Holy Trinity Catholic School
- Number of Students: 414
- Percent Eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch: 12%
- Percent of Limited English Proficient: 2%
- Percent of Special Education: 2%
- White: 83%
- Black: 5%
- Hispanic: 2%
- Asian: 10%
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 0%
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 0%
- Multiracial: 0%
- Other: 0%
Holy Trinity Catholic School began its PLC journey in 2015. The original motivation for this work was rooted in a need to better meet the needs of all students who came through our doors. Our school had begun seeing a shift in the demographics of our student population; we knew we needed to strengthen our capacity to serve an increasing number of students eligible for ELL, IEP, and 504 services. However, as a Catholic school, resources are limited. We quickly realized that in order to ensure all students succeed, we had to stop leaning on old excuses such as lack of intervention staff, inadequate funding, and age of teaching materials, and instead focus on what was within our control: the instruction that happens within our four walls. This recognition forced us to take an honest look at our practices and the ways we could effectively work together to achieve more with the limited time and resources we had. We had to start doing the right work.
We knew our PLC journey had to start with our “why” and ensure we all believed in the power of our collective efficacy. We were already functioning in groups, but we needed to better understand how that differed from a high functioning team, so we began with seeing it in action. Prior to any formal training in the PLC process, our teachers visited an elementary and middle school high performing PLC in neighboring districts to observe true collaborative team conversations. Debriefing afterward, teachers expressed excitement at becoming this type of school, a “Professional Learning Community.” We needed to start by being on the same page that this was the right work to ensure student learning. What they observed in action at these model PLC schools became their grail.
Our next step was better understanding the “how” of the PLC process. Building a shared understanding began with a school-wide deep dive into the four guiding questions using Learning by Doing. Year 1 work focused on an overview of the PLC process, while subsequent years of professional development and new learning focused on building a more intensive understanding of each guiding question and the team level processes associated with them.
Year 2: Power standards, Know/Understand/Do documents, learning targets, and shared understanding of proficiency at the team level
Year 3: Common formative assessment, utilizing universal screening, and data analysis strategies
Year 4: Embedding WIN/Flex Time, additional universal screening layers
Year 5: Systemic RTI/MTSS responses
Year 6 and 7: Further focusing of essential standards, additional MTSS structures
After our first year of learning, it was clear the master schedule needed to be redesigned to allow for teacher collaboration on a weekly basis within the contractual schedule. Teachers in grades K-5 have sixty minutes of team time both at their grade level and on a two grade level team (K-1, 2-3, and 4-5). Our middle school teachers are singletons, but meet as an interdisciplinary team for forty five minutes per week during the school day. Related Arts teachers also meet on a regular basis at the end of the contractual day. Because the PLC process is iterative, each team moves at their own pace through the inquiry cycle. They have the autonomy to set their own agenda aligned to whichever guiding question anchors their work.
To provide ongoing support, a guiding coalition was formed with representation from each teacher team. Our new instructional leadership team helped determine next steps in learning and created group accountability. By keeping a pulse on climate, identifying areas for growth, celebrating accomplishments, advising on professional development needs, and planning building-wide peer-based instructional rounds, this leadership team ensures teachers have ownership of our continuous improvement.
While we have strong systems and structures in place, we strengthen our daily to day practices by continuing to learn about and reflect on strategies to best meet the needs of all students as a collaborative team. Our learning as a PLC is never done. To build capacity, teacher leadership, and ownership of the process, we began a cycle of one representative from each collaborative team attending the PLC at Work conference each year with the ultimate goal over time of having every teacher attend. This allows us to differentiate learning to each team’s needs. For example, one team lead might attend breakout sessions on common formative assessments as their next steps for growth, while another might attend a breakout session on designing interventions. This allows us to create a culture of continuous learning and improvement anchored in the PLC process.
