Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts Middle School

  1. PLC Story
  2. PLC Practices
  3. Achievement Data
  4. Awards
  5. Resources

The Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts Middle School opened its doors in 2012 with grades 6 and 7.  We are a true professional learning community with a relentless focus on helping all students achieve at high levels.  The challenges that faced us were this was a brand new school; the school was being made as we created the plan, we had to hire all of the staff, and we needed to recruit students to the magnet school.  The plan was to open the school with just grades 6 and 7 first, then add grade 8 in the subsequent year.  The challenge was accepted as we started the PLC process the first day in June, 2012.  We used multiple Solution Tree books as our guide to help us make the adjustment: Every School, Every Team, Every Classroom; Leaders of Learning; Learning by Doing; Pyramid Response to Intervention; and Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap. Once we started the hiring process, we made sure that we hired teachers who were not only great teachers but also superior teammates.  After teachers were hired, we emailed the teachers Rich DuFour’s article, What is a Professional Learning Community?, for summer reading.  In addition, because we knew the collaborative team was going to be the focus of our school, we started to build relationships with the staff.  We invited staff in for various events in the community and called the tour, “The Taste of Hartford”.  Staff was able to bond and also get accustomed to the city they would be working for starting in August.  Another task during the summer was to create a schedule that offered staff collaborative time during the contractual day and time for intervention and enrichment for the students during the day.   During the first PD, we used reproducibles from Learning by Doing, showing the importance of creating a shared mission, vision, and collective commitments.  We built shared knowledge with the staff and created our own vision, mission, and collective commitments.  These were all reviewed and edited numerous times during this first year and over the last 3 years.  Our mission was immediately tested the first month of school.  We had almost 80% of the students score below proficient on the first district common assessment.  We knew this was our current reality and we needed to take immediate action. Our advisory block was promptly changed for additional independent reading for all students. 

The collaborative learning team was a major initiative in year 1 of our school and the collaborative team is the driving force in our school.  We used the district common assessments as the evidence of learning but also created our own CFAs that were administered at the mid-way point of the assessments.   For example, our district level CFAs were scheduled every 3 months.  We created our own CFAs that aligned with the district CFAs and administered them every 5-6 weeks, between the district CFAs.  Students were assessed every 4 weeks on either a teacher-created CFA or a district-wide common formative assessment.  We used the data for immediate feedback on our instructional practices and to see which students needed intervention and enrichment.  Our Early Intervention Data team process was also established.  All of our students needed extra time and support but we gave the lowest students additional, targeted support in reading.  In year 1, mostly all of our staff were brand new teachers.  We had a relentless focus on quality Tier I instruction, using Mike Schmoker’s Focus and Classroom Instruction that Works, 2nd Edition, as our resources used for our professional learning teams.  Our professional learning is embedded into the school day, with every meeting focused on student learning.  Teachers have 80 minutes of planning daily with 40 minutes dedicated to teachers individual planning and 40 minutes dedicated to job-embedded, collaborative, professional learning time (see resources).  During the day, our teachers participate in numerous collaborative learning opportunities: professional learning walks, peer visits, prior-to-unit planning, data teams, end-of-unit analysis, collaborative planning, coaching with CREC specialists, early intervention meetings, and student support meetings.  We have 4 hours of professional development time to use monthly and we use the time for collaborative meetings: School Improvement Meetings, Interdisciplinary Meetings, Student Suport Meetings, and Vertical Meetings (see protocols in resource section).  We created College Prep by eliminating the advisory, reducing transition time, and using the extended day time.  College Prep is a systematic intervention and enrichment system that takes place daily.   At the end of year 3, the teachers edited and reviewed the SIP, mission, vision, and collective commitments.  We are continuously improving our professional learning model and collaborative efforts, learning by doing, using Solution Tree Books to guide us along the way.   

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

We constantly use strategies to check for understanding or assessment for learning during every class and plan for this practice in order to constantly monitor all students’ learning on a daily basis.  Our lesson plan template aligns to the 4 PLC questions and the workshop model that we expect to see in all rooms.  Our lesson plan is broken down into multiple parts: do now, mini lesson, deliberate practice, evidence of learning, number of students who mastered the objective, and teacher reflection. During the mini lesson, teachers must check for prior knowledge, review background knowledge, state the objective, and review the success criteria.   All teachers post a standard wall that consists of learning targets for the month, objective (s), and success criteria, which clearly states or describes what mastery looks like and how students can show advanced practice.  During deliberate practice, teachers constantly check for understanding individually or in groups, and give feedback.  At the end of the lesson, we call it evidence of learning, not closure; teachers must collect some type of evidence of learning like an exit ticket, to answer the question, How do we know if students learned the objective?   The data is used to guide the do-now and instruction in the subsequent days. 

