Piney Ridge High School

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

Piney Ridge School is located on the grounds of Piney Ridge Residential Psychiatric Center, a level 4+ center for youth experiencing mental health crises.  The students we serve come from all over Missouri but also from Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio, Illinois, Virginia, Idaho, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Texas.  Students coming from other states have been refused mental health services from at least 4 facilities in their state.  It is important to note that over the past 5 years we have seen a 40% increase in the number of students who come to us from out of state.  Their behaviors are generally more extreme and require a more intensive plan for remediation.  Many of our students have endured physical, emotional, and sexual abuse; nearly all have experienced extreme neglect, generally by the ones they should have been able to trust the most.  My students have experienced sex trafficking, have been kept in cages like animals by a non-custodial parent, have witnessed murders, have lost family members due to drive-by shootings and drug overdoses, have been victimized in the worst ways in orphanage, and even forced to clean up the mess after their mother murdered a man.  Many of my students have been in multiple foster care placements and in multiple residential and psychiatric facilities.  They come to us lacking essential skills needed to function at the most basic level in society.  It is not unusual for us to enroll a 17-year-old student who has been in more than 5 placements in a year and who is significantly short of the 25 credits they need to graduate from Waynesville School District.  Most students arrive at our facility emotionally unstable and in crisis mode.  Approximately 75% of our students have an IEP and medical diagnoses such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Because of this, safety must be a first priority for our school. 

 

Piney Ridge School has established very rigid safety protocols due to unsafe/unstable behaviors.   Our first safety feature is the building level precautions.  If a student has assaulted a peer or staff member, they wear red scrubs and do not come to school until deemed safe, which can be days or weeks.  If a student has a boundary or sexual issue, they wear green scrubs.  If a student has self-harmed, they wear orange scrubs.   Depending on the severity of their self-harming, they may or may not come to school.  Students who have tried to escape or “elope” are required to wear yellow scrubs.  They are not permitted to attend school until they are no longer a flight risk.   We use the color of the scrubs as an expedited way to address potential safety concerns.  Many days, 25% of our students arrive at our school dysregulated over something that happened on the units: perhaps a student tried to commit suicide, maybe two residents were fighting or maybe a staff got jumped.  Perhaps it is the anniversary of grandma’s death, they could have a court date in a month, maybe another resident is trying to find out how severe their peanut allergy is by putting peanut butter crackers under their bed.  Most likely, another resident was in a 4-point containment and his or her screaming lasted for an hour.   Additionally, our classroom supply lists are slightly different.  Our students use short pencils that do not have metal tips.  We cannot use staples, paper clips, scissors or any other item that can be used as a weapon or tool to self-harm.  Computer usage must be strictly monitored as some of our students have previously posted inappropriate pictures/content on social media.  Some may try to contact their perpetrator or even their victims.  Social interaction that is appropriate in a traditional setting can be a sign that students are entering their cycle of abuse.  Prior to entering and exiting the school building as they transition, students are patted down to ensure they are not carrying an item that could be used as a weapon or transporting notes to other residents.  Our student attendance is very deceiving.  Although we have days when our attendance is approximately 80%, student absences are mostly due to students being pulled for individual/family therapy, court, medical and other personal appointments.  However, when I walk through the units, kids are asking if they can come to school, can a teacher come see them, or can I gather work for them.  I always respond, “Let’s get you safe and back to school.” 

 

I first came to Piney Ridge as principal for the 2014-2015 school year.  What I found was a group of dedicated and committed teachers who were eager to collaborate.  Each of the six teachers taught all core subjects and two electives.  Resources were limited and generally were discarded textbooks from other buildings that were outdated and in poor shape.  Our first meetings revolved around what we wanted our school to reflect.  As a group, we valued respectful behavior and believed that without behavior expectations, learning could not occur. 

We reached out to our Regional Professional Development Center for guidance on how to establish PBIS in our setting.  Our class schedule reflected no changes at this point because achievement data had not been historically documented.  Obtaining resources became a top priority and new central office administration, as well as building principals within the District, were eager to help when asked.  Soon we had all of the current textbooks that were being utilized in all buildings.   As I reached out to other administrators for resources, my teachers were reaching out to their peers, asking for curriculum, strategies and resources they were using.  

We had our weekly PLC time and our daily lunch meetings to collaborate.  Our academic stage for success was set.  But it was not enough. Students were learning but not experiencing the growth we knew they could achieve.  Destruction of school property, fights, and teacher assaults were a huge problem and were impacting the learning of all.

