Marcia Invernizzi, Cofounder of PALS Marketplace Credit: Credit: Dan Addison, University of Virginia

In September 2014, the Tom Tom Founders Festival launched the Founding Cville project which highlights local artists, civic leaders and entrepreneurs “whose groundbreaking and original work has impacted Charlottesville and the world.” Charlottesville Tomorrow is republishing the eighteen profiles of each of the inaugural  Founders.

Dr. Marcia Invernizzi, Cofounder of PALS Marketplace

In the mid-1990s, Marcia Invernizzi, a professor, author, and researcher, founded Book Buddies in the Charlottesville City School System. In the following two decades, her literacy screening tools have become standards in 131 of Virginia’s 132 school divisions and in thousands of schools across the nation. Dr. Invernizzi is a professor at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education and conducts seminars and mentors masters and doctoral students in reading education. She is known across the United States as a leader in early literacy intervention.

What is PALS Marketplace?

PALS is a literacy screening tool used in 131 of Virginia’s 132 school divisions and in thousands of schools across the nation. PALS provides a direct means of matching literacy instruction to individual students’ literacy needs. Through a grant from the Virginia Department of Education to U.Va.’s Curry School of Education, PALS is provided free of charge to all K-3 teachers in Virginia whose schools participate in Virginia’s voluntary Early Intervention Reading Initiative (EIRI). (The EIRI is a legislated policy initiate designed to prevent reading problems through early detection and intervention.) PALS Marketplace was developed to extend Virginia’s mission to reduce the number of children with reading problems through early detection and to provide instructional resources beyond the state of Virginia.

The Founding Cville award winners were featured on banners
up and down the Downtown Mall

How did PALS start? What was the inspiration?

PALS started as part of the Book Buddies assessment, a community-based reading tutorial operating in the Charlottesville City Schools back in the mid nineties. When Virginia’s Early Intervention Reading Initiative (EIRI) was passed by the General Assembly in 1997, the Virginia Department of Education approached U.Va.’s Curry School of Education for ideas of how to implement universal literacy screening and how to incentivize school systems to provide early literacy interventions. It was the perfect opportunity to scale up an early detection and early intervention program that had started in Charlottesville (Book Buddies) and that already had a track record of success. The inspiration was the same as the inspiration for Book Buddies: To prevent reading problems through early detection and early, individualized instructional enhancements.

What was the biggest setback?

The biggest challenge was how to make PALS available to schools outside of Virginia. Since the Virginia Department of Education funds PALS in Virginia and is free to all K-3 teachers in the Commonwealth, there was no way to make PALS available to teachers outside of Virginia. The biggest challenge was to figure out how to do that. By working with the U.Va. Licenses and Ventures Group through the U.Va. Innovations Office, we were able to form a spin-off to disseminate PALS outside of Virginia (PALS Marketplace).

When did you begin to suspect this could be a success?

I knew that forming a U.Va. spin-off would be successful because with absolutely no advertising, many school divisions from many other states were calling to find out how they could get PALS. I knew PALS Marketplace could be a success when other states implemented similar reading initiatives and one state began negotiations to use PALS statewide.

What has been the biggest positive impact you have observed?

There have been several positive impacts. A major one is that PALS is so instructionally transparent that teachers report that they easily find out what their students know and can do and what they need to learn next to move forward in their literacy development. Though not causal, the numbers of students identified as needing early literacy interventions has been steadily declining in Virginia since PALS has been implemented.

Have you founded other businesses or initiatives?

I have not founded any other businesses, but I was a founder of Book Buddies, the Charlottesville Community Reading Tutorial.

How do you define Founding?

I define founding as has having an idea, concept, or vision, taking intentional steps to implement that concept or vision, and working with it and tweaking it until that vision is realized. In this case the idea was that most children who are relatively behind in their early literacy development can catch up if they are identified early and if high quality instructional enhancements are also provided early. The viability of my vision of early detection and early interventions was first tested through Book Buddies in Charlottesville City, then scaled up through PALS and the Early Intervention Reading Initiative in Virginia, and finally disseminated to other states through PALS Marketplace.

What brought you to Charlottesville, and what keeps you here?

I came to Charlottesville in 1974 to escape urban life in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area. I was a teacher and got a teaching job in this area. I ended up getting a Ph.D. In Reading Education from the Curry School and starting teaching at Curry 1985. Lots of things keep me here—the community of Charlottesville and its culture of books, great music, wine, and food; my colleagues at the Curry School of Education; the support of the folks at the U.Va. Innovations Office; Book Buddies; the natural beauty of Albemarle Country and the Blue Ridge Mountains; my gardens; and my amazingly creative and loving family—my husband Mike Gallahue, and my two grown children Collin and Lee Gallahue (who both live in New York but love coming home to Charlottesville).

What’s next? For you and for your initiative?

What’s next is extending this vision of prevention through early detection and early intervention to the many Spanish-speaking students in our schools. Since most literacy screening is conducted in English, students who do not yet speak English well enough to be screened are locked out of the early detection process — which puts them on hold until they learn to speak English well enough to be screened. My colleague Karen Ford and I just developed a new literacy screening tool that can be administer in Spanish. PALS español is not a translation, but was developed from scratch with the help of a native-speaker advisory board and the Center for Applied Linguistics. PALS Marketplace is just beginning to disseminate this tool. And now with funding from the US Department of Education’s Institute of Educational Sciences, we are embarking on developing a similar tool for preschool, PALS español PreK. We see this as an equity issue—providing equal access to early interventions through early detection (in Spanish).

Founding Cville culminated in an award ceremony at Tom Tom’s Fall Block Party
with over 6,000 in attendance | Credit: Tom Daly Photography