Great Western Elementary School

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

The Professional Learning Community (PLC) focus began at Great Western Elementary 5 years ago, when as a district, Kings Canyon Unified, implemented a process to support all principals with training and coaching to bring the PLC culture to the forefront of how our schools operate.  As the new leader of Great Western that year, I was fortunate to join an already collaborative staff with a positive climate and culture. Great Western’s mission is to ensure that all students learn everyday, and it is our vision to be a team of professionals who are committed to learning for all students.  At the beginning of the year we work together to set school-wide goals. We focus on goals for both ELA and Math, as well as attendance and discipline. We are committed to work as collaborative teams to set grade level SMART goals aligned to these school-wide goals, in order to ensure increased student achievement.

We kicked off our new learning and understanding with a full staff professional development lead by Jon Yost.  I was fortunate to have Mr. Yost as a support coach and mentor through this process. This professional development set the stage for Great Western’s collaborative teams.  It focused on data showing that the world’s best school systems embrace the PLC process, the three big ideas of PLCs, and what it means to be a team. We dove into the definitions of PLC and answered the question, what is collaboration?  We clarified questions about minutes & agendas vs. evidence & artifacts. Our final piece was around using data & evidence of student learning to guide decisions in the classroom, and digging into our school’s assessment program.

We took this opportunity to form a Guiding Coalition to guide us through the process of redefining and refining our collaborative teams.  This team meets monthly to build knowledge, capitacy, and leadership skills. They study, discuss and make decisions that are then delineated back to each grade level.  However, we also meet together as a whole staff to share successes and continue our learning. Together we read the article, “Know thy Impact: 4 questions to help you pin down what children are really learning,” by Debra Masters and we learned that many of our students are able to tell us what they are doing but few can tell us what they are learning, and there is a big difference between the two.  We also read, “Collaboration Lite,” by Rick DuFour to bring a laser focus to the meaning of collaboration and the impact it can have on student achievement. As a team we were determined to focus on the fact that collaboration must impact professional practice. 

We used the Google platform to support our work and provide a place to collect evidence.  We created shared folders and shared Google calendars. Teachers created data folders and used the comments feature for grade level teams to explain how they were responding to the student learning data they were collecting.  The leadership team continued to meet monthly to share successes and evidence of student learning. This first year, we were able to nail down the process of team meetings, agendas, minutes, data forms, artifacts and evidence.  Now we needed to take it to the next level, to answer the question, “How are teachers using the data to positively impact student learning?” We needed more.

That spring we prepared for the next year and how we would bring this process to life.  Teachers created essential standards charts beginning with Mathematics. We developed a daily schedule designating between 30-60 minutes four times per week allowing teams to provide targeted reteaching/enrichment time to respond to their common formative assessment data.  Grade level teams created student data tracking charts in order to track the needs of each student.  They were able to use this data to plan for and develop the lessons needed during this predetermined block of time.

The next year we hit the ground running.  Teachers were encouraged to “think outside the box” and try things they have never tried before.  This was a time to be creative and work together.  They began to develop new teaching methods. As they examined their data and identified each students' specific learning needs, teachers started deploying students within their teams, but also across grade levels when the data indicated to do so.  As we continued to examine evidence together, excitement grew.  We increased our interdependency, and both student and adult learning accelerated. Collaborative team meetings were consistently focused around evidence of student learning and professional best practices.  The Guiding Coalition continued to come together to share, build additional knowledge, and refine Great Western’s collaboration process.  We spent time digging into formative assessments, gaining an understanding of what they are, how they should be used, and their importance.  

Teachers truly began to see the impact all this work was having on student learning.  Great Western staff believes in the power of PLC and collective teacher efficacy. We have created a reflective culture of continuous improvement.  We work together to set school-wide, grade level, and classroom aligned goals. All grade level teams work through the PSDA (plan, do, study, act) cycle in order to monitor progress towards goals, as well as, support the needs of all students on an individual level.  Data is collected, by students, to provide identified students additional time and support, and successful students' time to be enriched.  We are committed to all students learning everyday. 

