Hiawatha Elementary School

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


Our journey began in 2017 with a new superintendent for Essex Westford School District and a new principal to Hiawatha Elementary School. Beth Cobb (superintendent) and  Katherine Grykien (principal of Hiawatha Elementary) came with prior PLC experience. They were well versed in John Hattie’s research to improve student learning and they shared a commitment to bringing the PLC process to the Essex Westford School District.


Essex Westford School District’sfirst step was to create a collaborative culture with a focus on student learning. To do this, the district brought administrators, teachers, faculty, staff, students and parents together to create a vision and  theory of action. Through this process it became clear the path to improve student learning was through the PLC process. The new vision was reflected in the district  Continuous Improvement Plan. The improvement plan would become the living document to guide us through the next three years. 


Hiawatha’s first step to creating a collaborative culture with a focus on student learning was to begin looking at the work of John Hattie and the concept of PLCs. This was brand new knowledge to the Hiawatha faculty. Although the research was there the buy-in from the faculty was not yet collective.  We knew the task was big, but we were committed to excellence and ready for the challenge. 



In the 2018-2019 school year, we began a district wide early release once a week for collaborative teams to meet. Hiawatha collaborative teams met weekly for one hour.  Team leaders led district and grade-level teams with learning specialists and unified arts teachers. Each team established norms and used a common agenda template to frame the block of time. We also used the time to begin learning about PLCs collectively as evident in our September Faculty meeting.  We started to look at data and noticed a need for interventions in reading. We began to use LLI and other research based practices during the reading block for those students who showed a need. When revisiting data we realized many students receiving LLI  did not show adequate growth, but we really didn’t know what other strategies to use. This led to more and more teachers expressing a need for professional development in the area of literacy. We were off to a good start but  had no idea our growth would explode over the next few years. 


In November we sent our first team to a PLC at Work in Atlanta. Our experience in Atlanta became the  impetus to shifting our school’s culture, creating a shared understanding of the PLC process, and building collective efficacy among the teachers at Hiawatha. Our leadership team came back and used the November Inservice to share their learning. They created a mission statement and  introduced themselves as the Guiding Coalition. During their shared learning they defined PLCs at Work  and collaborative grade level teams. They also shared the need for a viable and guaranteed curriculum which needed to start with essential standards. All teachers shared an exit card around their new understanding of PLC Terms


Our teams that once consisted of special educators, unified arts, and classroom teachers broke down to job-like teams. This meant we had a team for each grade level which consisted of all classroom teachers for the specific grade, including a guiding coalition member. The Guiding Coalition members led their teams in choosing essential standards. This work followed a protocol where each team member reviewed the common core standards and rated them based on leverage, endurance, and readiness. Members discussed their ratings with their collaborative grade level teams and agreements were made on essential standards. This work was vital to ensure a viable curriculum in reading and math. We created a document

where each collaborative team recorded their newly chosen essentials. We would  be able to use this document to look at essential standards vertically from kindergarten to grade three.  


At the district level, we were meeting once a month in grade level teams consisting of classroom teachers and an assigned principal. We followed the same protocol to start identifying district  essential standards. This work was partly done so that we could start looking at the alignment of our essentials with district assessments. By the end of the year we had identified essential standards at a district level for reading and math.


Teachers were excited and inspired. In fact during a self-directed PD time in January, ALL grade level teachers chose to work in collaborative teams diving deeper into essential standards and common  assessments.  


We would go on to send two more groups of teachers to PLC at Work Institutes  as a means to invigorate the process and continue to build collective efficacy.  With every Solution Tree event we attended, we became more inspired, more reflective, and implemented more positive change.


In the spring, the Guiding Coalition went to visit Memorial Elementary School, a Model PLC School in New Hampshire.   We needed to see a model PLC school in action and talk with educators who made the PLC process work. Our visit to Memorial Elementary School allowed us time to meet with PLC leaders, observe intervention blocks, attend collaborative team meetings, and talk to the leaders who implemented the change.   


At the end of the year, our district was approached by the Stern Center and their Lead to Read Program. Lead to Read is a comprehensive literacy program that focuses on the science of reading. Knowing the needs of our teachers, we took this opportunity and became the only elementary school in the district to pilot the program for the 2019-2020 school year.


Through these experiences, we learned we needed to take a different approach the following school year. We needed a focus on Tier 1 instruction (Lead to Read would help) and we needed a schedule that guaranteed time for interventions. 



