Montezuma Community Schools

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The Montezuma PLC Story: We Be PLC

Why did your district decide to implement collaborative teams?

Montezuma Community Schools began using collaborative teams in 2010–11 as a part of our Iowa Core Curriculum implementation plan. Secondary teachers (grades 7–12) were organized around content areas and would meet once a week during the school day to vertically and horizontally discuss the Iowa Core. Elementary teachers were organized around grade levels and would meet on staff professional development days, before and after school and at lunch to discuss the Iowa Core. Towards the end of the 2010–11, we realized the power of collaboration to influence the culture, climate, and practice of teaching and to improve student results. Teachers were asking for more school day time to collaborate and a more comprehensive process.

In the summer of 2011, we sent a group of administrators and staff to a Solution Tree PLC at Work™ Institute. Teachers who attended stated it was one of the most powerful professional events they had experienced. The DuFour PLC model gave us a vision of what collaboration is and how to get there. We implemented a DuFour PLC model beginning with the 2011–12 school year. The PLC process for our school focuses on four main questions: (1) What is it that we want our students to know and be able to do as a result of this unit or class?; (2) How will students demonstrate that they have acquired the essential knowledge and skills?; (3) How will we intervene for students who struggle and enrich the learning for students who are proficient?; and (4) How can we use the evidence of student learning to improve our individual and collective professional practice?

What was the driving force for implementing PLCs?

The driving force for implementing PLCs in our school was improving formative and summative student results. Our district-level summative results were generally inconsistent over time and not keeping up with a growth trend line. Our classroom formative results were generally not aligned with grade-level standards. We knew that staff and students were working hard at improving achievement, but the results just weren’t there. The PLC at Work™ Institute showed us that there were better ways to work at improving our results, and it all starts with how we work together.

How are your teams structured? (i.e., grade level, content area, etc.)

At the elementary level, our PLC teams are created by combining classes and grade levels. We choose to align in the following ways: K-1, 2-3, 4-5-6 with special education, Title I, and Talented and Gifted teachers mixed into each group. Our PLC teams also have the ability switch their schedules to create groups in the following fashion: K-1, 2-3, 4-5, and grade 6 being able to meet with JH/HS. Any change in groupings need to be communicated to our exploratory teachers at least two days prior, as a common courtesy.

At the secondary level, our PLC teams are organized around content. We have: math, English, science, social studies, fine arts (music and art), physical education, at-risk, and vocational (business, agriculture, and industrial technology). Special education teachers are a part of the math and English groups.

How have you made time in your daily schedule for collaborative teams to meet?

Providing adequate time certainly has proven to be a challenge, but it was extremely important to find time during the day to ensure positive PLC implementation. We do not believe we would be as consistent or productive with our implementation if PLC meeting times occurred outside of the school day or only on professional development days.

Finding time caused a dramatic change to the elementary schedule. Prior to PLC implementation, our elementary school utilized a six-day cycle while sharing staff with the JH/HS. The exploratory schedule along with lunch drove our schedule and caused many inconsistencies. Our first step was for the elementary and secondary principals to identify times when our shared exploratory teachers (music, art, and physical education) could be available to the elementary school. Through this principal collaboration, the opportunity for four exploratory classes to meet daily at regular times was established. This created a 4-day cycle with which the classes rotate through. This provided four classrooms, two grade levels with two classrooms per grade level, a 50-minute common planning period each day of the week. We have also set our exploratory schedule to allow different grades the chance to swap times for a day to allow for new conversations. We do not require 50 minutes per day; we require one hour per week for PLC meetings, but the team has that opportunity built into the schedule. The days when our teams do not meet, the members are usually planning together in grade-level groups. Since elementary staff was using planning time to meet as a PLC, additional planning time has been allotted for them during the day. The elementary teaching staff supervises one 15-minute recess duty during a week. Associates cover all other recesses. This additional time also allows our staff the opportunity to modify meeting times, if needed.

