Vallecitos School District (2017)

  1. PLC Story
  2. PLC Practices
  3. Achievement Data
  4. Awards
  5. Resources

I am currently completing my twenty-second year in education and my sixth year as Superintendent of the Vallecitos School District, and Principal of Vallecitos Elementary School, which serves students in grades K-8.  Prior to sharing how I built a successful PLC in my current position, it is important to note that I instituted the PLC model as a principal in the Del Mar Union School District over a six year period.  Although the data and story within this application will not relate to my former position, I feel it is critical to add that my staff's collaborative efforts in effective implementation of the PLC model in Del Mar resulted in our API increasing from below 900 to a 956 on a scale of 200-1000!  Our fifth grade team and improved student achievement was recognized for attaining the top five math scores based upon the state exam, when compared to all other fifth graders in San Diego County.  

It comes as no suprise that I chose to begin a new PLC journey after being hired in 2011 as the Superintendent and Principal of the Vallecitos School District.  During this time, I have instituted the Professional Learning Community model, Response to Intervention model, and dedicated much needed time and energy to improving the overall culture of the school community. My staff and I share the responsibility of implementing our new mission and core values, while utilizing the PLC and RTI models to effectively collaborate on the key characteristics to improving student learning.  

As a new superintendent, I chose to spend my first weeks meeting one on one with every staff member.  My goal was to begin building relationships, and determine what each staff member saw as strengths and areas needing improvement. A common theme arose from my meetings; a lack of trust, respect and accountability among staff members and a lack of trust and discontent with the former administration.  I quickly learned the school culture was suffering, and it was necessary to address those needs, prior to beginning our PLC journey.  Along with issues related to school culture, the teachers had not received a pay raise in nearly 10 years, the budget was in deficit spending, and the school was in Program Improvement status due to poor test scores and lack of improvement.  

In this situation, I chose to lead the staff in reading and discussing Transforming School Culture by Anthony Mohamad.  Additionally, the staff and I received training from Dr. Mohamad and continued difficult, yet necessary conversations within our first six months together.  From our reading, training, and disucssions, we developed a new Mission, Core Values, and Norms, in an effort to develop better relationships and improve the overall culture among all staff members.

A new school culture began to form, and by the second half of our first year together, we began our PLC journey.  My first step to instituting the PLC model was to build shared knowledge with every classroom teacher and support staff.  After discussing our current reality and the staff’s openness to learning and growing together, I led the staff in reading Learning By Doing, and scheduled the staff to attend a PLC Summit in Phoenix by the middle of our first year together.   From my experience in implementing the PLC model in two schools over the past 12 years, it is critical to require EVERY staff member to receive quality training so that all staff members have shared knowledge to understand how an effective PLC operates in order to improve student learning. 

At each staff meeting throughout the school year, the staff and I spent time discussing key concepts from Learning by Doing, and we began implementing the key characteristics of a PLC.  After completing the PLC Summit in Arizona, we developed a format action plan to begin the work of a PLC.  During year two, we read and discussed Simplifying Response to Intervention by Mike Mattos.  Similar to Learning by Doing, the staff and I discussed key concepts from every chapter of the books.  We continued to evaluate our current reality, and refined our next steps for continuous improvement as a PLC.  Additionally, all staff members attended a two-day RTI training by Mike Mattos, in addition to attending a second PLC summit in San Diego.

Perhaps even more important than building shared knowledge and receiving formal training, the staff and I worked interdependently and collaboratively to do the work!  The following is an outline of the essential components the PLC and RTI models that Vallecitos Elementary School has implemented as of today.

