Desert School K-8
- Number of Students: 24
- Percent Eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch: 40%
- Percent of Limited English Proficient: 4%
- Percent of Special Education: 25%
- White: 55%
- Black: 0%
- Hispanic: 25%
- Asian: 0%
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 0%
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 20%
- Multiracial: 0%
- Other: 0%
The PLC journey at Desert School has occurred over the past ten years with changes both in administration and staff. Being a very unique and rural school, the challenges have been apparent from the beginning. A new principal took over in 2015 and celebrated the huge growth Desert Middle School had accomplished; showing more growth than any other school in the state on the state test (PAWS). Despite insurmountable odds and obstacles, the school has continued to propel that momentum. There were nine teachers at Desert Elementary School and Desert Middle School, but we faced huge cutbacks within our state. The school has always been challenged in finding qualified middle school teachers for content areas. The state allows a rural waiver for schools serving under fifty students which allows elementary certified teachers to teach middle school content; the district applied for this waiver. The school was the accepted and changes included moving from nine teaching positions to six teachers the following year, with all teachers assigned multi-grade classes in many core subjects. This change occurred due to state funding cuts to the district, but better met the needs of the school.
Positive Culture & PLC Development
The school (as a whole) had already been implementing a collaborative culture but wanted to continue to take the PLC process to the next level. The team decided to dive in to further enrich the PLC process and solidify the work being done by all going to the PLC at Work Conference in Florida where we met Richard and Rebecca DuFour and many other PLC leaders. A book study was started; In Praise of American Education by Richard DuFour. All thirteen staff members, including classified staff, read and discussed the content. PLC subgroups were set up (classified and vertical teams) with the intent that the whole school would focus on student learning and be held accountable to high expectations and learning. The following year, a new book study was adopted reading Learning by Doing from Solution Tree and sent new team members to the PLC at work conferences. A book study has been established each year to continue the learning amongst staff. Bold School by Weston Kieschnick was the chosen book for 2018-2019 school year. Building a positive culture and climate does not happen overnight. The staff has received many trainings in this. The key element in our school is that the staff sincerely care about people. This is our greatest strength. There is a flow throughout the building of open communication and a shared vision of where we are going. This is not simply put on paper, but proved in the actions of our daily work. When a parent comes to the office, staff, including the principal, immediately greets him/her at the door to build a relationship with him/her. Since strong positive personal relationships have been built, when issues arise with parents, these issues can be more easily resolved due to these relationships. Before positive change can happen, one must feel cared for, supported and respected.
The staff continues to look at data on a daily basis, including district common and state assessments. The school is evolving to begin implementing virtual PLCs within the subgroups. This consists of setting up same grade level teams within our district that have common PLC times. The expectation is to collaborate with grade level teams to work on common curriculum, assessments, and standards. This is still a work in progress as we evolve to incorporate more virtual PLCs.
The school received a grant that provided a counselor at the school three days a week. A Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) system was built in conjunction with the work we were doing with PLCs. This helped instill a positive school culture, which is a key practice. The the addition of the PBIS system reduced major behavioral referrals exponentially. PBIS training occurred monthly to better understand positive interactions between staff and students.
Each PLC focuses on growing students to met specific standards within the curriculum and continually looks for improvement in instruction. Over the past four years, the school demographics have averaged approximately 60% free and reduced, 50% Hispanic and a migrant rate of 40% each year. In 2018-2019, the migrant rate increased to 60% and student counts have changed significantly even within the school year. Our students’ state assessment scores have continued to growth according to the data. With the new state accountability expectations and the fact that small schools don’t have sufficient student counts for an equity indicator, the school will have to adjust accordingly, as this accountability report had a major impact on last year’s state assessment. Small school across the state are advocating for an equity standard in the accountability report and will hopefully be resolved in the future. Currently, small schools are not equalized with other school without an equity score. When people enter our school they can feel the positive culture that exists. Most importantly we are a tremendously strong team for kids. One parent posted on our Facebook page, “ I love this school the principal, all the teachers, the Secretary, and everyone else involved makes this the best school my kids have ever attended. My kids have grown educationally and socially with the help of everyone at this school!”
1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.
