Sheridan Junior High School
- Number of Students: 880
- Percent Eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch: 37%
- Percent of Limited English Proficient: 1%
- Percent of Special Education: 10%
- White: 89.5%
- Black: 1%
- Hispanic: 6.5%
- Asian: 1%
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 0%
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 0%
- Multiracial: 2%
- Other: 0%
In 2008, Sheridan Junior High School sent a group of teachers, teacher-leaders, and administrators to a PLC At Work Conference in Denver, CO. This array of professionals was a cross section of effective staff from a very good junior high school, one of the highest performing in Wyoming. The conference lit a fire under all those in attendance to make the difficult move from good to great. In the fall of 2008, we began by establishing building-wide norms, a school purpose, and commitments on the part of all staff members. SJHS teachers continue to revisit each of these annually. Our purpose is simply to ensure that all students learn. The commitments have been revised over the years and run as follows today:
Supporting Student Learning
- We build and maintain meaningful relationships with our students.
- We support the positive behavior of all students.
- We help students value their learning.
- We provide timely, systematic interventions and enrichments.
- We celebrate our student and staff successes.
- We clearly articulate high expectations for student learning.
- We engage parents, students, and fellow educators in all aspects of a child’s education.
Maintaining a Professional Culture
- We work collaboratively in all aspects of our profession.
- We value our own professional learning alongside that of our students.
- We make evidence-based decisions.
- We implement evidence-proven best practices and change our approach when the old way isn’t working.
- We make no excuses when students don’t learn.
- We go to the source with problems or concerns.
These commitments, designed by our entire teaching staff, have raised the professional bar and provide a litmus test for actions across the board.
To ensure that all students learn and put our commitments into action, we imbed collaboration into our master schedule through common department planning times. Staff teams have used this time, along with summer work and staff development days, to work systematically through the four big questions of a PLC. To ensure equity and common curriculum (Big Question #1), we employ the concept of the Power Standard. Teachers in all content areas, core and elective, prioritize content and skills according to three criteria: endurance, leverage, and readiness for the next level. This work is ongoing, with continual revision of essential outcomes, especially in light of Common Core State Standards. To measure learning (Big Question #2), our collaborative teams design common assessments, both formative and summative. We have dedicated extensive staff development time to train staff in assessment basics, including assessment types, rubric design, scales, and calibration. Teams administer assessments according to common timelines and protocols, working in advance to calibrate scoring and sitting down with data after the fact to plan for intervention and to revise assessments and rubrics.
Built in to the common assessment process are data-driven SMART Goals. Every teacher team designs at least one SMART Goal per year, tied to performance on common assessments. Examples of SMART Goals include: “90% of our 8th grade students will score proficient or better on all common writing assessments.” And “90% of 6th grade Science students will demonstrate proficiency on all common assessments by scoring at 80% or higher.” The result of SMART goals like these is an increased level of internal accountability and a mental shift among our teachers, who are taking it upon themselves to ensure that students learn the essentials in all content areas.
To tackle Big Questions #3 and #4, our teams continue to work hard to design intervention and enrichment (I/E) opportunities based on formative assessment results. In all classrooms, teachers differentiate instruction and create leveled activities to challenge students at their level. After formatively assessing students, teams analyze data to identify teacher and student strengths and areas to improve. In core subjects, teacher teams group and regroup students for a series of days following formative assessments dividing students into intervention and enrichment groups. For electives, teachers take advantage of district personnel and online communities and resources to provide their students I/E. For example, our Spanish teacher's schedule allows her to participate in the high school's collaborative team. At the school level, we provide extra support to students struggling in Literacy and Math, both during the school day, through additional course requirements, and through after school programming. If a student cannot stay after school, other interventions are provided before school, during the school day, or Saturday school. For our intentional non-learners, we have developed numerous layers of accountability interventions to ensure that these students complete requisite learning activities and learn study skills.
Alongside our I/E system, our school counseling team leads the RtI process to support struggling students. Each counselor loops with her grade level, allowing for quality connections and ongoing relationships with students. Counselors collect ongoing student data and lead weekly at-risk meetings with each teaching team, working identified students through a series of tiered interventions and goal-setting activities until issues are resolved. Our counseling team, including our school psychologist, meets each week to refine the RtI process, explore new interventions, and engage in professional study. RtI is a quiet but fundamental component of our success at SJHS due to the high quality work of our counseling team.
Another major focus at SJHS is rich, meaningful staff development. A majority of our district-wide staff development days are devoted to PLC work, including training in basic concepts and underlying research and extensive work time for teams to work within the four big questions of a PLC. We also continue to send staff members to Institutes and trainings in RtI, assessment, and other initiative areas. Finally, our staff engage in graduate level coursework offered on site. Through an arrangement with the University of Wyoming Outreach School, our teachers have the opportunity to participate in a variety of book studies and courses focused on professional topics. We have done school-wide book studies in the past (Seven Simple Secrets and What Great Teachers do Differently) but currently tend to focus our courses on department or interest work. Currently, there are five separate graduate level courses running simultaneously at SJHS, all focused on improving student learning.
We also believe that school climate has a direct impact on student learning. SJHS adopted the Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports (PBIS) philosophy in 2007 and continues to follow this model as it applies to teaching expectations/procedures, building in supports/interventions, and analyzing behavior data. To maintain a positive climate, we also take student activities very seriously. Including athletic and non-athletic activities, there are 18 separate activities in which students may participate. Historically, over 80% of our students choose to join a team, club, or activity each year.
