Focusing on What Matters
I currently serve as director of secondary curriculum for Papillion-La Vista Public Schools. About eight years ago, the district began to learn about and ultimately implement professional learning communities. Each school provides time within the school day for teachers to meet, collaborate, analyze data, and identify actions that are impacting student learning and teacher effectiveness. The professional learning teams in our district have evolved into highly functioning teams because they focus on the fundamental elements that have the greatest impact on learning. The focus for teams throughout the district has been on curriculum, instruction, assessment, continuous improvement, and authentic literacy. Professional learning teams spend time ensuring all teachers understand the curriculum and are implementing it with fidelity in every classroom. They discuss, plan, and implement the elements of effective lessons, and use assessment data to guide instruction, provide feedback to students, and identify students who need additional support. When students are struggling, there is an intervention schedule in place to provide additional support.
As many education reform efforts come and go throughout the years, the professional learning team model has continuously evolved in our district. All teachers understand the model and are effective and contributing members of the teams—they keep the focus on improving teaching and learning. The district has established a culture where teachers develop the capacity to engage in honest talk about teaching and learning. Our district has proven if the professional learning teams continue to focus on the implementation of the most powerful elements that impact teaching and learning, student achievement improves.
Our district has experienced significant improvements on state and local assessments in reading, math, science, and writing. In the spring of 2012, four elementary schools demonstrated 100 percent proficiency on the state writing assessment. All elementary schools had an average score between 94 and 100 percent proficient. Papillion-La Vista School District was number one at all levels—elementary, middle school, and high school—on the state writing assessment compared to all class A schools. Our two high schools were ranked first and fifth (Class A, state of Nebraska) on the governor’s report for overall performance on the state writing, reading, math, and science tests. The district also witnessed double-digit percent proficient improvements on the state math test. At the local level, student performance on district common summative assessments are improving every year in all core content areas. All told, adults focusing on what matters has benefited students.