R. H. Fulmer Middle School (2023)
- Number of Students: 569
- Percent Eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch: 77.2%
- Percent of Limited English Proficient: 8.8%
- Percent of Special Education: 23.1%
- White: 43.1%
- Black: 32.6%
- Hispanic: 15.3%
- Asian: 0.7%
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 0%
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 0.7%
- Multiracial: 7.6%
- Other: 0%
The PLC at Work story at Fulmer Middle School began at a Professional Learning Community Institute in Birmingham, Alabama in the Summer of 2006, when the leadership took the first step in a long journey of school improvement that focused on adult learning and collaboration as a means to student learning. The implementation of the Professional Learning Communities at Work process became an adult mindset that shifted the professional culture of our school in the following primary areas:
- A shift from the mindset of “I taught and they didn’t learn it, so I’m moving on” to “my data suggests that I need to revisit this skill or concept in class tomorrow or during intervention.”
- The process of backwards design and the development of teacher-driven common formative assessments to inform instructional and intervention practices.
- Professional collaboration exists for the purpose of the development of collective efficacy and a shared understanding of every student is “our student.”
- The development of smaller communities of teachers and students for the purpose of collectively identifying how to respond when students learn and do not learn.
These mindset shifts guided the work of improving student behavior in a school environment that was responding to a marked shift in demographics and socioeconomics of the area. Self reflection and group share led the initial PLC Summer Institute participants to break ground on a plan that would influence classroom and schoolwide behavior modification as the foundational part of school improvement at Fulmer. It was from that point our school community actively engaged in the work of behavioral intervention as a means to improve individual classroom environments, the school culture, and to provide a strong foundation for teaching and learning. This initial step allowed our teachers to respond to behavior in a way that allowed for learning to take center stage and allowed for our teachers to support students with behavior modification.
As positive momentum gained around a system and process of behavioral interventions, the staff asked about the possibility of implementing a similar system and process for academics. Fulmer Middle School collaboratively developed an Academic Intervention Model that puts student learning at the forefront. Over the next three years, the principal took different groups of staff members to the PLC Institute so they could see and learn from those doing the work. This helped all staff members understand what being a true PLC was all about. Over six years, we continued to refine the systems and processes and watched as our student achievement grew and our discipline numbers decreased.
The other key to our success was that teachers were involved in all areas of developing our PLC. We collaborated around everything and even reached the point of making sure candidates understood our culture before they were hired, because if a teacher was not comfortable sharing data and strategies with others, we were not the place for them. Ultimately, as teachers implemented the tenets of the PLC, they saw the results in student learning and performance and that was all that was needed to build the commitment to the process. Even with leadership and staff changes, we remain a true PLC. That does not mean we have arrived, but it does mean that we collectively continue to work together to solve problems.
At Fulmer Middle School, we believe that our students deserve our very best each day. To do this takes continuous improvement and a reflective lens. Like many schools and districts across the country, we have faced significant challenges over the past two years, but this hasn’t deterred us, it has provided us with more resolve to focus on our systems and processes.
Our focus has remained on two primary areas of improving teaching and learning in our school:
- The development of a guaranteed and viable curriculum began through the professional collaboration of content planning partners in all four content areas at all three grade levels. This began as a learning map which included the unpacking of the state standards, development of essential learning, essential vocabulary, pacing and sequencing of essential learning, instructional strategies, teacher developed instructional materials, inclusion of instructional materials from external resources, assessments utilized to measure student mastery, and exemplars of student learning. This practice diffused to a neighboring middle school in our district, all middle schools in our district, and finally throughout the entire district.
- The development and administration of cumulative common formative assessments as a means to measure students’ mastery of the essential learning. This has been and continues to be foundational to data analysis that allows the teachers to monitor instruction, plan interventions, and address assessment validity and reliability.
Over the course of the past two school years, our focus has remained on two primary PLC structures in our school community:
- Targeted intervention as a means to address student learning gaps in a health and safety climate that has created inconsistent instructional rhythms.
- Vertical articulation amongst content departments to align the spiraling nature of skills in our state standards. For example, Numbers and Operations and what is required for students to demonstrate mastery as they transition through the middle grades has been a conversation with regards to what skills were missed during the pandemic. The collaboration focuses on skills that were not addressed due to instructional time missed and how these skills can spiral throughout the grade levels. This is in an effort to protect the guaranteed and viable curriculum and its pacing of the essential learning.
