Nelda Sullivan Middle School (2023)

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

The 5/6 campus is a relatively new concept in Pasadena ISD and Nelda Sullivan Middle School was the last 5/6 campus to open its doors during the 2016-2017 school year.  Fifth grade students and teachers were taken from the feeder elementary campuses and the sixth grade students and teachers were taken from the feeder intermediate campus.  Once 2017 campus accountability targets were established by the Texas Education Agency (T.E.A.) and campus ratings arrived, Nelda Sullivan Middle School administrators were surprised to receive the rating of Improvement Required.  Upon reflection, our Instructional Leadership Team met to identify a root cause of the “Improvement Required” rating and quickly realized that the unsatisfactory rating was caused by gaps within our campus’ shared understanding of and lack of fidelity with the implementation of the PLC process.  It was determined that each teacher and department varied with PLC fundamentals and as a campus, we had to step back to develop an action plan that started with teaching the PLC process and a focus on the three Big Ideas of PLC at Work:  A Focus on Learning, A Collaborative Culture and Collective Responsibility, and a Results Orientation.  We realized it was the job of our Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) also known as the Guiding Coalition was  to ensure every staff member fully understood the framework and the collective commitment to work interdependently when facilitating a culture of continuous improvement.  

Our  work began by answering four questions:  “Why do we exist; What must our school become to accomplish our purpose; How must we behave to achieve our mission; and How will we mark our progress?" Once the ILT reached agreement regarding the fundamental purpose of our school with a revised and clearly defined mission statement, the creation of a campus vision, and the establishment of collective commitments, the Instructional Leadership Team, was  prepared to translate the new mission, vision, values, and goals of our school into teachable points of view and shared the plan to gain input and consensus from the faculty.  The master schedule built in time for collaborative teams to meet.  Conversations shifted from surface level chit-chat to rich discussions about students achieving at higher levels based on an agenda that addressed the four PLC critical questions.  Collaboratively, SMART Goals were created, reflected upon, and revisited, pacing calendars were followed, common assessments were administered, results were analyzed, and a timeframe to re-teach was planned for and included as an agenda item to be discussed.   It slowly became evident that our staff was on an even-level playing field, engaged with one another, and focused on the right work. 

ResearcherJohn Hattie has shown time and again that nothing has a greater impact on student learning than organizing teachers into collaborative teams and convincing them that if they work together, they can have a positive impact on learning for every student in their classrooms - including those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who have traditionally struggled in schools (Hattie, 2017).  At Sullivan MS, we provide teachers with several layers of support and opportunities to work in collaborative teams.   

The first level of support are Professional Learning Teams (PLTs).  Professional Learning Teams (PLTs) which are traditionally considered department planning time.  Through district Professional Development and PLC @ Work Conferences, we learned that in a PLT, the fundamental purpose, and the reason for collaboration, is to ensure all students learn at high levels.  Teachers from each core content area meet one time per week during the traditional school day to discuss the four critical questions and determine 1) what our students need to know and be able to do by creating essential learning goals; 2) how the department will assess student proficiency;  3) what will the department, collectively and interdependently, do when some students do not master what is being taught by responding to students who struggle with a specific focus on response to intervention and 4) how will the department extend learning for those students that demonstrate mastery?  This structured common planning time allows our teachers to share instructional challenges, best practices, analyze data, and provides teachers within the same department the opportunity to build trust and communication that is necessary for open reflection, inquiry, and continuous improvement. 

We created a second level of support known as Grade Level Teams (GLTs).  In each grade level team, there is one core content area teacher for math, reading, science, and social studies that all share the same group of students.  Grade Level Teams (GLTs) meet one time per week to discuss their team’s current status, target, and make a plan to reach the weekly target, all with emphasis on student academic progress and achievement.  The GLT is the foundation for a strong learning community characterized by a sense of family.  Students and teachers on the team become well acquainted, feel safe, respected, and supported, and are encouraged to take intellectual risks.

