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 in an old factor called the Colt Building.  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 and/or PBIS, Book Studies, 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.   We have to constantly get better because we face a yearly challenge- 30% of our students school are new every year.  

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.  All teachers post a standard wall that consists of learning targets for the month, learning targets(s), success criteria, and learning scales, which clearly states or describes what approaching mastery, mastery, and exceeding mastery looks like.  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 learning target?   Students also self-assess and self-grade using the learning scales.

 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).   A unit for us is an instructional period of time or every 3 weeks.  During the meetings, teachers talk about the essential learning standards to be taught over the next month.  They review the key standards, study curriculum documents, and discuss, analyze, prioritize, and make sense of the standards in order to build shared knowledge of the expected curriculum. They turn each standard into learning targets, or chunk size pieces of information.  In addition, during this meeting, teams discuss and create 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.  The learning scales created align with our Standards-Based Grading System.  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.   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 from the common assessments in meetings called end-of-unit analysis (see Form E). We carefully monitor each student's learning on the essential learning targets on a monthly basis or 3-week 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.   We use a system called Mastery Connect that gives us great data to use during the meetings.

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

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

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 remediation, interventions, extensions, 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, common assessment 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. We align our college prep placements with our new Standards-Based Grading System, using common formative assessments as the tool to constantly measure student learning.  

1)    Students scoring at the "Still Developing" Level are placed in either a math or reading intervention class.  During this time, students work on the prerequisite skills needs to reach mastery and receive intensive, targeted, supports and more time and support on the core curriculum.  

2)    Students scoring at the "Approaching Mastery" 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 scoring at the "Mastery" level attend their core class to complete extension work to get them to "Exceeds Mastery" Level.  

4) Students scoring at the "Exceeds Mastery" level attend the arts wing for enrichment work in the arts.   

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   

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, our teams are formed based on need, student data, and the school and district focus, with the goal of improving student and staff learning.  We allot 30 minutes a day for during school collaboration and 4 hours after school a month.  Our teams have the time, resources, and protocols needed to guide the work. The protocols help teams engage in collective inquiry regarding issues directly related to student learning so we use the collaborative time to focus on the right things.   As a staff, we created norms, roles, and meeting expectations.  We constantly review norms, roles, and expectations for meetings.  Teams turn in evidence of meetings to the principal.  All of our meetings focus on improving student and staff learning.  Here are some examples of the teams that we currently have in our school:


Leadership Team- consists of the principal, assistant principal, instructional coach, 3 grade level instructional leaders, Arts leader, and Special Education leader.  Team meets on a monthly basis to discuss instruction.  This year, we are reading and discussing in groups the new book, The New Art and Science of Teaching, by Robert Marzano. Teachers then present small PD focused on instruction to their grade level team called Power 20's. 


Vertical teams- subject-specific teams that meet after school- example, science team or social studies. Vertical Teams meet 3 times a month to discuss essential content, learning progressions, intervention strategies, enrichment strategies, and sharing of work and data. In the beginning of the month, the team discusses the prior-to-unit map created during the day.  The teams also try to align their formative assessments. The third week, the teams engage in a book talk with their team in order to improve instructional practice.  The last week the teams meet to share essential learning outcomes from their formative assessments using the 4 PLC question protocol. 


PBIS teams- consist of a grade level classroom teacher, PE teacher, arts teacher, guidance counselor, SPED teacher, and social worker.  Team meets monthly to review goal of reducing referrals on a monthly basis using the 4 PLC question protocol, discusses ideas for behavior intervention, and ideas to recognize students for adhering to the rules. This is a SMART goal in our School Improvement Plan.


Arts Team- all arts teachers have daily collaborative meetings similar to the ones described above.



Grade Level teams- We have a variety of meeting that take place with our grade level teams. Our teams consist of 1 teacher in Science, SS, Writing, Reading, Special Education, and 2 math teachers.  Each team has a grade level leader. Here are some examples of grade-level meetings:


  • Math Team (2 math teachers, intervention teacher, and SPED teacher)- the teachers meet in the beginning of the month to create prior-to-unit map described above and a common formative assessment on Mastery Connect.  After every 3-weeks, the team meets to share essential learning outcomes using the protocol with the 4 critical PLC questions.
  • Literacy Team- (writing teacher, reading teacher, SPED teacher, Social Studies teacher, science, and intervention teacher) - the teachers meet in the beginning of the month to create prior-to-unit maps described above for their own subject and create a formative assessment on Mastery Connect.  The team discusses ways to align essential content and skills, like writing, across the subjects.  Our teachers have a common writing rubric that is used for assessments.  After every 3-weeks, the team meets to share essential learning outcomes for their subjects and student by target mastery levels using the protocol with the 4 critical PLC questions.
  • Student Support College Prep - the entire grade level team meets to place students into a class 4 days a week for our intervention/extension blocks called College Prep.  The staff shares essential learning outcomes from the common assessments with the team and place every student into a class based on student to target mastery level.
  • Student Support Attendance- the entire team meets with the guidance counselor, our attendance coordinator, to discuss levels of student absenteeism.  We share attendance outcomes for the month using the 4 critical PLC question protocol. 
  • EIP Teams (Early Intervention Teams)- grade level teams along with Social Worker, Administrator, and guidance counselor, meet to discuss students receiving 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.  All teachers share essential learning outcomes for the students and all take collective responsibility for the plan.  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
  • Professional Learning Teams – grade level teams meet monthly to discuss instructional strategies facilitated by grade level instructional leaders.  Last month, the teams discussed Communicating Clear Learning Goals and Feedback from the New Art and Science of Teaching.  The teams also use the Marzano Compendium as an additional resource.  

Additional Achievement Data


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, 25% White, 44% Hispanic/Latin, and 56% of students receive free or reduced lunches.    A major challenge that we face at our school is that 30% of our students are new each year. 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


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)

 In 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.  We no longer use STAR in all of our grade levels. 


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



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






The SBAC was administered in the Spring of 2016.  Here are our results compared to the district.  The scores represent percentage of students who mastered or exceeded.  The year was really challenging because we had 5 permanent substitutes in the classrooms for ¾ of the year.





Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts

Grade 6 - 39

Grade 7 - 41

Grade 8 - 47

Grade 6 - 31

Grade 7 - 26

Grade 8 - 38






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  few neighboring districts.


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