The secondary school has a modified block schedule. 1st and 5th periods are 45- or 55-minute periods that meet every day. Periods 2, 3, and 4 are 85-minute periods that meet every other day. The teams are spread throughout the day so that not more than one team meets during one period. For instance, math meets 1st period every day, and science meets 4B every other day.

Many schools ask about how we get the time to have teachers meet during the day. First, we went from an eight-period day to a modified block with eight periods over two days. Then we took study halls out of the day so teachers didn’t have to supervise a study hall. Teachers were required to teach six out of eight classes in the old system with one prep period. We tried to keep the same theme in the eight periods over two days. Teachers still teach six class periods, and instead of study hall supervision, they meet in a PLC group. Teachers get a prep period every other day or every day depending on the period of the day. It took some change in thinking of what we wanted to have happen at Montezuma, but the teachers at Montezuma embraced the change and have enjoyed the collaboration time.

In addition to PLC time during the day, all staff are encouraged to plan in multi-level teams on a vertical basis when necessary. This could be part of a day or an entire day for which substitutes are used. For example, there have been team meetings this year of K–12 language arts and math respectively.

Thinking back to when the PLC process just started, what were your first steps?

The most important thing we did to start this process was not spending too much time trying to get all staff to buy in. After the PLC institute, we had a core group of teachers ready to lead with complete administrative support. Some staff were not initially prepared or convinced that collaborating with others about these four questions was the best use of their time. We plodded ahead anyway. The administration outlined that teachers were going to collaborate and that they were going to collaborate in a certain way. However, the teachers had quite a bit of autonomy in determining what the collaboration looked like and how it actually worked.

Another important part of the process is that the each PLC was required to incorporate specific requirements into their work. Each group needed group norms, to use an agenda each meeting, and to establish a SMART goal (specific, measurable, attainable, results orientated, and time bound).

What are the greatest challenges of implementing PLCs for your school?

It is a challenge to develop groups for elective/non-core teachers such as vocational, fine arts, physical education, and counselors. Their work and student success is not easily defined as improving math, reading, or science, and there is usually only one person teaching in these areas. While a challenge, combining these teachers into productive PLCs does work. It takes a different perspective to see what they might have in common as teachers and how they can share collaboratively together.

Another challenge is developing meeting time during the school day. We felt that it was important to build the time into the school day. Each principal has had to be creative and strategic about staff assignments and schedules to make this happen, but it has been worth it.

If you were to start this process over, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently and why?

Knowing what we now know now, we don’t think we would do much different except start earlier, like years earlier. Becoming a PLC school is a process. Success has to build upon itself and just doesn’t happen because teachers are meeting and talking. Teachers need to meet and talk about the right things in the right way and then take action.

The best driver of systemic improvement has been the development of an overall district goal. Our goal for 2013–14 school year is: 75% of all students will meet the end-of-year RIT grade-level expectations on spring MAP (Measurement of Academic Progress) assessment in reading, math, and science. The district goal has led to a tighter alignment of building-level and PLC goals and has focused teachers’ efforts. It has been a very good way to hold all aspects of improvement accountable.

What advice do you have for a school that is just beginning this journey?

Our advice to a school just beginning this journey is get started. Don’t wait, don’t just dabble in the process, jump in, and get started. Use resources from Solution Tree and others to define the right work and what to do, but get started.

Do you have teacher leaders?

We have teacher leaders as a part of our PLC process. These are not paid positions but positions that a PLC group has given to one of its members or someone the principal has asked to be the leader of the group. The leaders facilitate their respective PLC meetings and meet on a weekly basis with the principal to discuss common group and implementation issues. Some groups prefer to rotate the leadership of their groups, and other groups stick with the same leader. Will will have formal teacher leaders and roles in the 2016-17 school year as part of Iowa's Teacher Leadership program. 

How does the administrative team collaborate as a PLC?