We have seen a continual increase in the number of students entering our system with high needs, which has also impacted our building-wide proficiency data. However, since becoming a PLC, we have seen the number of students who qualify for ELL and IEP services decreasing over time after our initial increase six years ago. Our ability to utilize our RTI/MTSS system to intervene early in targeted skill areas has allowed us to exit more students from these programs. We have also been able to better utilize data to quickly identify students who are missing critical skills and implement a collaborative response.
COVID-19 significantly impacted our ability to collaborate, and it reiterated to us the importance of this work. While COVID-19 has posed its challenges, our belief in the collective power of our PLC helps us keep student learning at the forefront. We are proud to continuously stretch our ability to prioritize learning, understand where each individual student is at in the process, implement a systematic plan to get them what they need to succeed, and celebrate their individual and collective growth as a Professional Learning Community.
1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.
As we began to function as collaborative teams, we quickly realized that while we may have had curriculum documents, not everyone had a common understanding of what that meant in terms of students’ skills and knowledge. One of our first steps was to collectively unpack our power standards to break down what students specifically needed to know, understand, and do (KUD). Teaching is an art, and these KUDs still allow teachers the autonomy to teach instruction in a manner that best fits the needs of their students and teaching style; however, it creates a common definition of the mastery end goal in relation to that essential standard. There is still significant work to be done in this area, but these KUDs are living documents that are revisited and revised as common formative assessments are written. Because teachers not only have grade level teams but also multi-grade level teams, they are able to even better clarify essential skills necessary for advancement through vertical conversations.
Holy Trinity uses multiple layers of data to monitor student learning. The first layer is the common formative assessment around essential standards. Teams write and norm these collaboratively, and then analyze student data together during the team time. If it is an open response assessment, they create a rubric to ensure common scoring. After the common formative assessment is complete, they share teaching strategies and determine student groups for “What I Need” (WIN) Time at the K-5 level. WIN Time groups span across approximately seven different teachers and two grade levels at a time based on student need, creating a true interdependence across the staff. Over the past two years, our data analysis processes throughout the WIN Time cycle have improved; many teams are now doing a dipstick assessment mid-way through the six weeks in case a student is ready to change groups earlier than expected, as well as an assessment at the end to monitor growth throughout the cycle. Our interdisciplinary team at the middle school level also determines essential cross-curricular skills, designs common formative assessments for all middle school students, and monitors their progress utilizing Flex Time four days a week.
We also use universal screening assessments at the elementary and middle school level three times per year. We implement the FAST Assessment (Reading and Math) at the K-5 level and MAP Assessment (Reading, Language, and Math) at the 6-8 level. These allow us to monitor achievement throughout the course of the year to ensure all students are growing. The FAST assessment tools also allow us to triangulate data, identify skill deficits, and tailor targeted interventions. Middle school teachers use additional assessment tools to further drill down and determine individual student skill deficits. Any student who is receiving a Tier II or Tier III intervention is also progress monitored to ensure a timely response to their learning needs.
This data is also tied to team-based SMART goals which connect back to our building goals. Each team’s SMART goal is based on student data. After each of the three testing windows, teams have time set aside during professional development days to collectively dig deeper into their grade level data. Collaborative leadership teams with representatives from every level also analyze building level data for Tier I, II, and III both academically and behaviorally. This helps us to monitor our collective impact on student progress.
2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.
Our first step in reaching all students is the expectation that every classroom be differentiated and provide reteaching as part of core instruction. If a student struggles on a classroom formative assessment, they receive reteaching on that specific skill. To also ensure a systemic RTI/Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) response for those who still need for additional support, Holy Trinity implements “What I Need” (WIN) Time. At the K-5 level, this is 25 minutes four days a week. WIN Time is considered sacred time. Other activities such as assemblies, school pictures, guest speakers, etc. are not scheduled during this time. No core content is taught during this time. It is solely focused on providing additional time and support for learning at each student’s individual level. WIN Time blocks are held two grade levels at a time (grades K-1, 2-3, and 4-5) and are staggered throughout the morning. Staggering allows ELL, Title, and other interventionists to work with individual and small groups of students in that grade level during WIN Time without the student missing any core instruction.