Now in our fifth year of implementation, it is rewarding to listen to the buzz on campus.  Collaborative conversations have changed. I hear teachers talking about the best way to use assessment data and how to create the right assessments.  They are constantly developing action plans to respond to the data and learning how fluid those plans need to be. The excitement about student learning is contagious. Teachers were excited to develop the essential standards charts as well as student data tracking charts for ELA. They are anxious to share their successes and even failures at leadership meetings.

Finally, at Great Western we have spent the past two years developing our Multi-tiered Systems of Supports.  This has allowed us to develop a multi-tiered intervention system which ensures all students have access and are able to succeed.  Having the intervention system so clearly delineated allows teachers to utilize all supports and personnel when responding to individual student data.  All staff members from classroom aides, kitchen staff, teachers, and intervention teachers are included in this process and work together to ensure all students are successful.


1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

Great Western Elementary utilizes state approved and district board adopted curriculum in all subject areas as a base program for instruction.  This curriculum is standards based and highly rigorous. Having a solid base program gives teachers a great starting point to develop pacing guides and set long-term plans to ensure grade level standards mastery for all students.  However, we teach standards, not curriculum. Therefore, thanks to the collaborative process at Great Western and across Kings Canyon Unified teachers are able to be decision makers in their classrooms. Due to the breadth and depth of the standards, it is necessary to determine priority and develop essential standards and targets.

Grade level teams work together at the site and district level to study and identify the essential standards which set the foundation for success at each grade.  In addition, teams analyzed the Smarter Balanced Assessment Blueprints, depth of knowledge, as well as, progressions and item specs. This knowledge allowed for targeted instruction, goal setting, and helped teams to identify the level of rigor needed and ensure their instruction/assessments matched that rigor. Teachers are determined to utilize each instructional minute effectively.  Knowing which parts of the curriculum to teach, skip and enhance guides the decisions made in the classrooms.

Student learning is monitored on several levels.  Common formative benchmarks for Math and ELA along with the SRI are given at the district level 2-3 times a year in math and ELA depending on grade level.  Great Western staff utilizes these assessment results along with several team-developed common formative assessment results to guide both instructional practices and intervention needs.  All grade level teams have developed essential standards charts and student tracking charts to monitor students on an individual basis.  Teachers utilize the results of these assessments to set SMART goals around the predetermined essential standards/targets. Goal setting is critical, and involves each student to create ownership in the learning.

Collaborative teams meet on a weekly basis on Wednesdays for a minimum of 90 minutes to analyze data and student work, determine which students need additional support, develop an action plan, and set a re-assessment date.  This process ensures students receive the necessary support for success.


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

Great Western believes that great first instruction is the key to all students learning.  Studying MTSS over the past two year has brought clarity to our intervention system and forced us to look with-in Tier I to ensure access for all students prior to looking to Tier II supports.  Our staff has a new understanding of the tiered system and how each tier bleeds into the next, as opposed to each tier being a separate system or separate place for students to “go”.  

With this knowledge we took a critical look at tier I instruction.  In order to support Foundation Skills instruction in grade K-2, we strategically hired four additional instructional aides and provided them with the necessary training and coaching.  We stagger Foundation Skills instruction in grades K-2, to have an “all hands on deck” approach. Each teacher has three additional, hand picked, trained adults in the classroom to assist during literacy stations.  This allows the teacher to create skills based groups of students and have targeted instruction at each 20 minute station. In addition, because we know not all students are successful with tier I instruction alone, two reading intervention teachers provide support to designated groups of students on a pull-out basis to fill gaps during non-core instruction.

In 3rd grade, we also must address students who are lacking foundational skills in reading.  This is a critical grade where students transition from learning to read to reading to learn.  Our 3rd grade team implemented an intervention block in the afternoon where they deploy the students based on need.  One teacher focuses on the gaps in foundational skills and the other utilizes an enrichment program to build on literacy and writing.  In addition, Great Western has a full-time reading intervention teacher specifically to target grades 3-5. This teacher supports students in need of tier II intervention.  She supports small groups of students grouped by need, also on a pull-out basis. She depends heavily on constant progress monitoring and formative assessment to keep her program fluid.

