Sovereign Avenue

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

Building a Shared Understanding and Commitment to the PLC at Work Process:

Smarter and Stronger - this is the motto by which Sovereign Ave. School has lived since it first opened its doors in the fall of 2004. We see it as our calling in the community to ensure that each student leaves our building each day smarter and stronger than when they arrived.  The school has faced many challenges, including families who have come from over 40 countries and speak more than 26 languages.  In addition, over 97% of the students receive free or reduced price lunches.  Despite this, the school established a a vision and mission that unified the entire school community.  From the beginning, parents wanted their children to come to Sovereign, and the students wanted to stay. In recognition of our positive culture and climate, Sovereign was selected as the home for the district Orchestral Academy.  Students participate in afterschool programs at a high rate, and engage in extracurricular programs such as the school Asian Club, STEM, SEL, Video Production, National Junior Honor Society, and Visual and Performing Arts.  In fact, students who have graduated return from the high school to help with extracurriculars, particularly the Asian Club. Students will stay at school to visit with teachers, do homework, and participate in events even once they have graduated.  It is not just the students who like to be at the school, but also the parents.  Sovereign’s Parent Center hosts classes for ESL, GED, Driver Education, Citizenship and more, with several hundred parents participating each month.  We have created a school in which the values of being respectful, responsible, ready, and making right choices were reinforced by the students as they “Sovereignized” new students to the school.

However, despite a strong community with a shared sense of mission and vision, as a school we did not want to rest on our laurels.  The opportunity to take our school to the next level began in the fall of 2016 when Jack Baldermann from Solution Tree came to the district and introduced us to the work of the DuFours and PLCs.  We saw this as an opportunity to make sure that we were focusing not only on culture and climate, but also on the four questions essential to quality teaching:

  • What do we want students to learn?

  • How will we know if they have learned it?

  • What will we do if they don’t learn?

  • What will we do if they already know it?

(DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Many, 2010)

Sovereign began by ensuring that each grade level had common planning, so that teachers could meet regularly.  In addition, each grade level has planning with a grade either immediately above or below it, so that the teams can also engage in vertical articulation.  It was very important that teams included interventionists that provide services to their grade levels, such as ESL, BSI, Reading Recovery, System 44, and Read 180 teachers. In order to make this happen, teachers who provided ESL services were released from lunch duty in order to make sure that they had time to meet with teams and provide services to as many students for as much time as possible. 

At the initial stages, school administrators were encouraging, and even when things did not go perfectly, challenges were taken as learning opportunities for the staff.  By empowering the staff early with a sense that this was a shared learning experience that would improve teaching, rather than a mandate that had to be done correctly lest there be penalties, Sovereign had significant staff buy-in from the beginning. This was enhanced by Sovereign’s adoption a decade earlier of the Literacy Collaborative Framework, which also stressed meeting the students where they were and continuous growth in teaching.  Collaborative teams began by developing common formative assessments and examining data across the grade level to see where our students were, and teachers provided feedback and suggestions across the grade levels to support each other.  Teachers viewed this experience as an intellectual challenge, implementing with integrity and authenticity to the best of their abilities at the time.  The PLC process was viewed as a method of promoting teacher agency and continuous improvement.

Since that time, we have continued to broaden our understanding of what it means to be a PLC school, and what that looks like in practice.  As we have progressed we have sharpened our focus on the short term cycle, begun to use a common agenda, and placed more emphasis on essential standards.  We have developed student friendly learning targets, proficiency scales, and aligned assessments for each essential standard. (See the work of our collaborative teams in the Resources section.)

We are proud of our growth as a PLC at Work school, and spend time celebrating and reflecting on the success of our collaborative teams. We have shared these successes through cluster coaching within our building, and by sharing videos of our meetings with other schools in our district. It is our hope that we will continue to improve our PLC practice and also share our learning to benefit our students, our school district, and others who seek to engage in PLC work.

Facilitating a Culture of Continuous Improvement:

Sovereign Avenue School has always sought to create a climate and culture in which all would feel comfortable while striving to achieve their full potential.  The PLC process has become the vehicle through which we are continuing to help our students prepare for the next phase of their lives.  We are already seeing the results.  In the past several years, our school has made up at least one fifth of the top 25 students at the district high school, which draws from eleven sending schools.  Our ESL students have consistently met or exceeded their growth targets as set by the state. We have also met state and district goals for our Annual School Plan. Our state and district test results attached to this application demonstrate these gains. 

