. We had a great time.
DG: It’s amazing, right? Each one was better than the last.
Dr. McKay: I agree. It was a terrific community and family affair. The book festival was a true celebration of literacy. What a lovely event!
DG: Thank you. We think we have even more authors this year and we are trying to bring in diversity, different ages and different genres, and it has been exciting to see some of the authors who have reached out to us– Nina Crews, David Ezra Stein.
Dr. McKay: Really?!
DG: Then you get in the position of having to turn people away or giving them half days but it is a good problem to have.
Dr. McKay: You truly have to be excited about that!
DG: Very excited. I would do it two days if we could but logistically it’s impossible.
DG: So I have to ask: What were your beach reads this summer?
Dr. McKay: Of course I am always reading professional books, which I very much enjoy. Right now, David Rock’s Your Brain at Work is very exciting to me. I like neuroscience. I also enjoyed Just Mercy, which is written by Bryan Stevenson–he is the executive director of Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. It’s a true story of justice and redemption.
Dr. McKay: I also was with many of my grandchildren so I read a lot of children’s books with them.
DG: I really enjoyed talking to you and please be sure to put October 3rd on your calendar for the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival.
Dr. McKay: I will. It is a celebration I will be sure to attend. Thank you.
Guest Editor Dawn Greenberg is the founder and director of the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival, founder of Chappaqua Cares, and executive director of the Chappaqua-Millwood Chamber of Commerce. She lives with her husband Paul and son Ben in Chappaqua.
More about our School District Leader
Dr. Lyn McKay is Superintendent of the Chappaqua Central School District. She was Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction and then Deputy Superintendent for Chappaqua Schools for eight years prior. Before that she worked in Pinellas County Florida as a Reading and Language Arts Supervisor and Director of Teaching and Learning, K-12, where she established a writing demonstration school and led research, development, and implementation of curriculum and instruction, K-12. Since coming to New York, Dr. McKay has been the president of the Putnam-Northern Westchester BOCES Curriculum Council, a consultant to neighboring districts on leadership practices, an executive coach, and currently co-facilitates the Tri-State Consortium’s Steering Committee. She has chaired and presented at numerous educational institutes throughout the country. Her publications include Flexible Grouping for Literacy in the Elementary Grades, Teachers on the Cutting Edge, and Extended Wait-time and its Effect on Listening Comprehension.
Dr. McKay received her master’s degree from Teachers College, Columbia University and her Ph.D. from the University of South Florida, where she became an adjunct professor.