 

One particular incident ignited a movement.  A young lady was participating in family therapy via phone conference, with her mom.  Her mom asked what she was learning in school and the young lady excitedly told her about reading The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe and how the narrator murdered a man and put his body in the floorboard of his home.  The student told her mom many details of the book and was excited.  Needless to say, her therapist shared this conversation with me and elaborated that the mom had woken up in the middle of the night with her daughter standing over her with a concrete block poised in midair, ready to assault her mom with it.  This incident sparked an intense interest in Trauma-Informed Practices and collaborative research of the effect of trauma and chronic stress on the brain of a child.  We participated in book studies on Trauma Informed Practices and met with a facility therapist who specialized in that area.  Our conversations became focused on the needs of individual children and how to best meet those needs.  When students are disrespectful, we focus on repairs between the teacher and student.  This models healthy conflict and resolutions and more appropriate ways to communicate frustration and shows grace to students.

 

I would like to say this process was a quick one but that would be untrue.  We continued collaborating as a team through my first and second year.  The second year statistics were better: students were showing growth and behaviors were more school appropriate but not to the level we knew and believed was possible.  We believe that we could do more because our kids deserved more. 

A brave teacher brought up the idea of departmentalizing, which would allow each teacher to become an expert in their subject area.  It would allow for better collaboration with District peers and would provide the additional consistency our students need.  Our students are now taking the same common assessments that are used in other buildings in our District.  Another key element in establishing a sense of belonging is the implementation of Tiger Time. 

Tiger Time is our advisory period that meets for 20 minutes every morning, except for Wednesday.  Our vision of Tiger Time is twofold.  The first is that it is a transitional time for students to arrive at school.  Sometimes, the units are chaotic, with yelling and arguing or perhaps they have a roommate that was unstable and self-harmed during the night.  Tiger Time allows for a transition from a less structured environment to the higher expectations of school.  The second purpose of Tiger Time is far more challenging, to establish a family-type environment with the teacher and paraprofessional acting as the “parents” for their class.  During Tiger Time, school staff review grades with students and set academic/behavior goals.  Tiger Time celebrate birthdays, holidays, spirited door decoration competitions.  Tiger Time seeks to increase school pride and ownership by promoting Tiger Pride Fridays. 

Our wraparound approach to a family atmosphere has helped to alieve some of the holiday stress felt by our students.  While most “typical kids” are celebrating Christmas with their families, most of our students are at the facility, celebrating Christmas in the dayroom.  Our school established traditions help our students find some semblance of normalcy.   In fact, the teaching staff is the most consistent part of our student’s lives.    Each Tiger Time also has a set job in our building-birthday recognition, hallway bling.

 

As we established these programs/expectations in school, we also had to seek ways to integrate our students into the community while fostering a sense of belonging in our school system.  

Our first integration was to take our students to Friday night football at Tiger Stadium.   Student response was immediate and favorable.  School staff is not required to attend but most staff came to the game and sat with our students, modeling what “normal” families do with their own children.   We preloaded the students with our expectations and then watched them enjoy an activity that most students take for granted.  In the 2014-2015 school year, Piney Ridge Learning Center competed in the Homecoming float competition for the first time in our history.  100% of our float was student made and then assembled by school and facility staff.  Students who met expectations were permitted to walk alongside our float for the entire parade route and throw candy to the crowd.   One student stated that she couldn’t believe that people would cheer for them.  In the 2015-2016 school year, Piney Ridge won the float competition.   This recognition has helped to bolster their sense of belonging and school pride.  Our 8th and 9th grade students toured the career center so they too could begin to think about their career options and to picture themselves in that type of academic environment.  Students participate in our Poetry Slam each semester.  We have even established a school store.  Students have the opportunity to earn “money” based on participation in class and by demonstrating school-appropriate behavior.  Our pre-ads have had virtual zoo tours and have attended a play at our Theater on the Square. (Pictures inclouded in the Resources section)

Another wonderful part of working at Piney Ridge is that it brings out the best in our community.  Each year, an Adopt an Angel tree is put together for our students.  It is a private tree, put up in the foyer of the facility.  Because of the collaborative effort of Piney Ridge staff and school staff coupled with the support of the community, every single angel has been adopted each year for the past 5 years.  Additionally, last December, the entire administrative team from Waynesville R-VI came to our school to play Minute to Win It games, decorate cookies, and to share the Christmas spirit with our students. (Pictures in Resources section)