Having the PLC process lead our school’s work over the past 16 years has provided a focus and framework for the improvement of student learning, development of school culture, and the building of professional capacity that promotes internal leadership to carry out our school’s mission of continuous improvement.
We know that the PLC process is an ongoing process that will influence our school’s trajectory. With this in mind, our school has set our sights on continuing to refine our practices in the following areas:
- The essential learning will continue to be shared with students as a means to communicate learning expectations in all content areas. This area of refinement will include a unit plan for students to access which details the standards for the unit, learning outcomes, opportunities to demonstrate mastery through formative assessments, essential vocabulary, and learning artifacts.
- Active involvement in the ongoing refinement of the district’s unit plans will continue to take place.
- Teachers will continue to engage in the analysis of short cycle common assessments, critical reflection, and respond to the needs of students based on this data. The TACA (Teachers Analyzing Common Assessments) protocol will guide this ongoing analysis.
- Instructional strategies for the purpose of intervention and extensions will continue to be addressed to provide teachers with internal resources to address students’ learning needs.
1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.
The development of a guaranteed and viable curriculum was a culminating step in Fulmer Middle School’s commitment to aligning and communicating what we want students to know. This process began amongst our grade level academic teams in a traditional notebook portfolio during the 2011-12 school year. The unpacking of state curriculum standards, development of essential learning, development of formative assessments, determination of sequencing and pacing, identification of essential vocabulary, inclusion of high yield instructional strategies, and exemplars of student work. The process of data analysis guided the development of the curriculum and encouraged teachers to dive deeper into their assessments, instructional strategies, and pacing and sequencing. This “living” document served as a tool to guide teachers and align what we expect students to know and how we will know when the students have demonstrated mastery. It was consistently revisited during professional collaboration time to include content planning and department meetings.
This process expanded to developing curriculum with a smaller middle school in our district of which teachers did not have access to teachers internally teaching the same grade level or content. Our teachers engaged in this partnership over the course of two school years and were able to reap the benefit of a larger district perspective which included instructional strategies for students outside of the traditional student, to include those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds or multilingual homes. This process allowed our faculty to deepen their understanding of the process of curriculum development.
This practice eventually expanded district wide in our middle level Unit Skeleton Plans for all grade levels and content areas. These plans are led by district level curriculum coordinators who work tirelessly to ensure that teachers are highly involved and engaged in the process. The plans are housed in a centralized dashboard for all teachers to access. These plans include a Proficiency Map (i.e, essential standards, supporting standards, and pacing), assessment plan, and the Unit Skeleton Plan. As the name suggests, the unit plans provide teachers with a basic outline of what has to be included in the unit: 1. Essential standard, 2. Timeline for instruction, 3. Learning targets, 4. Background knowledge of the students as it relates to previous instructional exposure, 5. Prerequisite skills, 6. Vocabulary, 7. Learning progression, and 8. Extensions of learning, 9. Multilingual learner supports, and 10. Assessments. District-wide collaboration around these plans takes place monthly as a formal measure to ensure clarity on the expectations, opportunities for feedback, and understanding of how this process norms instruction in our school and district.
The monitoring of student learning is accomplished through the process of gathering evidence of student learning through frequent and varied common formative assessments. The development of common formative assessments was an embedded practice dating back to the 2010-11 school year when teachers began writing their own common formative assessments on an unit basis. At that point, our school purchased a license to Mastery Manager, which provided our faculty a tool to disaggregate student performance data by standard, an item analysis that allowed teachers to determine the reliability of assessment questions, and students’ proficiency towards a target of mastery. This tool was integral to the success of teachers writing their own assessments in a backward design model. Developing item banks of assessment questions became the focus of our faculty, in order to assess student learning and mastery.
From that point, our faculty began working alongside counterparts throughout the school district to develop the larger common formative assessments that became the district benchmarks. District wide data analysis took place to measure the collective mastery of students in the district. Simultaneously, our teachers were in different places with regards to their short-cycle formative assessments to inform their teaching and intervention practices.
With this in mind, our school moved in the direction of administering bi-weekly, short cycle common assessments for each content area in all grade levels to include Related Arts and Special Education. This process has formalized the administration of short cycle common assessments as a means to gather data more frequently on one to two standards or skills. These assessments are varied and developed by teachers prior to the learning, discussed during their content planning time, communicated to their grade level teams, and analyzed through our TACA (Teachers Analyzing Common Assessments) protocol.
