Hightower Trail Middle School (2022)

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

PLC Story

Hightower Trail Middle School has a rich history with the Collaborative Team (CT) process.  Over 13 years ago, HTMS principal Dr. Hilda Wilkins attended training concerning the CT process and began the ongoing culture change within the planning structure at Hightower Trail Middle School. 

The process involved taking a very different approach to planning for Hightower Trail.  Faculty conversations about overall and individual student success, commonalities within subject area classrooms and expectations across the grade level in each subject area were difficult to begin and critical to hold and document.  Even though we appreciated the middle school pod concept and the interdisciplinary approach, faculty was isolated concerning subject area planning. Commonality of assessments and gradebooks, consensus on grading, SMART goals, and learning targets did not exist.  Hightower Trail was undergoing a master schedule change due to working to serve our population academically.  In order to serve students academically, the pod concept had to be overhauled and carefully monitored for student success.  The planning focus changed from interdisciplinary planning to subject area, grade level planning.  The CT training was instrumental in the success of that planning reorganization.  The shift in planning led to rich discussions focused on the success of all students and in time led to the use of common assessments.  Common summative assessments have been in place for at least ten years and common formative assessments have been used in the classrooms for at least eight years.

Over time, we learned there was a need for several types of planning – grade level subject area, grade level interdisciplinary, subject area vertical planning, and the school wide planning the HTMS Guiding Coalition provides.  This shift brought about the necessity of communicating commonality within the grades and vertically aligning the language and expectations expressed in each content area.  A team of teacher leaders representing each content area has been instrumental in that communication.  Over the years, the team has been renamed many times, but their purpose remains the same – establishing academic expectations through data investigation and aiding in grade level and vertical continuity within each content area.  This team, now called the Guiding Coalition, is responsible for establishing school wide initiatives and overseeing how each content area implements the initiatives.

Each year, to keep us moving forward, there is a (re)focus determined through observation and conversation within the CT on the CT process.  In the 2016-2017 school year the CT planning logs were revamped with an emphasis on the school-wide standard four questions.  Faculty was retrained as to classroom expectations concerning the four questions, and administrators were assigned specific CTs to attend in the weekly meetings. A commonality across the school of gradebook weights was established, and CTs required to have common weights within the gradebook categories.

In the 2017-2018 school year the critical discussion of commonality of gradebooks continued which enhanced the improvement of grading consistency.  This required grading consistency also increased the overall conversation of commonality in assignments within a CT. 

In the 2018-2019 school year the focus was to enrich and deepen the conversation concerning common formative and summative assessments to ensure that the assessments gave teachers information about required standards.  Renewed conversation about our subgroups and recognizing each individual child in the learning process occurred.   With the continuing administration of the online assessments in the CCSD (Cobb County School District) supplied CTLS (Cobb Teaching and Learning System) more access to instant data directly applied to standards occurred. 

In the 2019-2020 school year, the focus of professional development was on the increased investigation concerning Learning Targets and how their use can drive daily instruction.  There was also continued and improved conversation about enhancing each child’s path to be successful.  The Learning Target conversation continued to deepen as the CTs worked to help each other express what they want students to know and how they will be able to monitor the learning of each child.  HTMS had a new buzz phrase this year; teachers across the building were striving to help students by providing them with “Feed Forward” as opposed to feedback.  Discussing these concepts in CTs has aided students by helping teachers analyze what standard mastery looks and sounds like in any given content.  A focus on students’ writing has been reemphasized.  Several subject areas utilized a county-wide content specific writing rubric, and the HTMS Guiding Coalition revised the rubrics into one writing poster (see poster in resources).  The Guiding Coalition also focused on the basics of writing across the school with a school wide emphasis on writing non negotiables (see poster in resources).

Furthermore, the Guiding Coalition was reemphasizing the need for reading strategies across content areas.  The reading teachers instructed students in the use of the strategies one week, and the other content teachers used the strategy in the content the next week.  As CTs meet, these writing and reading strategies are discussed to analyze what the students know within the content area.  The CT conversation continues to be driven by enhancing student success.  It is a constant CT focus to have deep professional conversation concerning the questions are the students “getting it” and/or what are we going to do as a CT to aid each student?  Listening to CTs discuss the data and working to be sure all students can have access to important instruction is a weekly joy in which administration gets to participate.