Our administrative team also functions as a PLC. We have established our own meeting norms and developed a SMART goal based on the quarterly implementation survey mentioned earlier. Our 2012–13 administrative SMART goal was: at the end of the 2012–13 school, 100% of staff will indicate “very true” or “true” for all items on the PLC Survey. Our quarterly targets are 5 questions at 100% for the 1st quarter, ten questions at 100% for the 2nd quarter, and so forth. A majority of our administrative team meeting time is based on the data from the survey and discussion of interventions appropriate for groups that are struggling and enhancements for those that are thriving. The survey is completed via Google Docs. We track the answers by staff member and PLC group over time for results and growth. The overall data is shared and discussed with all staff each quarter.

For 2013–14, the adminstrative SMART goal is based on observation data from teacher PLC meetings. The goal is: 75% of PLC team meetings will spend at least 75% of each meeting analyzing, comparing, and/or scoring student work AND/OR developing common formative assessments AND/OR analyzing instructional practice and critiquing RTI, based on data complied from observations.

For the past two school years the administrative team has continued to monitor PLC implementation through the observation format.

This process has allowed the administrators to model being a PLC. We do everything that is expected of teacher PLCs.

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

At Montezuma Junior High/High School, we monitor student learning in the following manner:

  • We have a standards-based grading system. Grades are based on a student's performance related to a specific standard being taught in a unit. Teachers have reviewed their standards from either the Common Core or developed "Got to Knows" in a non-core area such agriculture, business, and social studies. This lesson is developed around what we call a unit scale.
  • The unit scale is developed by the teacher and gives the students and parents the standards and criteria of achievement. We use a 4-point unit scale based on Bloom's Revised Taxonomy. For example, 2.0 is "recall and understand," 3.0 is "analyze," and a 4.0 is "create and extend the learning." For each unit, the teacher gives this information to the students and to parents. The communication of expectations is important because then there is no surprise on the summative assessment.
  • Before the summative assessment, teachers will develop formative assessments for each standard throughout the unit. Students have several chances to prove mastery on these formative assessments. If the student does poorly on the first formative, the student can review, have a reteach, and take another formative to prove learning has taken place. This happens on all standards in the unit so teachers have a good understanding of what each student in their class knows and does not know before a summative assessment.

Montezuma Elementary monitors student learning on a daily basis. We start through a system of formative assessments. These assessments are accomplished by meeting with and engaging students in questioning activities through large groups, small groups, and individual conferences. Montezuma’s staff also works to develop common assessments between grade-level classrooms. These assessments are given in each classroom at similar times. The results are then used to create learning groups to meet the needs of individual students or students with similar needs. All of the assessments are based on the Iowa Core Standards. We want to make sure that our learning is aligned beginning with the standards (curriculum), assessment, and instruction.

At the elementary school, we also use NWEA Measures of Academic Performance (MAP) tests to assist us in monitoring our students progress. The MAP tests are given three times a year. The fall MAP tests provide a baseline of achievement for each student in the areas of reading, math, science, and language arts. We use the baseline data for discussion, planning, and development of interventions in our PLC team meetings. We test again mid-year to identify student progress. As before, we use the data to create interventions for each student as needed. The spring test is more of a summative assessment. We really want to know if our students have met the benchmark and how they have grown over the course of the school year.

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

The system of interventions for Montezuma Junior High/High School is:

  • Based on the principles of Mike Mattos and Solution Tree RTI at Work™ Institute presenters. We have one hour each day designated for students to get extra help or mandatory help. Students check in with an advisor for accountability and stamp checks (teacher names). Students have planners, and they are required to show the advisor their planner. The stamps from teachers are used to require students to come to that teacher's room for extra help. If a student does not have a stamp, then he or she can go to open rooms for guided study hall or computer time.
  • Guided study hall isn't always for extra help from the teacher. This time is for the student who refuses to do the work and needs a little encouragement from a teacher that keeps the pressure on to get it done too.
  • Teachers may also refer a student to the RTI team. The RTI team consists of the principal, counselor, at-risk coordinator, and school-within-a-school coordinator. The team meets with the teacher to determine the steps of stamping, calling home, and what is the area of RTI for this student. The two areas are skill deficiency or F.O.C.U.S. (Forgetful, Off-task, Capable, Unmotivated Students). F.O.C.U.S means students are not getting work done because they refuse for some reason. The teacher and the RTI team come up with interventions or supports for the student during the school day. Students are never taken out of a core class, but sometimes exploratory (junior high) or electives (high school) classes are used as well as before-school and after-school time.

