Darby Middle School

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

Darby Middle School is one of four middle schools in the Fort Smith School District. We currently serve 705 students in grades 6-8. Our Free and Reduced Lunch rate is 93% and of these eligible students, 83% qualify for free lunches. Historically, a significant number of students come to Darby reading multiple grade levels behind where they need to be in order for academic success. The PLC journey for our school began over ten years ago. Embodying our school motto, “Rangers Lead the Way,” we were determined to become a professional learning community. At that time, the previous principal began sending staff members to PLC at Work and RTI at Work conferences. After every conference, staff came back excited and ready to implement what they had learned. We made changes to our master schedule to ensure all departments had a common planning time and grade level teams could meet. We also embedded an intervention time to help struggling students. Unfortunately, information was not disseminated well to the entire staff, and we struggled to build shared knowledge of how true professional learning communities functioned. Our initial attempts at intervention failed because we tried to intervene on everything from missing work, test retakes, behavior issues, and missing skills. This previous system was unstructured and unorganized. This created a number of “false starts” of PLC implementation and a “PLC Lite” culture where some team members of the school were unclear about the “why” of the work, somewhat resistant to collaboration, confused about data, and frustrated overall.Teachers were working hard and wanted to do the best for their students.  However, it was obvious there was no shared mission, vision, commitments, or goals. 

We knew something needed to change, so the new principal, Dr. Kreimer Hall, applied for the Arkansas PLC Project in the Spring of 2017 in hopes of getting some support from Solution Tree.  We were not awarded the grant at that time, but we were dedicated to improving our work by building shared knowledge and finding other resources. We sent teacher teams to the PLC model school Ballman Elementary in Fort Smith to watch their teams working together with Janell Keating. This excited teachers, and they began asking for unit planning templates and data sheets that we could make our own. We attended any Solution Tree webinar, workshop and meeting we could to learn from the experts. We also budgeted money to work with Solution Tree math consultant Jessica McIntyre.  When we applied for the Arkansas PLC Project again in the Spring of 2018, we were excited to share our growth and our willingness to continue to learn.   

Our school was incredibly fortunate to be awarded a spot in Cohort 3 of the Arkansas PLC Project. The PLC Project has transformed our school completely. We created a Guiding Coalition that represents all instructional departments, moving us to a distributed leadership model. This group of teacher leaders completed the Coaching Academy training to build shared knowledge and identify what we wanted to be tight and loose in our school. After each Guiding Coalition training and meeting, our teacher leaders communicated regularly to their teams and provided professional development on the foundational pillars of a PLC.  It took us a full year, using professional development days and staff meetings, but we included ALL staff members to help create our new mission, vision, values and goals. Through our continual collaboration and our focused hiring practices, we now have a staff that collectively lives our mission- “Empowering all Students to Learn and Grow with a Mindset of a Ranger.” We work daily to get closer to achieving our vision of Leading the Way in everything we do. We hold each other accountable with detailed collective commitments that drive our daily work.  Through this continued focus we have prioritized Leading the Way and celebrating the little things that support us getting closer to achieving the vision. This culture shift has created a working environment of celebration and risk taking by teachers and students. We have had a true culture shift from “my'' to “our” students. The collaborative learning culture for teachers AND students has improved immensely. 

Even during a global pandemic, we created a guaranteed viable curriculum to ensure that all students have access to quality Tier 1 instruction. We also embedded a Tier 2 system of additional time and support for all students to learn at high levels. Even though we had excessive teacher and student absences, we did not make excuses and stayed the course! We are so proud of our designed units that have identified essential standards, student friendly learning targets, and strong common summative/formative assessments that were all created TOGETHER. We keep our scheduled common and structured plan time a priority to analyze data and share instructional strategies. We are mindful that all teams are not in the same place or growing at the same pace during this journey and support them with additional time, support and resources. We plan additional full and half planning days for teams that need additional time to create units using the backward design process. Our guiding coalition is leading the charge of sustaining our PLC work. They meet twice a month to review units and assessment data in order to provide feedback to teams, using a created Supporting Teams Protocol.  

This school year we implemented a true Response to Intervention period where students receive additional time and support based on specific learning targets. We invested in an online platform to help organize our RTI time to ensure all students are assigned an intervention or extension session. We are laser focused on exactly what students need to know and provide immediate support during the school day. On a daily basis we have systems of support set up for students. 

We have eliminated the teacher lottery by aligning our grading practices and have systems in place for students who are failing courses due to lack of effort or attendance.   All teachers believe students can turn in work at any time for full credit and have an opportunity to retake a test in order to demonstrate mastery. We continue to examine our grading practices building wide to ensure grades communicate evidence of student learning and not simply compliance. We began this practice with grade level collaborations which was led by teacher leaders and not administrators. Our assessment and grading practices have provided students a feeling of hope that has increased effort and achievement.  

