Gerry Petersen-Incorvaia

Gerry Petersen-Incorvaia, PhD, is the assistant superintendent for educational services for the Glendale Elementary School District in Arizona. His work focuses on ensuring all students have access to a guaranteed and viable curriculum.

Preparing for the School Year with a Focus on Learning

I have mentioned before that I met a mentor of mine, Dr. Sharon Kramer, in the summer of 2015. After going through what we did or did not have in place as a district, she asked the question “What do kids get?” which knocked me off kilter. I felt like as a priority district of 17 schools that we were working hard on putting in the right systems, but with that one question, our entire district’s thinking shifted, and we knew we needed to do better work to ensure high levels of learning for all students. We knew we needed to start planning immediately at both the district and school sites. That summer and every summer thereafter, school and district leadership re-evaluated our schoolwide and districtwide systems to ensure a tighter, more targeted focus on student growth and achievement. Knowing that to start a school year takes immense amounts of planning, we started right away.

Over the years, we honed the process so that in the summer, school administration is collaboratively working to put systems in place to ensure not only all students and staff are safe, but that the right work is done to ensure the three big ideas of professional learning communities are in place:

  1. There is a focus on learning.
  2. There is a collaborative culture.
  3. There is a results-orientation (DuFour, et al., 2016).

The work below is divided into the work that occurs prior to the school year starting and the work during the first weeks of school that focuses on student learning and could accelerate that learning.

Before the start of the school year

The Work with a Focus on Learning

New Teachers

 Participate in professional learning about:

  • How collaborative teams work within a Professional Learning Community.
  • The work of the Site Learning Team (or Guiding Coalition).
  • What a cycle of learning or units of study look like.
  • Site collective commitments.

Collaborative Teams

  • Create norms.
  • Decide on a consensus building process.
  • Develop yearlong SMART Goals around state achievement data.
  • Discuss agenda for the year.
  • Assess where they are with essential standards, unwrapping standards, and units of study for the first quarter.
  • Analyze data from previous year to plan small group instruction on Day 1.

School Learning Team or Guiding Coalition

  • Give feedback on Quarter 1 essential standards, unwrapping standards and proficiency maps.
  • Develop Schoolwide SMART Goals and disseminate.
  • Lead the analysis of data.
  • Discuss and lead the implementation of schoolwide instructional and student strategies.

Plan for school learning walk process.

Site Administration

  • Schedule for walkthroughs and observations shared.
  • Develop a plan with the School Learning Team or Guiding Coalition to provide professional learning to new teachers.
  • Consider an orientation for substitute teachers.
  • Develop plan for a communication loop of information for a variety of stakeholder groups.
  • Develop plan for more shared leadership throughout the school.
  • Develop a plan for celebration of lessons learned and progress towards goals.

First weeks of the school year

The Work with a Focus on Learning

Collaborative Teams

  • Implement collaboratively with student expectations of behavior and how to discuss and collaborative in the classroom.
  • Teach with grade-level standards from the beginning, scaffolding for learning needs.
  • Start small groups procedures and instruction in reading and math immediately using data from previous year to flexibly group students within core instruction.
  • Develop quarter-long SMART Goals.
  • Implement first learning cycle.

School Learning Team or Guiding Coalition

  Monitor and provide feedback on proficiency maps to ensure:

  • a 5-10 day learning cycle.
  • common formative assessment days are scheduled.
  • collaborative team plan for Tier II.


Ensure schoolwide plan for Tier III in place-what is the plan for a large lowest proficiency group of students? How will they receive all three tiers?


Discuss and consider Problems of Practice of the school.


Ensure collaborative teams are meeting immediately to focus on a cycle of learning.


Provide mini-professional learning content, if needed, to move learning forward.


Celebrate publicly lessons learned and progress towards goals.

Site Administration

Start walkthroughs immediately to show classroom visits are part of the daily process.


Provide feedback on core instruction.


Develop and implement plans for support of effective practices in core instruction.


Bring together the School Learning Team or Guiding Coalition to reflect on school opening with a focus on learning.


Celebrate publicly lessons learned and progress towards goals. 

By no means is the above an all-inclusive list of the work to get the start of the school year going. However, there are some priorities to ensure that the work is in place to start it off right. In priority schools, there is no time to waste, there is a need to focus on the right work immediately to ensure students are learning at high levels. In order to gain the focus needed by school leaders to do this work, you must lead with an intentional focus, free of distractors (Spiller & Power, 2019).  

Remember, continuous school improvement is about doing better than before. Preparing for the school year with a focus on learning will help move achievement and growth in a positive trajectory from the start. Truly, learning by doing.  


DuFour, et al. (2016). Learning by doing: A handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Spiller, J. & Power, K. (2019). Leading with intention: 8 areas for reflection and planning in your PLC at Work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree. 

No responses yet.