Sparks High School

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

Sparks High Schools’ Success Story – A Professional Learning Community

In 2013, Sparks High School was deemed a school that needed improvement and was placed into a newly created Acceleration Zone.  New leadership was hired that included a principal, four assistant principals, a dean, and an implementation specialist.  Graduation rates were low, credit attainment amongst 9th and 10th grade students were well below district averages, and the culture and climate among the staff was dismal.  Sparks High School was far from being a successful professional learning community.  On “Early Release Wednesdays”, afternoons when students are released early so teachers and departments can collaborate, teachers went into their classrooms to work in isolation or even left early for appointments or to pick up their children.

Having worked in schools that were highly-effective professional learning communities and having seen the success these schools were experiencing, our leadership team knew that this had to be an immediate focus for Sparks High School in order to improve student achievement.  During year one, Sparks High School implemented Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) under a new Teacher Incentive Fund grant, which created an opportunity for content-area teachers to work together on creating their SLOs.  This was a perfect segue into forming collaborative departmental teams to look at student data and share effective teaching strategies.

In year two, our department leaders and administrators attended a PLCs at Work Institute in October of that school year.  We also hired a consultant from Solution Tree to help guide us in the process of becoming a successful professional learning community.  He worked closely with our leadership team on how collaborative team meetings should look as far as setting norms, creating SMART goals, generating common formative assessments, reviewing the “fresh” data, and collaborating on best teaching practices.  In year three, we continued to send teachers and administrators to the PLC institute and PLC workshops, with our consultant still working closely with our department leaders.  We also had the opportunity to send a team of teachers and administrators to Chicago to visit a couple of schools, one of which was a Model PLC School, Westmont High, which is the school where our consultant is the current principal.  We are now in our fourth year of execution and feel that Sparks High School is a highly-functioning, successful professional learning community.  We are sending another team of teachers to the PLCs at Work Institute in February of 2019.  In the fall of 2017, we were recognized as a Model Professional Learning Community School.

For the 2017-18 school year, we set a SMART goal of achieving an 90% graduation rate, which we thought was a lofty, but realistic goal. We were a bit short of that goal but still had an 86% graduation rate.  This is an increase of 18% from the 2013-14 school year in which the graduation rate was 68% and a 12% increase from 2015-16 school year.  Our graduation rate was 2% higher than our school district average and 5% over the state average of 81%.  Our subgroup populations saw huge gains in closing the achievement gap with our English Language Learners increasing from 36% in 2016 to 72% for this year (a 36% increase) and our students with IEPs increasing from 31% to 63% (a 32% increase).  Our Hispanic females had a graduation rate of 91% and our Hispanic males had a graduation rate of 79%.  The graduation rate of children in transition saw an 18% increase with an 83% overall graduation rate. 

With our 2017-18 annual school staff Climate Survey data, 75% of our staff felt that “Early Release Wednesdays” were a productive use of time, which was 2% higher than the district high school average.  In 2013, only 26% of our staff felt this way and 65% in 2015.   79% (37% in 2013, 68% in 2015) of teachers apply the knowledge that they gain from participation in early release Wednesdays in their classroom practice and 81% (12% in 2013, 56% in 2015) feel that the discussion of “Early Release Wednesdays” is consistent over time. 

With a determined focus on improving student achievement and creating a positive, collaborative climate and culture at Sparks High School, we believe that we are a highly-successful, model professional learning community.  



1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

At Sparks High School, there has been a focus on creating common formative assessments in specific content areas and using the “fresh” data from those common formative assessments to collaborate on differentiation and a variety of teaching strategies.  This continual monitoring of student learning in a timely manner provides teachers the opportunity to implement interventions immediately for individual students. The execution of Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) provides our collaborative teams another way of monitoring student learning over a given interval of time.  Our special education teachers use MAP testing as another lens to review student achievement data.  Listed below are examples of the many different ways individual content area departments at Sparks High are monitoring student learning as submitted by our individual department leaders:

English The 9th and 10th grade English collaborative team has used their SLO baseline data to formulate their SMART goals for the year. The SMART goals will drive the common formative assessments.  There are specific dates set for “data checks” and this data is used to understand, analyze, and form an action plan.  Teachers exchange teaching strategies, novels, and activities that help all of them get our students to the desired standard and beyond.

P.E. – The P.E. department collaborative team has developed SMART goals, norms, and common formative physical assessments.  They have shifted their focus this year to create assessments that are more cognitive and relate to the higher DOK questioning.  This allows the department to become more analytical when dissecting students’ strengths and areas of improvement.

Science – The science department collaborative team has created and modified common summative final exams over the past two years with a focus on Biology and Physical Science.  The have also created multiple common formative unit exams and are currently implementing weekly “snapshot” formative assessments.  These have all have been designed using the NGSS as a backbone and by sharing practices.  This year they are not only focusing on collecting and sharing data, but also on designing and implementing remediation based on data so that all students can progress towards mastery learning.

Math – The math department collaborative teams are creating and giving common assessments and deciding how many points each is assessment is worth.  Students are given many opportunities for retakes after further instruction and interventions based on how they do on these common assessments.

Social Studies – The social studies department collaborative team has undergone new leadership and a new direction in becoming a part of our professional learning community.   This year they have established their norms, evaluated ELA literacy skills for social studies to decide what were the most important areas of focus, created SMART goals, and designed a common rubric to assess their ongoing development of the common formative assessments.










