Southeast Polk Schools (2020)

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

A Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum

We began our journey in developing and strengthening professional learning communities about 7 years ago.  Our state had recently adopted new standards, so we began our process by clearly articulating what we wanted all students to know and be able to do.  We started with the curriculum areas of math and reading, and brought K-12 teams together to prioritize the standards. We came to consensus on how we would make decisions about priority and supporting standards, including endurance, leverage, readiness for the next level of learning, and supporting success on external indicators. As each grade level prioritized standards, we engaged in vertical conversations to look for gaps and repetition in our learning progressions. This included further unpacking of the standards to develop a shared understanding and clear articulation of what this would look like at each grade level.

Once we had identified priority and supporting standards at the K-12 level, each grade then bundled the standards into units of study.  These units included guiding questions, enduring understandings, as well as a matching of instructional resources to best support the learning. The next step was to create assessments designed to measure the priority standards for each unit.  These were written in a pre/post test format, and we used a data management system to efficiently provide information for teams as well as study trends and patterns at the system level. We used this same protocol to develop curriculum for science, social studies, business, and world language classes.

Investing in Our Learning

As we began implementing these units of study and using the data from our assessments to design learning, we decided to invest in professional learning for our hard-working staff. Four years ago, we began sending teams from each of our 11 buildings to PLC Institutes in the Midwest.  The first year, we had very little structure around this.  We invited a few teachers from each building as well as some curriculum and professional development leaders from central office.  About half of our building principals were able to attend.  The response to this first institute was tremendous, and we quickly realized how this ongoing training would positively impact our implementation and further advance the work to support gains in student achievement. The next year, we provided registrations for each building, but would only provide these if the principal was able to attend as well.  We had also received a grant to expand teacher leadership in our district. So during year 2, we sent over 100 leaders (including administrators and teacher leaders) to learn more at PLC Institutes. We repeated this process for year 3, and are planning to send building teams again this summer.  This training has helped each building engage in the best process for them to form collaborative teams that study the data and make decisions and recommendations for supporting all learners. We still have a strong interest on the part of teachers to receive training, so we have continued to support this structure.  This past year, we also purchased the Global PD Solution at the district level to strengthen our own learning and imbed in our ongoing professional development.

 Paying Attention to the Data

Through collecting the data, we were able to notice some trends and patterns.  As our core instruction strengthened, we were able to target the needs of students who were not yet meeting the standards. We noticed that some teams from different buildings were having success on certain standards, so during professional learning, we had opportunities for teachers to collaborate and share instructional strategies that were having the most impact on student learning. We also noticed certain standards that were a challenge for our students across grade levels.  We were able to work with vertical teams to further articulate pathways for learning and growth. This led to the development of multi-tiered systems for support.  Teachers teams identified students who needed intervention or enrichment, and collaborated on high-yield strategies to target the needs of individuals and small groups of students.

 Learning Progressions

At the time we began investing in professional learning, we also established a teacher leadership team to examine practices related to grading and reporting. As we revisited and revised our curriculum each year, the unpacking of our standards supported teams in writing proficiency scales for each of our priority standards. These learning progressions have helped teachers in planning more precision for interventions and enrichment, have supported feedback, and have engaged students more fully in their own learning. All of these elements--curriculum, assessment, collaboration, instruction, and feedback are a part of the process, and each component informs the other and provides information for reflection and revision.



1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

Each of our subject areas have worked collaboratively to administer unit assessments every six weeks.  These assessments are given in a pre/post test format.  After the pretest, data teams meet to determine unit pacing based on strengths and challenges, select high-leverage instructional strategies, determine which students might need additional intervention and support, and which students might need enrichment and acceleration.

After the postest, teacher teams analyze the effectiveness of the strategies selected and provide reteaching and retakes for those who have not yet met the standards.

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

Creating systems of intervention relies on multiple pieces of evidence including unit assessments as well as screening and diagnostic tools for reading and math. The goal of our Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) is to have the largest number of students spend the greatest amount of their time in the most appropriate instructional tasks to impact their learning.  The delivery of this model has multiple pathways.  Data from unit assessments drives intervention and enrichment within the core classroom.  At times, this includes some regrouping and sharing of students across teacher teams.  Data from screening and diagnostic assessments helps provide on top of instruction for students who show needs in reading and math.  This instruction is provided in both push-in and pull-out models with bi-weekly progress monitoring to measure the impact of instruction. Buildings have also built in flexible time in the school day to provide targeted interventions and extensions for students based on data.  In addition, extended learning opportunities are offered before and after school to provide extra support for students who need substantial intervention. 





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

Creating a system that supports all students cannot be done in isolation. Over the past few years, there has been a dedicated effort to not only establishing collaborative teams, but sharing practices that help these teams focus their efforts on student learning.  Collaboration occurs in many contexts.  Each building has collaborative teams of teachers who teach the same grade level or subject area.  Special education teachers, gifted education teachers, interventionists, and counselors each join a team where the majority of their students are impacted.  These teachers join just one team so the depth of their work can be applied with all students. These teachers meet regularly to look at data, plan instruction, review student work, and share the impact of instructional practices. In addition, 4 times a year we schedule elementary and secondary collaboration sessions during our release time for professional learning.  At the elementary level, all grade level teachers come together to share data and ideas for implementation.  At the secondary level, 6-12 teachers meet by content area to share data and plan for smooth transitions as students move from one building to another. 

To support this collaboration, the district invests in sending teams of teachers each summer to PLC Institutes in the midwest. Feedback from participants has indicated great value in these learning opportunities, and we continue to send teachers each year in combination with the PLC Global PD to support implementation. 

Achievement Data Files

Additional Achievement Data

Southeast Polk Performance Profile


Des Moines Register Top Work Place--3 years on a row: 2016, 2017, 2018

Niche Award--Top 10 School District in Polk County

Special Education Promising Practices Award--Family Engagement

CASE Model School Award