J Sterling Morton HS District 201

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

J Sterling Morton District 201’s mission is that Every Student Succeeds. The Professional Learning Community model provided the process to live our mission for students.  Using the PLC model has impacted both student learning and staff collective expertise.  S.M.A.R.T. goals center our work and are at the heart of our improvement process.  Morton teachers work collaboratively to build curriculum, design assessments and utilize data to meaningfully engage students so that every student succeeds at learning.

We have experienced significant gains in student learning from implementing PLC concepts and practices.  Student standardized test scores have improved, graduation rate has increased, and student success and participation in college and career level learning has soared as a result of goal setting, teacher collaboration, and the use of evidence to improve teaching and learning.

We committed to the implementation of highly effective professional learning teams as a means to provide a quality learning environment in which all students succeed.  Our PLC journey began in 2008, when members of the Board of Education and district administration attended a PLC summit to learn how to systematically institutionalize professional learning communities.  This was followed by teams of teacher leaders collaboratively participating in a summit to build organizational capacity and accelerate fidelity of implementation.

To provide job-embedded professional support to all staff members for success in their collaborative teams, the district developed a PLC Handbook to assist teams in setting norms, developing effective SMART goals, reflecting on assessment data, and institutionalizing re-engagement and enrichment practices. Additionally, the district has committed to a multi-year professional development series for all staff members to develop a deep understanding of the four critical questions.  This includes both new teacher and 2nd year teacher academies to ensure our newest employees are capable of full and engaged participation. In 2016, the SMART goal processes were aligned systemically at the district, administrative, building and team levels. 

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

District 201 has undergone a series of significant district-wide initiatives to improve the ability to monitor student learning and provide timely, accurate feedback to students on their progress. The district has implemented standards based grading and reporting.  This has been a significant change from a point acquisition model to an equal interval scale indicating proficiency levels of learning. Through the implementation of standards based grading, teacher teams have re-examined curricula to identify the essential concepts of their discipline. Teams utilized assessment mapping to determine the key content and skills to be assessed and the appropriate method of assessment. Also, teams have refined their common course syllabi to reflect the changes.  In addition to completing common assessments, the syllabus communicates to students the critical assignments that students must engage with to demonstrate essential learning.  These collaborative commitments to improvement help communicate to students what they are responsible for knowing and how they will demonstrate the learning.

If mastery of the learning outcomes is the constant, then the amount of time and attempts at the learning is the variable to attain mastery.  The district administration, in collaboration with teacher leaders, adopted a district-wide redo/retake policy to align with our commitment to learning. This practice is communicated via all syllabi and informs students of the process for participating in reengagement and relearning so that they might re-attempt a demonstration of their mastery of the learning.  This practice moved the focus from a presentation of the material to focus on the demonstration of learning by the students.  One example of this re-teaching model comes from the district Pre-Calculus PLT where team members consider all of the course students to belong to the collective.  The team uses formative assessment data to identify areas where reengagement is needed and flexibly group the students accordingly.  Each teacher takes on a specific key learning target and students who need support with that target go to the teacher providing extended learning on that target, whether it be their teacher or not.  This method of collaboration allows for more targeted support and grows the independence of students to self-assess and know the areas in their learning they need to focus on for improvement.

District 201 continues to use Mastery Manager as a data collection and assessment resource.  This resource allows teachers and teams to analyze student performance on assessments and to make instructional decisions founded on the evidence of learning.

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

The district has focused on the PLC question “What do you do when the students haven't learned the skill or concept?”  As a result, a multi-tiered system of learning supports is being implemented.  Morton is identifying three levels of support, especially during the freshman and sophomore years to ensure students are well on the road to graduation and post-secondary opportunity. The design of the action agenda supports teams to focus their work on the formative assessment data that they are collecting about students so that they can identify strategies that are effectively preparing students to demonstrate their mastery learning.  The team of teachers collaborate to strengthen the instruction and classroom intervention so that students have the best opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned at this first level

When the classroom level supports need to be supplemented with intensive learning supports, the district has implemented reading and math labs. Students are referred to these labs for support in requisite skills over the course of a few weeks during their supervisory time.  In this model, students receive targeted support in their areas of need so that they can build their skills.