Each year we have improved our practice.  In our first two years, we focused on creating common formative assessments and encouraging improved teaching practices in places where the data showed weaknesses.  In 2018-2019, we began using a common agenda template on the short term cycle of PLAN, DO, STUDY, ACT.  In 2019-2020, the collaborative grade level teams made certain that all short-term cycle SMART goals were aligned with both school based and district SMART goals. Most recently, teams have begun to focus more critically on essential standards and specific learning targets. We strive to build on our existing culture, in which learning is expected for all students, we live a collaborative culture at all levels, and are results-oriented.

 
 

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

Describe the process that your school or district uses to create and implement a guaranteed and viable curriculum:

Sovereign Avenue School implements the district curriculum, which is available on the Atlantic City Schools website, as well as in specific Google classrooms for each subject area.  Pacing guides, curriculum maps, essential standards documents, and unit plans are all available for each content area and grade level K-8.  District and school-based instructional coaches in literacy and math worked to identify the essential, priority, and supporting New Jersey Student Learning Standards at each grade level.  The district curriculum is presented through professional development sessions at the beginning of the year, and reinforced through ongoing professional development sessions, instructional coaching, and PLC work.   In addition, during the Covid-19 pandemic, specific remote learning roadmaps were generated to facilitate remote and hybrid instruction with detailed plans for each week.

District Curriculum writing teams are composed of teachers from across the district, and Sovereign Avenue School has participation in all content area teams, including Math, Science, English Language Arts, Social Studies, and English as a Second language curriculum writing teams.  All teams work collaboratively and integrate Special Education and English Language Learners modifications.

Collaborative teams at Sovereign Avenue School then examine the curriculum, select an essential standard to focus on for the short term cycle, and unpack the standard by identifying key learning targets.  The short term cycle process follows the following format:  Plan, Do, Study, Act. This cycle is cyclical and repeated multiple times throughout the year.  

Describe the strategies your school (district) uses to monitor student learning on a timely basis:

The Atlantic City School district has a district assessment calendar that contains assessments in all key content areas and is designed to measure student progress over time.  Assessments are aligned with the curriculum maps, and end of cycle data is collected, monitored, and discussed in our Annual School Plan and cycle SMART goal attainment.

The iReady diagnostic assessment is administered 3-4 times per year throughout the district, and used to measure student performance and diagnostic growth.  IReady is used to measure the attainment of school and district SMART goals. In addition, teachers use the diagnostic and instructional reports for ongoing data examination for each grade level, class, and individual student. Collaborative teams examine specific standards and areas where students are demonstrating low proficiency on iReady, and form small intervention groups with students who are having difficulty in similar areas.  The diagnostic provides the initial data report, and student performance on instructional learning paths in iReady, other district assessments, and formative assessments provide data for adjusting the intervention groups. 

As required by the state of New Jersey, the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment is administered each Spring (although has been cancelled for the past two years by the state due to Covid).  Results are analyzed by grade level teams the following year and areas of focus are identified.  

Collaborative teams meet at least one time each week for 40 minutes to one hour.  Collaborative teams use the essential standards to guide and monitor student understanding, achievement, and remediation. Teams discuss and build instructional strategies and resources to initiate understanding. Further, teams collaborate together to build formative assessments based on the essential standards that are administered daily, weekly/biweekly, and monthly. Data is collected from these assessments and staff examine the information to differentiate instruction, provide remediation, and promote further attainment of the standards.   Collaborative analysis of student data drives student interventions and reteaching.

Collaborative teams follow the short-term cycle model, which involves planning, doing, studying, and acting.  Planning involves identifying and unpacking essential standards and generating learning targets, creating and deciding upon common formative assessments, and developing a SMART goal or goals. Doing is the work of examining results from common formative assessments and generating instructional strategies.  Studying is a continued examination of results from formative assessments and the development of new instructional strategies.  Acting is generating conclusions from all formative assessments and continued work with enrichment and support/interventions.

 

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

Atlantic City school district offers many interventions for struggling students. Sovereign Avenue provides all available interventions in the district to our students. The principal and vice-principal understand the value and impact of interventions on students, and make staffing, scheduling, and selection of students in need of an intervention a priority. This assures that we capture as many students in need of an intervention or enrichment, allow for teacher collaboration, and focus on student growth as a priority. 

We offer the following Tier 2 and 3 interventions and follow district intervention program entrance and exit criteria. Our T2 intervention is our Basic Skills Instruction. Basic Skills teachers offer differentiated instruction in ELA and Math within the classroom to support students performing below grade level. iReady diagnostic scores and New Jersey Student Learning Assessment scores are used as criteria for students to receive this intervention.  Our T3 interventions target specific grade levels. The T3 interventions for first grade are Reading Recovery and for first through third grade Leveled Literacy Intervention. Reading Recovery is a highly-effective short-term intervention of one-to-one tutoring for the lowest-achieving first graders.  The Leveled Literacy Intervention System is an intensive, small-group, supplementary literacy intervention for students who find reading and writing difficult.  System 44 is our T3 intervention that services third through fifth grades. System 44 Next Generation is a supplemental foundational reading program designed for the most challenged readers in grades 3-12. This program is designed for use with 5-7 students and is proven to help students master foundational reading skills and writing skills. Read 180, which also focuses on ELA, is a T3 intervention that targets sixth through eighth grades. READ 180 is a comprehensive system of curriculum, instruction, assessment, and professional development to raise the reading achievement of struggling readers. For all interventions, we see student growth each year, and many exit the programs.

