Deer Valley Unified School District

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

Deer Valley Unified School District has been on a journey of continuous improvement utilizing the PLC framework since 2015. During the first few years, district leaders worked to create a solid foundation establishing the why of PLCs. The district embraced the idea of PLCs, but the practice was sporadic throughout our schools and lacked a comprehensive plan for implementation. In spring 2019, the DVUSD governing board voted to provide weekly early release days, cementing a commitment to Professional Learning Communities. Governing Board Member, Ann O’Brien voiced, “Being a Professional Learning Community enhances our educators' and staffs' ability to learn and implement strategies to enhance teamwork and increase student academic achievements. Time to collaborate with fellow educators allows them to work smarter, not harder as they improve learning outcomes for students. This collaboration time is vital in a District as large as ours; 39 schools, 32,169 students, 15 departments, and 3,894 staff members.” Following is an overview of how we have built capacity throughout the district over the past three years.

Creating a systemic PLC plan meant involving ALL stakeholders in the process. At the cabinet-level, our team used the McREL Change form to consider how to implement this second-order change. We revisited the tool weekly and discussed leadership responsibilities necessary for a district wide implementation.At the district-level, our Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum led a PLC Guiding Coalition. This team of department leaders and building principals from each level created goals to implement PLCs. By the end of the year, the seemingly impossible logistics were considered and a plan was devised. Alongside this team, a PLC Staff Development Planning Team was developed to backward design the professional development for school and teacher leaders. 

Knowing the importance of helping our staff to understand the ‘why’ behind PLCs, we focused as a district on the work of Learning by Doing and Taking Action. Additionally, we recognized that school leaders would be more successful if they had teacher partners on each of their campuses to assist in implementation. In 2018-2019, we created the Model PLC Teacher Leader model. Each school chose 1-2 model teacher leaders who engaged in the same professional development as our school leaders each month. The idea was to build capacity at all levels. 

Once early release days were in place, we added one crucial piece, a PLC Training Team. The PLC Training Team consists of a PLC Manager and three PLC Trainers. The goal of our team is to build capacity and unity within Collaborative Teams throughout our district. The work on each campus is shared at monthly principal meetings, encouraging everyone to learn from each other. One of our Model PLC Teacher Leaders reflected on the work of her team and noted, “Our team has come a long way but we didn’t get there alone. Our school leaders and district trainers were with us every step of the way. We accomplished what we have because they didn’t give up on us. They believed in us before we learned to believe in ourselves.”


During this time, we were also fortunate to partner with an organization called Project Momentum with funds from the Governor’s office. This partnership began with two of our high schools and one K-8 school. Project Momentum provided a framework for these schools to begin the work of the PLC process, time off in the summer and throughout the year for teacher planning, as well as principal partners to mentor principals in next steps along the journey. We have been lucky to extend our partnership as we continue to expand and sustain our schools. We currently have seven schools working with Project Momentum, including all five of our high schools. The major focus is math and ELA and each of our campuses have seen an increase in their scores and student learning.


Fast forward three years to 2020-2021, a year when the role of PLCs could never be more needed. Throughout the ebb and flow of change this year, Collaborative Teams have found comfort in one another, specifically in the following areas: social and emotional support, in depth knowledge of standards and prerequisite skills, common pacing, common assessments, and unified response to data practices. Perhaps one of the best lessons we have learned from our PLC work is the importance of relationships and collective efficacy. To move forward, we must trust our teams and believe that we are better together. A K-6 assistant principal reflected on our work with PLCs this year during a global pandemic.

Our conversation started about an appreciation for you in the district office. None of you have been trained in a global pandemic. You have taken this on with grace and handled its enormity in a way that enabled us to focus on supporting our teachers. Your model of communication and how you rolled things out, allowed us to follow suit for our teachers. We never doubted that it would be ok. That helped us ramp up support for teachers. We created signs, “Heroes among us.” The relationships, resiliency, then leading into a focus on data and filling gaps. We’re coming back to school to be the light and beacon for families and kids to have an education. Be purposeful in taking care of each other.  