Montezuma Elementary uses a response to intervention (RTI) process. We have named our system the Individual Success Plan or ISP process. Our ISP process is designed to assist us in evaluating student achievement, design supplements to the Common Core, and discuss all progress monitoring data towards an identified SMART goal:

Step 1: Staff meets with students on a regular basis through large groups, small groups, and individual conferences. This time allows the teachers to better understand each student’s achievement levels by using our formative and common formative assessments.

Step 2: We use the MAP testing data to compare student data and evaluate if students are on track to meet the end-of-the-year expectations by comparing our results to the fall and mid-year cut points.

Step 3: Professional learning communities: Our staff meets weekly to discuss formative assessement results, possible interventions, and alignment of standards, assessments, and instruction.

Step 4: Montezuma Elementary has identified three days throughout the year in which our grade-level, Title I, Talented and Gifted, and Intervention staff, as well as the building principal, meet to discuss student progress. These meetings allow us a great opportunity to discuss student achievement and if each student's needs are being met in the core classroom.

Step 5: If a student is receiving core instruction (Tier I, supports for all students), small-group differentiated instruction and support service such as Title I Reading and is still experiencing difficulty, the student is referred to the ISP process. ISP meetings occur every other Friday or as needed. The goal of the process is to identify strategies already in use and further investigate the area of concern. The ISP team (interventionist, classroom teacher, and principal) works to identify the area of need and develop a student SMART goal in the area of need. The teachers work together to find the best time in the student's daily schedule to deliver Tier II (targeted supports for some students) or Tier III (intense supports for a few students) supports. Tier II and Tier III supports are 20–30 minutes of specific small-group instruction. The ISP team meets every two weeks to monitor a student's progress both in the classroom and on the SMART goal.

Step 6: It is our goal to have every student on an Individual Success Plan succeed and not need the intensive interventions, as the year progresses. However, if a student does not progress and a true learning disability is identified, then our Individual Success Plan team will meet with our Special Education support team to see if additional testing is needed.

Our parents are involved and informed of the overall progress throughout the year through parent-teacher conferences, and by inviting them to the ISP meetings.

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

Montezuma Schools' administrative team (superintendent, elementary principal, and secondary principal) also functions as a PLC. We have established our own meeting norms and developed a SMART goal that is focused on building teacher capacity to work as members of high-performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students. We develeped a 19-question teacher survey based on Critical Issues for Team Consideration found in Learning by Doing (pp. 130–131) that monitors the implementation of the PLC process. Our theory of action is when teachers do the right work in the right way, the best results will follow.

For the 2012–13 and 2013–14 school years, the goal was that 100% of staff will indicate “very true” or “true” for all items on the Teacher Implementation Survey. Our quarterly targets were to have five questions at 100% for the 1st quarter, ten questions at 100% for the 2nd quarter, and so forth. A majority of our administrative team meeting time is based on the data from the survey and discussion of appropriate interventions for teacher groups that are struggling and enhancements for those groups that are thriving. The survey is completed via Google Docs. We track the answers by staff member and PLC group over time for results and growth. The overall data is shared and discussed with all staff each quarter. This process has allowed the administrators to model being a PLC. We do everything that is expected of teacher PLCs. For the 2013–14 school year, we have changed the focus of the goal to monitor the work of each PLC group through observation data. 

For the survey questions and results, see the PLC Handbook under the Resources tab.