Further, we meet the unique and complex needs of our students by continuously strengthening our Tier 1 (T1) instruction through weekly team meetings.  In addition to weekly collaborative meetings, there is ongoing professional development to continue to strive for the highest quality classroom instruction. We extend that classroom instruction into after-school, Saturday school, and summer school programs which are available to all students. These programs focus on strengthening skills in English Language Arts and Math while exposing students to STEM, Visual Performing Arts, and Social and Emotional Learning.  Even with the highest quality instruction there is a need for T2 and T3 interventions. The school maximizes implementation of these interventions by using the district guidelines for selection and carefully reviewing the needs of our student base and where each student will have the most potential for growth.  To prioritize and identify students in need of interventions, we keep and revisit a “Hot List” of students that have received or are recommended by teachers to be in need of an intervention. Interventionists are members of collaborative teams in addition to meeting and collaborating with teachers during common planning times. This gives an ongoing opportunity to identify students in need of interventions and the ability to analyze data and student growth.  Emphasis is also put on properly staffing the interventions with well-versed and committed classroom teachers to maximize the number of students that will receive the interventions. 

In summary, this is how our school has been successfully meeting the needs of our high number of at-risk students while supporting our unique school family of various cultures, twenty-six plus languages and leaving students “sovereignized” and prepared for the next phase of their lives.  

 

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

According to DuFour, "In a PLC, collaboration is a systematic process in which teachers work together, interdependently, to analyze and impact professional practice in order to improve results for their students, their team, and their school." 

Sovereign Avenue School and the Atlantic City School District have adopted this paradigm to develop teacher capacity to work as members of high-performing collaborative teams.  The mission and vision of Atlantic City Public Schools reflect a commitment to increase student learning while improving teaching through exemplary practices such as the PLC process. As a part of the implementation, district administrators and school leadership teams meet regularly for the purpose of training staff in how to execute effective PLCs school-wide and collaborative teams.  During this process, team members collaborate, share data, share successes, and share challenges faced while focusing on improving student learning.  The District provides resource-based feedback from collaborative teams to refine the training process.  In addition, the District provides professional development days within the school year to turnkey new information to building staff.  

At Sovereign Avenue School, a diverse group of leaders (the School Leadership Team) made up of administrators, an instructional coach, classroom teachers , a basic skills teacher, an ESL teacher, and an interventionist, meet for one to two hours weekly. The focus of our team is to discuss data, progress toward school and district SMART goals, and plan for professional development sessions. School-wide professional development is directed by the district but flexible enough to meet the needs of teachers and students.   The School Leadership Team also collaborates to turnkey new content that builds each teacher’s capacity to function effectively and independently in their collaborative teams. During training, teachers are able to collaborate and articulate across grade-level bands, allowing the discussion to determine the best instructional approaches that will lead to mastery.  Therefore, the overarching goal of these sessions is to improve teaching and learning.   

At Sovereign Avenue School, collaborative teams meet weekly using a common agenda to complete the following tasks:  

  • Develop SMART goals

  • Develop learning targets

  • Create and analyze formative assessments

  • Discuss data around essential standards

  • Discuss interventions and research-based teaching strategies

  • Discuss student growth and desired outcomes

  • Act on student data to increase student learning using instructional strategies and interventions

  • Celebrate successes

Collaborative teams are responsible for implementing strategies and goals from professional development sessions.  Over time, training has allowed teams to build upon their understanding and practices to refine the work. Teams are aware that administrators and the school’s literacy coach are available to collaborate and to provide ongoing support.

By engaging high-performing, collaborative teams at all levels in the district, we are able to continuously reflect, refine, and improve the process and thus have a positive impact on student learning and staff effectiveness at Sovereign Ave. School.

Citation:

DuFour, R., DuFour, R. B., & Eaker, R. E. (2012). Revisiting professional learning communities at work: new insights for improving schools. Solution Tree Press.

 

Achievement Data Files

Additional Achievement Data

Additional Achievement Data:

In school year 2017-18, English Language Learners at Sovereign Avenue School demonstrated the expected amount of growth on the ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 Assessment for English Language proficiency based on the school’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) accountability targets.  In 2018-19 ELLs at Sovereign improved upon and exceeded their ESSA targets.  In 2018-2019, the target set by New Jersey was 40.9%, and Sovereign exceeded the target with a score of 62.9% (percent of English learners making expected growth to proficiency).

