Helper Middle School
- Number of Students: 167
- Percent Eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch: 48.5%
- Percent of Limited English Proficient: 2%
- Percent of Special Education: 16%
- White: 86.9%
- Black: 0%
- Hispanic: 12.6%
- Asian: 0%
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 0%
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 0%
- Multiracial: 0.5%
- Other: 0%
We began with combining the 4 main PLC questions with the "4 C's of RTI" and backed all of our decisions with John Hattie's research.
In the very beginning, we felt that our first step should be creating a shared belief that ALL students could be successful. We established that belief system with most of the faculty at which point the others were asked to leave (with plans of assistance) or left on their own. We then began careful screening of new employees that would embrace our philosophy and help us ensure student successful without the hindrance of previously held negative beliefs. This was difficult since most of our job openings fetch one or two candidates.
We did a few things from there simultaneously. First, we began unpacking the core in all content areas into three groups: essential, important, and nice to know. Our essential skills would become the skills on which we intervened. The prioritized list also gave us the power to cut standards which were not essential when we needed more time for mastery of essential skills. Secondly, we began to identify students who were non-readers. We had 212 students that year and 54 of them were reading 2nd grade and below. We started a Tier III reading class and changed their schedules to include that class. At that point we did not have Tier II organized, but felt the lack of reading skills in the school took priority. That year we also changed from a grade 7-9 junior high to a 6-8 middle school and the introduction of former elementary teachers to our staff increased our resources in reading expertise. Finally, we made some structural changes. I presented to the School Board a justification of letting teachers out early one day a week to meet for PLCs. That was passed and we began using the PLC time each week to continue or plan. We also changed our bell schedule to include a half-hour flex period for Tier II intervention four days a week. Our School Community Council agreed with our vision and included more than $30,000 the last three years for extra teacher pay to do the curriculum work outside of school hours.
Once we decided upon essential skills we started identifying learning targets. We then created short, formative assessments for each learning target including efforts to create a self-reporting of learning from students. We began using PLC time to pull groups of students in during flex time with skill deficits from learning targets, not just broad standards. We also began identifying students as “skill” or “will” and the “will” students were placed in Student Achievement Workshop (SAW) a week at a time to improve their grades. Our “will” students are placed with whoever is running SAW and our “skill” kids are placed with the highest skilled teacher. We have also switched to mastery grading which has forced us to continue efforts in intervention and informed selection and adapting of essential skills.
As we continued the process we also created a tiered behavior plan. We implemented school-wide expectations of behavior with no individual classroom rules. We use reflection sheets (written in first-person by students) to track unwanted behavior which flow through a central person. All teachers use these standards as their own classroom expectations and the reflection sheets transfer directly to a citizenship grade. This system allows us to identify patterns in behavior and easily determine which students are in need of Tier II or III behavior intervention. We have implemented a similar tiered system for attendance, allowing us to track those students who are poor attenders and provide family support.
We have partnered with our local Juvenile Justice Service (JJS) and we use their trained mentors in Tier I and II. Our JJS mentors provide specific support to our students based on our tracking and relationship with students.
Our tiered approach addresses the needs of the whole student. We take pride in knowing each student’s individual strengths, weaknesses, and needs and then supporting them appropriately.
1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.
Most of the tests we give in our school are very short, formative assessments. Teachers use the work they have done with learning targets to make the assessments specific to a certain skill or subset of a skill. Because of this, they are able to use the scores from the assessment to determine mastery level of each student. They then pull students who did not master the skill in during flex time for help on that skill. The groups are small and include only students with similar need. The teachers are intervening within a few days on targeted skills in small groups. The half hour becomes incredibly productive because teachers are not bouncing between students who all need help in different areas.