All of our teachers work together in teams to achieve SMART goals that align to the School Improvement Plan, which aligns to the district improvement plan. Currently, all of our teachers are working individually- teaching reading in all subjects-  to help the team improve the student growth percentile in reading:

School Improvement Goal 1: READING - To increase the % of students with an SGP of 50 in reading from 59 to 64 as measured by the 2015-2016 STAR Assessments.

Teams meet on a regular basis to discuss progress towards the goals and meet with the assistant principal and principal during the mid-year and yearly conferences.  Our School Improvement Team meets on a monthly basis to review the SIP goals, action steps, and teacher SMART goals (called IAGDs in our district).  We use the 4 PLC questions to guide the teacher conversations: (1) What do you want the students to learn? (2) How will we know if the students are learning it? (review data) (3) What will we do to immediately help the students not learning it? and (4) How will we immediately “enrich and extend” the learning for students mastering the content?  Teams also discuss instructional practice, what’s working, and look for positives to celebrate.

Teachers meet in August to discuss and map out the curriculum for the year.  At the start of every month, teams meet to discuss the question 1 of the PLC process or What do we want students to learn? over the next month in a process we call our prior-to-unit meetings (see Form D).   During the meetings, teachers talk about the essential learning standards to be taught over the next month.  They review the key learning targets, study curriculum documents, and discuss, analyze, prioritize, and make sense of the standards in order to build shared knowledge of the expected curriculum.  In addition, during this meeting, teams discuss and create common evidence of learning, common assessments, or formative assessments to see if the student mastered the learning targets over the month.  The teams also discuss the success criteria expected for mastery of the learning targets.  Teachers have a choice of the type the common assessment to be created and collected at the end of each month.  Our ELA teams and math teams meet to discuss the unit, to make sure that students are ensured a guaranteed and viable curriculum, unit by unit, in each class.  They also meet regularly to collaboratively plan lessons during the school day.  Currently, we have 2 math teachers per grade, a science teacher, a social studies teacher, a reading teacher, and a writing teacher.  Our singleton teachers, science and social studies, map out their month, create a formative assessment, and share the results with their vertical teams on a monthly basis.   These meetings occur every single month with teachers gathering evidence of learning at the end of the month in meetings called end-of-unit analysis (see Form E). We carefully monior each student's learning on the essential learning targets on a monthly basis. The teachers score the work, review, and discuss with their team or reflect on the process using the 4 PLC questions as their guide.   

1)   What did you want students to learn? Discuss key learning targets discussed in the beginning of the month.

2)   How do you know if the students learning it? must look at student work

  1. Discuss success criteria created last meeting
  2. Score, analyze, and chart the data

3)   What will we immediately do for the students not learning it?

  1. Flex Block- use  a class period to review and reteach, by standard

4)   How will we immediately extend and enrich the learning for the students who learned it?

2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.

We have a systematic plan for providing students with interventions and enrichment during the school day.  The system is highly proactive, timely, and directive with an all hands on deck mentality.  We have an allocated time for the intervention, called College Prep, 5 days a week for 50 minutes.  Students are placed into groups based on STAR data, classroom data, and relationships with teacher.  Teachers, in student support meetings, create individual plans for every child and place every child into a class. 

1)    Students scoring at or above grade level on the STAR assessments are placed in a class to enrich and extend their learning. Here are a few examples:

  • Social Actions –The class discusses various social issues and ways they can make an impact in the community.  Our school’s Debate Team was formed from this class and they participate in school and state competitions.  The Debate Team won the city championship on 2 occasions and the state championship earlier in the year.  In 6th grade, a group of students participated in the district and state history competition. 
  • Invention Convention – Students attend this class in order to create inventions and participate in robotics creations.  Students from this class participated in the state’s Invention Convention held at the University of CT in May.
  • Arts- During this time, all 3 grades are able to practice together at the same time.  Our Chamber Orchestra practices during this allotted time and performed at the district’s 50 year anniversary celebrations earlier in the year.  The Honors Choir practices during this time and they have performed at the various concerts in the city.

2)    Students who scored on-watch on the STAR  assessment or scoring slightly below grade level, attend their math, reading, or writing classes for a double dose of instruction.  The focus of this instruction is to provide more time and support with the goal of mastering Tier I instruction.  Students are allowed to receive supports in both reading and math, 2 times a week each.

3)    Students who scored well-below grade level on the STAR assessment receive intensive, targeted, supports and more time and support on the core curriculum.  Special Education students receive more time and support in the core curriculum and assistance on their IEP goals. 