Hightower Trail has had remediation time before school for each subject for at least 10 years in the form of weekly help sessions.  Additionally, remediation has been built as a fifth academic class for math students and READ 180/SYS 44 is in place for struggling readers.  Additionally, students may be scheduled into a remediation/study skills class during their connections time as warranted.  In the 2019-2020 school year the master schedule was changed to include a remediation time during the instructional day for all subjects to provide support, remediation, and enrichment for students within the school day.  This time allows for students to make appointments with a teacher – or by teacher request to appear and have extended HR time in the morning before instructional time begins.  This further supports those students who cannot or will not attend before or after school help sessions.

As with any process, training those who are new and continuing to hold those who are experienced accountable for the learning of all students is instrumental to the growth and success of HTMS – a driving force.  We have established Wednesday as the dedicated CT day for approximately eight years.  Utilizing a CT One Note Notebook in Office 365 has aided in the documentation of the meetings.  This shared folder holds all accountable for documentation of the planning and allows all administration to follow and communicate with every CT in the building – not just those to whom they are assigned. 

The growth of the CT process – setting norms, holding ourselves accountable for consistency in assessments, analyzing data, remediating and supporting all students – is what continues to drive Hightower Trail Middle School forward.  Hightower Trail Middle School has encultured the Professional Learning Teams (CT) process into all academic decisions we make for students.  CT conversations spill over to lunch, in the hallways during class change and continues for several days each week in the teachers’ planning time.  This constant and continued conversation enables us to make progress in “Success For All.”

The 2020-2021 school year was an extreme challenge for schools across the globe. All students and staff learned/worked from home for the 1st full academic quarter of the year. In October 2020, our district opened its doors for F2F (face-to-face) learning for any student/family who felt comfortable coming back into the building. We adjusted our schedule to only teach live sessions 4 days a week to provide 1 full day (Wednesday) for asynchronous learning and remediation for students while the physical school buildings were being thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. From October 2020-January 2021, Hightower was serving about 62 % of our students through F2F learning while the other 38% were learning from home.

Beginning in January of 2021, we saw another pocket of students return for F2F instruction and by March 2021, we had 91% of our students back in the building. Although school started to feel a little a little more “normal,” we were still functioning with a large number of obstacles to overcome during the instructional day. For example: students were not allowed to work in groups for cooperative learning due to social distancing regulations and teachers were still having a more difficult time than usual building relationships with students due to the masks, social distancing, etc.

All of our professional development for the 2020-2021 school year was centered around instructional technology and social/emotional training. It was imperative that our teachers were given the proper tools and training to effectively manage teaching on a virtual platform for the 1st time in most of their careers. Additionally, we saw an increasingly large number of students who were having anxiety and depression issues due to the pandemic, isolation, etc. We spent a great deal of time training our teachers and counselors on the best ways we could continue to support our struggling students and families.

As we began planning for the 2021-2022 school year, we were hopeful to finally be getting "back to normal." However, a nationwide spike in Covid numbers in August 2022 resulted in yet another pivot away from "typical school" as we continued to keep our primary focus on social distancing.

Thankfully, the staff and students at Hightower Trail are resilient. Even though safety protocols continued to interrupt parts of the school day, our teachers were able to continuously use data to drive instruction and collaborate between departments.

Looking ahead to 2022-2023, our Guided Coalition is excited to finally have spring testing data once again to use as a “jump start” for the fall. We already have plans in place to increase cross-collaboration between our subject areas which we are hopeful will continue to increase the level of student engagement across our campus.

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

CCSD has an established pacing guide and it is communicated through CTLS (Cobb Teaching and Learning System).  This guide comes with ideas and lessons designed by county personnel to aid in student learning.  Teachers can pick and choose assignments from CTLS and through the Collaborative Teams process also design local assignments that meet the needs of the students.  With this system in place county wide there is an assurance of accountability at the school level for student success.  Our Collaborative Teams are expected to adhere to the overall county expectation and also develop appropriate local assessments to measure student academic understanding.

