Zach Elementary

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

We created successful PLC’s by focusing our work on school culture, answering the big four questions, professional development, and team capacity building.

Before any achievement score can be publicized, before any master schedule can be created, and before any teacher can be assigned a grade or course to teach, a principal must have the will and skill to know that culture precedes structure. So, what does a healthy school culture look like and feel like? Patrick Lencioni says in his book The Advantage that “a good way to recognize health is to look for the signs that indicate an organization has it. These include minimal politics and confusion, high degrees of morale and productivity, and very low turnover among good employees.”


What do we expect our students to learn? We are a K-5 elementary school who uses the Core Knowledge Sequence

The idea behind the sequence is simple and powerful: knowledge builds on knowledge. For the sake of academic excellence, greater fairness, and higher literacy, core knowledge provides a curriculum that is coherent, cumulative, and content-specific in order to help children establish strong foundations of knowledge, grade by grade. It details the specific content to be taught in kindergarten through eighth grade in the areas of language arts, history, geography, music, visual arts, mathematics, and science. The majority of our students graduate from Zach to attend Kinard Core Knowledge Middle School and receive the full K-8 Core Knowledge Sequence.


How will we know they are learning?

We use team developed or screened formative assessments, goal specific progress monitoring, and end of topic/unit summative assessments. Reviewing the data consistently to see patterns of learning outcomes. We created our master schedule so all grade level teams (Kinder, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th) and Specials (PE, Music, Art, Technology and Media) have daily common plan time. Also, everyone has dedicated student talk time with their Professional Learning Community (PLC) on Wednesday mornings two times per month.


How will we respond when they don't learn?

We create a school wide learning community utilizing progress monitoring, evaluating outcomes and data directed decision-making that will provide comprehensive academic and behavioral support to meet all student needs. At an MTSS level, we have a protocol we follow to ensure all students below the 35th percentile receive a written instructional plan. Our MTSS PLC representatives consist of admin, special education, interventionists, English language acquisition, each grade level and specials. We meet weekly to discuss student progress and systems maintenance. We meet every six weeks with whole grade levels to adjust/exit intervention plans on the “Top Five” supported students of each grade level.


How will we respond if they have already mastered it?

Gifted students are capable of high performance, exceptional production, or exceptional learning behavior by virtue of an area of giftedness.  Our Gifted and Talented program allows for a higher degree of complexity, compacted standards, grouping by readiness/ability, and a focus on problem solving skills. Every student identified as GT receives an Advanced Learning Plan (ALP). These are completed after work samples have been collected, learning surveys completed, student reflections written and conferences between the student and teacher have been held. 

After meeting with Robert Eaker at the 2012 Denver Solution Tree PLC Work conference, my team and I were inspired to form a Teacher Advisory Group (TAG). This group meets 1-2 times per month and guides the work of all aspects of the building, specifically sharing the needs of their high performing teams.

Over the last five years we have dedicated our school’s time and money to developing high performing teams. We have sent school leadership teams to:

  • Solution Tree – PLC at work, RTI at work, and Leadership Now 
  • Tointon Institute – school culture and formative assessment
  • Teacher’s College at Columbia University – writing instruction and assessment

We have hired a sum total of 12 days of consultants such as:

  • Joe Cuddemi, whole school focus on mission, vision and values
  • Thomas Many, whole school focus on essential standards and grade level teams focus on formative assessment process
  • Becky McKay, grade level teams teacher clarity of writer’s workshop instruction and assessment
  • Kasey Churchill, whole school teacher clarity of core knowledge sequence instruction

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

Over the last five years, we have transformed our fundamental belief that all kids can learn into actual school-wide practices, ensuring high levels of learning for all. Their Multi-Tiered System of Support MTSS team is led by our Principal, MTSS Coordinator and representatives from each grade level (K-5) and departments (Integrated Services, English Language Acquisition, Specials, and Administration). The team meets weekly with the purpose of considering the question “My student is struggling with academic achievement, what should I do?” The answer to this question is comprised of three tiers; tier 1: the school-wide watchlist, tier 2: the top-five, and tier 3: the formal case study.

Our process is grounded in our values and agreements about academic intervention. We include other school processes as a part of MTSS including Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS), Integrated Services (IS), Gifted and Talented (GT), and English Language Development (ELD). We support targeted, data-driven instruction using a dynamic, problem-solving model of intervention to facilitate and prioritize next steps for student success.