Student support teams, grade level teams along with special education teacher, school counselor, and other staff, meet monthly to discuss each child.  Teachers meet not only to review the intervention but also the multi-layered support system.  Teachers have the ability to change students’ classes whenever needed.  We follow the SPEED criteria described by Dr. Rick DuFour:

  • Systematic- our intervention is school-wide and planned by the teachers.  It is part of the students schedules
  • Practical- we use resources, space and time that fits with our school
  • Effective- we have observed excellent growth since incorporating the plan
  • Essential – the intervention is based on the learning targets planned out monthly by the grade level teams in the prior to unit meetings
  • Directive – our College Prep is mandatory during the day

College Prep takes place every Monday – Thursday.   College Prep X takes place on Fridays.  Students who are failing or scoring below a C must attend the mandatory intervention to make up work, complete or make up homework, or retake assessments.  We learned about the idea from Mike Mattos’s video, Making Time at Tier 2.  Student support teams group students based on need in their individual classrooms and create a Google doc.  Students who have a grade of 80 or higher attend the Black Box Theater for maker space arts activities to enrich and extend their learning. 

We offer additional support afterschool to support student learning, including extended day arts, 21st Century Leadership Program, and Academic Assistance room.  The classes are all targeted and effective but are not directive, because it’s afterschool. 

3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.

The collaborative team is the main focus at our school and has been that way since the opening in 2012.  At our school, we have time built into the day for collaboration, multiple team structures, and protocols to guide the work- a collaborative playbook was created for the staff.  The protocols help teams engage in collective inquiry regarding issues directly related to student learning.   As a staff, we created norms, roles, and meeting expectations.  We constantly review norms, roles, and expectations for meetings.  Also scheduled during the year are numerous staff celebrations, staff recognitions, and staff events in order to constantly recognize staff for their teamwork.   Teams turn in evidence of meetings to the principal.  Every teacher, including singleton teachers, is involved in a meaningful team pursuing SMART goals aligned to the SIP.  Here are some examples of the teams that we currently have in our school:

  • Leadership Team- consist of the principal, assistant principal, instructional coach, 3 grade level leaders, and Special Education leader.  Team meets on a monthly basis.
  • Grade Level teams- Science, SS, 2 Math, Writing, Reading, Special Education teacher.  Each team has a grade level leader.
  • EIP Teams (Early Intervention Teams)- grade level teams along with Social Worker, Administrator, and guidance counselor, meet to discuss students recieving Tier II and III supports.  Teams create SMART goals for every student and work together to achieve the goals. Teams meet twice a month to review students who need additional assistance and support in math, reading, and/or behavior.  In our initial meetings, teams discuss (Form B):
  1. Strengths
  2. Concerns
  3. Review baseline data (3 sources)
  4. Set SMART Goal
  5. Design Action Plan

During the follow up meetings, teams discuss (Form C):

  1. Debrief about the plan
  2. Evaluate academic progress (SMART Goal)
  3. Evaluate plan effectiveness and next steps
  4. Set SMART Goal
  5. Design Action Plan
  • Student Support Teams- grade level teams, Arts Teachers, guidance counselor.  Teams meet 1-2 times a month to discuss student learning, progress towards goals, and our College Prep or intervention/enrichment block (see Form I).  Teams create the College Prep schedule and classes. 
  • Vertical teams- subject-specific teams- example, science team or social studies. Vertical Teams meet once a month to discuss essential content, learning progressions, intervention strategies, enrichment strategies, and sharing of work and data. (see form J)
  • School Improvement Teams- consist of teacher teams focused on working together to achieve school-wide SMART goals.  (see form G)
  • PBIS teams- consist of a grade level classroom teacher, PE teacher, guidance counselor, SPED teacher, and social worker.  Team meets monthly to review goal of reducing referrals on a monthly basis, discuss ideas for behavior intervention, and ideas to recognize students for adhering to the rules. This is a SMART goal in our School Improvement Plan. 
  • Interdisciplinary Teams- consist of a grade 6 teacher, grade 7 teacher, grade 8 teacher, Arts Teacher, and support teacher like Special Education or Social Worker.  The teams work towards a common goal of reducing office referrals throughout the school.   The teams meet with the students from the 3 homerooms on a monthly basis to review goals, discuss Anti-bullying policies, review school-wide expectations, and teambuilding. The collaborative team process is brought to the student level as all students in 3 different grades work together in collaborative teams. 
  • Professional Learning Teams- grade level teachers meet to participate in Professional Learning Walks, which consist of building shared knowledge on an instructional practice, visiting classrooms to discuss, and reflection on current practice. Teams also meet to read educational literature and watch videos to create shared knowledge of best instructional practices. 
  • Arts Team- all arts teachers have weekly meetings led by the Arts Director.
  • Data Teams- consist of grade level teams looking over data and making decisions based on the data.  This is an 11-step process for the team (Form A).


The Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts is a brand new school that was being built in an old factory during the summer of 2012.  While it was being built, we were busy hiring staff, ordering materials, and walking the city neighborhoods to get the lottery-selected students registered. Operated by the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC), The Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts Middle School is an inter-district magnet school program serving students from Hartford and nearly sixty surrounding suburban districts. Our student body is 27% Black, 32% White, 37% Hispanic/Latin, and 54% of students receive free or reduced lunches.    In August 2012, we opened our doors and gave common assessments in reading, writing, and math in September, just weeks after opening a brand new school.  We gave another CREC CFA in December and the last one before the CMT in February.  You can see the incredible growth in the table below:






20% at or above Proficient

42% at or above Proficient

56% at or above Proficient


71.6% at or above proficient

68% at or above Proficient

80% at or above Proficient


The 2012 – 2013 school year was the final time the district had to use the Connecticut Mastery Test for reading and math.  Here are our results.





CMT 2013

72.5% at or above proficient

69.9% at or above proficient

79.4% at or above proficient


Here are the state’s results:





CMT 2013

85.7 at or above proficient

85.4 at or above proficient

83.7 at or above proficient


The CMT is still used in CT to test student’s knowledge of science.  Here are our results:



CMT 2014

43%  at or above proficient

CMT 2015

56% at or above proficient

 CMT 2016                                  66% at or above proficient 

Here are the state results in science:



CMT 2014

78%  at or above proficient

CMT 2015

76% at or above proficient


During the 2013-14 school Connecticut received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education to allow school districts to choose between the CMT or the Smarter Balanced Field Test.  CREC Magnet Schools was one of the districts choosing the Smarter Balanced Field Test believing it was in the best interest of students to acclimate them to the next generation of assessments and therefore do not have state assessment data for the 2013-14 school year.  However, also in the 2013-14 school year, CREC Magnet Schools adopted a new benchmark assessment system, the STAR Assessments from Renaissance Learning.  These assessments are computer-adaptive, Common Core aligned, and administered three times a year.   At CREC, we use the SGP or student growth percentile, to measure academic gains over the course of the year.  We wanted a goal of 50% of our students reaching and SGP of 50 or more. 


Year STAR Administered



2013- 2014



2014 – 2015



2015 – 2016

65 (Dec)

56 (Dec)

 This academic year, 2015-2016, 36 out of 53 students with IEPs scored a Student Growth Percentile of 50 or more on the STAR Reading assessment.  Renaissance Learning, the company who produces STAR, suggests that an SGP of 35 or higher is typical for students with IEPs.


The SBAC was administered in the Spring of 2015.  Here are our results compared to the district.  The scores represent percentage of students who mastered or exceeded 





Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts

Grade 6 - 55

Grade 7 - 54

Grade 8 - 40

Grade 6 - 32

Grade 7 - 34

Grade 8 - 20

Academy of Aerospace and Engineering

Grade 6 - 50

Grade 7 - 58

Grade 8 - 51

 Grade 6 - 31

Grade 7 - 47

Grade 8 - 39

Medical Professions and Teacher Preparation Academy

Grade 6 - 28

Grade 7 - 50

Grade 8 - 51

Grade 6 - 15

Grade 7 - 30

Grade 8 - 35

Public Safety Academy

Grade 6 - 15

Grade 7 - 39

Grade 8 - 19

Grade 6 - 11

Grade 7 - 17

Grade 8 - 9

Two Rivers Magnet Middle School

Grade 6 - 53

Grade 7 - 53

Grade 8 - 65

Grade 6 - 36

Grade 7 - 35

Grade 8 - 39


On the first administration of the SBAC, our high needs students performed better than the state mean when compared to non-high need students. Connecticut considers an achievement gap to exist if the difference between the performance of high need and non-high needs students is greater the State gap mean.  Arts Middle does not have an achievement gap in reading, math, or science.  This compares favorably with our district.  As a whole, our district had an achievement gap in the area of reading.


Gap Indicators

Non-High Needs Rate

High Needs Rate

Size of Gap

State Gap Mean +
1 Stdev**

Is Gap an Outlier?

Achievement Gap Size Outlier?






ELA Performance Index Gap






Math Performance Index Gap






Science Performance Index Gap












Our school was also identified as progressing by the Connecticut State Department of Education in 2014. A progressing school is one that has shown significant progress towards closing the achievement gap and improving overall student performance. We had a student win a writing contest for World Asthma Day and another win the district writing contest.  We had another student selected as the first seat in Northern Regionals.  Our arts director and our K-12 arts coordinator were both selected as a National Artist Teacher Fellow by the Center for Arts in Education, one of 16 arts educators nationwide to be so honored.  He attended a conference at Harvard University with the other fellows.  Our choir performed last year in New York City, and this year, they performed at multiple events at the Bushnell in Hartford.  Our chamber orchestra performed at the district 50 year anniversary.  Our debate team won and took runner-up in the state championship and won the city championship 2 times.


We presented on PLCs to a neighboring district.


Many of our staff have presented at district level professional development sessions.