Grades 4-5 also utilized deployment during a 30 minute designated ELD block.  Our EL population in grades 4-5 is made up of approximately 40 students. These students are deployed between two teachers depending on ELPAC level to receive the necessary instruction to support their language development.  The remainder of the 4th and 5th graders are grouped as follows: high achieving on grade level students, receive enrichment and instruction to enhance their reading and writing, below grade level students, receive supportive instruction geared to increase lexile level and support reading, severely below grade level and/or special education students, receive small group instruction from the RSP teacher specifically aligned to support reading and closing foundational skills gaps.  I would also like to note, our RSP teacher provides this small group instruction for all special education students on campus. We developed skill based groups, met with each teacher to plan a schedule that allows pull-out during non-core instruction, and implemented a program led by the RSP teacher targeting foundational skill gaps with the goal of increasing lexile level for all students.

Finally, at Great Western we implemented a designated time in the instructional day where teachers respond to their individual student data.  They are able to develop action plans and be creative. They have time set aside to reteach, reassess, and/or enrich. Instructional aides have been hand picked and trained to provide additional support during this time to/for each grade level.


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

The positive climate and culture at Great Western allows for collaboration at the highest level.  Teachers trust one another and have built relationships that allow for openness and vulnerability.  We took these amazing qualities and built on them. I am a very transparent leader, relationships are key, and teamwork is my goal.  I strive to work alongside my staff or even behind them, encouraging and supporting.  

We began by creating different types of teams.  We have a Leadership team made up of a member from each grade level, the Learning Director and Instructional Coach.  This team meets monthly to build their knowledge, capitacy, and leadership skills. They study, discuss, and make decisions that are delineated back to each grade level. Next, we have grade level teams, made up of all teachers from that grade level and the RSP teacher.  These teams are continually working through the PDSA cycle, analyzing student work, developing action plans, and discussing best practices. They develop essential standards charts and student data tracking charts. They are the heart of the PLC culture at Great Western, constantly focused on ensuring all students learn everyday.

We also developed a MTSS Leadership team.  This team was a representation of all stakeholders on campus.  For an entire year this team studied MTSS. What is it? What is it not?  What are the implications for Great Western? With that knowledge, we took a deeper look into Great Western.  What systems do we have in place? What do our tiers look like and what is available to support not only students, but staff and community as well.  We met monthly with the support of district personnel and staff members from WestEd and we were able to develop documents to visually represent the Multi-tiered Systems of Supports at Great Western.

The following year we spread our knowledge to the entire teaching staff.  We began to utilize specific data to guide our goal setting. Teachers learned how to choose high leverage items that would give us the most bang for our buck.  Grade level vertical teams selected targeted standards to focus on, they set goals and collective commitments. K-2 chose reading comprehension and 3-5 short constructed responses.  Each grade level span determined the data that would be collected and developed timelines for revisiting. 

All staff members are invited to join teams/committees.  Feedback and input is highly valued and we develop things together.  As we learned MTSS, it was apparent that there are some topics and initiatives that are important for all staff members to receive support and/or professional development on, for example, Autism training or run-hide-fight drills.  There are others that would need to be geared towards some of our staff, like, curriculum training or training on a new office computer system. Lastly, some topics would be for just a few staff members, IEP training as an example.  Professional Development is provided based on this “all, some, few” understanding.

In addition, release time is provided to teachers.  Teachers are able to utilize this time as more collaboration time and/or planning time for instruction or intervention.  They are also welcome to use this time to observe one another or other teachers on other campuses. Our Instructional Coach is also available to support teachers during release time, as a co-planning partner or an observation partner.  She is able to support teachers when analyzing data or planning for instruction and/or intervention.

As a forward thinking leader I thrive on having a strong mission and vision.  Together with the staff at Great Western we have built a team courageous enough to make bold decisions and take calculated risks. Undeniably, this has brought huge success to our staff and most importantly our students.


Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) Model School Gold Award for 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19