The hard work of staff and students allows SJHS to continue great progress and make the move from good to great. That said, we have several goals and initiatives in place at all times to help improve student learning. Currently, we are working on the following:
- Success Criteria: Defining for teachers and students what success looks like for priority standards
- Data: improving teacher ability to collect and analyze assessment data and use team-developed protocols to design I/E
- Intervention/Enrichment Structure: building I/E time into our weekly schedule
- Grading: designing and implementing a standards-based grading and reporting system
- Special Education: refining our system for delivering instruction and intervention to students on IEPs, including co-teaching
1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.
While we use WY-TOPP as our universal screener and conduct further assessment of at-risk learners using other tools, our teachers rely most heavily on building-level common formative assessments to monitor student learning. Since the fall of 2008, our teachers have worked in content-specific collaborative groups to design essential outcomes and common assessments. Over time, our groups have refined and “chunked” common assessments to address specific skills and concepts, the result of which is actionable data at the individual and group level. Our assessments have also become more formative in nature as teachers have realized the power of the approach. These common assessment results are timely because teachers can respond as soon as students finish the formative assessments. Many of our teachers use technology to collect immediate data from their assessments. Our system for monitoring student learning in a timely manner is by no means a finished product, nor will it ever be. Teachers continue to learn each time they assess students and make ongoing adjustments to essential outcomes and their assessment instruments. The overall result, however, has been a major increase in the amount of classroom-level intervention and a subsequent increase in student mastery, above 90% in most content areas as measured by building level assessments.
2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.
For student behavior and accountability, we have a number of interventions in place to assist at-risk students, reteach expectations, and ensure that students complete assignments. These include After School Homework Club, Lunch Book Club, Extended Day after school program, and Homework CPR on Saturdays. We also have instituted a Guided Study Hall for struggling students and a Study Skills class for at-risk learners. Academically, teachers are responding to common assessment data at the classroom and team level by grouping and regrouping students for enrichment and intervention. This involves teachers trading students for differentiated lessons, utilizing instructional facilitators to teach small groups, or establishing centers within single classrooms. At the building level, we run Title I-funded programs to help students who struggle in Reading and Math and after school programs specifically designed to help students behind in these two areas.
3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.
We work to build teacher capacity in many ways. All teachers are members of department-specific collaborative teams. Most of these groups meet as grade-level teams on a weekly basis, while others meet as whole departments. Staff development in the form of book studies is embedded in numerous groups. We have worked systematically to facilitate groups as they establish norms and then work through the four big questions of a PLC. Taking the questions one at a time has been a useful approach. All of our teams have developed Priority Standards and common assessments for their courses and continue to revise these on a regular basis. We also devote several staff development days each year to the PLC concept, teaching new best practices and giving teams time to work together to implement. Each year, we send teams of teachers to Solution Tree trainings, helping to solidify our staff’s knowledge base in the basics of PLC philosophy, as well as the fundamentals of assessment, RtI, etc.
Achievement Data Files
Additional Achievement Data
Since we started our PLC journey in 2008, SJHS students have continued to make gains in comparison the state as measured by WY-TOPP (The Wyoming Test of Proficiency and Progress), previously PAWS, as well as district/building-level common assessments. There are a number of reasons for consistently strong performance in our school. First, our teachers thoroughly analyze WY-TOPP data each fall, examining skill and concept disaggregation to determine areas of strength and weakness for both incoming and outgoing students. As a school, we then set SMART Goals tied directly to WY-TOPP indicators and focus on improving instruction in these areas. Second, our collaborative teams rely heavily on common formative assessments to ensure that students are learning and growing. Instructional sequences are timed to prepare students for statewide assessments with numerous formative checkpoints along the way. Third, we place great emphasis on building intervention and enrichment into our general program based on formative assessment data. Finally, we work year-in, year out to minimize the amount of class time missed by students participating in athletics and have markedly reduced ineligibility through multiple layers of accountability interventions.
- Niche.com - #1 Best Middle School Teachers in Wyoming (2019)
- National Title I Distinguished School Award Winner (2018)
- National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence Award Winner (2017)
- "Exceeding Targets" in Achievement- recognized by the Wyoming Accountability System
- Wyoming Teacher of the Year, Ryan Fuhrman, Science Teacher (2017)
- Wyoming Teacher of the Year (Katie Medill Finalist 2019; Rebecca Adsit Finalist 2016; Lorna Poulsen Finalist 2015)
- Digital Learning Innovations Award for Educator, Librarian Julie Weitz (2017)
- Kid Witness News - New Vision Award (2017): 12 awards, national and global, since 1992
- Destination Imagination – State Championship 3rd (2017) and 1st place (2015, 2014, 2013)
- Wyoming National Distinguished Principal (2016)
- SJHS Orchestra – Superior Festival Ratings (2000-present)
- SJHS Intermediate & Honor Choir - Superior Festival Rating (2019)
- Seventh & Eighth Grade Bands - Superior Festival Rating (2019)
- Sheridan County School District #2 Teacher of the Year (2015 & 2016)
- Wyoming School Improvement Conference Presenter – highly effective Wyoming school (2013)
- Wyoming Department of Education site visit to observe and film best practices in collaboration (2011)
- Athletics – over 40 conference championships since 2007