We know this work is never done. We still have a lot to do in order to close the achievement gap at Darby Middle School. We want to improve our inclusive practices for our special education students and improve our Tier 3 system of support for our most struggling students. We promise to continue our journey to ensure high levels of learning for all students and invite others to come and see what we are doing at our school.   

As public schools find their way back to the “new normal” after COVID, Darby Middle School will benefit from the work we have accomplished and the continued sharing of strategies and ideas that are coming from our collaborative work. If we didn’t have this model of collaboration and focus on student learning, we would have never made it through the last two years. By having structures and practices that tied us together, we were able to have less learning loss because we were focused on a guaranteed and viable curriculum TOGETHER!

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

As a school, we had to identify a guaranteed and viable curriculum for our students. We began by having teams identify essential standards for every course and content area across the building. Teams engaged in the work of unwrapping the standards to identify specific learning targets. Our learning targets have been translated to student-friendly targets so that the curriculum is clearly communicated to students. As we moved through this process, we became more skilled in developing a progression of learning that allows us to successfully communicate proficiency of the standards to students. To ensure that all students have access to the core curriculum and set the stage for meaningful collaboration around student learning, teams have commonly paced the essential standards so that assessments will occur at the same time. Data analysis of assessments allows for powerful conversations that help drive instructional growth. 

Once teams identified and paced their essential standards, they used a backward planning approach to build a shared picture of proficiency with the “end in mind.” In addition, teams selected and/or designed common formative assessments that monitor student mastery of the progressive learning targets that lead to mastery of the essential standards. Assessments are created to be extremely targeted and frequently used so that interventions can be timely. Daily formative tasks and common formative assessments typically only cover one or two targets so that interventions can be more precise. These targeted tasks and assessments allow teams to know the exact skill or misconception that needs intervention. The summative assessments have improved in their quality because teams examined the depth of knowledge that is required and aligned their assessments to the rigor of the standard. Teams use a shared protocol to analyze the data and discuss the next steps needed to improve students’ learning. The data from the common formative assessments is now used to inform Tier 2 interventions which are provided three days each week (SWAG time). As a school, we continue to calibrate scoring assessments to ensure grading practices are equitable and eliminate the teacher lottery. Common grading practices are now more aligned in deciding whether a student has learned the essentials instead of met compliance in completing assigned work.

Through the implementation of the guaranteed and viable curriculum, teams have had to get absolutely clear on what they want their students to know and what it looks like when they are proficient. Additionally, greater emphasis has been placed on ensuring that students are getting timely and specific feedback from their assessments so they are empowered with the information. Teams have incorporated a variety of strategies to support this area, such as T.A.G. You’re it, Three Minute Conferences, Glow and Grows, and Highlighting.  All of this work is made possible through our weekly collaboration time, which is guided by the four critical questions of professional learning communities. 


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

In the beginning of this process there was no system in place to provide students with additional support. As a result of our learning about RTI systems of support, our current reality is very different. This process was a mind shift for many of the staff members, as they began sharing the responsibility of helping all students. We are now very intentional in ensuring that all students are receiving high quality support across all tiers.

We provide academic and behavioral instruction at the Tier 1 level. On Mondays and Fridays, all students receive core instruction in SEL through the Second Step curriculum and other campus-wide instruction provided through the advisory teachers and designed by the school counselors. Our daily classroom instruction elicits high expectations for all learners to show proficiency of grade level standards. Teachers use common assessments to provide feedback and opportunities for student growth. At Darby Middle School, our classroom time is protected time.

To provide Tier 2 intervention, the structure of the school day was changed this year to allow approximately 30 minutes three times weekly. The intervention period is called SWAG time (Students With a Goal). Darby uses the RTI Scheduler program to enroll students into teacher-created intervention/enrichment sessions based on CFA data. Teachers have taken collective responsibility by sharing students during these sessions. Students spend three consecutive days in intervention/enrichment sessions, with literacy, math, and counseling having alternating priority days. Interventions are content-specific and based on learning targets and essential standards. Enrichments can be content specific or be similar to a club activity in which students are allowed to practice their social emotional skills in a fun and exciting way.

Based on universal screeners and district criteria for dyslexia, a large number of students require more intensive, or Tier 3 support. Students requiring Tier 3 support are provided with intense remediation in reading, language, and social skills as part of the students regular daily schedule. Tier 3 support is generally delivered through enrollments in a small specific intervention class where foundational skills can be intensely supported to foster student learning.

Darby continues to refine its system of support for students. We plan to connect more closely with the five elementary schools that feed into Darby so that we can make sure that entering students receive the support they need from the start of their middle school experience. We are in the process of applying for support to more effectively serve students who have IEPs. We are also studying the long-term impacts of intensive literacy interventions to make sure that students are improving from the program. 