  • A new mission, vision and core values was developed.  The mission, vision and core values will be revisited for changes and improvements at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year.
  • Collaborative vertical teams were developed and meet every other week, and one full day on three occasions each year, to analyze formative assessment data, share teaching strategies and best practices, and identify students needing more time and support with Essential Standards (Tier II intervention outside of core instruction), and students who have demonstrated mastery of essential skills and require extension or enrichment. 
  • Staff meeting norms are in place, and every vertical team developed meetings norms, which are revised each school year.
  • S.M.A.R.T. goals tied to the school wide goal(s) are developed by every vertical team, and each teacher is required to share his/her goal, provide a mid-year progress report, and share celebrations related to their S.M.A.R.T. goals at the conclusion of the school year.
  • Each grade level developed Essential Standards in reading/language arts, and the Essential Standards are evaluated and revised for changes and improvements on an annual basis.
  • Each grade level developed Learning Targets tied to every Essential Standard, and the Learning Targets are evaluated and revised for changes and improvements on an annual basis.
  • Each grade level developed Essential Standards in mathematics, and Essential Standards are evaluated and revised for changes and improvements on an annual basis.
  • Each grade level developed Learning Targets tied to every Essential Standard in mathematics, and the Essential Standards are evaluated and revised for changes and improvements on an annual basis.
  • Each grade level developed an Instructional Timeline, which must include the following components of a PLC: the range of dates showing when the Essential Standards and Learning Targets will be taught, the agreed upon formative assessment testing dates, the date the team will meet to analyze assessment data, discuss teaching strategies, and develop a plan for Tier II intervetion and enrichment.
  • Each grade level has developed and are continually improving the development of formative assessments tied to the Essential Standards and Learning Targets in reading/language arts.
  • Each grade level is in the process of beginning to develop formative assessments in mathematics.
  • A schoolwide RTI plan has been established.
  • All grade levels have agreed upon the Tier I core instruction (guaranteed and viable curriculum) that all students have access to in reading and mathematics.
  • All grade levels set aside a Tier II intervention block of time in reading/language arts and in mathematics. 
  • A Tier III Intervention Team has been established.  We meet every 4-6 weeks to develop an individual Tier III intervention plan for new referrals to the team, and require teachers to bring progress monitoring data for any student who has been referred and are on a Tier III plan.  The progress monitoring data is formative assessment data tied to the specific Learning Targets the student has not mastered.  After studying the data, the Tier III Intervention Team determines the next Learning Targets the student needs to learn, and a new plan is established until the next Tier III meeting is held to evaluate each student’s progress.
  • Vallecitos Elementary School has 60% English language learners, and at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, the staff and I decided to begin an ELD Task Force.  The overall objective of the Task Force is to identify the current reality of student learning for all English language learners by studying assessment results from the state CELDT assessment, and develop a school wide initiative to improve student learning.  The Task Force has developed two schoolwide SMART goals with specific actions steps, and the team is in the process of monitoring the data and providing feedback to the staff for continuous improvement.

At this time, as the Superintendent and Principal, it is necessary for every team to evaluate our progress and current reality.  I will utilize an evaluation tool developed by Solution Tree, which includes all essential characteristics of an effective PLC team and school.  After every teacher and every team completes the evaluation, we will meet to discuss the feedback, and I will use the information to develop our next steps and continuous improvement on our journey to becoming the best school we can be.

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

•  Every grade level team must first identify the Essential Standards and Learning Targets for every Essential Standard, prior to developing formative assessments.

•  Grade level teams meet every two weeks to analyze formative assessments tied to the Essential Standards and Learning Targets, for the purpose of sharing best practices and effective teaching strategies, identifying those students who need extra time and support, and students demonstrating mastery of the essential skills who are ready for extension or enrichment.

•  For any school leader, it is critical to be involved and supportive of the collaborative teams.  I require every team to submit their collaborate agenda (loose and tight leadership - required agenda set by the team, not the principal), so that I can rotate to grade levels for the purpose of learning, collaborating and sharing with the team, and sometimes to hold individuals or teams accountable to the PLC process.

•  On an intermittent basis throughout the school year, teachers share celebrations directly related to monitoring student learning and successes of individual or groups of students.  At the mid-year mark (January), every grade level team must prepare a formal progress monitoring report directly related to their two SMART Goals for the purpose of sharing the following: one celebration related to their goals, their current reality with data to demonstrate progress, their plan for students who are not demonstrating adequate progress, and their plan to enrich those students who have already mastered the SMART Goal.