District-Wide Implementation

We chose two overarching measures of progress at the district level and team level. The following Solution Tree Rubrics were our measures: Implementing the PLC Process District-Wide and Building a Collaborative Team through High Performing Teams. Our first goal, “100% of district and school leaders can define the PLC Process, as measured by a rating of Developing or Above on the PLC at Work™ Continuum: Implementing the PLC Process Districtwide,” allowed us to measure knowledge and implementation as a system. In 2018, 13% of School Leaders and 29% of District Leaders rated progress as Developing or Above. By the end of the 2020 school year, these percentages increased to 80% for School Leaders and 76% for District Leaders. 

Highly Effective Teams

Our second goal: “100% of school leaders and teachers will be ready to implement the framework as measured by a rating of Developing or Above on the Building a Collaborative Culture through High-Performing Teams rubric.” In this area, we saw a 45% increase in School Leader responses with an overall 73% rating of progress as Developing or Above by May 2020. Teacher data showed 65% rating at Developing or Above. The use of this survey data has allowed work teams to plan our next course of action in the PLC process and to hone in our next steps of continuous improvement.

Continuous Improvement

As our journey continues, we focus on the next level: students and teams. Applying research from Hattie’s Visible Learning effect sizes, along with situational awareness of the pandemic, we targeted Collective Teacher Efficacy for the 2020-21 school year. We know the importance of teams trusting and believing in one another, as well as the research that backs the belief that together we can achieve a common goal.DVUSD Superintendent, Dr. Finch, states, “In my entire career, the single best professional development I have ever witnessed is that of the power of PLCs. Together, teachers are the key to moving our students forward. Dedicated time for collaboration sets it apart.” Throughout the year, we have worked with school and teacher leaders to build caring relationships, mediate one another’s thinking and manage conflict within a team. At the beginning of the year, 87% of Model Teacher Leaders responded Quite a Bit or A Great deal on the following items from the Collective Efficacy Survey adapted from Teacher Credibility and Collective Efficacy Playbook: Exhibiting caring relationships, Trust one another, Celebrating successes. Our work clearly stood out in the areas of mediating thinking, and managing conflict with scores of 35% and 48%. 

DVUSD continues to set long and short-term goals that drive our PLC work. We consider both perceptual and outcome data, and gather input from all stakeholders. Progress towards goals is shared at board meetings, administrative staff development, Model PLC Teacher meetings, and with teacher groups. We are learning alongside each other through our journey. 





1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

The work of PLCs cannot be done in isolation. One of our biggest revelations has been about how interconnected the work is between our district departments. A huge catalyst for change in our PLC process came when the PLC team began in-depth conversations with the Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment team about a guaranteed and viable curriculum. In our initial stages, we worked with schools to identify essential standards on their individual campuses. Shortly after, our school and teacher leaders began to question why we were working in isolation. After long philosophical conversations and research into Leading a High Reliability School, as well as Learning by Doing, and later Teacher Clarity, we quickly determined that a district of our size, now 39 schools, must be led academically with district-wide essential standards that accompany a common scope and sequence. 

In 2019, Project Momentum provided an opportunity for teacher teams to spend time in the summer unwrapping standards prior to the start of the school year. They were provided with direction and shared out their work at the end of the summer. Seeing the impact of this time, DVUSD created a plan to allow for similar summer work with all of our schools the following summer.

We began our work with a district leader book study of Teacher Clarity. With participation from district departments, we learned together. We agreed upon common language, developed templates, struggled through the process, and grew. Next, we took the work to our school leaders who engaged in a year-long book study of Teacher Clarity. This directly aligned to unwrapping standards and brought ‘clarity’ to our collaborative team time. It was so meaningful and well received that schools began conducting their own book studies and we began offering optional facilitated book studies through the PLC Training Team. At the end of the 2020 school year, the momentum was so great we created a model to expand the learning to all of our schools in an effort to build even greater capacity. 