Desert School works with Sweetwater County School District #1 (SCSD#1) in accordance with district policy and in conjunction with the Curriculum Leadership Institute (CLI). SCSD#1 systematically created curriculum maps at all grade levels and for all content areas. Assessments have also been designed for math and ELA for all grade levels. Counselors and Library Media Specialists are also included in the mapping process. This process assures alignment to the Wyoming State Standards (vertical K-12 alignment, horizontal grade level content and assessment alignment). The Subject Area Committee (SAC), consisting of district-wide teacher representation, have completed the district aligned curriculum and assessments with feedback from teachers in all areas. Currently, SCSD#1 has active Subject Area Committees for all nine common core areas as well as counselors and library media specialists. A Long-Range Plan for the district curriculum (attached link), illustrates the systemic long-term process of curriculum mapping, resource adoption and assessment.
Currently, the district teaching staff, administers, validates, and develops proficiency scales for common formative assessments. After establishing the proficiency scales, teacher teams create assessments with a variety of using Bloom’s Higher Levels of Questions. During the design process, teachers create administration guidelines, answer keys, scoring guides and student assessments. Teacher administration guidelines are outlined step by step to ensure assessments are administered equitably.
All teachers pilot the assessment items and tasks, collect student work and provide feedback via a validation survey for revisions. Teacher feedback and student work drive the review and revision process. Drafted common assessments are reviewed and revised. SAC committee teams meet throughout the school year and during the summer to develop better assessments.
Student progress is observed on a daily basis. Teachers have common planning time, which allows for daily collaboration. The middle school teachers team teach several subject areas which requires them to continuously plan together and adapt lessons based on student needs. Many of our students enter our school for a short period of time and are often not performing at grade level. The staff diligently work to move the students from the their current level, filling the gaps as needed with interventions, growing them to proficiency. The school follows the work of John Hatti to focus the instruction on high yield strategies to assure students are receiving instruction with best practices.
2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.
In the fall of 2018, all staff was trained in Unified Classroom which contains question banks aligned to standards and district assessments with a variety of DOK levels. Most adopted resources contain formative assessments that can be administered thus allowing the staff to generate instant formative assessments. Staff are also use WY-TOPP modular assessments, Kahoot and other electronic means as well paper assessments (i.e. exit tickets, checks for understanding) to formatively assess students. Sometimes formative assessments are as simple as thumbs up and thumbs down or using a dry erase board to record answers. Staff monitor progress towards proficiency on daily basis.
At Desert School, our staff provides students with a system of intervention that is deeply rooted in the data. Being a small rural school, we have the privilege of getting to know our students on a much deeper level. Each teacher starts with a pre-assessment and bases interventions on the individual student needs. With interventions in place, students are able to receive almost a 1:1 support system. We utilize the data to provide a baseline and immediately provide interventions to grow our students, not just academically but of all facets of life to become a thriving adult. Students are pushed to meet and exceed achievement goals for proficiency based on standards in each unit lesson. Looking at the essential standards from our curriculum maps, teachers assess the deficits of students on a daily and a weekly basis. Once deficits are determined, staff work with the one another to develop interventions to meet student needs and provide support during the intervention time to bridge the gap. Additional STEM activities are provided for students who are performing at high levels. They are bussed to the district Gifted and Talented program (seventy miles away) on Fridays. The school also provides an after school program enrichment STEM program and an intervention program (reading and math). Student individual learning goals are set to ensure that focus is placed on the individual’s need for growth.
3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.
PLC teams uses the district common assessment data form (Data Teams Form) to analyze student data. The intention is that the bulk of the PLC time be dedicated to identifying effective instructional strategies. Teachers discuss their best instructional practices by specifically identifying what teachers are doing and what successful students are doing. The beauty of this protocol is that the teachers can focus on best classroom practices for all students.
All of our initiatives are completed as a school wide collaborative team. When problems arise, as they always do, we focus on doing what is best for students within our sphere of influence. Staff lay aside strategies that don't yield high student learning and are all engaged in focusing on improving student learning. As a whole, we focus on the needs of our students and continually eliminate toxic adult behavior from our building. One can witness this by just visiting the teacher’s lounge and listening to the discussions at lunch; it can be guaranteed that any conversation involving kids is conducted in a professional manner and addresses the proper channels and procedures.
Achievement Data Files
Additional Achievement Data
If you look at school improvement plan for Desert elementary and then Desert Middle school you will see an improvement over the past 4 years but with changes in assessment and other factors I have included a student progress sheet showing the growth of all students entering in our school. The last year our population changed 60 percent from the previous year and another 40 percent during the year. With this high mobility rate it is important to look at when students enter our school what we do to close the achievement gap and help them grow to become proficient and at grade level.
Desert Middle School showed the most growth than any other school in the state in the year 2014-15.
Our school improvement plan was selected by the state in 2015-16 as an examplar model school for a school rated in the category of exceeding expectations.