The district continues to examine innovative opportunities for more classroom and small group supports. Curriculum teams have identified what students must know and be able to do in each unit and have scheduled time in their pacing to allow for intervention.  The district is piloting a model where the whole school engages in a systematic approach to enrichment and reengagement.  This model identifies students based on areas of needed reengagement and prioritizes those needs with specific teachers who will provide targeted support to those students.  Students who have met their expectations are also identified and are provided with enrichment opportunities to extend their learning

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

Morton District 201 has woven the focus of professional learning communities into the fabric of who we are as a district.   For this reason, the district has committed to on-going investment in a multi-year professional development series to build capacity for leading and supporting highly effective teams.  Included in the professional development plan, Dr. Peter Noonan has worked with administrators, lead teachers, team leaders and all staff to grow a deeper understanding of the components and functioning of highly effective teams.

In addition to long-term, job-embedded professional development, we have institutionalized time for teams to meet and conduct the work.  Teams meet twice a month on late start days and twice a month during staff time the district has reallocated for the work of professional learning communities.  This allows teams weekly time to review student work, design effective common assessments, develop common criteria for learning success, and identify areas of learning opportunity for students.  Core teams also leverage skills and strategies for students that build toward success in AP classes by creating steps in reading, writing, and math that gain students access and success in AP coursework.

We have implemented a system-wide PLC action agenda to better synch to the PLC cycle.  Professional development focuses on supporting teams to fully understand how the SMART goal and the four critical questions are integrated into the PLC cycle (i.e., before instruction planning, during instruction formative assessment and re-teaching/enrichment, and the after instruction or the summative assessment). Both building and district administration provide regular, targeted feedback on a team's work to guide the actions for continuous improved student learning and a guaranteed and viable curriculum

Additional Achievement Data

J Sterling Morton District 201 has experienced a 114% increase in the number of students earning scores of 3 or higher on Advanced Placement tests from 2010 to 2017.  The district has also experienced a 124% increase in the number of students participating in the AP program district wide over this same time period.  This is counterintuitive and pioneering in addressing increased learning and success; as intuition would hypothesize that scores would decline as a result of increased participation.

Advanced Placement

Total Enrollment

No. AP Exams

No. Earning 3 or higher

% Scores 3 or higher

No. AP Scholars
























































  • Morton District 201 has outpaced Illinois in the increase in students earning a 3 or higher by 7% over the past 4 years
  • Morton District 201 has outpaced Illinois in the percent of students earning a 3 or higher by 22% over the past 4 years
  • Morton District 201 has outpaced Illinois in the number of students earing AP Scholar recognition by 111% over the past 4 years

ACT Performance

In an analysis of factors influencing the variance in ACT composite score performance three factors consistently demonstrate the highest level of explanatory power for suburban school ACT performance:

  • the percentage of students who receive free or reduced lunches,
  • the percentage of students who are members of academically at-risk racioethnic groups (Black, Hispanic, and Native American), and
  • the percentage of adults in the district with at least a bachelor's degree (please note that such data are district-level and are not available at the school level).

These factors explain the same amount of variance regardless of whether they are combined in a multiple regression analysis or used to create a single variable.  Either approach explains 93.0% of the variance in suburban high school ACT Class of 2012 composite score levels.

Using these at-risk and education level data, a regression analysis model can be produced that identifies expected ACT performance based upon a schools at-risk level.  By subtracting the schools actual ACT score from the score explained by the model, we can determine the number of points the school's actual ACT performance is above or below expected ACT performance.

The table and graph below indicate the position of Morton District 201 schools relative to 149 public high schools with open enrollment in the Chicago metropolitan area which was 49% of the state of Illinois’ total public high school enrollment


District 201 School

2012 ACT Composite

2012 Expected ACT Composite



Morton West



+ 1.4


Morton East



+ 0.8 

J Sterling Morton District 201 had an ACT Composite score demonstrating that, given student demographic preponderance of Hispanic and low-income students, students are learning and performing at a level above that anticipated given its student composition.  

  • 2017 Solution Tree PLC Model District


  • 2016 College Board Advanced Placement District of the Year
  • Washington Post America’s Toughest High Schools


2014 IL Position

2015 IL Position

2016 IL Position

East HS




West HS