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

Please see bulleted list on how we have created interventions to provide students with additional time and support for learning:

  • We went from a district-mandated seven period day to a six period day to allow for a 70-minute intervention twice a week in our bell-schedule.  Since we were in the Acceleration Zone we had some autonomy with district approval to pilot new systems and this one we wanted to try.  The intervention is fluid based on the need of individual students and what they needed as far as academic and social support. We also offer enrichment for students who are on track to graduate based on their interests or needs (elective classes, AP support classes, Freshmen Mentor Program).

  • With our school calendar we have a one week break in October, a three-week break in December, and a two-week break in March/April.  During each of these breaks we have one week dedicated to provide opportunities for credit attainment and grade improvement for our students.  Teachers provide work to students that need to improve their grade or finish that last bit of mastery to earn credit in their class.  These students are encouraged to be here as attendance is taken daily.  Students who are credit deficient can also come in and recover credits through online courses. 

  • We provide summer school for our students for the same reasons above.  This generally takes place for five weeks over the summer or until a students have earned their credits.

  • We offer an extra period at the beginning and end of each school day for online credit recovery, as well as a prep-period buy-out for one teacher during the school day.

  • We are a fully-inclusive school, meaning that 9th and some 10th grade students with IEPs and English Language Learners are in co-taught core classes.  All of our co-teachers have been trained and we have become a model for our district with highly-effective co-teaching.  Last year, we offered 10 sections of co-taught Geometry and had a 27% increase in credit attainment from the previous year for students with IEPs.

  • Last year, we kept 9th graders who were failing one or more core-content classes an extra hour after school on early-release Wednesdays.  Once they were passing all of their core classes they then could leave at the same time as other students.  This year, based on our Biology credit attainment from last year, we plan to implement this same system for second semester.

  • We provide after-school tutoring every day with students from the University of Nevada and in partnership with our AVID program.  Any student can attend for any class and we communicate this to our families if their son or daughter is struggling.

  • This year we are providing an Algebra 1 Semester 1 course for the entire year and next year an Algebra 1 Semester 2 course for the entire year.  This intervention is beneficial for students who come to us deficient in math skills.


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

We have executed a number of strategies in building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students:

  • Each administrator oversees a few departments for evaluation purposes and also to monitor the departmental collaborative teams.  We have a philosophy of a “loose-tight” leadership around this area and at the beginning of this process we had to tightly manage each department.  We were present at all of our team meetings and there was a form that each department leader needed to submit to the evaluating administrator after each weekly meeting.  As we moved toward becoming a professional learning community and our teachers and department leaders began to buy-in to the process, that leadership became more of a loose management for administrators and the tight management was distributed now to our department leaders.  A few department leaders were newly hired to provide fresh leadership to their teams.  We are now to a point where our department leaders have empowered their teachers to be leaders of their specific content area teams.

  • Our fully inclusive co-teaching practices has had a large impact on our collaborative team meetings and student learning.  All of our co-taught teachers (general education, special education, and ELL) are a part of their respective meetings and all have equal input.  In their classrooms, it is not apparent who each teacher is, as they have equal roles in the classroom.

  • We have brought in outside resources to help with individual teams.  As mentioned prior, our consultant from Solution Tree has worked closely with many of our departments to build this capacity among teachers working together.  Our math department has a district math implementation specialist come in and work closely with their Algebra and Geometry teams on common formative assessments and data review.  Our P.E. department had an SLO specialist meet with their team to work on their Student Learning Objectives. 

  • Sparks High School has two Dean of Students who work with our departmental collaborative teams from a non-administrative role in coming up with norms, SMART goals, and integrating content standards into curriculum.

  • Last year we formed a Guiding Coalition Team that will work together on creating school-wide SMART goals.  This aligns with our focus of sustaining the practices of a model professional learning community.  This team is made up of the principal and teachers. 

As you can see, these are all effective ways that we have worked collaboratively to improve student learning.


Achievement Data Files

Additional Achievement Data







Attached as PDFs are the following:

2018_Graduation_Sparks HS – This document contains the final graduation data for Sparks High School

2018_Graduation_DistrictHS – This document contains the final graduation data for the Washoe County School District

2018 School Profile SHS – This document contains all of our school and district data for the past three years with preliminary graduation data before the final rates were announced

The graduation rates for the state of Nevada for the past three years are 74%, 82%,  and 81%, respectively.



















































































  • Tunde Cspeyli was name the TESOL Teacher of the Year for 2019 by National Geographic Learning.

  • Our Assistant Principal, CJ Waddell, was named the State of Nevada Assistant Principal of the Year for 2018 through NASSP and NASA.

  • Jose Piceno was named the Northern Nevada Math Council Teacher of the Year for 2018.

  • Sparks High School was recognized as a Nevada Highligted School at the Nevada State Mega-Conference for 2018 for our inclusive practices and co-teaching model.

  • Sparks High School was recognized as a Model Professional Learning Community for 2017.

  • Our English department leader, Joe Garton, was named the Reno Rotary Educator of the month in the Spring of 2017 for his work around the PLC process. 

  • n 2016, Sparks High School was the first school out of 13 to successfully exit the Acceleration Zone due to increase in student achievement and a positive change in climate and culture. 

  • Our school district has continually recognized Sparks High School each year at the annual graduation press conference due to the increase in our graduation rates over the past five years.  

  • In the summer of 2015, a local news station (Channel 2 News) featured a story on Sparks High School and its work around becoming a Professional Learning Community.  This was during an all-day training during the summer for our teachers with our consultant from Solution Tree. 

  • Sparks High School (two teachers and an administrator) was asked to do an “Ed Talk” at a district leadership meeting to highlight our co-teaching practices.