During WIN Time, students receive targeted intervention, extension opportunities, or additional on grade level practice. Some students work in a small group while others work independently and in a variety of different subject areas based on their targeted need. Students are placed in four to six week groups based on data analysis from common formative assessments and universal screening tools. These groups are mixed grade level and may be led by any teacher in those grades, regardless of who the students’ homeroom teacher may be. This allows the collaborative team to discuss who among them has the most effective tools and strategies to meet the group’s targeted area of need. This step has taken our PLC to the next level in truly creating interdependence between staff and allows us to truly live the mentally of students being all our kids.
In a similar fashion, middle school students also have a flex period built into their schedule four days a week to allow for student intervention outside of core instruction. During their team time, middle school teachers and interventionists collaboratively discuss student needs based on classroom assessment data to determine who may need reteaching, additional practice, or extension. Students are then assigned a location during their flex time.
COVID-19 has forced us to pivot to classroom-based intervention time due to not being able to mix students. However, we look forward to returning to our normal procedures this fall.
3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.
The impact of COVID-19 has shown us just how critical collaboration has become for teacher efficacy. After safety, one of the biggest concerns during COVID was how to ensure our collaborative teams could still meet and WIN/Flex Time continue. The culture shift from the original “we have to meet” to “I don’t know how I would teach without my team” was obvious. Teams continued to meet as collaborative teams last spring during immediate school shutdown.
Administrators sit in on team meets whenever possible to not only support teachers’ work but also to provide feedback and coaching as needed. When hiring, the needs of the collaborative team are taken into account as well as the candidate’s willingness to collaborate around the right work. Administration and teacher leaders have also created tools and templates to assist teams with the process. Regardless of whether or not there has been turnover in the collaborative team, each year begins with developing norms, SMART goals, determining roles, and discussing DiSC personality traits. We also utilize a common PLC agenda and notes template for team meetings, which includes norms, goals, and guiding questions at the top. Administrators also have access to these documents to be able to provide feedback and coaching. These notes are in a running document for continuity, and all teachers in the building have access to each team’s running document. This allows any grade level, related arts teacher, or interventionist to follow along with or comment on the team’s work even if they aren’t able to be there in person, supporting the belief that everyone is responsible for every student’s learning.
Our Diocese (District) has also recently begun its PLC journey. This allows Holy Trinity teachers to now also be on collaborative teams with like grade and content areas at other schools. These teams are also beginning to refine KUDs, determine essential standards, and move toward common formative assessments to be able to share effective strategies. Although each Holy Trinity and diocesan team is at a different place in its level of implementing the four guiding questions, we are now able to support one another in doing the right work. There is significant growth yet to be made, but we are confident we will be able to continue to walk that path of continuous learning together as a PLC thanks to the foundation upon which we have anchored our practice.
Six years into this journey, collective responsibility for all students’ learning has become the bedrock of our school culture. Whether at staff meetings or team meetings, you won’t hear teachers talking about “my” kids or “your” kids but about our kids. Jill Harrison Berg said, “Collective efficacy creates a self-sustaining cycle: The belief that we can make a difference together makes us want to make a difference together.” Our PLC journey is ongoing - it is our shared belief in this work, a belief that has become a cornerstone of our culture, that will continue to sustain us on the journey.
Achievement Data Files
Additional Achievement Data
Since each grade has less than 40 students and very different makeups of student needs, we track data data as class cohorts by graduation date.
Over the past 5 years, we have seen an increase in the number of students who enter our system with greater academic and behavioral needs. The PLC process has helped us meet these increasing individual student needs while still holding high levels of proficiency.
Governor's Scale-Up STEM Award Recipient 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020
Prairie Meadows Community Betterment Grant Recipient 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019
Catholic Foundation of Southwest Iowa Grant Recipient 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020
Des Moines Parent Magazine Favorite School 2016 and 2017
National Blue Ribbon Award 2008