Our third level of support is more personalized and intimate to each individual teacher with what are called one-to-one check-ins.  During one-to-ones, every teacher has a scheduled ten minute meeting with their administrator to check-in with one another and discuss a variety of topics; to set goals, reflect on current practices, to identify roadblocks/needs, and brainstorm solutions.  These meetings are dedicated to supporting the professional learning community work with an emphasis on school improvement by improving the quality of instruction and by connecting our team back to our why through a continuous focus to the mission, vision, values, and goals we committed to as a campus.  With administrator leadership as the catalyst, one-to-ones have assisted in the development, maintenance, and sustainability of the professional learning community process.  In addition, these one-on-one conferences have increased teacher retention and built a strong and positive school culture and pride in our school community.  Teachers feel safe and know that the administrative team is focused on supporting teacher growth to ensure high levels of learning for all students.

And while our story is still being written and we will continuously strive to be all that we can be for our students, we saw dramatic growth for our students as a result of our focus as a Professional Learning Community. Gradually, the campus rating of “Improvement Required Score of 59” improved to a 65-D the following year (2017-2018), then increased to an 80-B campus rating (2018-2019) with a Distinction in Science, and we are pleased to share that we earned an 89-B campus rating with three Distinctions in Reading/ELA, Student Growth, and Closing the Gaps for the 2021-2022 school year! As mentioned above, none of this could have been accomplished without the need for a common language by developing the capacity of all and establishing a culture of continuous improvement.  When our campus embraced the PLC Process and built a strong foundation with a shared Mission and Vision, we saw tremendous growth through this process!


1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

Prior to the return of students, PLTs meet for an extended period of time to collaboratively create the conditions for the adults in the building to continually improve upon their collective capacity to ensure that all students acquire the knowledge, skills, and dispositions essential to their on-grade level success.  Collaborative teams come to consensus to establish team norms, SMART goals with action steps that are based on state mandated assessment data, and data protocols that guide the team in working together. Essential Standards are then identified and unwrapped to ensure teacher clarity on the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that students will acquire as required of grade-level content.  The Professional Learning Team identifies the prerequisite knowledge and skills students need in order to master the essential learning of each unit of instruction that also includes planning for student misconceptions.  Using the backwards planning design, each collaborative team agrees on how to best sequence the content of the course and establish pacing calendars along with common assessment calendars.  Unit plans for instruction and assessment of standards in each unit are calendared so that all students are given access to the same essential learning regardless of who is teaching the class and in the time allotted.  Together, the PLT creates common assessments to assess the level of student mastery.  Once common assessments are administered, the PLT immediately analyzes student work from the common assessment in order to identify the strengths students display in their learning, in addition to their most urgent learning needs.  Students’ most urgent learning needs become the focus for future changes in instruction, corrective instruction during the unit, and Tier 2 intervention for students in need.

Once the school year has begun, PLTs meet on a weekly basis during the traditional school day. To ensure fidelity of the implementation of the PLC process, each collaborative team uses a common, running agenda that outlines the four critical questions. PLTs are strategic with their level of implementation and have an explicit cycle they engage in for continuous improvement that includes reflecting on their practices and planning ways to get better at their work.  All student assessment data that includes prior year’s STAAR and TELPAS scores, NWEA MAP, current year NWEA MAP RIT scores, reading Lexile levels, results from all common assessments, and mock STAAR data is regularly updated and color-coded on a campus-wide spreadsheet that is shared and accessible to all stakeholders to ensure that students are growing academically over the course of the school year. 

Due to teaming, GLTs also meet one day per week to discuss their team’s progress using the (S-T-P) model (status-target-plan).  Current status of the amount of students that master Power Focus Area (PFA), establish a target to increase student PFA mastery by the end of the week, and create a workshop plan and schedule for the students needing additional time and/or support.