2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.

This has been one of the most challenging areas to learn and implement as a staff.  It has also been a continuous improvement area and a recent success.  In short, it is necessary and difficult to develop consensus on a new school wide schedule that requires Tier II time and support for all grade levels.  We did not give up and we did it!!  The following is an outline of what Vallecitos School has in place for a school wide system of interventions.  

•  All grade level teams must be committed to ensuring all students receive high quality Tier I Core Instruction.  We identified the Essential Standards (students must know) and Learning Targets that all teachers are committed to ensuring students have access to.

•  On the master schedule, all grade levels have a 30-45 minute Tier II intervention block of time for reading/language arts outside of core instruction, small group, Monday through Thursday every week of the school year.

• On the master schedule all grade levels have a 30-45 minute Tier II intervention block of time for mathematics outside of core instruction, small group, 3 to four days each week depending on the grade level.

The following is very exciting and the biggest improvement in the last 6-12 months....

We now have a Tier III Intervention team.  We created a Tier III referral form (one page and simple for teachers to complete) for teachers to submit to the Tier III team.  The team meets every five weeks to discuss the students referred, and develop a Tier III Action Plan, which takes place outside of Tier I Core Instruction and Tier II intervention.  The student must receive Tier I and Tier II intervention, in addition to the Tier III support.  We developed a Tier III Action Plan form, where the specific Learning Targets the student is lacking are identified, the progress monitoring data is tracked, and the specific intervention strategies and support that will take place over the next five weeks is in place, prior to the team meeting again to analyze the progress monitoring data, and make changes and improvements to the Tier III Action Plan for every Tier III student.  

Lastly, the following are two very unique aspects of our school that we have implemented to add greater time and strength to our school wide system of interventions.  I call this...."our special sauce or secret to improving student learning."

Several teachers commit to extending the school day for Tier II and Tier III students.  Students meet in small groups or one on one from 3:00-4:00pm Monday through Thursday, to receive targeted intervention from a certificated classroom teacher.  I applaud our teachers for taking advantage of this choice I offer as a way to provide even more time and support outside of the school day.

We now offer six weeks of summer school, Monday through Friday, from 8:15-2:00pm for every student!  At the conclusion of the 2015-16 school year, roughly 65% of our students took advantage of summer school, and students are in school for 60% of their summer vacation. The focus?  Tier I Core Instruction for the grade level students are entering.  Small group intervention is also built into the master schedule.  The summer of 2017 will be the second year we will offer summer school.



3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.

Due to the size of our school, and having one teacher at all grade levels except kindergarten, we developed the following vertical teams: K-2, 3-5, 6-8.  

The following strategies have been effective for our vertical teams:

•  All teams developed meeting norms and make changes and improvements when needed.  I require teams to formally revisit and evaluate team norms on an annual basis.

• All teams meet every other Thursday, and will now begin meeting three out of four Thursdays each month from 3-4pm.  All vertical teams take advantage of scheduling substitutes 2-3 times a year for one full day of collaboration to discuss progress as a team, and work on specific aspects of their SMART Goal and team action steps.

•  A two page PLC/RTI Action Plan is developed every school year.  I lead the teachers in developing the Action Plan and our next steps as a PLC, and the staff and I come to consensus on the Plan.  Most importantly, all vertical teams' collaboration agenda topics throughout the school year must directle relate to the school wide PLC/RTI Action Plan.  I compliment our collaborative teams in this regard.  I review every agenda and participate in collaboration every Thursday, and all agendas are set to collaborate on the right things....the key characteristics of a PLC that will improve student learning.

