- Number of Students: 404
- Percent Eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch: 44%
- Percent of Limited English Proficient: 0%
- Percent of Special Education: 11%
- White: 79.5%
- Black: 10.4%
- Hispanic: 4.7%
- Asian: 0.2%
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 0%
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 0%
- Multiracial: 5.2%
- Other: 0%
Whittier Elementary School began the Professional Learning Community Journey in 2011. After years of stagnant assessment results with pockets of excellence, the district began to examine instructional practices promoted by Solution Tree. Our goal was quite simple: how do we ensure that all students achieve at a high level?
During the summer of 2011, the Clinton Community School District Administrative team traveled to St. Charles, Illinois, to participate in a Solution Tree conference. Almost immediately every administrator began to see that the PLC concepts and philosophy would impact our students and teachers. At the conclusion of the conference we agreed as a team that we would lead our teachers in establishing the PLC process in every building.
When school began the following August, we engaged our teachers by explaining the belief system upon which the PLC model exists: Learning, Collaboration and Results. The case was made that we needed to focus on student learning by creating the environment for teachers to work together to determine what we wanted our kids to learn, how we would know, how we would respond when they didn’t learn, and how we would respond to those who did learn. The foundation for using student results to determine our instruction was set!
Throughout our initial year of implementation principals worked with teachers to learn about the four PLC questions, the importance of norms, developing mind sets away from “my kids” towards “our kids,” how to work together to identify and select essential standards, and how to unpack standards and develop formative assessments. We were successful in leading staff to consensus that the PLC structure provided the best hope to help all students find success. Once consensus was reached for engaging in the PLC process at each school, schedules were developed in each building to assure all teachers belonged to a collaborative team and that they had a minimum of sixty minutes of collaborative work time each week to respond to the four questions.
Whittier believes that Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) is the system by which we ensure all students achieve at a high level. Our PLC work includes collaborative team implementation of units of study utilizing the Gradual Release of Responsibility, which is Whittier’s instructional model. During collaborative team time teachers grow professionally through the discussion of results by teacher, classroom and individual student. Discussing results by teacher includes conversations regarding results through the scrutinizing of data, discussion of instructional strategies and the sharing of what actions led to positive and negative results. Teams then determine how to respond to students who have not yet mastered the identified skills, as well as providing enrichment learning opportunities for those students who have demonstrated proficiency. This system creates ongoing, consistent dialogue about each classroom, standard, and student, so that every student is learning at an appropriate level while developing the knowledge and skills of our teachers. This inquiry-based approach facilitates adult learning in a collegial setting.
As time has gone by, the district continues to send staff members to PLC conferences. During the last school year administrators accompanied instructional coaches to a national conference. Time was built in daily for collaboration and planning. At the end of the current school year we will accompany more teacher leaders to yet another conference to learn, collaborate and grow. We’ve also had the pleasure of utilizing the skills of Mike Mattos during professional development to help share what we know to be true regarding the validity of Professional Learning Communities. Our teachers realize PLC’s are here to stay due to the growth we have experienced!
1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.
Whittier's grade-level collaborative teams are guaranteed 60 minutes per week to meet to discuss student performance. We use a systematic approach to pre-assessing, teaching, assessing through the use of common formative assessments created by our grade-level teams, analyzing data (identifying patterns within grade levels from results of common formative assessments), and discussing instructional strategies used. By using this process weekly students are given timely feedback, support and/or enrichment.
It's important to mention here that monitoring student learning also benefits teaching. Our teachers openly discuss strategies, both those that provided positive results and those that did not.
Besides team-created common formative assessments, students in grades 2-5 also participate in Iowa Assessments, a yearly assessment given in November. This information serves as a yearly check on growth in reading, math and science. Students in grades K-5 participate in Formative Assessment Systems for Teachers (FAST). These assessments are administered in the fall, winter and spring of each school year. Whittier has participated for two school years in FAST. The data from FAST provides us with information on each child in math and literacy, and we are left to diagnose and prescribe appropriate interventions for those identified as needing additional support.