In the 2019-2020 school year, we added a literacy intervention block called WIN  (What I Need) to our MTSS schedule. Our WIN block was an all hands on deck approach where we included classroom teachers, special educators,  the EL teacher, and interventionists. Some classroom teachers began to share students during intervention blocks to meet students' needs. All classroom teachers and interventionists were taking the Lead to Read course which  led to significant shifts in our thinking around the instruction of reading. We used new assessment tools that highlighted the need for direct instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics at Tier 1. 


Hiawatha sent another group of teachers in October to PLCs at Work in San Antonio. At this point every one of our classroom teachers had gone to a PLC Institute. The drive and collective commitment among all teachers was growing. In January our first group, including two special educators, went to an RTI at Work Workshop. This team realized the need to have school level and grade level teams. 


Unfortunately, COVID put a pause to our district work where we were finalizing essentials in the last content area of writing. However, Hiawatha educators used the essential standards in reading and math to guide the work with students during remote learning. Keeping the focus on the essential standards increased our teachers' desire to work together through collaboration during the time of closure. Collaborative  teams relied heavily on each other by dividing work that aligned with each teacher’s strengths and expertise. In order to be mindful of the home stressors that each family may have been navigating during COVID, grade levels focused on one essential standard for math and one for reading. Together teachers created learning targets for their two essentials. Each week grade level teams sent a slideshow to their students. The slideshow consisted of home video lessons by the teachers, daily assignments, and opportunities for extension. Teachers also held virtual meetings with their class and some small group meetings occurred as well. All state assessments and all district assessments  were canceled for Spring 2020. Hiawatha did not give up on progress monitoring. Teachers required students to submit two work samples (one for math and one for reading) weekly. Teachers provided feedback to the students and used the sample work as  informative assessment.  The spreadsheets with data cannot be shared due to the anecdotal notes which would breach confidentiality, but the slide decks can be viewed as evidence located with our assessment data. Grade level teams continued to meet (virtually) in order to provide students with the education they still needed to receive. 



COVID did not stop our faculty from remaining committed to the PLC process. Teachers showed their commitment to our continuous improvement by dedicating the summer flex day to creating units that aligned essential standards, learning targets and common formative assessments.  In addition, during the summer of 2020 all Guiding Coalition team members took the RTI at Work Portable Event. We used the RTI at Work Pyramid to identify next steps for school level and grade level teams.  We committed to establishing a site intervention team, as our data told us we were not yet ensuring that all students were receiving the targeted support they needed. In the spring of 2021, interested people Read Tier 2 Essential Actions and Tier 3 Essential Actions from Taking Action. A Site Intervention Team was formed for the 2021-2022 school year to ensure we had a process to implement interventions as needed. 


Our District invested  in Senior Advisor Jack Balderman with Solution  Tree to provide PD for our leaders and guiding coalition members. The Guiding Coalition met with Jack Baldermann in May. We shared where we were and our next steps. 


 All teachers began  using common formative assessments  to plan interventions. The 15 day challenge became a common tool for planning units. Grade level teams were looking at data, by essential, by target, by student and that approach helped drive our instructional practices.  All SMartGoals used learning targets  as a way to increase student learning. We continued our learning around the science of reading. We implemented and were trained in Fundations which provided a systematic program in critical foundation skills. The district formed a committee to look at SEL standards and got feedback from vertical teams. We  implemented essential SEL essential standards with common learning targets and used DESSA as a universal screener to assess student needs.  We closed out the year creating a document where all grade level teams identified students in need of Tier 3 so interventions could begin immediately when school started in the fall. 



During our August inservice the Site Intervention Team created a common understanding amongst faculty on their team’s structure, purpose, and processes by creating an RTI presentation. This team continues to meet weekly processing referrals and progress monitoring the interventions put in place. Changes are made along the way if adequate progress is not being made. 


Collaborative teams (classroom teachers, special educators, ELL teacher, interventionists) meet about every 4-6 weeks. At these meetings teams review Tier 2 intervention data and discuss student gains (student by student, target by target). If growth is not being made, instructional changes are put into place. During this time, changes to intervention groups are also made. 


This February we have done a tremendous amount of work.  We recently celebrated our data as a faculty and acknowledged that the PLC process is working!  We sent another group to RTI at Work in Austin. The team presented their takeaways and how RTI at Work supports the changes Act 173 will require. The learning from this team also sparked new changes for our last 12 weeks of school.


We noticed that we might be putting too much of an emphasis on standards that are not being assessed at mastery. We are using the month ofMarchto look at data, reflect on chosen essential standards, and consider whether shifts need to be made with the standards we are deeming to be essential. During this time, vertical teams are meeting and choosing the standards to focus on from now until the end of the year. We will continue to collaborate with other PLC leaders from other schools on further refining the guaranteed and viable curriculum. This spring we are also part of the district pilot to identify universal screeners that will be used to support our RTI/MTSS process . 