In ELA, Sovereign Ave. improved its ELA meets/exceeds percent from 44.7% in 2018 to 46.1% in 2019, and met the annual target set by the state of New Jersey.  In Math, Sovereign Ave. increased its Math meets/exceeds from 36.1% to 37.4%.  In Algebra I, Sovereign Avenue improved its Algebra meets/exceeds from 88.0% to 92.0%.

Examining student growth trends and progress over the past three years (2016-2019), Sovereign Avenue has met the state standard for median student growth percentile in both English Language Arts and Math three years in a row.

As far as specific subgroups, the Asian subgroup exceeded the state standard (median student growth percentile) in math in 2018-2019.  All subgroups (except students with disabilities) met the state standard (median student growth percentile) in both ELA and math in 2018-2019.

 

i-Ready Reading Diagnostic Growth 2019-2020

(Baseline to Most Recent Assessment)

Grades K-8

Tier 1: 24% (from 8% )

Tier 2: 51% (from 51%)

Tier 3: 26% (from 41%)

 

i-Ready Math Diagnostic Growth 2019-2020

(Baseline to Most Recent Assessment)

Grades K-8

Tier 1: 26% (from 7%)

Tier 2: 53% (from 54%)

Tier 3: 21% (from 39%)

i-Ready school-wide results in both Reading and Math for 2019-2020 reveal a decrease in the Tier 3 population with an increase in Tier 1. This increase in Tier 1 and decrease in Tier 3 reflects growth and mastery of reading and math skills across the grade levels.

i-Ready Reading Diagnostic Growth 2020-2021

(Baseline to Most Recent Assessment)

Grades K-8

Tier 1: 20% (from 16%)

Tier 2: 46% (from 41%)

Tier 3: 34% (from 43%)

i-Ready Math Diagnostic Growth 2020-2021

(Baseline to Most Recent Assessment)

Grades K-8

Tier 1: 19% (from 13%)

Tier 2: 49% (from 47%)

Tier 3: 32% (from 39%)

i-Ready school-wide results in both Reading and Math for 2020-2021 reveal a decrease in the Tier 3 population with an increase in Tier 1 and Tier 2.  This increase in Tier 1 and Tier 2 reflects growth and mastery of reading and math skills across the grade levels.

  • Recognized for our students’ successes, Sovereign Avenue School (SAS) was named a NJ Benchmark School for two consecutive years.  Our school was the recipient of a Title I Reward Grant for Achievement in Education, awarded by the State of New Jersey in the amount of $100,000.00.

  • Regionally recognized Asian Club’s performances in Miss America Parade, City of Atlantic City’s Multicultural Parade, Wheaton Village, Gilda’s Club Dragon Boat Festival @ Lake Lenape, Stockton University, and our SAS Asian New Year Festival

  • School, District and County 1st-3rd place winners in Oratorical Contest, Battle of the Books, Spelling Bee, Math Olympics

  • Hosted visits by numerous local and regional school districts for our:  Bilingual and ESL Program, School Climate and Culture, Deaf Program, Literacy Collaborative Framework, Cluster Coaching, Title I Parent Resource Center.

  • SAS Green Team featured on a New Jersey Educational TV Program:

    • NJ Recycling Champion in the Recycle Bowl

    • 2018 Energy STAR School (buildings that earn EPAs) Energy STAR schools use 35% less energy and generate 35% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than similar buildings across the nation.

    • Trex Recycling Challenge:  collected and recycled 361 pounds of single use plastics that will never make it into landfills or our beautiful ocean.

  • Piloted curriculum on cephalopods for the Science Friday Educator Collaborative, a nationally recognized group of science educators.

  • National World War II Museum Service Learning Program:  we have had classes participate for 5 years, with at least one class completing the activities in 3 years to this point.

  • Two 8th grade students are winners of the 2021 Jersey Shore Virtual Science Fair “How does personality affect memory?”; students received Honorable Mention in the Delaware Valley Virtual Science Fair.

  • National Junior Honor Society members at our school are awarded national scholarships (National Junior Honor Society Merit Awards in the amount of a $500 college scholarship per student) and national recognition yearly. Approximately 4-6 have received the award each year from our school from 2016-2021. For the 2020-2021 school year, 4 students received the award out of 500 awards nationwide.

The total school community is committed to our students who are becoming “Smarter And Stronger” in their lives every day.  Sovereign Avenue School is a very special place to learn and grow, intellectually, physically, socially, and emotionally!

 

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