- Number of Students: 267
- Percent Eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch: 33.21%
- Percent of Limited English Proficient: 0%
- Percent of Special Education: 9.83%
- White: 96.85%
- Black: 0.37%
- Hispanic: 1.48%
- Asian: 0.19%
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 0%
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 0.37%
- Multiracial: 0.74%
- Other: 0%
The Montezuma Elementary PLC Story
Why did our school decide to become a PLC?
The school district began using collaborative teams in 2010–11 as a part of our Iowa Core Curriculum implementation plan. 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 elementary 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 our 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.
How have we made time in our 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.
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.
What were your first steps to PLCs?
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 have been the 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 we could have a do over, what would we 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. The district goal for 2014–15 school year is: 85% 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 we 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.
1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.
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.
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.
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.
- We have a Teacher Leadership Committee which meets twice a week to discuss curriculum, plan whole group professional development, development of formative assessments and alignment isssues
- Data Day meetings – Three times a year grade bands of teachers (K & 1st, 2nd & 3rd, 4th through 6th) meet to review student data. Student learning groups are discussed, evaluated, and re-organized if necessary to provide the best learning opportunities for students across the learning spectrum. ‘What I Need’ or WIN groups are developed from these meetings. Discussions are used a models for PLC discussions
- Interventionist -- Our interventionist leads meetings around student data based on a specific learning strategy to promote growth for our students
- Group leaders are identified to lead PLC meetings
- Grade level planning times are created within our schedule. This time is used by classroom teachers to co-plan, create assessments, and review classroom observation data. The co-planning times also allow staff members the opportunity to develop learning groups across the grade level creating the concept of all students are our students, not just the students in my classroom
Percent of Student Meeting End-of-Year MAP RIT Expectations (this is an internal district goal with no reliable comparision data at the state or national level that we are aware of)
Reading 2013 2014 2015
K 68 70 91
1st 67 60 76
2nd 84 83 83
3rd 78 78 81
4th 67 76 82
5th 81 75 76
6th 70 78 84
Math 2013 2014 2015
K 66 65 79
1st 65 80 89
2nd 82 89 90
3rd 69 67 90
4th 70 63 76
5th 72 75 76
6th 70 62 68
Science 2013 2014 2015
3rd 58 74 79
4th 70 70 82
5th 80 80 75
6th 57 73 73
Iowa Assessment Results: Percent of student proficient as defined in Iowa (state of IA results in parentheses if available)
Math 3rd 4th 5th 6th
2015 85 88 79 87
2014 82(77) 80(75) 81(76) 84(74)
2013 83(76) 73(74) 83(75) 78(66)
Reading 3rd 4th 5th 6th
2015 88 71 74 87
2014 80(77) 69(78) 85(78) 85(72)
2013 78(79) 65(79) 87(77) 83(76)
Science 3rd 4th 5th 6th
2015 88 89 86 87
2014 90(78) 88(75) 84(79) 82(80)
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 School District was recgonizeds as a Model PLC District by Solution Tree in 2014.