Before I address our academic gains, I will outline the premise for our school.  We collectively believe that, in order for our students to be successful members of our community, we must model what that looks like.  Our first goal was to create a safe community where all students have a sense of ownership and a sense of belonging.  In order for that to happen, we had to ensure students felt safe.  Our staff determined that PBIS would help to establish both the safety and the structure that our students crave.  Consistent lessons and structures were put in place so all students knew what was expected of them.  In addition, classrooms began offering short-term, small incentives for students meeting expectations.  As a building, we offered monthly Activity Afternoon.  Initially, we order food in as part of the incentive but, after listening to student comments, we began cooking food for them.  They get cafeteria food every day so it is a rare treat to get home cooked meals.  Students strive to meet the academic and behavioral goals so they can have Mrs. Adams’ (our school secretary) grilled cheese, walking tacos, or even fresh fruit. (Pictures in Resources section)

 

This platform for student success has continued to work well for Piney Ridge but is not where we stop.  Our population changes regularly and frequently.  Because the needs of our students are very different and generally very extreme, we must continue to review academic needs of each student, monitor their attendance, and review their behavioral needs.  To look solely at our academic accomplishments as a measure of success would disregard the vast improvements they have made socially, emotionally, and behaviorally.  When students first arrive at our facility, they bring their emotional baggage, a history of academic failure, distrust of authority, poor interpersonal skills, and tremendous gaps in their education due to emotional instability and chronic trauma.   Because we work diligently on forming positive and respectful relationships, students are often sad to leave us.

  One of our most popular traditions is the group pictures the student takes with all school staff.  The student will take the picture with them as they leave us, knowing that these adults love and believe in them.  Our student population is fairly mobile with a new fall enrollment of approximately 40% and another 25% at semester.  Our collaboration encapsulates each tiny success and transforms setbacks into resiliency.  Our PLC journey is about hope; hope that we can instill the skills necessary for our students to function in society, to dream that they will have broken the cycle of abuse for their children, and a desire for them to find peace with their past in order to walk forward on their journey. 

 

 

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

The Professional Learning Communities model has been instrumental in building success at Piney Ridge Learning Center.  The weekly time allotted by the District is starting point in our collaboration however our collaboration extends far beyond our PLC Wednesday.   Each and every morning starts with a new Google Doc ( exaample in resources) that indicates if students are on precautions that day and whether they are permitted to attend school, whether a student has a transport or if they are experiencing instability of any kind.  As the morning progresses, each paraprofessional submits any behavioral concerns on the document.  For example, if a student reports they were unable to sleep due to unit issues, it is documented.  If a student is showing heightened anxiety or is interacting poorly with peers, that information is shared on the google document.  The next class is already aware of potential problems before the student even walks into their classroom.  When students are dismissed for lunch and therapy at 11:00, teaching staff gather in a host classroom on a daily basis to review the morning and identify critical issues, academic and behavioral, and develop a plan for the afternoon.  During this time, a bulleted list of concerns and/or praises are also sent to the director of the facility. ( Example in Resources) We have found this collaboration to be particularly effective.   Working in collaboration with the facility staff, we are able to formulate a plan for success.  Because of this, our school is not a place of sadness.  Our collaboration empowers us to offer hope, to cultivate positive relationships and provide opportunities for students to experience success.

 

While most schools have to work closely with parents in order to maximize student success, at Piney Ridge Learning Center we work closely with the Psychiatric Facility.    The facility has nine therapists and a psychiatrist with whom we work closely, as well as four case managers.  Additionally, the facility provides a Youth Care Worker for each class and provides one staff member for each of the four corners in the hallway.  These staff are in place to monitor student behavior and to remove a student when they become unsafe or dysregulated.  Therapists are scheduled to meet with school staff monthly to identify areas of success or concern with each student.  Therapists help to identify upcoming events that might be particularly stressful for students such as family therapy, court dates, specific anniversaries etc.  Often times student behavior may change months in advance of a court date and they lack the self-regulation skills to control their behavior.   School staff prepares monthly reports called MTPRs that discuss the students’ academic, behavioral, and attendance at school.  This information is shared with their state caseworker.  Additionally, the psychiatric facility has hired a School Youth Care Coordinator to work closely with the principal to help monitor behaviors and prevent them from escalating. 

