Alisal Elementary School

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

Our PLC Story

Alisal Elementary School is a public school in the Pleasanton Unified School District.  We serve a population of approximately 650 students from TK-5th grade. We have a diverse student population. 21% of our students are English Language Learners and 10% of our students are classified as Socio-Economically Disadvantaged. In addition, 17% of our students are students identified with disabilities. Of that 17%, 7% are rostered in one of 4 Special Day Classes. The remaining 10% receive additional supports through special education resource services or Section 504 plans.  Finally, we have a total of 26 classrooms on campus, with an average of three classes per grade level.

At Alisal, our PLC journey has truly been one of learning by doing.  We began the transformation three and a half years ago in the Spring of 2016 after a core group of seven teacher leaders, accompanied by our principal, spent two days hearing the inspirational message of Mike Mattos at an “RtI at Work” seminar. As a result of these two days, a huge mindshift occurred within us about our fundamental purpose for being here as well as, at that time, a somewhat murky path to follow in order to get where we wanted to be. Knowing we could no longer do what we had always done, even if we weren’t 100% sure how to implement all of the components of a fully functioning PLC, we jumped in and started challenging the status quo.

Although Alisal is traditionally an academically high achieving school that outperforms many other schools throughout the state, when we delved deeper into the data from the standardized test scores of 2015, it was clear that we had many student groups who were being underserved and we knew we had to respond. Knowing that change was our moral imperative, and knowing that asking teachers who were accustomed to working in isolation to join together as collaborative teams and truly analyze their effectiveness was going not going to be a popular idea, the teacher leaders, who at this point began taking on the title of Guiding Coalition, were thoughtful and purposeful about next steps.

Starting with the essential pieces of developing a shared understanding and a collaborative culture, we first addressed the beliefs of our staff members around the central ideas that ALL students are able to learn at high levels and that ultimately it was our job as professionals to make sure they did this. We teased out the arguments about “home life” and “but they have a disability” through thoughtful, honest, whole staff conversations.  Once we had arrived at a place where all staff was at least willing to consider these fundamental beliefs, we worked on the “why” of PLCs.

Our “why” lies in the dramatic statistics about what happens to students who are not successful in meeting grade level standards or higher in California. To make it even more purposeful and closer to our hearts, we looked more closely at our own school wide data and had conversations about the student groups we were not adequately serving.  It was clear that we had to change and after reviewing state standards and all that students needed to master, it was clear we had to work smarter and not harder-and that meant working together. Using John Hattie’s work as an anchor, we grounded ourselves in working to tease out ineffective practices and begin implementing highly collaborative grade level teams. Although grade levels had, of course, been “cooperating” for years, true collaboration with a focus on learning and an orientation in results was not yet in place.  

During the remainder of the 2015/2016 school year, we worked on building trust and a collective responsibility among teacher teams. We did this by being simultaneously tight about some things and loose about others. We were tight in the area that no one was allowed to “opt out” and that we would all make collective commitments to each other about our behavior both in team meetings and in general, to ensure that we were, at all times, focused on student learning. We developed grade level essential standards and we were were tight in making agreements about what would be taught and guaranteed learned by every child at each grade level. In this way, we could ensure that all students in each grade level, regardless of their teacher, would have access to the same information. At the same time, we were loose about how and when to teach individual standards as well as individual team norms and goals. By combining this delicate balance of tight versus loose, we allowed for each grade level team to retain their individuality and, in essence, the “art” of teaching while keeping us focused on learning.

To start the 2016/2017 school year, we again focused on answering the question, “What do we want students to learn?” As a staff, we worked to align our essential standards, making sure that what we were preparing students for in one grade level matched up with what they were expected to know in the next. Throughout the remainder of that year, we focused on using district level benchmark assessments to help us decide whether or not students were “learning” and we started a very thoughtful process of reteaching essential knowledge and skills when it became evident that some students were not. We believed we were becoming very good at starting the process of being able to answer “How will we know if they have learned it?” and “What will we do if they haven’t?”.  We attended trainings in intervention programs and best practices, we talked about essential standards and common assessments, we used evidence of student learning to guide many of our discussions and we felt, overall, like we were doing a good job. And then, six more of us attended Mike Mattos’ RtI At Work training.

This new set of teachers was able to listen to and take in the training with a more critical lens.  Our objective this time was to check what we were doing with what we needed to be doing. We wanted to hear what Mike Mattos had to say and see how closely our practices aligned.  Coming away from this training, we realized that we had more work to do. At the same time, we felt really good about the things we had already been able to put in place. It was extremely reassuring to know that we were on the right track and that it was OK to continue our learning as we were doing. We took our learning back to our Guiding Coalition and began staff development planning for the 2017/2018 school year.