Once a student is on the teacher’s “radar” for academic concerns, the teacher starts by revisiting and re-teaching Tier 1 instruction and shares their concern with their grade level (PLC). The team PLC decides on Tier 1 intervention approaches and progress monitors the student’s response. If, after this initial round of intervention the concern has not resolved, the team PLC moves to begin the Tier 2 process. The team PLC reviews the list of students on the watchlist and determines the Top Five students of concern for the grade level at that time. The team PLC creates a required student notetaker, present at a MTSS Top Five meeting where a targeted approach is developed. The Top Five meeting serves as a one-stop-support-shop, by building in time where teachers can easily consult with the MTSS coordinator and other specialists to create a Targeted Learning Objective Plan (TLO); the blueprint for support for the following six-week intervention round. If a student has failed to respond favorably to more than two, intervention rounds, the next step is to move to a Tier 3 intervention and the team PLC brings the student’s case to the MTSS team for a full case study review. The purpose of this meeting is to ensure that instruction has been targeted to meet the goal of the TLO, progress monitoring has been specific and frequent to the student’s instructional level. The data teams use is end of unit assessments for content specific, as well as grade level common formative assessments (CFA) and writing samples. CFA's are done by unit by grade level, pre and post data specifically used to place students in intervention.

During the development of our system, we closed the achievement gap one student at a time. We moved from being ranked 84th in Colorado schools to 13th (per Colorado Department of Education’s School Performance Framework) over a five-year time span. We meet or exceed district and state expectations in student academic achievement and growth in every grade level in every category in every assessment.

We became a school of no excuses. We know they can and, with support, they will! The data is aligned to the people, and the process is aligned to the culture.

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

As Thomas Many, says so brilliantly in his book Leverage, “Leverage points are the purposeful actions or changes principals make in the structure (policies, practices, and procedures) of their schools that result in high levels of learning for students.” For Zach, the implementation of a clear, fluid sustainable and timely multi-tiered system of support was a leverage point. We saw a shift in culture from adversarial to parallel play to congenial & finally collegial.

Each day students receive universal Tier 1 instruction. Small groups of students are given strategic Tier 2 instruction in conjunction with Tier 1. Targeted interventions include multisensory phonemic awareness, explicit writing instruction, intensive conceptual knowledge interventions as well as behavior and social skill interventions. A small percentage of students receive Tier 3 instruction when more specific and intense support is needed. For many students, Tier 3 provides intensive intervention for lagging skills, but it also allows students who consistently perform above grade level to receive specialized instruction for content that meets their needs.    

Our tiered approach to instruction is founded on our shared belief that all students are our students.  In practice, this leads to teachers sharing students across grade levels and providing targeted Tier 2 and 3 instruction during a daily block of 30 minutes called “What I Need” or WIN time. During WIN time teachers and support teacher specialists (MTSS Coordinator, ELA Teacher, GT Teacher, Special Ed teacher and para, and grade level instructional para) revisit previously taught concepts, shore up lagging skills or offer extend learning opportunities to students in a small group setting. Occasionally, we have fourth or fifth grade students who excel at math are ready for middle school or even college level math instruction.  For these students, WIN time provides an opportunity to receive the instruction they need. Our dedicated WIN time and tiered instruction model allows Zach teachers to successfully meet the needs both below and above grade level. We use data from assessments, teacher observation and class performance to identify students needing additional support or extension.  Student achievement is discussed in grade level team PLC’s. Students who present elevated concerns are discussed in our “Top Five” MTSS meetings and our highest need students are discussed at MTSS case study meetings.  At each of these steps, we create individualized intervention plans.

Our MTSS process targets students achieving below the 35th percentile and above the 95th percentile according to Tier 1 assessment results.  We call these Levels of Support discussions. The purpose of these meetings is to ensure students who fall below the 35th percentile on multiple assessments have entered the MTSS process and have an intervention plan in place.  We also review students who perform below the 35th percentile “on one, but not all” assessments and students who perform higher than the 95th percentile. Intervention plans for these students may not be required but the team discusses possible differentiation and instructional changes that may benefit these students. We provide multiple opportunities for teachers to discuss and address concerns about individual students and find ways for all students to be successful.  Success is determined by the specific individual goal that is written for the student at the beginning of a 6 week intervention cycle. The goals are time and skill bound to the student's learning development.

