Literacy Now

ILA News
ILA Next
How to Raise and Teach Anti-Racist Kids
ILA Next
How to Raise and Teach Anti-Racist Kids
  • News & Events
  • ILA News

Get to Know Incoming Vice President Stephen Peters

By Alina O'Donnell
 | May 21, 2019

Last fall, Stephen Peters, superintendent of Laurens County School District 55 in South Carolina, declined a 2% merit increase in his annual salary because, as he said to the Index-Journal, “We are working diligently to raise the salaries of all employees and, until we have our teachers and support staff pay at appropriate levels, I feel it is best for me to decline a raise at this time.”

It is that fiscally responsible style of leadership, his dedication to educators, and his focus on the future that has defined Peters’s time on the ILA Board of Directors, which he has been a member of since 2016. Now, he’s ready to take on a new role with the organization.

Peters was elected vice president of the Board earlier this month and will assume the presidency in July 2020.

We spoke with Peters about how his early learning experiences helped shape the trajectory of his life, his goals for his presidency, and why he’s excited about the future of ILA.

On literacy

“ILA means so much to me because it’s personal. I think that my life is what it is today because literacy was a foundation in the home that I was raised in. Literacy was always around me. As a child, we would read about families taking vacations during the summer and my family couldn’t afford family vacations, but it didn’t mean that I couldn’t go places. I went places because of reading. Because I had those experiences during my developmental years, my children had those experiences and now my grandchildren have those experiences.

“Yesterday, I tweeted a picture of my 5-year-old granddaughter reading a book to her 5-month-old brother. She does it every day after school. It’s never too early for those books to become a foundation for everything to grow from.”

On the ILA conference

“As a practicing superintendent, I am faced with budget shortfalls and funding cuts. One of our main anchors is our annual conference. At our annual conference, we’re able to share the spokes that we have on our umbrella. But with budget shortfalls all over the country, schools aren’t sending teachers away to conferences like we used to. I think there’s a direct correlation to the economy and the strength of funding for school districts around the country and the world.

“On the flip side of addressing that challenge and meeting it, we need to provide such powerful conferences, resources, and materials that our members and future members are convinced that we’re the best at what we do.”

On the ILA Children’s Rights to Read campaign

“As a working superintendent, I’m not only talking about Children’s Rights to Read, but employing initiatives in my district. Seeing is believing and I think showing people how this is embedded in the normal daily practices in a school is very powerful.

“As vice president and president-elect, I plan to continue to challenge those who are working with me and around me to continue to be innovative and creative in ways concerning literacy so we can have a model for other people to see. Perhaps it won’t be able to be implemented with 100% fidelity in terms of what we’re doing, but perhaps it can be embedded in their communities and places of work in ways that fit their needs. We face so many challenges every day around the world and I think those closest to those problems deserve a seat at the table to help solve those problems.

“I’m a strong believer in Children’s Rights to Read. I get up excited every day about the possibilities that we have as an association—the chance that we have to launch this in a huge way to impact millions around the world. This should be more than an initiative—this should be a movement. I see that happening at ILA. Children’s Rights to Read should anchor all our work at ILA.”

On the ILA network

“We already have a great association, but we want to make it greater and we want to make it bigger, both globally and at home. I see that happening in a number of ways.

“We need to increase membership. More members means more voices. More voices means more action. We need to reach back out to the past presidents of ILA who’ve dedicated their lives to this work. I’m sitting at my desk and there’s a picture of [former ILA Board President] Bill Teale next to me. I say good morning to him every day. Just looking at him reminds me that there’s more work to do; the work never ends. The more people ILA has in the process, the more we can get done.

“I’d also like to see us get more involved with colleges and universities because those are our future members. If we can engage [educators] early, then we have them as members for a lifetime. That should be our focus—attracting lifelong members of ILA—because literacy is a lifestyle and we need members who are committed for a lifetime to help us fight this war against illiteracy.

“Adding to that, we want to make sure we create networking opportunities for our members to be in touch with those who are doing things they want to do. Why reinvent the wheel when there are people who are already implementing literacy practices that are effective? We need to make sure we are tapping into the voices of membership and our staff. We will become the leading literacy authority of the world—I think we’re already on our way to doing that—but we need to increase membership and make sure we’re fiscally stable. We also want to identify others who are doing great things around the world to highlight, thus providing opportunities for expanding creative literacy practices around the world. 

“We believe that we are the best at what we do and that we work very hard and will continue to work very hard to involve our members. There’s a saying that great leaders don’t create followers, we develop more leaders. I think our strategic plan facilitates multiple pathways to that end. We’re looking to develop literacy leaders around the world.”

Alina O’Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of Literacy Daily.

Leave a comment

Back to Top


Recent Posts