Secretary of State kicks off 2-day literacy conference

2013-10-17T11:33:00Z 2013-10-19T17:24:07Z Secretary of State kicks off 2-day literacy conferenceBy CHRIS CIOFFI The Billings Gazette

The Montana State Literacy Conference began with a dramatic re-creation of a children’s book from organizers and a reading by the Montana secretary of state at West High.

More than 600 people will attend this year’s conference.

Secretary of State, Linda McCulloch gave the welcome speech as she has for the last 13 years.

A librarian and teacher for 20 years, she challenged her audience to work hard to bring literacy to young students.

More than 49 million Americans cannot read, she said.

“As secretary of state I’m not happy until 100 percent of people vote in elections,” she said. “But also I’m not happy until 100 percent of kids read at grade level.”

“Literacy is truly the foundation for everything,” McCulloch said. “You can’t do anything without reading.”

Reminding the crowd that she always reads a book to her audience, she pulled out this year’s pick, “Chicken Cheeks.”

The book, written by Michael Ian Black and Kevin Hawkes, features colorful illustrations and witty descriptions of animals sitting face to backside on top of one another in an effort to reach a pot of honey.

It likely was the first time the phrase “duckbill platypus gluteus maximus” was spoken during a welcome speech, but the conference was filled with firsts this year.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever had it in the high school,” said Terry Lewis, International Reading Association coordinator.

Lewis is the liaison between the International Reading Association and the Montana chapter of the group.

By having it at West High, they were able to reduce the amount spent on the two-day conference, Lewis said.

“We’re making it more accessible to all educators who attend the conference,” she said.

“Our goal is to spread literacy throughout Montana. Whether that is women’s prisons early childhood centers,

schools or libraries,” Lewis said.

On Friday, educators will attend seminars and watch speakers that have prepared sessions around the conference’s central theme.

“We decided our focus this year was going to be reading disabilities,” said Tara Hagins, chair of this year’s conference.

The sessions include several keynote speakers, including Henry Winkler, who spoke Thursday night at the ABT about

his struggles with dyslexia.

“It’s really beneficial to be able to hear from someone who can be eloquent enough to explain how it feels to struggle with reading,” she said.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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