Flex time, however, is not the only time this intervention takes place. We have made concerted effort the last year to implement self-reported grades. Many times during Tier I instruction teachers are allowing students to assess their understanding of the material immediately, even during a lesson. An example of that is students rating their understanding on a sliding scale from “totally confused” to “mastery”. Teachers can see how the students feel about the material as they go dynamically and spend more time if necessary. Another teacher will ask the students to rate their mastery level by their name on the assessment BEFORE they take it. If most of the students are marking 1 or 2 she does not give the assessment at all. Better to intervene with them right then instead of pulling them at a later time.
There is never a delay longer than a week to intervene. Our flex time is prioritized so that teachers needing the same student are not fighting over them. Our teachers are required to intervene on essential skills only, but our success has created a bit of a monster and they intervene far more often than that.
2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.
We have implemented a half-hour flex time Tuesday – Friday. We do not have flex time Mondays because it is our early-out day for PLC meetings and our classes are shortened. This time has become critical to us because we handle all of our Tier II intervention then.
During PLC meetings we discuss student needs for academics. We have prioritized our flex time so that teachers will always have access to the students they need to see. At first we had problems with the teachers all needing the same students. Our prioritized schedule is shown below.
The flex time is also used for behavior intervention. Our counselor teaches seven “Second Step” lessons to every student in Tier I. The lessons are: Active Listening, Empathy, Considering Perspectives, Respectful Disagreement Skills, Communication Skills, Responsible Decision Making, and Bullying. These skills are tested just like academic skills and if students do not show mastery, they are pulled in for re-teaching and then reassessed until EVERY student in our school has mastered these important skills. If we have students who have accumulated reflection sheets, we then use the flex time to have them complete behavior packets specifically aligned to the skill with which they struggle.
Flex time is also used for students who are failing. During PLC time we categorize students as “skill” or “will” and if they just need more time, were absent, etc., they can go to whoever is assigned for Student Achievement Workshop (SAW) that day. If they need help with a skill, they are assigned to the highest qualified teacher for academic intervention.
Our intention for flex time is to make it impossible for students to fail.
3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.
Our school is one of singletons. Many of our departments are one single person. There are only two teachers in my building that share a common course. We have had to build high performing collaborative teams a little differently than some schools with large departments, but it has worked well.
Our teachers have been divided into behavior and academic teams which have developed structure for academic, behavior, and attendance interventions. They created our tiered systems of support and continue to refine our practices to best support student learning and behavior goals.
We have also used common formative assessments in several ways. Our language arts teachers use common assessments and share results during PLC meetings at a school level. They bring examples of student responses and work in content teams to share results and determine which instructional strategies work the best based on results from the assessments. They are then asked to bring these same assessments to horizontal team meetings within the district and share results there. Together, the district team has made changes such as improving vertical alignment, providing a standard for common expectations for writing in secondary schools, and creating common grading rubrics and notations that all teachers and district graders use. They have also determined novels to be read at each grade level and study results from common assessments during the read. The common assessments have also allowed teachers to develop strategies for intervention, particularly with students who need multiple attempts with an assessment to show mastery.
Our math teachers have done similar work. Our teachers bring their formative assessments and consider student work. Their discussion includes: common mistakes made by students, questions which seem to be poorly written or that did not give a clear understanding of student mastery, and how each teacher could improve teaching strategies to increase the initial mastery level during Tier I instruction. They have clearly defining mastery, use shared expertise to determine how to intervene when students do not understand, and have found the best ways to use self-reported grades to gauge student learning before formative assessment is given.
Our performance class teachers such as PE, art, FACS, and music have developed common rubrics for assessing projects and performances. They have defined mastery level within the rubrics and help each other determine the proper intervention. They bring results from their projects and performances to PLC discussions. They work together to determine meaningful assessments for performance. They also join district horizontal teams and their rubrics have been used in some cases as the content standard across schools.
This shows our school compared to our school district and state for years 2014 - 2017. SAGE is the name of our state summative assessment.
Our school has not received a school-wide award.
I was given the 2015-16 Administrator of the Year through my school district. I also recieved the 2017 Utah Rural Schools Association Administrator of the Year.