In a short amount of time we have made monumental growth. We created a timeline

of our PLC work which allowed us to reflect on our last five years.  Our communications coordinator used a script we made with artifacts to create a short video of our PLC Journey, click hereto view. We will share the video at the school and district level to celebrate our accomplishments. Our journey has followed a cycle of  LEARN, REFLECT, IMPLEMENT. We are proud of the work we have done, and collectively we are holding tight to our path so that we can continue to do what’s best for students.


1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

Monitoring Student Learning on a timely basis

At Hiawatha Elementary monitoring student learning on a timely basis is a priority. We use our essential standards and the four critical questions to guide our instruction. We use our student achievement data from common formative assessments to develop instructional plans. We also use the data to remediate or extend students' knowledge of the identified learning target. This cycle continues until the SMART goal for proficiency has been met. 


  • All collaborative teams decided on essential standards for math and reading. 

  • All collaborative teams have planned learning targets aligned to the essential standards

  • All collaborative teams have begun to work on common assessments that align to the chosen essential standards. 

  • All collaborative teams use the essential standards to plan instructional strategies in reading, writing, math and SEL.

  • All collaborative teams monitor student progress toward mastery by using formative assessments which may include exit tickets, quick checks, student conferences and student reflection on I can statements. 

  • All collaborative teams have two collaborative planning times each week where they focus on the 4 critical questions, instructional strategies and student needs at Tier 1 and Tier 2.

  • Every Wednesday there is an early release to provide time for collaborative teams  to meet which includes all learning specialists.

  • SMART goals are refined yearly

  • Every Wednesday there is an early release to provide time for collaborative teams  to meet which includes all learning specialists.

  • SMART goals are refined yearly 

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

Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support


Hiawatha Elementary has put a lot of effort into providing students with a system of intervention and support. We are constantly reflecting and revamping to meet the needs of students. Not only have we changed our schedule to include intervention blocks, but we have also added in weekly and monthly time for collaborative teams to meet and review data. 


  • MTSS schedule has a WIN block 4 days a week for each grade level. During the WIN blocks students receive Tier 2 and Tier 3 instruction. The grade level is flooded with special educators, EL teacher, interventionists, and para support

  • Collaborative teams with learning specialists meet about once every 4-6 weeks to reflect on current interventions based on common essential standards. Changes are made based on the needs of each individual student.

  • Some collaborative teams have started providing extensions for students who already have mastered the essential standard. 

  • Site intervention team meets weekly to 

    • process referrals 

    • provide support to teachers for next steps in Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 instruction

    • progress monitor Tier 3 interventions to plan next steps which could include ESTs or a special education referral. 

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

Building high performing collaborative teams to focus efforts on student learning. 

At Hiawatha Elementary we can confidently say that we have teacher efficacy in the building. All staff believe that all children can be successful. We know  in order to achieve this task  we need to see the children as belonging to all of us - it's a collective effort on improved learning for all students. 


  • All collaborative teams use an agenda that focuses on a collaborative culture.

  • All collaborative teams hold each other accountable and focus on Tier 1 and Tier 2 instruction

  • All collaborative teams have norms

  • We have a school wide commitment to continuous learning

  • We respond systematically to the four critical questions 

  • There is collective efficacy among all teachers around student learning and an investment in all students.

  • All Smart Goals embed Hattie’s research based instructional practices to obtain high levels of student achievement

  • 2019 Hiawatha Principal; Katherine Grykien was awarded a grant from the Vermont Arts Council to fund Artist in Residence Very Merry Theater. This experience engaged all students in learning experiences through dance, music, and acting. 


  • 2020 Hiawatha Principal; Katherine Grykien was awarded a grant to fund an outdoor classroom. The outdoor classroom came during 2020 when our school was recovering from the COVID pandemic. The space provided an opportunity for outdoor learning which led to an increase in shared experiences for students outside. 


  • 2021 Hiawatha special educator; Jen Ormerod was recognized by The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) as one of the nation's 100 exceptional education teachers (only two chosen per state). CEC is the largest international professional organization dedicated to improving the success of children and youth with disabilities and/or gifts and talents. 


  • 2021 Hiawatha’s social emotional coach; Alice Weston was awarded Essex Westford School District K-8 Teacher of the Year. She was recognized for her expertise in collaborative problem solving with students with chronic and significant SEL and behavioral delays.


  • 2022 Hiawatha’s social emotional coach; Alice Weston was awarded a grant from the Vermont Arts Council to fund Artist in Residency in the spring. The staff is looking forward to this special opportunity to bring all students together after two and half years of social distancing.