In the summer of 2020, each of DVUSD’s 38 schools chose 25 teachers to participate in 5 days of unwrapping standards. Prior to the planning time, 5 teacher leaders from each school were trained in Teacher Clarity to ensure common language and process during planning time. Overall, 180 teacher leaders were trained and 950 teachers engaged in this meaningful summer work to ensure clarity for PLC work in the 2020-2021 school year. A high school ELA teacher told a new teacher to her team that the training was the single most impactful PD in which she had ever participated. The summer work will be repeated in the summer of 2021, but with a focus on questions 1 and 3, and with a particular emphasis on responding to student data.

With every challenge, comes opportunity. The pandemic created the need for common courses available on an online platform. Beginning in the summer of 2020, 220 teachers from across our district came together to begin the work of creating our own online learning resources. Aligned to our district’s essential standards and scope and sequence, the pandemic created a need, more than ever, for all students to be on the same page, allowing them to easily move in and out of online learning experiences. This work has further cemented our district’s guaranteed and viable curriculum with clear resources aligned to identified standards of focus.


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

The first strategic priority in the DVUSD Strategic Plan is Excellence in Student Learning. The first objective is Multi-Tiered Systems of Support. In Deer Valley, we understand that we must create a holistic approach to responding to student learning. This includes having district and schoolwide processes that allow teacher teams to intervene at the student level. The time provided for PLCs through early release days has opened up opportunities for our schools and teachers to engage in this work. According to Dufour (2010), “The second big idea of a PLC is that ‘helping all students learn requires a collective effort and this idea is at the forefront of successful RTI systems.” We know that Tier II and Tier III RTI structures will only be successful through the work of PLCs and that Tier I, high-quality core instruction, is at the heart of our work.

Although we have had practices in place for MTSS for over a decade, we continue to redefine and improve our processes. In our March 2021 administrative professional development, we reflected on the RTI At Work Pyramid and began discussions of how schools can form guiding coalitions. A new position of Campus Intervention Coordinator was added for each campus to lead intervention efforts. Additionally, we asked schools to consider who they will choose for our second year of summer training where we will reinforce MTSS and dive into interventions at all three levels. We are also working to increase knowledge between general educators and special educators of the MTSS and the PLC process. One hundred forty teachers and school leaders are participating in the Yes We Can! book study which will be repeated in the fall. We are collaborating with our Student Support Services department on using the PLC process to intervene so students can remain in general education and exit from special education.

In addition to these structures, our Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Team redesigned instructional minutes for schools. The new instructional minutes include intentional time for Tier I, Tier II, and Tier III. Now, we can spend time in teams specifically addressing the needs of students and how to support them in all three tiers. DVUSD has shown growth in the area of interventions over the past decade. We have grown from one intervention as a district to a system of interventions. We now have universal screeners in math and reading at all levels and several vetted intervention programs. In the 2021-2022 school year, the new Campus Intervention Coordinator for each campus will be trained to analyze intervention programs to track student growth, fidelity, and help plan intentional next steps for students. We will also pilot an all-in-one data platform that will help us to better track MTSS and follow students from teacher to teacher and school to school. “PLCs and RTI are complementary processes, built on a proven research base of best practices and designed to produce the same outcome- high levels of student learning.” (Kramer, Sonju, Mattos, & Buffum, 2021)


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

We believe the key to the success of our collaborative teams is a collective effort. Only together can we do the work that is in front of us. One of our first steps as a district was to create PLC tight and loose expectations. Project Momentum provided a framework to guide teachers in a focus on the essential questions. We committed to the following tight district expectation: all work on early release days align to the Four Critical Questions with conditions that exist to allow for the fundamental school structure to support interdependent collaboration. The tight expectations at the school level include protecting the PLC time, establishing a leadership team, and creating structures so all teachers can participate in content, grade level, or department collaborative team.

District leaders work with school leaders to create multi-school teams for singletons at all levels. This year, we added multi-school collaborative teams for gifted teachers, as well as for teachers who work with our special education students in need of more intensive support. The composition of teams allows teachers to focus directly on the essential standards in their content areas, create common formative assessments, analyze student data, and determine the best interventions and extensions. A high school teacher noted the PLC time has “enhanced instruction and student learning as teachers have improved clarity and established strong learning expectations based on standards.” 