For the 2017/2018 school year, we revisited many best practices in instruction and worked on adding ways to identify and teach essential academic and social behaviors. We focused on good first teaching practices such as truly differentiated instruction and developed a comprehensive set of behavioral expectations and responses based on the practices of PBIS. We worked on finding ways to screen for potential concerns in both the academic and the behavioral realms.

The 2018/2019 school year has been one of going deeper, getting tighter and growing stronger.  First, we got tighter about our purpose and our language. We started the year by re-doing our school Mission to truly reflect the work of a school that operates as a Professional Learning Community.  We included staff, parents and students in this process and developed a Mission we could all get behind. We publicly named and shared the work we were doing and grounded everything in the three big ideas as guided by the four critical questions of learning.  We have worked hard to provide clarity of terms and a common understanding of the PLC process. In order to make sure all staff felt connected to the work, this year we made an intentional effort to include not only our paraprofessionals in these activities, we also had our specialist teachers jump in.  As a team, the music, science and PE teacher worked together to look through CAASPP data from the 2017/2018 school year. Noticing the discrepancy between how or ELL students performed in math and how they performed in ELA, this was where they chose to focus their energy. Together, they wrote a year long SMART goal to focus on speaking and listening in all of their classes, they agreed upon certain sentences stems they would all use within their classrooms and they agreed to intentionally teach academic language.

This year, we also re-committed to our collective commitments and norms.  Every site team, whether grade level, specialist, administration, Guiding Coalition, etc., went back and looked at what had been created years ago when we start the process.  We all re-committed to the work we were doing and celebrated how far we had come. We also re-committed to ensuring that all professional development that would be provided and all conversations that we would  have and decisions we would make were action steps to bringing our mission statement to life.

Next, we got stronger in our processes. We continued our “all hands on deck” approach to intervention and extension/enrichment by creatively including every possible adult on campus into our grade level access times. All grade levels this year have used rubrics to decide where they are as a team and where we are as a school and take next steps to continue to move us along.  The Guiding Coalition has completely embraced their role in becoming the teacher leaders responsible for the continuous job-embedded learning for all of us. Grade level teams have dedicated their team time to creating a guaranteed and viable curriculum for all through essential standards based unit planning which include both formative and summative common assessments. In doing this work, it became clear to us that the essential standards we had written years ago needed to change, so we did this as well. We also have made sure that all of our IEP goals are aligned with the essential standards for each grade level as it is in this way that we make certain we continue to share the belief that all students are capable of learning at high levels when given the right supports, strategies, and time. We put additional staff in place and a new bell schedule together to allow for more targeted times for both intervention and enrichment/extension. We have also already identified students right now who need intervention starting the first day of school.  We have reached out to their parents, sharing with them an opportunity to meet with us and work on targeted skills over the summer.

Finally, we went deeper in our understanding of how it is truly the grade level teams who make or break the PLC process. Teams use a meeting template guide created by the Guiding Coalition to tighten up their weekly conversations. Teachers are sharing students, sharing evidence of student learning through data rather than opinions or experiences and sharing best practices in response to that data. Most importantly, we have truly embraced the idea that it is only through our continuous learning that we can ensure high levels of learning for students as well. We are truly doing the work!

Perhaps one of the most powerful things we have gotten better at this year is celebrations.  This year, we have made it a point to recognize that the work, although worth it, is HARD! Teams celebrate individual successes within their team meetings and we celebrate publicly every time a grade level reaches a SMART goal.  Students share in their successes by knowing where they are and what needed to be done to get there. We share our successes with parents and district level staff through invitations to events, pictures of best practices and articles in our school communication. The best part of these celebrations is always talking about the impact of our collective work on individual students. By having everyone on site who has ever worked with a “success story” stand up during a staff meeting, we can clearly see how when we work together as a team, we change lives-lives not only of our students, but of everyone in their families to come.

 In the past three and a half years, 100% of our teachers have received at least ½ day training from Rich Smith, and more than 50% of our teachers have participated in a two day seminar given by Mike Mattos.  In addition, our school principal and vice principal have attended multiple trainings on PLC implementation for administrators led by Rich Smith and David LaRose, our principal has attended the Culture Keepers Conference in Atlanta and a team of teachers has been trained in Collaborative Common Assessments by Cassandra Erkins. This summer, our Guiding Coalition will be attending the PLC at Work Institute in San Jose, and perhaps the most powerful guiding force we have with us is a 1-1 coaching relationship between Dianne Kerr and our principal. Between the solid connections we have with Solution Tree, the gains we are seeing in both academic and behavioral data and our dedication to the process, we have created a true culture of continuous improvement at Alisal.

