Lake Forest Elementary School
- School District: Fulton County
- School Address: 5920 Sandy Springs Circle , Sandy Springs, GA 30328, US
- School Phone: 4702548748
- Principal: Taylor Barton
- Contact E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Web Address: http://school.fultonschools.org/es/lakeforest/Pages/default.aspx
- Number of Students: 788
- Percent Eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch: 100%
- Percent of Limited English Proficient: 63%
- Percent of Special Education: 14%
- White: 4%
- Black: 5%
- Hispanic: 90%
- Asian: 0.1%
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 0.1%
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 0.5%
- Multiracial: 0.3%
- Other: 0%
5 years ago, Lake Forest operated as a “PLC Light.” Groups of teachers met regularly, but meetings were mainly about planning and student concerns. While the majority of students did not read on grade level, the RTI block was dedicated to Math. While this resulted in high math scores, particularly in third grade, student performance was at an all-time low. Moreover, placements into remediation and extension groups were based on teacher opinion, not data. At the end of 2015, the lack of attention to student data and the belief that our school’s high English Language Learner population precluded the school from success resulted in Lake Forest’s designation as a “Focus School,” signifying that student growth and achievement was in the bottom 10 percent of all Title 1 schools in Georgia.
Something had to be done, and it had to be done fast. Our school’s culture needed to be built from the ground up, and a shift to a focus on learning had to take place. As a first step, administrators and teacher leaders were trained in the foundations of PLCs. Administrators and PLC chairs studied Professional Learning Communities at Work, and leadership meetings always included text protocols to ensure common understanding of the four tenants and three big ideas of a PLC. Additionally, administrators were assigned to grade level collaborative teams, and became contributing team members, not simply “sit and sip” observers.
While school leaders were trained throughout the year, some fundamental shifts throughout the building still had to take place. At the first faculty meeting, a new approach to collaboration was introduced. Our RTI block would be based on common formative assessment data, and we would now focus on literacy, not math. We asked teachers to collaborate on assessments, and start thinking of students as “our” students, and our school was now a Professional Learning Community where we all worked together for our students. We asked teachers to be vulnerable with their data and defer to their team members when students weren’t successful. The message was met with silence, save the voices of discontent. As the meeting concluded, a staff member could loudly be heard saying, “I’m out!”
Despite the initial resistance, the capacity of key teacher leaders increased, and early successes started to shine through. In the primary grades, meetings began to take on a new focus, and teachers began to have conversations about all students. Data were displayed. Strategies were shared. Before long, the successes started showing up in student reading levels. However, in the upper grades during that initial year, fear of veering from old patterns persisted, as the looming state test at the end of the year caused teachers to cling to “their students” with white-knuckled intensity.
Aside from the book study, staff members were supported in other ways to improve their teams. Teacher leaders and administrators received protocol training in order to run more effective collaborative team meetings. Additionally, all teacher leaders and admin team members attended either the PLC at Work or the Summit on Professional Learning Communities at Work conferences. Functionally and culturally, Lake Forest started to feel like a different place.
After the first year of implementation, gains in the primary years were seen across the board. For example, 86 percent of Kindergarteners, many of whom began the year not speaking English, now read on grade level, as measured by our literacy screener. While PLC work took hold in the primary years, the upper grades did not yet buy in. The answer to this problem was clear, however – the lack of success was in large part due to a lack of teacher leadership. Over the course of the next year, new teacher leaders were put in place, which gave life to PLCs. During preplanning, Ken Williams spoke to the staff to emphasize that ALL students can learn at high levels, and that we need to set the bar at the same place for all students. We started the year taking clear steps towards a new culture and had new belief in students. Collaborative teams focused on success for all students, and stopped making excuses for poor performance. They leveraged the collective intelligence of the school through collaborative, cross grade level conversations. And success soon followed.
In the Spring of 2017, Lake Forest was exited a year early from the state Focus List. A three year sentence became a two year success story. Leadership and collective efficacy of the staff made “PLC Light” a thing of the past. All meetings centered around the four questions of a PLC, and teachers discussed “our” students. At the end of 2017, the average scores on state test scores increased in English Language Arts scores by 12 percent, and Math by six percent – outperforming similar schools in the district. 79 percent of students in Kindergarten through Third Grade met or exceeded grade level benchmarks for sight words. Moreover, in the years 2017 and 2018, the Georgia Governor’s Office of Student Achievement announced that Lake Forest was a “Beating the Odds” school, which meant that we outperformed other schools that had similar demographics in the state.
Throughout the last five years, our teachers, whether general ed, special ed, Specials, or ESOL, all collaborate weekly with a focus on the four questions. In addition, our grade level leaders meet monthly to share strategies and struggles in order to more effectively lead their collaborative teams. We have also included our community, both parents and community volunteers in the common goal of student success. We leverage the cultural capital of our parents to create authentic and meaningful rewards for student achievement. For example, students who meet reading goals for reading participate in a pinata party in which our families make the pinatas. Additionally, we host our families for our annual "Bring Your Family to School Week" in which families participate in school with their students. This allows families to understand their students' educational experiences in order to better support them at home. During this time, we also have student-led conferences so students can share academic successes with their families. Also, our community tutors support our literacy goals through our Reading Buddy program. As a schoolwide PLC, we all work together for our students' success, because at Lake Forest, ALL really does mean ALL.
