Ballman Elementary (2021)

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

In the past, teachers at Ballman didn't have collaboration time built into the school day, and as a result, they, like many teachers across the district and state, were working harder individually and not seeing the desired results.  

In the fall of 2013, Lori Griffin became the principal at Ballman Elementary. Principal Griffin led the PLC process in Ozark before coming to Ballman and their school, Elgin B. Milton Elementary, became the first Model PLC school in Arkansas.  Principal Griffin started the Ballman PLC journey by working with the Ballman staff to establish the “WHY” before jumping directly into implementing the concepts and practices of a professional learning community. They found a number of challenges they’d need to tackle as a team. 

Principal Griffin led the work by building shared knowledge about the concepts and practices of a professional learning community. She was sowing the seeds of cultural change by focusing on the three big ideas of a PLC. The weekly collaboration was going to be at the center of this cultural change.  She encouraged a group of eight staff members to attend their first PLC at Work Institute in Tulsa, OK in October 2014. After hearing the imperative message to "go back and act NOW", the team began implementing the PLC process. They felt a moral obligation to ensure high levels of learning for all and knew they had to start by impacting their Tier 1 instruction, which included focusing on essential skills by grade level.  Their excitement for the process and success with learners was shared and celebrated.  

In the summer of 2015, Ballman was blessed to take thirteen staff members to the PLC at Work Institute in Rogers, AR. Team members listened to Rick DuFour's breakout session on dealing with resistant staff and came back with a plan of action.  The team presented to the entire staff, and the school voted a unanimous 100% tomove forward school-wide. 

Learning by doing the work definitely became the norm. Every collaborative team met weekly and began the work of determining essential standards and skills grade level by grade level. They created a school-wide schedule of intervention/extension that they still implement today. 

In the summer of 2017, Ballman applied for the Arkansas PLC Pilot Project grant. As a school team, they knew this grant would be their avenue to deeper learning regarding day to day PLC practices and the vehicle to improving learning for more Ballman students. They were all in!

Their first step was to once again examine their mission/vision statement. They quickly created one which reflected their purpose - the reason they exist - ensuring all students are learning at the highest levels daily. Achieving maximum potential for ALL as we prepare for our best life - the Ballman Way!! With the help of their Solution Tree Lead Associate, Janel Keating, they revisited the essential standards and skills unit by unit. They then created unit plans which included the standard, learning targets, a common formative end of the unit assessment and many common formative checks for understanding along the way. 

Each Friday during their collaboration time, teams come to the table with data and student work that reflect the essential standard/target from the week. Their reflective conversations highlight where the students are doing well, what instructional strategies helped their students and quickly determine students who are struggling. Teams spend time planning interventions based on the data and student work and then quickly move to plan core instruction for the next week. Teachers were now believing that the team was the key to more kids learning more at Ballman.

The staff became even more excited when they received their ACT Aspire test results. Ballman moved up 165 spots in elementary school rankings in the state. Ballman also moved to the 2nd highest achieving elementary school of the nineteen schools in Fort Smith. Prior to 2017, they were the 10th highest achieving of the nineteen elementary schools.  

During the 2018-19 school year, the second year of our pilot, Ballman made some gains but many of the Ballman ACT Aspire scores declined. (4th grade reading grew from 38% to 50%, and 6th grade reading grew from 50%-54%)

This reality made the teams even more laser-focused on improving the process.  They spent collaborative time improving the rigor of the common assessments and ensuring that the common assessment was created prior to teaching the unit. Many teams committed to having students set essential skill goals and are working with their students to track this data.  Teams are also creating proficiency targets for the essential skills inside their unit plans.  

