Lava Ridge Intermediate
- Number of Students: 862
- Percent Eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch: 50%
- Percent of Limited English Proficient: 14.3%
- Percent of Special Education: 13.8%
- White: 73%
- Black: 1%
- Hispanic: 21%
- Asian: 1%
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 1%
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 2%
- Multiracial: 1%
- Other: 0%
Perhaps C.S. Lewis said it best when pondering re-calibration: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” The 2012/2013 school year found Lava Ridge Intermediate bustling with activity from students and teachers alike until tragedy struck our school, unsettling our very foundation. A 7th grade student ended her life, a suicide. Almost two months to the date, another 7th grade student, another suicide. There are no words to express the heartache felt by our school and community. In the aftermath of such sorrow, we closely examined our school’s focus, mission and how we might revitalize the PLC model. Although the unrelated suicides did not stem from school-related happenings, they did serve as a wake-up call to make our school a better place and became a catalyst for great change. Indeed, we focused on changing the end story of our school, and it all begin with deliberate, focused, powerful PLC utilization.
We began with rethinking our mission statement. We knew that we needed to increase our expectations and set students up for success by providing support. “We are dedicated to doing what is best for all students” became our mantra and guiding force. The question of what is best began expanding beyond academics to include the “whole” student. What could we do to better meet their academic, social and emotional needs? We concluded that it needed to start with a stronger school-wide PLC.
Louis and Marks (1998) found that a strong, organized PLC leads to higher expectations for students, students being able to count on teachers for help, higher classroom pedagogy with increased academic levels. This effort began with the administration creating a Steering Committee made up of department chairs that would help drive the school. Teachers having a voice in driving school efforts made a tremendous difference in our school-wide PLC. This allowed for the creation of interdisciplinary teams (I-teams) where we began pairing math, language arts and science teachers into teams that would share groups of students. This team would extend beyond departments, spanning across the curriculum to better serve students. We’d discuss specific students, implement interventions, and make cross-curricular connections to better serve students all focused around the 4 important PLC guiding questions.
Our school-wide PLC then worked on improving our RTI. Response to Intervention was critical as it facilitates customizing instruction for individual students. We created a website for our faculty where a student’s difficulties would be documented as would specific interventions and results of those interventions. The site also includes research-based interventions, whether the problem is a “will” (behavior) issue or a “skill” (academic) issue. As I-teams we began to formulate and carry out interventions that were catered for individual students. We experienced a lot of success as students saw that teachers were united to help them and, as a result, we saw academic levels began to grow each year.
Part of the focus of the whole student is an increased emphasis on mental health. The suicides at our school helped us see that we needed to provide social and emotional support. Our departmental and interdisciplinary teams began working on creating strong rapport with our students. Before school started, we pinpointed high-risk students and did home visits to welcome them to our school. Our counseling department provides specific counseling groups, and monthly lessons to the entire student body and continued instruction to faculty on helping struggling students. Our school created a Wellness Center which is a hub of help and resources for students. Whether they are feeling sick, needing a place to calm down or need assistance increasing school attendance, the Wellness Center and liaison are there providing solutions and help of all kinds.
Students have a voice at our school and know that they are valued as we built a strong student leadership team. We expanded one 30-member student council to a wider variety of student leadership opportunities. We now have student leadership that is inclusive, including representatives from every ethnicity, ability and socioeconomic status. These include HOPE Squad (building friendships and suicide prevention); Global Geckos (school-wide service-learning), Safety Patrol (school safety); Student Ambassadors (building friendships, helping new students, school spirit); GenYES (technology opportunities, student news). These groups have increased student involvement and have generated excitement in our school because students have increased ownership. Increasing our PLC effectiveness throughout the school has built a tangible, positive school climate, increased academic student performance and allowed us to reach the individual student on all levels.
1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.
Under our school’s PLC umbrella, our departmental and interdisciplinary teacher teams have a wide variety of strategies to monitor student learning. Over the last few years, we have successfully implemented an advisory period where an advisory teacher facilitates students checking grades each week and doing missing work daily. This helps us stay aware of a student’s daily progress and intervene as necessary. Teachers are also allowed to request students to work with them individually or in small groups to provide the help they need as we see their grades dip.