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

During common planning time, each PLT uses a common running agenda that is outlined by the four critical questions. Team members actively engage in the planning process by constantly seeking ways to improve lessons and instructional practices so students become even higher performing.  Beginning with the end in mind, PLTs internalize the project’s final product, deconstruct the scoring/grading rubric, review the check points that are used to formatively assess, and analyze the cognitive skills that are embedded in the project. As planning progresses, members address learning limitations and plan for student misconceptions that often lead to students needing additional time and support through the use of scaffolds.  In addition to project-based learning,  teachers monitor student progress on the mastery of Power Focus Areas.  Power Focus Areas are offered to students in a digital format to ensure students are provided with a variety of resources to choose from so that students have choice in how and when they learn Content Knowledge and provides valuable just-in-time data on our Learning Management System (LMS) that our teachers are able to provide feedback to students with immediately, often times during the same class period. 

After PLTs meet on a weekly basis to address and respond to the four critical questions, members from each department bring the information back to their Grade-Level Teams (GLTs). Together, PLTs and GLTs monitor the effectiveness of their practices using real-time data found in the LMS.  Teachers know exactly where each and every one of their students are in their learning.  As a result, they can use that information to tailor instruction to meet the needs of all students. Teachers quickly identify when they should provide additional support to a small group or individual and when whole-group instruction is necessary.  Small group workshop schedules are created daily by every team and displayed as students enter their 4th period class.  Workshop schedules allow flexible groups of students to report to the teacher’s class where students are demonstrating struggles and/or difficulties.  

The Master Schedule also lends itself to implementing a system of intervention and extension by providing students with a Foundational Learning EXperience (FLEX) class. All students are scheduled for a FLEX class but depending on their most urgent need depends on what class they are scheduled for.  During FLEX time, students may be assigned a math, reading, or science intervention class, may be pulled for extension or Gifted and Talented services, Science Fair, Dyslexia, and/or English language development.  FLEX also provides students with time during the traditional school day for math and reading skills practice while waiting to complete their scheduled one-to-one mentor check-in. FLEX class rosters are frequently changed and based on student common assessment data.


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

"Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other." – John F. Kennedy

    Sullivan’s Layers of Leadership

Professional Learning Teams (PLTs)

Our departmentalized content teams meet on a weekly basis to establish clear and measurable goals related to student learning outcomes. Each PLT works collaboratively to identify and solve problems related to student learning. This includes engaging in productive discussions about essential learning standards, sharing expertise, and leveraging each other's strengths and experiences. The team regularly analyzes student data to identify areas of strength and weakness. This includes using formative and summative assessments, monitoring student progress, and adjusting instructional strategies as needed. The team provides targeted interventions to students who are struggling by providing additional support, differentiated instruction, and small group instruction in a timely manner. Campus Instructional Coaches and one facilitation partner from within the department share the leadership role in order to build teacher leadership capacity.  An administrator is assigned to each core content area and (periodically) attends team meetings and provides support and guidance to the team.

Grade Level Teams (GLTs)

Our GLTs consist of one content area teacher per team that meets on a weekly basis and shares the responsibility for student learning outcomes across all contents. To build teacher leadership capacity, every GLT has a team leader.  This means that each member of the team is responsible for a specific aspect of the learning process and works collaboratively to ensure that all students are making progress.  The team celebrates successes, recognizes the accomplishments of their students, and provides support to students who may be struggling academically, socially, or emotionally and works as a team with the family and student. This helps to build a positive and supportive learning environment and reinforces the importance of the team's efforts. Grade Level Team Leaders are rotated every two years in order to provide leadership experience.