During the 2019-2020 school year, third year of the state pilot, the teams committed to focusing on being more proactive with behavioral needs. Ballman now has school-wide behavior essential skills. The culture at Ballman has made a drastic course correction with a 180-degree turn in a positive direction when it comes to meeting the needs of all students and creating a family-friendly environment in the school. Last year, Ballman had 10 families visit the school to decide if this was the new school they wanted their children to attend. ALL visiting families chose to send their children to Ballman and stated, "It just feels different when we walk through the hallways.”  Ballman staff would tell you that the feeling is connected to the love and kindness emitted by the office staff, classroom teachers and support staff. Ballman's learners are highly mobile, and many come to school having experienced extreme trauma. (150 new students enrolled last year.)  They now have a "Welcome Wagon" committee of staff and students to show their love and care as they enroll.  Students give them a goody bag and a tour of the building and become mentors to these new students. The relationships built and the support given has helped them be successful. Many have been in alternative classrooms before attending Ballman, and they are able to shine and be successful in Ballman’s supportive school. This PLC culture has been built by sharing successes with each other and other schools. Success breeds success and motivates staff to keep doing the RIGHT WORK! For the third year in a row, all staff plan to return next year!!! Teachers value their collaboration and say they wouldn't do the work for learners any other way because it just makes perfect sense. Why would we not want to ensure more learning at higher levels for all?  

The PLC Culture has helped Ballman sustain and support our learners through the pandemic of 20-21. Without the strong culture and embedded processes, we would not be where we are today.  We are continuing the collaboration and meeting learners where they are by practicing social distancing procedures on site. We have moved mountains in technology competency with both staff and students so we our learners will be much better prepared for the world they will work in someday!! Our guiding coalition realized we needed to add collective commitments for technology as we continue to reflect, revise and improve!

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

The staff has moved from monitoring learners on a bi-weekly basis to an everyday basis. Teachers are using quick-checks for understanding aligned with the daily learning target to assess the learning and give students near-immediate feedback.  Teams are collaborating weekly to dig into the essential skill data to create small groups for intervention and extension time-meeting the needs of ALL learners. They also spend time discussing where students did well on the assessment and what instructional strategies helped the students. There are times when teams find that too many students are struggling and the issue is really a Tier 1 instruction issue. The conversation then shifts to planning Tier 1 instruction and creating time to reassess. Ballman has worked hard to find time for all Tier 2 - Growl time and Tier 3 intervention time. Growl time is four days for thirty minutes and is fluid. Many students who receive Tier 3 instruction and intervention in reading receive their services in dyslexia groups. Tier 3 services for math are provided by an interventionist and the classroom teacher. All Ballman students are progress monitored monthly in reading and math using I-Station. Grades 3 -5 students being monitored twice a year using the ACT Aspire interims.

Teams are doing a better job writing and tracking their SMART goals unit by unit. (Kindergarten example: 75% of learners will be able to count to 10 or more by midterm. 20% of learners will be able to count to 5 by midterm.5% of learners will be able to count to 2 by midterm, as measured by verbal CFA.) The Ballman Guiding Coalition committed to monitoring the SMART goals unit by unit across the school. 

Ballman students are now using data notebooks to set their own goals on essential skills, and reflection is the norm for learners, including teacher-learner. All the Ballman PLC data, intervention information, and products are housed on a school-wide Google site that is transparent to all of our educators. We continually improve and add to this site to help our PLC culture run more efficiently.  

Teams also work to meet the social/emotional needs while addressing academic concerns.  This area has been our #1 priority during the pandemic to ensure our learners are ready to learn each day. Staff members are continually assessing and finding the needed resources for students and their families during this trying year. Classrooms are working harder than ever to build community, especially between student to student connections so everyone feels supported by all members.


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

Ballman has been using a school-wide system of intervention and extension for four years to continue to fill gaps in learning while extending the learning for those at mastery level. The entire school/staff is involved in the process. The principal takes a group, and if she is called to a special meeting, the assistant principal, secretary or custodian is the backup so the group continues to meet.  

For the 2018-19 school year, Ballman was forced to downsize 1 1/2 support staff. The culture of EVERY staff member being there for ALL of the learners is more apparent than ever. Other specialty staff, such as the counselor, secretary and media specialist, have stepped up to say they will join a grade-level team to help with the intervention/extension so that groups remain as small as possible. In 2019-20, Ballman added social/emotional groups to our school-wide system of intervention/extension. The counselor attends all team meetings and works closely with teachers to identify learners who need that support. On Mondays, the counselor devotes the entire day to take will/skill learners during their intervention/extension time so they establish the right mind-set for learning for the week. The remainder of the week is used for meeting academic needs.