Conducting frequent CFA (common formative assessments) are key to monitoring student progress at our school. Departmental teacher teams meet weekly to create assessments of our GVC (guaranteed and viable curriculum. These CFA tests are given to all students and the data is carefully analyzed. We decide how to offer remediation to students who fall short of demonstrating knowledge and our RTI program is used effectively. Likewise, we find ways for students who have shown mastery of the concept to move on to higher level activities. We discuss the effectiveness of the CFA and make note on what changes to make in the future. Washington County School District has created a secure data bank (CSIP) where all of our CFA data is logged, analyzed and stored for our use. We meet monthly with our principal, Kalyn Gubler, who centers our conversation around CFA data through the CSIP data bank, as we analyze how well we are effectively meeting student needs and how are we offering help and extension for a wide variety of students. These meetings focus on how our teaching practice has proven (or not proven) to be effective, how we are helping individual students, what the next steps are, etc. Mrs. Gubler provides constant instruction to us on how to analyze CFA data in a useful way. CFAs truly guide our instruction and are on the cornerstone of progress monitoring.
Individual departments use CFA data to decide how to help students. We have special "Gecko Days" where the department's collective students are divided up in groups per class period. Students who struggle are given focused RTI help and allowed to retake the test; students who understand are able to attend an enrichment experience. The frequent progress monitoring of learning through CFA data allows teachers to quickly implement interventions and help all students become successful. Scores have continued to climb, student knowledge is increasing and students take pride in trying their best and knowing there is help and "a second chance" if they don't understand a concept the first time. We want our school to be proactive and empower students with the idea that they can guide their own knowledge, that we are here to help them and there's no room for giving up. The RTI scaffold support through our CFA data has been a tremendous positive factor in our school. Students know they matter and that we will never give up on them.
2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.
Our school PLC has created an RTI (Response to Intervention) structure is geared to helping all students, at every level of learning.
Tier 1 provides school wide support to all students. It’s the first of many steps to reach student by providing needed time and support. Our Advisory period, as described above, provides an additional half hour of time for students to monitor grades, work, and receive extra help from teachers. Our school is eMints certified and we offer one-to-one technology to give students the time and resources to complete schoolwork. We also do departmental “Gecko Days” where students, based on CFA data described above, are assessed prior on mastery of one of our GVC’s. Students who “get it” move on to a related enrichment event, students who need extra help have an entire class period of focused reteaching with a teacher(s). Gaps in learning are pinpointed and appropriate interventions are put in place so students can be successful. Our teachers are skilled at Tier 1 instruction as well, changing pacing according to student understanding, constantly doing formative checks, requesting students for advisory, meeting with them before and after school for additional help, etc.
Tier 2 is where we create supplemental interventions to help students who are still struggling despite Tier 1 interventions. Our school has created an Intervention document where a student’s problem is pinpointed (either academic or behavioral) and we document interventions and research ideas to help that individual student as a team (see template example). We find that these interventions and discussion are key to giving students the support they need. This might include referring a student to a Study Skills class or Learning Strategies, referring them for possible SPED qualification, pairing them with a peer tutor or peer mentor, making schedule changes to accommodate the student, arranging individual reteaching with a teacher, or placing them in an enrichment or co-taught class. Another Tier 2 intervention we did, which has proven to be highly successful, is to conduct home visits before school starts to students who have been identified as high risk. Building rapport by welcoming these students to our school before school even begins has let the students know they matter and we are invested in them.
Although Tier 3 is unusual, it does happen and we are prepared! Students in Tier 3 might have unusual scheduling restructure to give the student the support they need. It might lead to in-depth assessments and testing to see if there is a learning disability that hasn’t been caught yet. The possibilities are endless. Tier 3 is absolutely tailor-made for the struggling student and there is nothing our administrators and faculty won’t do to help students. Our mission statement says it best: “We are dedicated to doing what is best for ALL students!” Likewise, our school purpose states: “We will ensure that all students learn at high levels.” We’re all about the students and will do everything to help each individual child at our school.
3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.
Our teaming has been innovative and highly successful. Like many schools, we've always had departmental teams. However, our administration saw the need to strengthen our school wide PLC and create learning and transfer skills across disciplines. Four years ago, our administration created teacher I-Teams (interdisciplinary teams) in addition to teacher departmental teams. These teams paired core teachers together (Language Arts, Math and Science) with common students united to create common interventions and have real conversations about students to better know and help them. Our I-Teaming has grown by leaps and bounds, stretching teachers and ultimately, doing what is best for all students.