Many avenues for gathering data are used:  paper and pencil common formatives, I Responds, the CTLS system of mini Touchstones and full Touchstones, and the RI and MI given three times each year to aid in monitoring student progress across the year.  The math teachers utilize a local common fluency assessment and record progress data.  The reading teachers use a common vocabulary assessment and record the progress data. Read 180/SYS 44 for low readers and ESOL students and IXL for math are also used to gather data for teacher analysis to further student progress. 

Having utilized common formative and summative assessments for many years, the faculty at Hightower Trail MS is trained and vigorous about utilizing data from local assessments to aid in student learning.  SMART goals are a requirement for each Collaborative Team and used to monitor personalized progress throughout the year. The conversations are rich within the Collaborative Team structure about who got what and who didn’t get it. 

As we continue to grow in Success For All, Collaborative Teams work to utilize all data to enhance the learning of every child.

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

For many years Hightower Trail has held a help session for very content before school.  Our Foundation has paid someone to open the building at 8:00 partially for this purpose – different from the county stated doors open at 8:45AM for middle schools.   Teachers in a Collaborative Team divide who will be teaching what and when and any student in the grade level can attend the help session.  This gives students exposure to different teaching styles and input.  Our master schedule is difficult so we must be highly creative to give students many opportunities to hear and see curriculum from different teacher’s styles.  Teachers have utilized the morning help sessions, the new remediation schedule with extended HR time, and students are given opportunities to meet weekly with content specific teachers.

Also, for many years we have offered remediation opportunities for reading and math during our connections time block.  Collaborative Teams identify students who are struggling, and they are offered extra support.  This changes every nine weeks according to individual student progress.  We have also offered students math help during the regular day if the student is showing a weakness in math but on grade level for reading.  Instead of reading being their fifth academic class they are offered math literacy.  Within the math literacy structure students have accountability for grade level reading and are offered remediation in math.  The support structure of that class is that any other subject can also be addressed if appropriate – ex:  science test the next day.  This too has been shown to be successful.  Students who are in the math literacy class or in the support class during connections are at least on a Tier II within the Response to Intervention structure.

Beginning in 2019, we implemented an extended homeroom time in addition to Read 180/SYS 44, math literacy, remedial connections classes and Response to Intervention strategies.  The significance of the extended HR is that all subjects can take part – not just remedial subjects.  This has been incredibly successful in the 8th grade with the high school courses which are offered along with the 8th grade courses.  From the time a student enters the building until 9:35 they can be remediated by their assigned teacher or by a teacher of the Collaborative Team.  This variation is necessary as most teachers teach multiple levels of the same subject or different subjects.  (Refer to the master schedule)

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

We are fortunate to have a very stable faculty.  With that can come complacency.  Administrators hold themselves accountable for measuring the pulse and providing professional learning that will cause reflection and growth in all faculty.

For our small group of newer teachers, we have a group of experienced teacher leaders and an administrator that meet with the “newbie” group to discuss those items that will help to make the overall school run smoothly and aid in guiding new teachers into our highly expected and monitored Collaborative Team process.  There are discussions about individual expectations and the concept of growing in professionalism, the atmosphere is set for all to feel free to share in the misunderstandings and to grow as part of the HTMS faculty.   The expectation is set that every member of the Collaborative Team is honored, norms are important, and that sharing ideas helps all to grow professionally.  This group formally meets every month and informally much more often.

As stated earlier, CCSD offers an established set of professional learning with a slate from which teachers can choose – these typically apply to content knowledge enhancement.  It then becomes necessary for individual schools to establish PL for continued growth in the Collaborative Team process.  To do that we use the collaboration rubric to judge where Collaborative Teams are operating.  Teacher leaders are developed and utilized to deliver professional learning. Specific examples include training the faculty on PBL (Problem Based Learning – 8th grade science and math; STEAM in the connections area – music, CTAE and PE/Health, and school wide vocabulary app – 8th grade ELA, reading teacher).