Understanding the importance of building capacity, DVUSD created a PLC Model Teacher Leader cohort that seeks to build teacher leaders who are highly skilled in the work of Collaborative Teams so they might build capacity amongst other teams on their campus. In the initial year, the focus was on developing capacity for teacher leaders within their own teams. If these leaders can become experts within their own grade level/content/etc., they are more likely to assist others; apply your own safety mask before assisting others. Model PLC Teacher Leaders who continue to the second and third year focus on how they can build capacity within their school level. This year, our third-year Model PLC Teacher Leaders are conducting action research projects on their campuses where, in collaboration with their school leadership team, they help to identify a school PLC need and to create an action plan for next steps. For example, one campus focused on improving the analysis of student data in order to focus more intentionally on student interventions. Another Model PLC Teacher Leader led her high school science department through a process of identifying essential standards and prerequisite skills in order to create a laser focus for CFAs. 

At all levels, the focus of our collaborative teams is increased student learning. The aligned guaranteed and viable curriculum work at the district and school levels provide the direction for our teams; data allows for focus conversations in response to student learning. Our intervention processes and continued work in this area allow us to consider how we best meet the needs of our students, together, as a team.


Achievement Data Files

Additional Achievement Data

The attached achievement data clearly shows trends of continuous improvement throughout all grade levels in the district. At the national level, DVUSD consistently scores higher than the national average on the ACT and SAT in all content areas. For state assessments, the trend remains the same. For example, not only did our high school 9th grade students far exceed the state average in FY19, 15% higher for math and ELA, but they also increased their proficiency rates from the previous year by 2% and 8%. Similar trends can be found in 8th grade science where DVUSD students scored 24% higher than the state average, remaining consistent at an 80% proficiency level. Grades 3-5 also showed a 5-6% increase in ELA between the 2018 and 2019 school year. For K-3 students, our district has focused on decreasing the number of students needing intensive support. The trend for Kindergarten has decreased from 30.2% needing intensive support in FY15 to 14.2% of students in FY19.

For the 2020-2021 school year, DVUSD determined a need to focus on the gap between our general education students and our sub-populations. Throughout a pandemic, the subject of equity was at the forefront and the need was clear. We crafted district goals focused on decreasing the gap in both ELA and Math as measured by our district assessments. Each school received a Target Card with data informing them of the gaps on their campuses and likewise created school goals targeted at decreasing the gap. Next, our Collaborative Teams assisted schools in reaching their goals by focusing on sub-population data and Tier II interventions during PLC time. End of year district benchmark data showed that twenty five PreK-6/PreK-8/Middle schools closed the gap between general education and special education and four of the five high schools closed the gap in math or ELA. For EL, we closed the gap with 16 PreK-6/PreK-8/Middle schools and 3 high schools. The gap between Caucasian students and African American students was closed in 23 PreK-6/PreK-8/Middle schools and four high schools and the gap between Caucasian students and Hispanic students was closed in twenty PreK-6/PreK-8/Middle schools and one high school. All of the schools aligned their school goals to the district goal and worked throughout the year to close the gap in the various sub-populations. It is evident that the alignment of goals and the focus on Tier I and Tier II instruction made a difference in student learning. We believe our future focus on MTSS and the PLC process will only make our system stronger. 

  • PLC Model School- Constitution Elementary School 

  • 24 A-Rated Schools, 2020

  • 92% of schools rated A or B

  • 94.8% graduation rate

  • 20 A+ Schools of Excellence, Arizona Educational Foundation. 40% of DVUSD Schools, Highest Percentage in the state 

  • America’s Best-in-State Employers, Forbes Magazine, 2019

  • 19 National Board Certified Teachers

  • Teachers whose students had a median growth percentile of 65% or higher for two consecutive years on AzMERIT scores in ELA -24

  • $63,257,955 in Scholarship Offerings, June 2020