There are 3 qualities that have created both departmental and interdisciplinary teams to be outstanding as we focus on improving student learning. 1) Time: our administration has built-in time to collaborate and meet as teacher teams. Whether it’s having a common prep period, weekly collaborations (rotating between I-Teams and departmental) during contract hours, or additional paid collaboration days (such as in summertime), our administration has created specific time periods for us to meet and do the meaningful work we need to do. 2) Focus: Before school even starts, our departments have created GVC (guaranteed viable curriculum) to drive our instruction. This is the base level of what we will teach and assess (and remediate as needed) for each student. We discuss our GVC’s, plan hands-on, engaging instruction as well as pointed reteaching and enrichment. In both departmental and interdisciplinary teams we set meeting norms to stay focused and administration visits our meetings and offers needed support. Likewise, as departments, we meet with our principal, Kalyn Gubler, monthly to review data and understand how to use data to drive decisions and interventions. Our I-Teams meet with similar focus, using our Intervention document and resources, to plan what is best for students. 3) Opportunity: Our administrators have created a climate of opportunity for teachers and students. They provide needed resources to operate Gecko Days (enrichment/reteaching). Additionally, we’ve been encouraged and provided with resources to run Engineering Days where core subjects join forces to create an entire day of interactive learning. We also have school-wide PLC meetings that give us specific training on how to improve student learning through a wide variety of methods. Opportunities to assess, teach and improve come to us on a daily basis.
Our high-quality, focused teams have created a tangible synergy in our school, visible to students and teachers alike. Students know they are surrounded by teachers who really care and who are dedicated to doing what is best for them. It’s a wonderful example of a school-wide PLC in action.
Achievement Data Files
Additional Achievement Data
Evidence of Effective Data: Our school began taking Utah's SAGE exam on the test's first year of 2014-2015. Note that we are consistently above the state average across the board. One exception was 6th grade Math in 2015-2016. Our school was at 38% proficiency while the state showed 41.5%. This led to restructure of 6th grade Math's team with a new department chair and tighter alignment between teachers. Under administrative guidance and PLC training, things began to look up and the next year, we finished ahead (45.1%) of the state (40.7%).
Another good example of how our school's PLC structure has effected our test performance is to look at team Science 7's percentage above the state that climbs to a near 25% difference for half the test. This remarkable difference is a direct result of a very well run Science department. These teachers spend summers planning their curriculum, closely aligning, and have built in weekly RTI and enrichment opportunities. Likewise, they accommodate for all students by reading all tests aloud, allowing retakes after intervention, etc. A well functioning school PLC that supports departments has made all the difference as reflected in the score.
Evidence of Success: Growth The State of Utah has not released last year's growth, but prior years show a strong upward trend. It was interesting to note that we finished well above district averages for most tests in most years. The first year of SAGE we were a little lower in some areas. After the first year, we met as a school PLC, then in departments with our administration and analyzed our data a great deal. Data driven changes based on common formative assessments (CFA) scores guided our change. This coincided with the creation of our RTI Will-Skill document that will be explained later. Our administration modeled how to effectively use data to create change. We also began to emphasize to students that proficiency was important, but growth matter even more. Date drive changes coupled with mindset shifts led to remarkable change. Contrast 2014-215, where we were below or equal to district average in 3 areas, to 2016-2107 where we consistently suppressed the district growth average across the board!
Evidence of Success: Demographic Proficiency Unfortunately, the State of Utah only published Demographic disaggregation for 2 years of testing. It's interesting to note that our school finished above state averages for the vast majority of demographics. Note that margins increased in most individual demographic categories in 2016-2017. This can be directly traced to our school's PLC work in departmental and interdisciplinary teacher teams as we discussed which students "got" it, who didn't, why and created meaningful, focused interventions to help them achieve. We are particularly proud of our sub groups: Hispanic, American Indian, SPED and Economically Disadvantaged sub groups who come to us with a variety of challenges who work so hard, under highly qualified, focused teachers, to achieve!
*All information was accessed through the Utah State School Board's Data Gateway: https://datagateway.schools.utah.gov/.