National Writing Project

Director's Update

By: Richard Sterling
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 8, No. 5
Date: 2003

Summary: Executive Director Richard Sterling shares early memories of NWP and Jim Gray, and describes the organization's goals for the year...


Dear Friends.

Welcome to the 30th anniversary year of the National Writing Project. I think it is fitting that I begin this letter with a tribute to our founder Jim Gray. Thirty years ago, Jim led a small group of teachers who met on the University of California, Berkeley, campus and shared their questions, their knowledge, and their ideas about improving the teaching of writing for students in their classrooms. Soon these ideas began to take root nationally with Jim as their primary proselytizer. Many of us have stories about our initial meeting with Jim, about how we started our own projects, or about the first summer institute we attended.

One of my favorite memories is about meeting Jim and Mary K. Healy in San Francisco in November 1977, at which time they asked Sondra Perl, John Brereton, and me to begin the New York City Writing Project at the City University of New York. We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for. Jim’s advice was simple, direct, and as true now as it was then. He said, “Look for teachers who are strong and open.” And that’s what we did.

Our first summer institute was spectacular! Many of the teachers who participated in that first summer institute of the New York City Writing Project are still with the site, and all are contributing to the knowledge base for teachers of writing. Some are leading major reform efforts, others are writing and publishing, and many more are affecting student’s lives directly as highly effective teachers in the largest school district in the nation. Thousand of teachers later, this writing project site is still flourishing. All across the country, writing project site leaders and teacher-consultants tell their own version of this story.

During this anniversary year, we have set two goals: first, to make the importance of writing and its connection to the future success of all our students more visible to policymakers, educators, and the general public; and second, to offer sites opportunities to deepen and broaden the work they do in their region of the country. As we have said many times, we know how to teach writing, but we need to match that knowledge to the changing landscape of standards, assessments, and the requirements of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. In order to make this happen, we need your help. We need to know what you are learning about the implementation of NCLB. We’d like to know specifically about the challenges and opportunities presented to writing project sites, and what the act’s impact is on the teachers and the schools with whom you’re working.

Finally, I look forward to seeing and talking with many of you at our annual meeting in San Francisco this November. For the start of our anniversary year, there will be an extraordinary array of workshops, a writing strand at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention, and opportunities to meet and learn from some of the best teachers in the United States. I am looking forward to seeing you at this and at other events throughout this 30th anniversary year.

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