 

 

 

 

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

Strengthening our academic program has been an additional area of focus in the past four years.  When I first arrived at Piney during the 2014-2015 school year, each of the special education teachers taught all core subjects as well as two elective classes. The first goal was to increase our course offerings in order to address areas of student interest but to also meet to subject area graduation requirements.  Each of the five high school teachers are able to select two elective classes they would like to teach.  Our elective classes are the same as those offered at Waynesville High School.  We also designated first and seventh hour as elective times because therapists are encouraged to pull from those hours rather than the core classes.  For the 2016-2017 school year, we utilized a departmental schedule with each high school teacher instructing in primarily one subject area, along with the two elective classes.  This allowed each teacher to become more focused and specialized in their content area.  It also permits us to collaborate more effectively with the other teachers from each building in our district.   Now our students take common assessments that students in all Waynesville Schools take. (Professional Development Schedules in Resources)

My teachers communicate and collaborate with teachers from other buildings.  We offer E2020 classes to further supplement our course offerings.  During the 2018-2019 school year, 36 classes were completed for credit recovery.  Since the 2016-2017 school year, we have a school-wide cross curricular unit that enable students to see the relationships between subject areas.    Because students come to us with a wide variety of academic/credit needs, we examined the classes offered.  Due to having a number of students who scored 12.9+ on the STAR Reading test, we added a Literature class to challenge them with a more rigorous curriculum.  As many of our students struggle with math, we added a Math Lab where to focus is to recovery of key skills.  We also spiral in as many life skills as possible because, for our kids, most do not and will not have adult support after leaving residential.  It is important to note as well, that many of our students have had limited exposure to positive life experiences that are foundational to education.  For example, a simple writing activity about going to the zoo or talking about how units of measurement are used in cooking your favorite recipe are probably things my students have not been exposed to.

 

One particular area that has been challenging is how to meet the needs to students who are struggling academically.  We had an intervention schedule to pull students during our common plan time during lunch and after school.  Neither of these times would work since our students participate in individual therapy, group therapy, activity therapy, and art therapy.  During the 2016-2017 school year, teaching staff met and determined 4 areas of need:  College/Career Readiness, Enrichment/Remediation, Credit Recovery, and Leadership.  At that time, we were able to provide those opportunities to students on Saturdays.  Teachers were paid through the District-funded SOS (Save Our Students) program.  After reviewing data for first semester 2018, we determined that opportunity was not enough to help students who miss 40-50 days due to emotional instability and unsafe behavior.  As a staff, we collectively agreed to offer remediation during the school day, beginning with 1 hour monthly to see if this improved student achievement.  Students who did not need remediation were able to sign up to participate in clubs such as Leadership, Creative Writing, Chess, etc.  While we were able to see some improvement in the area of academics, we determined that an additional hour is needed to provide more support. This is beneficial because it provides the academic support but also fosters a positive relationship between the student and the teacher.   Often times, high school students arriving at Piney Ridge have been to numerous schools in a very short time and have sporadic credits.  Our school secretary diligently seeks out each and every credit earned.  She will interview students in order to determine each and every single school attended in order to find earned credits.  Students quickly realize that she is an advocate for them. 

 

Testing is an area that is extremely stressful to our students for a number of reasons.  Historically, many of them struggle with academic success due to emotional instability, poor attendance, and a growing dislike/distrust for authority figures.  We had to examine our testing windows and modify them.  Typically, we would test prior to Christmas break but we found that the holidays are particularly stressful for our students.  Many have no family and must stay at the facility or perhaps they have bad memories associated with the holidays.   Often times, the beginning of semesters are stressful as we have numerous students transferring in from other facilities.  This is very disruptive to an already fragile routine.  Students have to reestablish their position on the unit as new, often times, ` unstable residents arrive.   Another change we made in our testing process is that all students now test in their Tiger Time rather than in the Math or Language Arts classes.  Because we have established strong relationships with our Tiger Time students, they will work harder for their TT teacher.

 

We have several students who receive homebound services.  Our goal is to establish our procedures and expectations initially and then bring the students back into school on a modified schedule to build their educational stamina and self-confidence.  Due to the increase of students who have more extreme needs, we have implemented a transition program to ease students into the rigor of a full day program.  For those students identified as high need, we ask them to attend one class period in the morning and afternoon session.  After 10 successful days, we add an additional class period to each session, incrementally adding additional class periods after each 10-day period until the student is able to attend a full day schedule.