We manage our student data through the use of Google Drive and/or Excel spreadsheets. Our district is offering classes this summer in Google Drive, so the expectation for 2016-17 will be for all teams to maintain student data on this platform. This will allow all collaborative team members to view and revise data in an even timelier manner.
2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.
Whittier built a school-wide system of support for learning that is inclusive of all students. Each grade level team schedules daily literacy and math blocks of time for universal instruction and learning.
We also created blocks of time (thirty minutes daily each) for Tier 2 supports for both reading and math. Students in need of extra supports work with a teacher in small group settings in various locations throughout our building including classrooms, the Library, the Commons and virtually anywhere we can find space. Students who have mastered said skill(s) work on enrichment activities during this time. Those providing Tier 2 support during each grade-level's respective time includes core teachers, special education teachers, the librarian (all of whom work with students in need of extra support), para-educators and volunteers (who work with the larger groups of students involved in enrichment learning activities during this time).
Whittier provides Tier 3 supports for students continuing to show a lack of growth on a promise standard objective. Teachers submit a recommendation to our School-Wide Intervention Team. This team examines student data, instructional strategies that have been used, and other useful information to determine how best to support each student recommended. We utilize reading specialists, our librarian, special education teachers, behavioral specialists, and after school program staff members to support students in need. This support occurs 4-5 days per week for 20-30 minutes per session. If, over time, the student does not demonstrate growth that allows him/her to "catch up" to peers, the SWIT team works to determine if a substantial discrepancy or disability may exist. The process of Disability Suspect begins only after every possible intervention has been attempted.
3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.
Our journey began with professional development activities at the building level, as teachers and principals learned together about the PLC process. DVDs from Solution Tree were used to communicate key concepts in a consistent manner throughout the district. Together, we learned everything from the importance of norms to the unwrapping process, all of which led to consensus that the PLC structure offered the best process and hope for improved student learning.
Solution Tree members were brought to the district to help teachers learn and grow in all areas related to PLCs. Chris Jakicic, Charlie Coleman and Mike Mattos were instrumental in the development of our understanding and growth. Teams of staff member attended PLC institutes and workshops. We were also provided funds to purchase support materials for study groups.
Sixty minutes of uninterrupted time each week was created and set aside within the school day for collaborative teams to accomplish their work. This time was created by creating a schedule that extended the time of our school days on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays so that we could shorten student time on Wednesdays and thus create an early dismissal.
Collaborative teaching teams were created by grade-level. Each grade level team includes core teachers and a special education or TAG teacher depending on where the needs lie. For example, our 5th grade team consists of 3 classroom teachers and a special education teacher due to the high amount of students who have IEP's in this grade.
Forms for PLC agendas were established and digitized. Processes to compare student outcomes between teachers were established. Principals monitored grade-level teams, providing more direct support when needed.
To monitor ongoing implementation of the PLC process, the principal attends one collaborative team meeting weekly from start to finish. To get feedback, all teachers are surveyed annually to determine additional training needs and support for all aspects associated with the Professional Learning Communities. Individual teams reflect on their effectiveness using a 1, 5, 10 rubric that we learned through training by Mike Mattos. The Building Leadership Team meets bi-monthly to discuss learning, instruction and any topics that arise related to our PLC work.
Most recently, a variety of teacher leadership positions were created that directly support the ongoing effectiveness our Whittier PLC and throughout the CCSD. Through the state of Iowa’s Teacher Leadership Compensation Grant, the district has been able to establish PLC Leaders and Instructional Coaches in each building. These positions serve to provide increased support and enhancement of an effective PLC.
Student achievement in 3rd grade (formerly second) continues to be area of concern for Whittier. We've experienced a great deal of transiency, mental illness, and high-need students in this class. Regardless, we continue to flood our K-2 grades with as much support as possible through our math and literacy coaches through regular cocahing cycles , administrative support through expectations, regular attendance at weekly team meetings, and our School-Wide Intervention Team will continue to provide Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Grade levels with additional attention through suggestions for interventions as well as intensive support through both of our reading specialists who will work specifically to support our highest-need students.
2015 Whittier Elementary - National Blue Ribbon School School of Distinction Designation
2015 Teacher Leadership Compensation Grant Awardee