During 2020-21, Ballman is continuing to provide interventions in small group settings by practicing social distancing. If students are quarantined, teachers are zooming to ensure those interventions continue.


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

Team PLC structures are in place at Ballman. Teams have written norms and accountability protocols, weekly time embedded in the master schedule for grade-level teams to meet. Tier 1 instruction for all students, additional time, support and extensions are also built into the master schedule. Ballman teams are focusing on improving core instruction - Tier 1-  by creating online unit plans, which include their essential standards, learning targets, quick formative checks for understanding aligned to the learning targets, more rigorous CFAs and links to instructional resources, etc. All of these resources are housed on a transparent, school-wide Google site. Ballman grade-level teams have worked hard to put the teaching and learning cycle in place. We refer to it as the repeating process. The steps include:

  Write SMART Goal

•  Identify essential standards. Break standards into learning targets

•  Create an end-of-unit formative assessment.

•  Design instruction/engagement.

•  Design checks for understanding aligned with learning targets - and feedback.

•  Provide additional time and support aligned to the target and check for understanding and feedback to students.

•  Come to the team meeting weekly prepared to discuss what the students have learned based on the check for understanding – data or student work.

•  Give the end of the unit formative assessment.

•  Score and analyze the assessment/protocol.

•   Written reflection process/Look at data and student work.

•   Interventions and extensions based on data and student work.

•   Review SMART Goal

•   Repeat

The 4th/5th/6th grade teachers came together last year as a collaborative team because there is only one 5th and one 6th grade teacher. They made making the PLC process come together for a small school. They aligned their essential learning and created their intervention/extension time for all students at the same time of the day, so exceeding 4th graders could receive 6th grade level instruction, and struggling 6th graders could receive 4th grade instruction they may have not mastered. The learners feel the love and collaboration from this team. One learner had some struggles outside of school, and this team wrapped their arms around her to help her be able to focus on her academics. The learner told the principal in the hall one day that it felt like she had four moms here at school. Learners wrote encouraging letters to the teachers thanking them for believing in them and helping them succeed.

This year, the 4th/5th/6th team restructured their intervention/extension time to better meet the needs of the learners. They still meet vertically to align the learning, but each grade level has its own intervention/extension time to allow more staff to help each grade level. The team is using data and collaboration to drive their work to ensure more learning for all. 

During the 2020-21 school year, teams are working even harder to build pathways of hope for our struggling learners. We are not letting apathy take over during this pandemic. The teams are staying on top of learning to ensure mastery of the "mother of all essentials".  We are still building that strong foundation!


Achievement Data Files

Additional Achievement Data

During the course of our PLC implementation, we have taken our school letter grade from a "C" to a "B", and our ESSA Index Score has grown from a 70.87 to a 74.33.

Over the last three years we have worked diligently to help ELL learners achieve proficiency. The following numbers have exited the program completely :




2018-19-4 (This number is lower because of the large number exiting in the previous school year.)


 Special Education Referrals Have Declined:





(Our overall special ed percentage of students receiving services have increased due to the number of students with IEPs moving into Ballman.)

*Principal received Arkansas Master Principal Designation (2012)

*The Fort Smith District Partnership Award with Community Partner Good Year (2015)

*9 teachers have been selected to attend the Arkansas Leadership Academy Teacher Instititute (2014-2019)

*2 teachers received National Board Certification (2018)

*Ballman received $27,000 in state reward money for improving from a C to a B on the school report card. (2018)

*Principal received the Becky DuFour Scholarship/Women in Education Conference Award (2019)

*Principal received the Fort Smith Association of Educational Office Professionals Administrator of the Year (Spring 2019) and the Arkansas Association of Educational Office Professionals Administrator of the Year (Fall 2019)

*Ballman received a "Girls Who Code" Grant (2019)

*Ballman's First Lego Robotics Team received the "Coopertition" Cooperation Award at the Regional Competition and placed to compete in the AR State Competition (Dec. 2019)

*Ballman was 1 of 17 schools in the state to receive the Arkansas State Computer Science Innovation Grant, and only 1 of 3 elementary schools in Arkansas to receive this award. (Dec. 2019) 

*Ballman was recognized as a PLC Model School in March 2020.