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

Darby teams have grown significantly in their collaboration over the past three years. We are building and sustaining a culture of collaboration that allows teachers to take risks and explore different pathways to professional learning and growth. 

One way we do this is by creating processes and structures that allow teachers to work as members of high-performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students. One such structure is our guaranteed collaboration time. Since commiting to the PLC project, Darby’s master schedule was redesigned to allow all four core academic areas as well as elective teams to have a common planning time and a structured collaborative meeting once a week. Since all members of a department are available during this time, we have been able to engage in both horizontal and vertical conversations weekly. Teacher room assignments have been carefully designed to foster daily collaboration by putting collaborative teams side by side in our building. With this proximity, teachers are able to have quick conversations between passing periods about lesson adjustments and student engagement. Daily quick formative checks can be discussed during lunch and daily planning periods.

Another way we build teacher capacity is through shared leadership. We have a shared decision-making culture where staff members help give feedback, brainstorm together and implement ways to make our school the best place to work and learn. We created a guiding coalition that took an active role in school wide decisions and communications. When members share information with their departments, it produces meaningful conversations that lead to accountability amongst peers. Our guiding coalition members along with other teacher leaders develop and present professional development. One of the first activities they led with the staff was to revisit our mission and vision. This allowed us to share the same common goal, and develop our collective commitments.We reference these commitments on a regular basis and use them to hire new teachers that will share our efforts to sustain the mission and vision of Darby Middle School. 

We also build teacher capacity by empowering collaborative teams. Teams have established their norms and learned about the critical questions of learning. Their agendas follow the Plan/Do/Study/Act cycle using the questions to guide their focus. Darby teams use a “football protocol” to make sure the meetings are productive and focused (Focus it/Do it/Review It). Teams begin each meeting with a review of their norms, and celebrations of student and teacher learning. They end with teacher teams sharing what was accomplished during the structured time and identifying their immediate next steps.  Teams have moved from a focus of planning to a focus on student learning by implementing a backward unit design protocol. Teams develop SMART goals by unit and also create common summative and formative assessments. This has resulted in our teams being far more data driven than they were in the past. Teams are seeing results in their students’ learning and are feeling empowered to make a difference. Celebrations are more intentional on a schoolwide basis as well, focused on both team learning and student learning.

Achievement Data Files

Additional Achievement Data

Decrease in Failures in Core Classes

Increased Student Enrollment

Due to the COVID pandemic our students were not able to take the state assessment in the Spring of 2020. This was disappointing for our staff because based on our interim benchmark tests we were projected to have significant growth that school year.  Fort Smith Public Schools used the NWEA benchmark assessment for the 2019-2020 school year. Our lead PLC coach from Solution Tree (Kim Bailey) suggested that Darby use the ACT Aspire benchmark test in order to get more detailed data that would align with the state test. This request was granted by our district. We have reported benchmark data for the 2019-2020 school year. Overall, when reviewing the three years of data we have seen several results worth noting. 
7th Grade Literacy- When looking at the data from the end of the year ACT Aspire test in the spring of 2019 we had 35% of students proficient in reading. The first ACT Aspire benchmark assessment that was given to students in January 2020 showed growth to 41% of students proficient. Darby’s benchmark score of 41% was only 3% lower than the overall district’s score of 44% on the NWEA assessment. With the help of Kim Bailey, we dug deeper into individual scaled scores to identify students within range of scoring proficient using the standard error of measurement for this test. Although schools closed in March that year due to COVID, we were projected for 47% of our students to score proficient in reading based on our benchmark assessment. This projected score would have been a 12% increase in our reading scores before the pandemic.   

7th Grade Literacy-  When comparing state data before and after the COVID pandemic we had a 4% learning loss in 7th grade reading. The state learning loss during COVID in this grade and content area was a 2% loss. This is a comparable loss.  Virtual learning was hard for everybody. However, Darby’s extreme poverty rate and high number of ELL students made virtual learning even harder for our students. A large majority of our students do not have internet at home, live in multi-family households, care for younger siblings, and don’t have the adult support to help with their school work. Nationwide the learning loss for students in poverty was great. To keep ours at a low percentage that was comparable to our state is a celebration. 

ELL Subpopulation in 7th Grade Literacy- Our ELL subpopulation for 7th grade reading improved from 37% of students proficient in 2019 to 44% of students proficient in 2021. This is not only a celebration of the 7% of student growth, but also a huge celebration because this was during the COVID pandemic where learning loss was occurring across the nation!   