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

Building high performing, collaborative teams to focus efforts on improved student learning is done at Zach Elementary through a clarified focus on innovation vs. initiative fatigue. After seeing a presentation at the 2015 Solution Tree School Leadership Conference with Douglas Reeves on “the Diamond and the Rock Pile,” Our leadership realized we had a way out of the constant bombardment of mandated initiatives that didn’t impact student learning. We correlated the first best educational practice is a diamond, the next are small rocks stacked on top, the next are large rocks piled around so much so that eventually we can’t see the diamond. Our school admin wanted to focus on keeping clarity and purpose at the forefront. Keep our diamonds visible. Build consensus around maintaining initiatives for at least four years, as research has shown that initiatives show their best rate of return after their fourth year of implementation.

Grade levels meet as plc's 1-3x/week, intervention plc's meet weekly, and leadership plc meets monthly. We shifted the work day so that most all meetings are in the early morning before school. Teachers can also get professional development credit towards their licensing for participating fully so much of our work together is documented thoroughly.

We spent three full staff meetings brainstorming, cataloging and filtering everything teachers did from unit planning down to the smallest task of making a copy. We categorized every item as either “state/district mandated,” “admin required” or “team/teacher initiated.” It became clear that not everything we were doing was directly impacting student achievement. We had somehow created a lot of busy work for us! We voted by consensus on which items to remove and no longer do. We also voted by consensus on what would be our core tasks that everything we do would filter through. This became known as our 4 Diamonds; Curriculum, Professional Learning Communities, MTSS-RTI and Assessments. We then took all our categories and filtered them through these 4 Diamonds. This list has served to guide us each year towards leveraged action points that directly impact student learning.

4 Diamonds

A Focus on Learning

  • Lucy Calkins Writers Workshop
  • Core Knowledge Sequence
  • Colorado Academic Standards
  • Envision Mathematics

A Collaborative Culture


  • Norms
  • Goals
  • Unpack Standards
  • Best Instructional Strategies
  • Data Talks
  • Bully Proofing
  • Class Placement
  • W.I.N. “What I Need” intervention/enrichment block for each grade level


  • Watchlist
  • Student Plans: Behavior, Targeted Leadership Opportunity (TLO), IEP, 504, READ, HEALTH
  • Systematic, Timely, and Tiered Interventions
  • Crisis Response
  • Gifted and Talented
  • PBIS (ROAR Model)

A Results Orientation


  • DIBELS (frequent)
  • MAPS (use result data)
  • PARCC/CMAS (use result data)
  • ACCESS (use result data)
  • Common Formative (developed/screened and analyzed)
  • Progress Monitoring
  • Student Writing Samples
  • Sight Word Benchmarks (K-5 articulated)

Achievement Data Files

Additional Achievement Data

Attached is our state assessment data for the last three years in every area our students were tested. The state assessment began in 2014-15 and previous data is not available. According to our State Performance Framework we scored a 98.6% performance plan score which averages together our achievement and growth data. This ranks us as 13th in the state of all K-12 public schools. In 2017, in academic achievement and growth, we met or exceeded state expectations in every student sub group category (English Learners, F/R Price Lunch Eligible, Minority Students, Students with Disabilities). Our 4th and 5th graders with disabilities showed growth of 69%, the highest in our district. Schoolwide, we moved from 92% beginning of year to 97% end of year reading proficiency according to DIBELS assessment. According to our state survey assessment of staff, 100% of our school staff feel teachers are supported in trying new instructional strategies, our school is a safe place to work, students know how they are expected to act in this school, and staff hold themselves accountable for the academic growth of every child. In surveying our 4th and 5th graders about their perceptions on feeling connected, 95% report feeling connected to adults at school, 89% report feeling connected to other students at school. Among the subgrousp of students below the 35th percentile academically and the subgroup of above the 95th percentile, 97% of each subgroup report feeling connected to adults at school.

Our school achievements include being recognized as Colorado Department of Education's John Irwin School of Excellence each year, Colorado Department of Education's Governor's Distinguished Improvement Award each year, and a U.S. Department of Education National Blue Ribbon Award nominee (award will be announced in August 2018).