•  I keep a Google folder of all team agendas.  If I shared those agendas, one would see the focus of our school and vertical teams.  Collaborative team topics  include but are not limited to:  revising Essential Standards and developing Learning Targets tied to the essentials, creating SMART Goals, building common formative assessments, analyzing formative and summative assessment data, sharing teaching strategies when discussing data, and identifying students and revising flexible groups for Tier II intervention outside of core instruction.  As a leader, I must maintain high expectations for teams to collaborate on the following critical questions of a PLC:

What do we expect all students to learn?

How will we know when they have learned it?

How will we respond when they don’t learn?

How will we respond when they already know it?

•  At staff meetings on a regular basis, I require every teacher and every team to share specific artifacts (such as revised essential standards, SMART Goal progress reports, or student goals ties to our SMART Goals) related to our progress and what we are implementing as a PLC.  As a principal, this provides me with an opportunity to improve the school climate by sharing and recognizing what matters most, accountability for the PLC process and what we committed to focusing on as a school, and celebrating teachers for their hard work and dedication to the PLC process.

Additional Achievement Data

The following is a summary of Vallecitos Elementary School data compared to the state of California.  Specific data with graphs demonstrating comparison to the county and state are included in the "Other Documentation" section of the application.

2011-12: This marks the first year the staff and I began working together as a PLC.  After the completion of our first year, Vallecitos School's API rose 48 points from an 808 to an 856, with a similar schools ranking of 10, a growth target of an "A", and out of the 100 similar schools listed within our ranking, Vallecitos was number 1 on the list.

2012-13:  API 863, similar schools ranking of a 10, with a growth target of an "A".  The state did not list the 100 similar schools ranking. 

2013-14: This was the first trial school year of the new online Smarter Balanced state assessment tied to the Common Core State Standards.  There was no state data reported for any school in the state.

2014-15:  This was the first year students in California took the new online Smarter Balanced assessment tied to the Common Core State Standards.  The percentage of Vallecitos School English learners attaining standard nearly met, standard met or standard exceeded in reading/language arts was 65%, compared to English learners in the state attained 35%.

2014-15:  Vallecitos School economically disadvantaged students attaining standard nearly met, standard met, or standard exeeded in reading/language arts was 71%, compared to economically disadvantaged students in the state attained 59%.

2015-16: The percentage of English learners attaining standard nearly met, standard met or standard exceeded in reading/language arts was 53%, compared to English learners in the state attained 38%.

2015-16:  Vallecitos economically disadvantaged students attaining standard nearly met, standard met, or standard exeeded in reading/language arts was 77% compared to economically disadvantaged students in the state attained 62%.

Over the past five years, Vallecitos Elementary School has achieved the following awards due to tremendous gains in student learning.

1.  The Title I Academic Achievement Award.  The following is what I wrote to the community to articulate the purpose of the award and this tremendous accomplishment:

The state of California recently announced the top Title I schools in the state of California.  There are over 6,000 Title I elementary, middle and high schools in the state.  Vallecitos Elementary School won the Title I Academic Achievement Award, placing our school in the top 100 schools in the state.  

The award is given to schools that demonstrated the greatest gains in student achievement over a two year period.  Between 2011 and 2013, our students rose from a historical 50% of students proficient in reading and mathematics to nearly 70% of students demonstrating proficiency in reading and mathematics.  
Our school's Academic Performance Indicator rose an incredible 55 points, from an 808 to an 863 during this two year period. 
2.  I received the 2014 San Diego County small school district Superintendent/Princpal of the year award.
3.  I was invited by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to present on school leadership and our methodolgy to improve student learning.  The Foundation researched student achievement data and schools/districts showing exemplary gains in student learning.  Vallecitos Elementary School was one of ten schools in California selected by the Gate's Foundation.
4.  I was invited by the San Diego County Achievement Gap Task Force to present the Professional Learning Community Model, and what I have done as a leader to produce such great gains in student learning.  AGTF is designed for school leaders, and there were roughly 400 superintendents, assistant principals, principals, and directors at the conference.  I spoke at a break-out session with roughly 75 people attending.  It was very rewarding to communicate our accomplishments and the key aspects of the PLC and RTI model.