Essentially, we started a grassroots movement which has developed into a site-wide, successful Professional Learning Community.  All stakeholders are informed and on board with our mission to ensure high levels of learning for all students. Parents, teachers and students are all familiar with the 4 questions we use to guide our work and all decision making is tied back to being tight about the essential elements of a PLC. Watching this process over the last three and a half years has been amazing.  Not only have our practices and procedures changed, more importantly our mindsets have as well.The power of the grassroots movement is that it has allowed for all teachers to feel ownership of the process and more importantly create a culture where every staff member feels accountable for every child at Alisal.

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

Our PLC Practices

Monitoring Student Learning on a Timely Basis

By using the process of collaborative essential standards based unit planning, our grade level teams are able to ensure a guaranteed and viable curriculum for all students.  Once essential standards are identified for a unit, common summative assessments that allow students to show mastery in different ways are developed. Then, teacher teams go back and look at the learning targets within the standards and develop formative assessments to measure student learning.  Learning targets are then shared with students in kid-friendly language so that all students know what mastery looks like and what is expected of them. A plan for instruction is agreed upon, with teachers agreeing to be within a couple of days of each other in order to make sure that data they are looking at remains current.

Teaching then begins and student learning is assessed. For formative assessments that are common, data is shared at weekly meetings and responded to appropriately.  For formative assessments that are not common, teachers respond to data individually in their classrooms. Either way, it is through the development of these units that streamlined, targeted and intentional teaching takes place and that learning is monitored.  By the time a student gets to the summative assessment, neither teacher nor student is surprised by the results and in this way, the summative assessment is truly a celebration of learning.


 

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

Creating Systems of Intervention and Extension to Provide Students with Additional Time and Support for Learning

At Alisal, we have spent the last three and a half years working together to create a systemic process that ensures all students receive exactly what they need. Through the process of teaching essential standards based units, teachers are constantly collecting and responding to evidence of student learning and providing both intervention and extension activities. Having common formative assessments throughout the units allows teachers to respond quickly to student need by standard and by target. Students in need of additional time and supports are provided various interventions throughout the school day.  

When a team discovers students in need of Tier II supports in order to master an essential standard or learning target, they work together to support students in a variety of ways. Sometimes teachers pull small groups of their own students during whole class activities. Essential standards are re-taught in different ways based on the errors/struggles students are having along their road to mastery. Other times, students are shared and swapped for Tier II interventions after data to support teacher effectiveness in student learning is analyzed. Progress is tracked and groupings are fluid, allowing students to move seamlessly in and out of intervention groups.  When a student is also in need of a Tier III intervention in order to build upon below grade level foundational skills, we work carefully to make sure that this is in addition to quality Tier I and Tier II supports. Although these things were working well, we still felt like there was more we could do. For this reason, during the 2018/2019 school year we implemented a school wide Universal Access schedule.

Universal Access (UA) time is a time during the school day during which each grade level dedicates time to providing every student what he or she needs.  Students who need extension are provided additional opportunities during this time. Students who are in need of additional time and support to master essential grade level curriculum are provided this.  Students lacking foundational skills in both behavior and academics are provided those during this time and receive extra supports for grade level essential standards as needed by their individual teachers throughout the day. All available resources on campus are poured into each grade level during their dedicated UA time. This includes grade level teachers, specialists such as our research teacher and speech/language therapists, the school counselor and psychologist and often times, even administration. Within our model of interventions, we ensure that all tiers of support are cumulative and that groups are fluid so that all students are getting what they need. We evaluate effectiveness and ensure that learning is taking place by continuing to collect and respond to data.

At times, we see that our efforts are not as effective as we would like them to be and that students need even more.  This is when discussions take place at our weekly Intervention Team meetings. Our Intervention Team is made up of our two administrators, school psychologist, school counselor, resource teacher, two speech and language pathologists, and our intervention teacher. At our weekly meetings, we work to not only target student need by standard but also by cause.  Many times, there are additional reasons, such as absenteeism or homelessness that are impacting student success. It is at these meetings that we brainstorm all supports and interventions a student might need both in and out of the classroom to reach high levels of success, including access to special education if needed.

This year, we have also begun the process of making sure we are proactive about student interventions. We already know, right now, the students who will be starting the 2019/2020 school year not at standard.  We have them listed by name and by need and we are doing a number of things to support them. To begin with, we have developed an individualized, targeted summer program for each of these students. Parents will be trained in various activities to do with their children with the hope being to maintain the learning that has taken place this year.  Parents and students will meet with the principal every couple of weeks to reward and check on progress. Additionally, we have already created grade level intervention groups to start the second day of school next year and finally, we have placed students with certain needs into the classes of teachers who have proven to be the strongest in those areas of need.