In 2019, our commitment to the PLC process has resulted in substantial and sustainable student growth and achievement in all grade levels. This has led to our school being the top performing school in Georgia with a large Latino/a population, a high amount of English Language Learners, and high levels of poverty. Additionally, in the Fall of 2019, Lake Forest was named a Title 1 Rewards School, a designation for Title 1 schools who have made significant gains in subgroup and minority performance. We started our PLC journey as a Focus School, and now we find ourselves as a Rewards School.
Over the course of four years, Lake Forest students improved dramatically on the end of year state test. In Math, ELA, Social Studies, and Science, our scores have improved, showing an average of 10% growth in all tested areas, with 18.6% growth in passing rates for fourth grade ELA, and 22.9% growth in 5th grade ELA. Additionally, from 2016 to 2019, there has been a 28.9 percent increase in third graders reading on or above grade level, and a 24.7 percent increase in fifth graders reading on or above grade level, according to the Georgia Milestones test. Moreover, our state score, called the CCRPI, has grown from a 55.1 to a 78.6. Our school climate star rating grew from three stars to a five-star rating, the highest possible score. The numbers speak for themselves. There is still work to be done, but the successes are indisputable. The culture of Lake Forest has shifted, and as we continue our success and commitment to the PLC process, we have even brighter days are ahead.
1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.
We have made it an expectation for our teachers to have common assessments for each of the prioritized or essential standards for both reading and math. The collaborative teams work together to create these assessments before the instruction takes place so that teachers know what mastery should look like by the end. The week following the assessment being taken our teacher teams work through protocols with the data to decide how to move forward with remediation or enrichment for the students. This data is used to drive the instruction of what students work on with EIP teachers, in workstations, or with their homeroom teachers. The students who are tier 3 are getting progress monitored on a weekly basis and students who are tier 2 are getting progress monitored every other week on assessments that are skill-based. This data is used during parent meetings and for teachers to assess whether the interventions are working or whether they need to switch interventions after 4 weeks. Teachers are using formative assessments almost daily to guide their flexible groups for reading and math. Students aren’t working with the same groups all year because teachers are using their data to drive instructional based on the current skill taught.
2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.
Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning: We have an intervention block that is a protected time for the first 30 minutes of every day. This is a time where students are working in groups on specific skills. Whether it be phonics, fluency, or comprehension. We have students moving between grade levels based on their needs. This protected time allows teachers to administer interventions for those needing tier 2 and tier 3 support as well as giving students who are on or above grade level opportunities for enrichment in the area of reading. We have an extended learning program which is twice a week where students stay for an extra two hours of instruction. These students are those that need some extra time and intensive support to get to the next level of learning. We focus on those that are performing just below the benchmark for the state. Moreover, we have creatively scheduled EIP teacher schedules so that they can provide interventions to students outside of the RTI block.
Additionally, we have a dedicated foundational phonics time dedicated for grades K-2, and provide phonics instruction for any student who needs it in the upper grades. We have trained the majority of our teachers in Orton Gillingham to provide quality reading instruction to students in a more consistent way. The strategies from Orton Gillingham are being used not only during the regular reading block but also during the intervention block in the morning. We have many community volunteers who come in during our student’s lunch times to work with struggling readers. They are not taking away from instructional time but rather working with students while they eat lunch. All of these supports are put in place to help students who need extra time and support.
3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.
We have worked to build our teams’ capacity to collaborate and positively affect student learning through a variety of ways. First of all, we have invested in our leaders. We have sent our leaders to not only to PLC and protocol trainings, but also to non-education leadership experiences such as John Maxwell’s 360 degree leader seminar, and Leadercast. Also, we have sent multiple members of each team to Solution Tree PLC conferences and School Reform Initiative protocol trainings. Additionally, administrators each have a team that he or she belongs to, and meets regularly to provide teacher leaders opportunities to reflect and plan ahead. Finally, our team leads meet monthly with each other to learn from each other and solicit advice from the group.
On top of these efforts, vertical collaborative teams and field trips are scheduled to foster unity throughout teams in the school, as well as model best practices in meetings. In vertical meetings, teams from multiple grade levels meet to discuss commonalities between Essential Standards and analyze cross grade-level wide data. In our field trips, teams observe each other and offer feedback on their meetings through the hot and cool feedback protocol. Moreover, we have combined with another local school with similar demographics and philosophies to collaborate on assessments and instruction. Through all of these experiences and more, our schoolwide PLC has become a solidified, high performing, and collaborative team.
Achievement Data Files
Additional Achievement Data
Double digit gains over the course of 5 years in all grades and content areas except one. 3rd Grade Math Scores are lower over the course of five years due to a shift in focus from math to Language and Literacy during the RTI Block (as described in the PLC story).
% of Students Reading on/above grade level according to Lexile on the Georgia Milestones End of Grade assessment.
2019 Title 1 Rewards School
2017-9 National PTA School of Excellence
2017, 2018, and 2019 Georgia Governor's Office of Student Achievement "Beating the Odds" School
Selected to present at the 2019 ICLE Model Schools Conference
Number 13 on Gettingsmart.com's 70 Elementary Schools Worth Visiting:
13. Lake Forest Elementary School, part of Fulton County in Atlanta, is a high poverty, high mobility, high ELL school. It’s a great example of blended learning, student-centered instruction, personalized professional development (in PLCs), and a great school culture.