RESULTS

Percent of Student Meeting End-of-Year MAP (NWEA's Measurement of Academic Progress) RIT Expectations By Class (same students each year). This assssessment is used as an internal measurement of student progress. There is no national or state comparason data.

READING                                            

Class of        2010     2011     2012     2013     2014    2015

2026               -           -           -           -          70      91

2025               -           -           -           67        60      76

2024               -           -            75        84        83      83

2023               -           -            74        78        78      81

2022               -           -            70         67       76      82

2021               -           44         59         81        75      76

2020               -           44         61         70        78      84

2019               47         56         52         76        58      84

2018               69         66         76         70         91     68

2017               64         64         51         53         68     85

2016               65         57         56         67         88     87

2015               52         70         74         62         89     92

 

MATH                                     

Class of        2010     2011     2012     2013    2014   2015

2026               -           -             -             -     65      79

2025               -           -             -          65      80     89

2024               -           -             83        82      89     90

2023               -           -             70        69      67     76

2022               -           -             67        70      63     76

2021               -           -             66        72      75     68

2020                 -           44         64        70      62     81

2019               44         35         36        66        58     76

2018               72         49         68        70        76     71

2017               48         62         55        65        71     80

2016               62         57         48        67        76     81

2015               76         61         74        71        86     83

 

SCIENCE                                             

Class of             2010        2011      2012     2013      2014          2015

2023                    -               -           -           -           74              79

2022                    -              -           -           70         70              82

2021                    -             -           70         80         80             75

2020                    -            66         79         57         73             73

2019                    53         62         67         63         71             84

2018                    78         59         74         75         84             83

2017                    66         68         62         55         89             86

2016                    77         67         71         63         96             87

2015                    67         73         82         79         92             88

 

Iowa Assessment Results

Percentage of students proficient

             

(state of IA results in parentheses)

             

READING

3RD

4TH

5TH

6TH

7TH

8TH

10TH

2015

  85 (77)

88 (76)

79 (78)

86 (75)

82 (76)

51 (76)

92 (86)

2104

  82 (77)

80 (75)

81 (76)

84 (74)

78 (77)

74 (75)

83 (78)

2013 

83 (76)

73 (75)

83 (75)

78 (73)

59 (74)

74 (74)

83 (78)

2012 

72 (76)

83 (76)

78 76)

54 (66)

62 (69)

56 (66)

78 (83)

2011 

70 (77)

63 (74)

77 (74)

80 (65)

66 (67)

50 (66)

82 (84)

               

MATH

3RD

4TH

5TH

6TH

7TH

8TH

10TH

2015

  88 (80)

74 (80)

74 (78)

86 (75)

87 (84)

59 (77)

88 (83)

2014 

 82 (79)

 80 (79)

81 (78)

84 (76)

81 (81)

79 (76)

98 (83)

2013

 78 (79)

65 (79)

87 (77)

83 (76)

80 (83)

81 (75)

92 (83)

2012

 75 (78)

86 (79)

81 (79)

62 (73)

80 (78)

82 (75)

85 (83)

2011

 70 (79)

68 (78)

90 (78)

82 (72)

70 (79)

77 (75)

88 (83)

               

SCIENCE (no IA results available)

3RD

4TH

5TH

6TH

7TH

8TH

10TH

2015

88

89

86

87

82

76

88

2104

90

88

84

82

68

85

90

2013

94

94

92

80

79

85

90

2012

83

89

89

64

78

79

88

2011

88

93

68

84

74

73

86


 

 

Montezuma Schools has been featured by Area Education Agency (AEA) 267 in a series of professional development videos on how to get started as a PLC

Montezuma High School has been recongized by U.S. News & World Report at the bronze level of Best High Schools in Iowa for 2013–14

Montezuma Junior-Senior High School was designated a Model PLC Building by Solution Tree in 2015

Montezuma Elementary School was designated a Model PLC Building by Solution Tree in 2015

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