Mandi Dunlap •
Eastside Elementary • Greenbrier, AR
The Journey to Collaboration at Eastside
The Arkansas Department of Education and Solution Tree have established a partnership to develop and expand the Professional Learning Communities at Work™ process within select schools. These schools will serve as working laboratories of the PLC at Work process, conducting action research and sharing best practices with other schools throughout the state. Mandi Dunlap is the principal of Eastside Elementary in Greenbrier, AR – her school was selected to be in the first cohort of this partnership.
Eastside Elementary has been having a great year so far. As first year principal of Eastside, I have to say that the Eastside staff has been so willing to try new things and change the “way things have always been done.” The catalyst to this change was when we were included in the PLC Pilot Program, created by Arkansas Department of Education with Solution Tree.
I knew by taking on this pilot project, I must keep things crystal clear about what our message is at Eastside. From the beginning of year, I have been upfront that this requires lots of work, but it is all worth it for our students. We have had a main focus of increasing reading achievement. Our interventions have all focused on reading. We continue to chart data to see if students are improving. If students aren’t improving, we make changes to their plan. If students are showing growth, we celebrate. We celebrate with the student, with the team, and with the whole staff. Our message has been consistent and the staff is beginning to build trust within their collaborative teams and the building as a whole.
The PLC Pilot Program has literally changed the way we have looked at educating our students. We have embraced the idea of the kids being “all of our kids." A teacher said in a recent collaboration meeting, “In the beginning of the year, I didn’t truly understand how that would even be possible. Now, I see it! We are helping kids from various grades and classes in our own rooms. The kids have become all our kids!” Another teacher shared, “We have always worked hard, but now we are doing the right kind of work.”
Every team is in the cyclical process of creating common formative assessments (CFAs) and looking at the data to see how kids have performed. For the first part of the year, we have been focused on the answering the first two PLC questions. We have started working towards answering the last two questions more purposefully. Kindergarten has recently had a huge success. After administering a writing CFA, they divided the kids up into four groups. One group worked on helping students with their content development. Another group assisted students with mechanics. The third and fourth group were students that had mastered the writing standard, so they had the opportunity to type their writing piece. Teachers were so excited by the results that students produced on their summative writing after having this reteaching and enrichment process.
Student data notebooks have been a tool for self-efficacy that has recently taken root. For the first semester, we, as a staff, crunched a lot of numbers to determine our current reality and determine next steps. By second semester, we began to learn the importance of students being aware of their goals and growth. Our student data notebooks have helped the students to communicate about their data with their parents at our student led conferences in February.
Our morning intervention time has more than 40% of students receiving small group tier II/III interventions. It is basically all-hands-on-deck for these students. We currently have three enrichment groups. One of these enrichment groups consist of 2nd - 5th graders that are publishing a school newspaper. Our counselor, Ms. Hogg, has done an incredible job allowing students to create this monthly publication, “What’s Up Eastside”.
Another great stride of success was with the support staff. They had expressed the desire to be more a part of the CFA work! All support staff, which includes art, music, library, keyboarding, PE, counseling, and enrichment, created a CFA for summarizing. The summarizing was all independent of the content, but a rubric was created that was also added to by kinder through fifth grade teachers. This was truly a building-wide project.
One struggle in our collaboration time has been with our 3rd-5th grade teams being departmentalized. Although they are departmentalized, their scheduled team time is with their grade level. Beginning in March, I was able to change the schedules around where content teams were able to meet together. The discussion was so rich with all of the content teachers in the same room. Teachers were asking all day if they could continue to meet this way.
The data has shown great growth. Our MAP assessment that was taken in December showed us finishing in first place of all four elementary schools in the district. We made history in doing this! We are excited to see the long-term benefits for students at Eastside.
I cannot say enough to thank ADE for allowing Greenbrier Eastside to be a part of this once in a lifetime opportunity. Solution Tree has been an amazing organization to partner with in this journey. We look forward to learning more from these talented professionals as we continue to learn and grow at Eastside.