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

Building Teacher Capacity to work as Members of High Performing Collaborative Teams that Focus Efforts on Improved Learning for All Students

Our Mission at Alisal is to ensure high levels of learning for all.  In order to do this, we understand that first and foremost we must build a culture of continuous learning and collaboration across our entire school. As a staff, we make use of a number of different rubrics (borrowed from Lakeville Area public schools and adapted from Learning by Doing) to assess where we are in our PLC journey.  Within these rubrics, we assess not only what we are doing, but also how we are working together to continue to learn and grow. We then use this information to guide our professional development and personal/team growth. We attend conferences to further our learning in areas of assessed need and our Guiding Coalition provides staff development and support to their teams and our school in general. Additionally, collaboration and building capacity are embedded into all routine aspects of our school from decision making to providing interventions and extension activities. By modeling the idea that we are never done learning in all areas of our school, we ensure that the message to adults and students alike is one of continuous growth.

Perhaps the most powerful tool we have in order to ensure continuous growth in all staff is our common assessments.  By working as teams to analyze the data gained from common assessments, know which teachers’ Tier I strategies are most effective for which learning targets. We use this information to inform practice of all teachers on the team.  If there are small differences in evidence of learning between classrooms, sometimes a conversation around “What did you do?” or “How did you teach this?” are enough. Ideas are shared and taken back to all classrooms. Other times, there is a need to go deeper and have teachers model for each other the strategies and techniques they are implementing. In order to support this process, our administration is always willing to cover classes in order for us to visit, watch and learn from each other.  Finally, sometimes we discover that we are all struggling to impact learning at high levels. In these cases, we go back and make sure the assessment we created or agreed upon is reliable and if it is, we turn to other sources for help. Professional development at Alisal is always connected to grade level student data about need. If our principal is able to provide us with training, she does~again making sure we are released from our classrooms in order to build our capacity during our work day.  If she does not have the expertise, she will find someone who does~either on our campus or outside of ourselves.

Time for grade level collaboration, during which grade level teams work interdependently to achieve common goals as guided by the four questions, is provided on a weekly basis.  The school funds regular release time for grade level teams to look more deeply at evidence of learning and plans for responding. Additionally, our PTA is in full support of our mission and, as such, they provide each grade level team with three full collaboration days a year. During all of these collaborative opportunities teachers are following rubrics developed by our Guiding Coalition and adhering to norms and collective commitments they have established while disaggregating data to inform their practice.  

Within this area, there are many things that we are tight about at Alisal.  All teachers are expected to work in grade level teams to develop and follow essential standards based unit plans.  They are also expected to look at information derived from common assessments and work collaboratively to respond to the needs of all students. Site administration, Guiding Coalition members and our Intervention Team work together to support our teachers in any way needed in order for the teachers to then directly support and impact student learning.

Achievement Data Files

Additional Achievement Data

Achievement Data

Alisal Elementary School, since its opening in 1956, has consistently been a high performing school, performing significantly higher in comparison to other schools in California. That being said, recent changes in student population have revealed a need to adjust our thinking about student learning to truly be able to address the needs of all students.

During the 2015/2016 school year, we were shocked to learn that certain groups of students were struggling significantly on the CAASPP assessments and knew we had to take steps to improve our practices.  Although we understand that CAASPP scores are merely a “snapshot” of a group of students, as a site we were not yet in the habit of collecting, analyzing and responding to data of our own, so we had nothing to compare it to.  We decided in the spring of that school year to begin implementation of PLC practices.

Since that time, our scores on the CAASPP have gone up and down a bit as the students being tested change, but overall, we have made significant growth; especially within the student groups of students with disabilities, socioeconomically disadvantaged students, and English language learners. More importantly, over the last three years we have worked to fine tune our teaching and our practices and we now collect common assessment data based on SMART goals and essential standards at every grade level.

Using district provided assessments in English Language Arts, we can see that school wide student learning continues to improve year after year; a sometimes challenging thing to do when you start at 89% of students already at or above benchmark. Additionally, we are seeing significant decreases in the number of discipline referrals and suspensions as a result of the fact that we include conversation about behavior at both grade level and site wide discussions about how to best serve students. Finally, the number of students we are reclassifying as fluent English proficient has near quadrupled in the past three years. All data gathered at Alisal, whether through CAASPP, regular district assessments, or more informal means within and across grade levels, is used to inform both instruction and staff development so that we can continue building capacity and impacting learning.

 

Awards

Alisal has recently been recognized for our work in providing a multitiered system of supports to all students in a number of ways. Last year, we were recognized as a PBIS (Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports) Silver Medal school for the work we have done in this area.  This year, we are applying for, and believe we will receive, the Gold Metal award. Additionally, we were recently recognized as a Unified Champion School for the work we do in inclusivity of all students and celebrated by our Special Education Department for the number of students we have been able to exit from our SDC classes and the number of students we have been able to exit from, or keep out of, resource. Finally, this year our principal was recognized as an Elementary Principal of the year by ACSA  (Association of California School Administrators) for the work we have done in PLC implementation.

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