7th Grade Math-  When looking at the data from the end of the year ACT Aspire test in the spring of 2019 we had 35% of 7th grade students proficient in math. The first ACT Aspire benchmark assessment that was given to students in January 2020 showed 34% of 7th grade students were proficient in math. Darby’s benchmark score of 34% on the benchmark assessment was only 2% lower than the overall district’s score of 36%. Again, we dug deeper into individual scaled scores to identify students within range of scoring proficient using the standard error of measurement for this test.  Although schools closed in March that year due to COVID, we were projected for 71% of our students to score proficient in math based on our benchmark assessment. This is a huge improvement from the previous year!

7th Grade Math-  When comparing state data before and after the COVID pandemic we had a 5% learning loss in 7th grade math. The state learning loss during COVID in this grade and content area was a 10% loss. Darby had less learning loss compared to our state. We obviously don’t want to celebrate learning loss of any kind. As mentioned previously, our student population had some incredible hardships to overcome in their homes and for our learning loss to be less than the state’s is a bright spot in our data.  

7th Grade Math-  Although math data for our school and the state of Arkansas is disheartening and obviously needs attention, we closed the gap in every subpopulation (ELL, SPED, Eco Dis) in our 7th grade scores. It is worth noting the decreased gap in the economically disadvantaged group of students that showed us scoring higher than the state average by 1%.  As a school, we are aware of the crisis in our state math scores and have a huge sense of urgency for improvement. We have created the following plan with action steps to improve school building wide math scores. 1) Clarify what students must learn by identifying essential standards and clear learning targets.2) Collect and analyze data regarding levels of proficiency by grade level. 3) Build shared effective practices. 4) Implement an embedded system of intervention focused on the essential skills in math.

7th Grade Science-  When comparing state data before and after the COVID pandemic we had a 5% learning loss in 7th grade science. The state learning loss during COVID in this grade and content area was 4% loss. This is a comparable loss.  

8th Grade Literacy- Our 8th grade reading scores are a definite area of focus and improvement.  We have a lofty goal to improve our reading scores school-wide by 10%. We are working hard to build a culture of reading in every classroom at Darby by ensuring that every teacher has the skills to be a literacy teacher. All teachers have been trained in the Science of Reading. Teachers use common close reading strategies, common formalized feedback methods, and common writing strategies across the content areas so students have consistency in their learning. We have also created the following plan with action steps to improve school building wide reading scores. 1) Clarify what students must learn by identifying essential standards and clear learning targets.2) Collect and analyze data regarding levels of proficiency by grade level. 3) Build shared effective practices. 4) Implement an embedded system of intervention focused on the essential skills in literacy.

A huge celebration we have in the area of literacy is a newly renovated media center that is student friendly and in the middle of our campus. We recently hired a rock star librarian who has turned our media center into one of the busiest and most popular places for students to hang out! Our library book circulation numbers have more than doubled in the past three years (1,490 to 3,020). This school year we have implemented reading and writing clubs out of the library, hosted a Scholastic Book Fair for the first time in over ten years, and invested additional funds to purchase high interest books to use in classrooms. Next school year we plan to implement an “everybody stop and read” time into our schedule as well as a rotating class schedule for classes to have dedicated time in the space. 

ELL Subpopulation in 8th Grade Literacy- Our ELL subpopulation for 8th grade reading improved from 31% of students proficient in 2019 to 36% of student proficient in 2021. This is not only a celebration of the 5% of student growth in this area, but also a huge celebration because this was during the COVID pandemic where learning loss was the norm across the nation.

SPED Subpopulation 8th Grade Math- As mentioned previously, math scores for our school and state need desperate attention.  A small win for our 8th grade special education students was that during the COVID pandemic we had a slight increase of 3% from the 2019 ACT Aspire state test and the 2021 state test.  When comparing our scores to the state data we had slight improvement while the state declined by 4% during COVID. 

SPED Subpopulation 8th Grade Science-  Scores from the 2019 state ACT Aspire test showed an 8% gap of achievement between our special education student’s test scores in 8th grade science and the state’s special education student’s test scores. Scores from the 2021 state ACT Aspire test showed a decrease in that gap of achievement to only 4% even throughout virtual learning due to the pandemic. 

Please click on the link below to view a compiled list of awards and recognitions. 

Awards and Recognitions 

We are especially proud of the following because they are specific to our commitment to the PLC process and desire to share our knowledge throughout our state of Arkansas:

1) Selected as an Arkansas Practitioner for the Arkansas Regional PLC Network Dr. Katie Kreimer, Principal

2) Arkansas Project Collaboration - 4 teachers from our school were selected to serve on this project

3) A Teacher leader who highlighted special education in PLC work through a commercial for the state of Arkansas and a national podcast (Professional Learning Communities and Improving Outcomes for Students with Disabilities)

4) Arkansas Statewide Playbook development - 6 teachers selected to serve on the Statewide Playbook

5) Perspective of Staff learning how to do this process working from home due to the pivot to virtual learning because of COVID pandemic (students were important and worth persevering)