Intervention Assistance Team (IAT)

We have a team of intervention teachers and Campus Instructional Coaches from each department who provide Tier 2 and Tier 3 academic and behavior support to students in math, reading, science, and English language development.  Our campus Dyslexia teacher, who also serves as our IAT chairperson, leads the team by identifying struggling students early on, assessing their needs, providing targeted interventions, monitoring progress, and evaluating effectiveness of the IAT to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to succeed academically.  The IAT collaborates with PLTs and GLTs by meeting once per month to ensure that interventions are working and/or to make adjustments as needed. With improved Tier 1 instruction through our PLC, PLT, and GLT processes, our IAT is able to provide support to each student who is in need and we have seen tremendous gains for our students because of this targeted support.

Instructional Leadership Team (ILT)

The Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) also known as our Guiding Coalition meets once per week and consists of campus leaders from each layer of leadership.  This includes the leader from each team such as Fine Arts, Physical Education, Special Education, Math, Reading, Science, Social Studies, Intervention, Counselors, and Administrators. The main purpose of the ILT is to collaboratively create, maintain, and sustain the mission, vision, values, and goals of the campus and to ensure that everyone is working towards the same objectives and that there is accountability for results. The IAT models effective communication practices that promote transparency, openness, and constructive feedback by sharing weekly progress updates and upcoming campus calendared events known as ‘Team Leader Talk-Abouts’ with all stakeholders. The ILT has a finger on the pulse of campus culture and teachers are empowered to have honest conversations and ensure that academic goals are met with a strong and positive campus culture for students and faculty.

Campus Mentors

Every rookie teacher or new team member to Sullivan is assigned a campus mentor.  The main purpose of the mentorship is for the mentee to establish a sense of belonging while building strength as a new teacher at Sullivan.  Mentors help train and develop their mentees by serving as another avenue for information.  PLC theory and practice is the framework that is used during discussion that guides the new teacher into becoming independent.  The amount of support is contingent on the experience of the mentee and a variety of topics are discussed such as pedagogy, classroom management strategies, questions related to content, and/or to serve as a support to one another in difficult moments.

Administrative One-to-Ones

Every staff member at Sullivan is assigned to a campus administrator.  One-to-Ones are check-in meetings that are scheduled on a gradual release basis over the course of the entire school year and are confidential in nature.  Goal setting and reflection are the first two topics discussed with opportunities for open dialogue.  Personal and professional growth is the primary purpose of each one-to-one.  This layer of support bridges the former gap that once existed between teachers and administrators.  

By embedding these principles and strategies, Sullivan’s Layers of Leadership, provide leadership opportunities to a variety of stakeholders which enables high-performing, collaborative teams to work together to focus their efforts on improving student learning and achieving their shared vision and goals.




-Raise Your Hand Texas Award-  Named as a Raising Blended Learners Site

-Dollar General Literacy Foundation Youth Literacy Grant recipient

-Silver Medal:  Texas Bluebonnet Book Challenge, Pasadena ISD

-Pasadena ISD Education Foundation Grant recipient (1- Math & 2- Orchestra)


-TEA Distinction Designation in Science

-Silver Medal- Wellness Champions:  Pasadena ISD Health & Physical Education Department

-Silver Medal:  Texas Bluebonnet Book Challenge, Pasadena ISD

-Pasadena ISD Education Foundation Grant recipient (myON digital library)


-Kinder Morgan Literacy Foundation Grant recipient

-Silver Medal:  Texas Bluebonnet Book Challenge, Pasadena ISD


-CREST- Counselors Reinforcing Excellence for Students in Texas Award

-TEA Distinction Designations in ELA/Reading, Comparitive Academic Growth, and Comparative Closing the Gaps

-Bronze Medal:  Texas Bluebonnet Book Challenge, Pasadena ISD

-Pasadena ISD Education Foundation Grant recipient (IXL Math)


-CREST- Counselors Reinforcing Excellence for Students in Texas Award

-Pasadena ISD Education Foundation Grant recipient (College Tutors)

-Silver Medal- Wellness Champions:  Pasadena ISD Health & Physical Education Department

-Potential Summit Learning RISE Award nominee (recipients of the national award have not yet been notified)