In the 2016-2017 school year we focused on reestablishing who we are and where we are in the Collaborative Teams process.  As a faculty we again explored the meaning of the 4 questions and what professional conversation looks and sounds like.  We used the collaboration rubric and the results were shared.  The faculty was surprised to hear that some areas were lower than the year before.  There was a long conversation about trust and honesty.  The statement was discussed that as you grow as a Collaborative Team you will understand the significance of the items on the rubric at a much deeper level.  The planning logs were again reiterated and monitored by administration.  Administrators held themselves accountable for attending their assigned Collaborative Teams’ weekly meetings. 

The 2017-2018 school year brought a refocusing on common formative and summative assessments.  Again, the collaboration rubric was used, and the results brought deep professional conversations within the Collaborative Teams.  The Collaborative Teams were acknowledging that as trust builds so does honesty about what is being planned within the Collaborative Team.  The ability to have true self-reflection and conversation deepened professionalism and constructive conversation across the teams.

In the 2018-2019 school year administrators continued to attend weekly Collaborative Team meetings and the training was focused on revisiting SMART goals – what are they, how to write them, and most importantly how to hold ourselves accountable for the students who did not show academic progress.  By the end of that year we were beginning the discussion of redefining SMART goals to be more unit, content specific.  In every administrative meeting there is conversation about the Collaborative Teams strengths and weaknesses.  Administration also discusses overall needs of the faculty based upon weekly Collaborative Team observation.

In the 2019-2020 school year we focused internally on Learning Targets with an emphasis on understanding the need for constant, consistent, individualized student “Feedforward.”  Collaborative Teams are expected to share within their structure how they are giving appropriate feedback (feedforward) and support each other in the individualized growth of every student.  Also, in this year we have reached out to our main feeder elementary school to correlate vertical expectations within the ELA framework.  HTMS shared our Non-Negotiables (see chart in resources) with the elementary school and are hopeful that the vertical planning will aid in overall student success.  This same information was shared with a second feeder school in March of 2020.

HTMS has several sets of teams that work for the overall progress of the school whether it is operational or academic.  The BLT (Building Leadership Team) makes operational decisions for the school.  This team is made up of area captains who discuss operational concerns, aid in the decisions and are responsible for communicating the decisions and monitoring implementation of the decision within their area.  All areas of the school are represented – custodial, food services, paraprofessionals, front office, grade levels and connections.  Along with the faculty members are the School Council, PTSA and the Foundation.  There are also Action Teams which are responsible for organizing year long implementation of items such as student recognition, faculty recognition, and decisions concerning faculty classroom needs.

A primary team is the HTMS Guiding Coalition - comprised of administrators, counselor, and subject area coordinators.  This team assesses achievement data and works to make decisions concerning faculty professional learning and “next steps” for academic progress.  This team is instrumental in deciding structure for Collaborative Teams and monitoring their specific subject areas.  The team members are the liaison between the county and the teachers for their subject areas.  They aid in relaying information to protect the classroom learning environment. 

During the 2020-2021 school year we were forced to think creatively on how we could restructure our collaborative teams to meet the needs of our extremely limiting school schedule. With students learning from both home and at school, teachers were essentially required to do 2 different jobs at the same time. More so than ever, working efficiently in our PLCs (or CCC groups as we call them in Cobb) became a lifeline to preventing teacher burnout. Even though our meetings were all done on a virtual platform, our teachers truly relied on each other to plan lessons, distribute student concerns, and effectively communicate with parents. Although the 2020-2021 school year was incredibly taxing on everyone involved, I believe our collaborative teams are stronger and more effective than ever.

Throughout the 2021-2022 school year, our teachers were relieved to once again meet together (face-to-face) in their collaborative teams. We used this opportunity to revisit our PLC roles and norms in an effort to “start fresh.” This “reset” was also beneficial seeing as we had quite a few retirements in May 2021 creating an opportunity to welcome a new wave of teachers into our incredible staff. Our PLC facilitators did an excellent job of training our new folks and ensuring everyone realized the critical roles they played on our collaborative teams.

