Mary Ann Ranells

Mary Ann Ranells, PhD, is superintendent of the West Ada School District in Meridian, Idaho. She has played a key role in aligning curriculum to meet state standards and directed several federal programs.

Team Within a Team

The Lakeland Joint School District serves 4,100 students in 11 schools. Our journey as a PLC has helped us focus on the three big ideas: learning, collaboration, and results. One of our greatest challenges has been implementation involving all staff members. Even though we spent five years implementing the tenets of a PLC, only those directly involved seemed to understand and to know what to do. With the Common Core Standards and the new state test (Smarter Balanced Assessment) looming, what did we need to do to create a culture in which all staff members were actively engaged in collaboration to achieve our desired results? How should we address the skeptics who felt we were already doing extremely well and argued that time, money, and philosophical differences prevented us from moving forward? How could we include all teachers and all content areas when the overemphasis on math and language arts/reading was stifling? How could we prepare students for success when the horizontal and vertical alignment was not in place for the Common Core? We desperately needed a model that would change practice—we needed organization, execution, and persistence.

We created structure and governance from the ground up. For our six elementary schools, each grade level was led by a building principal partnered with an instructional coach and three teacher leaders representing each grade level. Principals met to make certain grade-level teams had a balanced representation of teacher leaders in all schools across all grade levels. At the secondary level, each department was led by a building or district office administrator and three content-area specialists representing all schools and subject areas. These leaders met quarterly to create a calendar for collaboration yielding the following deliverables: a guaranteed and viable curriculum, a pacing guide, common assessments, and at least one unit per quarter.

Utilizing newly state-funded leadership dollars, each teacher leader, administrator, and instructional coach will receive $2,000 in compensation. Upon completion of the deliverables and after reporting student achievement results on the units of instruction and common assessments, each teacher will receive $850 as part of their team’s success. A late-start Monday will provide collaboration time to accomplish tasks and provide ongoing professional development as determined by each grade-level/department team.

At the end of the school year, all certificated staff members have a contract day devoted to sharing results from end-of-course assessments, common assessments, and state and national assessment data. Teachers meet districtwide in grade-level teams at the elementary level and in subject-area/department teams at the secondary level. Based on the analysis of the data, the teams celebrate successes and determine the needs for the Curriculum Summit. The Curriculum Summit occurs the week after school is out and is set aside for teacher teams to review progress on the deliverables and to take next steps to make changes to increase student achievement. All teachers are invited to participate and are compensated $100 per day for their efforts. The tasks completed in relation to the deliverables set the calendar for collaboration activities and outcomes for the next school year. District office administrators review the quality of the deliverables and provide feedback to each team throughout the year.

The magic in what we do is in our people. Affectionately referred to as the “Lakeland Way,” there is fierce adherence to our unwritten, nonnegotiable rules as a team. We deeply care for one another. Principals often talk about our relationships as being more like those of family members than merely coworkers. We are driven when it comes to student achievement. We ask questions, challenge ourselves to think in ways that make us uncomfortable, and have learned how to argue politely. Dr. Robert Eaker taught us years ago that if we want to truly be effective, we need to do four things: avoid the status quo, avoid pessimists, avoid gossip, and remember the importance of warmth and humor. This is our mantra—the way we do things. Our process won’t work without an amazing team; the team won’t work without constant attention to the process and quality of the deliverables.

When teachers return in the fall, the road map is in place and the guesswork has been eliminated. Everyone knows where we are, where we want to go, how we will get there, and how we will know when we are there. Our mission—to make every student college, career, and life ready—is our constant compass. Our instruction and assessments trump state and national assessments. We are in control. We are the professionals.


Ana Schnepf

Well written Dr. R.! I miss you.

Posted on