 

 

 

 

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

Teacher buy-in and participation is critical to the success of any program.  Changes that have been made at Piney Ridge Learning Center are 100% teacher driven based on data.  It involves tough conversations, research of effective practices, and because our environment is very different from traditional programs, a gut instinct for what is needed and what is best for kids.  The PLC proces allows us to have tough conversation, research effective practices, and discuss our gut instincts. Our norms guide us to work in an efficient manner and get input from all staff, from paras to teachers to our secretary, all input is welcome.  We problem solve and strategize before we roll out a program.  Teachers also get input from their students about strategies we use. Communication among staff members is critical and evedent in our daily communication logs. (Example in Resources)

 

It is important to note that each year I have teachers contacting me to see if we have any openings in my building, a level 4+ school.  I have relatively little turnover, only those leaving for career betterment or due to military orders.  This year, 100% of my staff is returning. 

(Staff PIctures included in Images)

 

 

Achievement Data Files

Additional Achievement Data

The numbers shown below reflect students who are enrolled at our school for multiple test cycles allowing us to track growth and regression.

 

Math

 

2015-2016

18 students improved less than 1 grade level

10 students improved from 1.0-1.9 grade levels

10 students improved 2.0 or more grade levels

 

12 students regressed less than 1 grade level

19 students regressed more than 2 grade levels.

 

 

2016-2017

16 students improved less than 1 grade level

16 students improved from 1.0-1.9 grade levels

8 students improved 2.0 or more grade levels

 

8 students regressed less than 1 grade level

1 student regressed more than 2 grade levels.

***In reviewing these files, each of these students experienced extreme periods of emotional instability.  2 of the students were so unstable, they were placed at an acute facility until they were more stable.

 

10 students were only tested 1 time due to their short stay at PRC.

 

2017-2018

 

24 students improved less than 1 grade level

16 students improved from 1.0-1.9 grade levels

17 students improved 2.0 or more grade levels

 

10 students regressed less than 1 grade level

9 students regressed more than 2 grade levels.

 

 

2018-2019

15 students improved less than 1 grade level

10 students improved from 1.0-1.9 grade levels

15 students improved more than 2 grade levels

 

6 students regressed less than 1 grade level

9 students more than 1 grade level

 

READING

 

2015-2016

14 students improved less than 1 grade level

3 students improved from 1.0-1.9 grade levels

25 students improved 2.0 or more grade levels

 

7 students regressed less than 1 grade level

26 students regressed more than 2 grade levels.

 

 

 

 

2016-2017

 

20 students improved less than 1 grade level

10 students improved from 1.0-1.9 grade levels

11 students improved 2.0 or more grade levels

 

4 students regressed less than 1 grade level

3 students regressed more than 2 grade levels.

 

 

 

2017-2018

 

22 students improved less than 1 grade level

20 students improved from 1.0-1.9 grade levels

16 students improved 2.0 or more grade levels

 

 

2018-2019

 

24 students improved less than 1 grade level

16 students improved from 1.0-1.9 grade levels

10 students improved 2.0 or more grade levels

 

7 students regressed less than 1 grade level

8 students regressed more than 1 grade level

 

 

STUDENTS PARTICIPATING IN GRADUATION

 

2014-2015        2 students                                     0 additional graduates             

2015-2016        5 students                                     2 additional graduates

2016-2017        7 students                                     2 additional graduates

2017-2018        3 students                                     1 additional graduate

2018-2019        1 student                                       4 additional graduates

 

We have had a total of 27 graduates in the past 5 years.  18 of those students have participated in the graduation ceremony.  9 other students have graduated but were unable to participate in the ceremony because they had already left the facility or they were too unstable/unsafe to participate.

 

 

 

 

Recognition as a Missouri Model PLC 2018 

State PBIS, 

 

Student participation in the Waynesville Homecoming - (Picture in Images)

District SuperBowl Competion

WorkKeys - An added resource for swtudents to access

ASVAB - An added resources for students to access

Poetry SLAM recognition

Featured in School & Community Magazine-an Missouri State Teachers Association publication (Article Included in Resources)

Presented at Missouri State Teacher's Association Conference-3 years, Powerful Learning COnference, PBIS Conference

Participation in the Waynesville R-VI School DIstrict graduation ( 5 Images included of graduates)

Established the Leadership Club

 

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