Achievement Data Files

Additional Achievement Data

A few things to note:

-We are thrilled to be in the minority of public schools in Georgia who actually have enough statewide testing data to report for SY 2020-2021.

-However, due to statewide testing waivers that were made available to families (students could easily opt OUT of testing), and the number of students who remained a "remote learner from home" for the entire school year (and you cannot take a standardized test from home), our testing data is quite skewed from normal years. 

-Please note we have also attached our RI/MI data from SY 2020-2021 later in the portfolio.

Hightower Trail Middle School

This is a diverse set of accomplishments.  HTMS believes in "Success For All" and this list of accomplishments shows support for many avenues of success.

List of student and school accomplishments:

State Vocabulary Bowl

Fall 2021-Vocabulary Bowl Middle School Division Top 10

Spring 2021- Vocabulary Bowl Middle School Division Top 10

Spring 2021- Vocabulary Bowl Georgia State Champion 

9/2019 HTMS – 2019 CCRPI score – 6th in the State of Georgia; Platinum level for achievement – 96.4

STEM Wizard Bowl

Spring 2021- Hightower students sweep 1st and 2nd place

Music Program

3/2022- 7th and 8th grade Bands recieve straight superiors at LGPE

3/2022- 7th and 8th grade Orchestras recieve straight superiors at LGPE

3/2022- 7th and 8th grade Chorus students recieve straight superiors at LGPE

3/2020 – 1 band student named to All State Band

3/2020 – 3 orchestra students are named All State Orchestra participants

2/2020 – Honor Band – 25 students participated – most in Cobb County School District

2/2020 – Orchestra receives all superiors in LGPE performances, others have not occurred

2019 - Band, Orchestra, and Chorus receive all superiors in their LGPE performances.

2019 – HTMS Music Program declared top music middle school program in the State of Georgia

Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl

2022- Top 5 in the county

2020 – 6th place in county

2019 – 1st place in local tournament and competed at State.

Science Olympiad

Sprin 2022- Science Olympiad Team takes 1st placed in regionals for their division!

Spring 2021-Science Olympiad team takes third place in regionals for the 2nd year in a row.

2/2020- Science Olympiad team takes third place in regionals and is headed to State Tournament.

11/2019 The Science Olympiad team placed second in the Walton-Dodgen Invitational. They medaled in 14 out 23 events!

3/2019 Science Olympiad:  Placed 2nd at Regionals and 10th at State Tournament.

Math Competition Team

2/2020 – MATHCOUNTS regional competition:  4th Place Team; 1st place Individual

2/2019 – Regional competition: 2nd Place Team; 1st Place Individual

2/2018 – regional competition:  2nd place team

5/2018 – Cobb County Middle School Math Tournament:  1st Place Team


Science Fair

2/2020 – 1 - 6th grader – 3rd place; 4 - 7th graders – 2nd place

County Spelling Bee

Spring 2022- Top 8th grade Spelling Bee Winner in the county

2/2020 – 6th grader wins 3rd place in CCSD Spelling Bee and will be competing in Regionals

Cobb Regional Technology Competition

2019 Cobb Regional Technology Competition

1st  Place:

Hogan M won 1st place in digital video game design.  

2nd Place:

Ann R won 2nd place in Graphic Design.

Meghan P won 2nd place in digital photography

2020 Cobb Regional Technology Competition

1st Place:

Luke M | 7/8 Device Modification

Ann R and Kate D | 7/8 Animation

2nd Place:

Noa I and Cora AD | 5/6 Graphic Design

Chess Club

2020 – 1st place in Cobb County Middle Schools

2020 – 3rd place in Metro Regional Competition

Cobb County Writing Fair

2021-2022- CCSD Wriring Fair - 1st place- 8th grader

2019-2020 CCSD Writing Fair - 1st place - 7th grader

Cobb County’s First 100 Word Story Middle School Challenge 2019-2020

2020 - 6th grader first place in first county competition.