The TACA protocol allows our teachers to reflect on what they are gathering from the students’ results on the short cycle assessments. This practice takes place on a bi-weekly basis and is aligned with their administration of short cycle common assessments of one to two standards/skills. Teachers are asked to reflect on their short cycle assessments by following the following protocol:
- Which students did not master the essential standard being addressed?
- How will we provide extra time and support for unlearned skills? What steps will we take to reteach content? How will we check for success?
- Which students demonstrated mastery on the skill(s) being assessed?
- How will we support learners in need of enrichment?
- Do we need to make any edits to the formative assessment?
- Which instructional strategies proved effective? Do any strategies need to be adjusted?
2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.
Fulmer Middle School’s MTSS (Multi-Tiered Systems of Support) plan guides our tiered approach to how we respond when students present needs in the areas of academic, behavior, and attendance. We utilize our tiered academic approach as a means to prevent student learning gaps (Tier 1), apply interventions and extensions (Tier II), and address longitudinal learning gaps through intense remediation (Tier III). The master schedule at Fulmer Middle School carves out protected time for students to receive academic support on a daily basis. Our school-wide systems are rooted in the idea of addressing the root cause of the academic behavior and to differentiate between learners who demonstrate a lack of skill, lack of will, or a combination of both of these concerns. Time to discuss these student concerns takes place during common planning.
Addressing these needs is captured through our school wide implementation of Morning Tutoring. This program serves students who demonstrate a lack of skill or concept knowledge as measured by their daily formative assessments and is designed to be targeted, specific intervention. In practice, this looks like students completing a daily formative assessment and the teacher utilizing the data to determine how to guide instruction or extension the following school day. Our Google Workspace allows us to communicate the essential skills being addressed in small group tutoring as well as the students receiving targeted intervention. These groups rotate on a daily basis and are designed to meet the needs of students’ specific needs in an urgent manner.
Our district’s Lex 2.5 afterschool program provides students with Math, Reading, and Writing skill support three days per week. Curriculum is designed to remediate students’ skills that have not been mastered in previous grades, along with progress monitoring strategies that allow students to track their academic progress.
The schedule also includes strategies to address students who demonstrate a lack of will in completing assignments that allow teachers to assess mastery. Lunch Learning Center (LLC) is utilized to address the unique characteristics of adolescent learners through a referral process of assignments to LLC that require students to complete work that demonstrates their mastery of a skill or concept. This system has allowed us to embody the idea of failure not being an option as it provides embedded time in the school day that leverages the social desires of middle school and incentivizes students developing or refining their habits of submitting work in a timely manner.
Instructional time in Science and Social Studies classes is allocated for the purpose of standards-based instruction, as well as instruction in content area reading and writing. All teachers have received specialized professional development to embed literacy strategies into their content instruction and are abreast of struggling students and areas of support through the weekly team level collaboration. Not only are multidisciplinary connections addressed, so are skills that are typical areas of struggle for students (e.g. citing textual evidence, comprehension of nonfiction text, etc.) that are able to be readily embedded into content area classes.
Embedded literacy strategies also provide students an opportunity to extend their skill knowledge of reading nonfiction text, research strategies, and communication through expository writing, which are skills that are needed to position students to be academically successful. Our enrichment program each morning runs parallel with our morning tutoring program. Students who are not being tutored during that time are able to select an enrichment option for the day that allows them to explore their interests that are aligned with academic skills (e.g., coding, LegoMaker, Book Club, advanced Music, etc.). Enrichment options are designed to not only extend the learning experience for students but to also support our schoolwide implementation of AVID and the Profile of a South Carolina Graduates’ World Class Skills (e.g., teamwork, collaboration, communication, media and technology, critical thinking, and innovation).
3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.
Culture of Collaboration
The culture at Fulmer Middle School is built upon adult learning as a means to the improvement of student learning. Collaboration drives our professional culture and is organized both vertically and horizontally. Our organizational structures allow for the building of professional communities of adults to address the unique adolescent needs of our learners, both academically and behaviorally. In practice, this collaboration is organized into content planning teams with at least 2.25 teaching positions in every content at each grade level. The content planning partners also collaborate with the grade level team in order to discuss content for multidisciplinary connections, embedded literacy in content areas, and more specific student academic needs.
Our collaboration efforts function vertically to include monthly departmental meetings to discuss spiraling skills and standards, instructional strategies for Tier I (classroom) and Tier II (intervention) strategies,and potential skill gaps emerging from pandemic and post-pandemic instruction. These collaborative practices exist around the development of assessments, analysis of data, and the contributions to the guaranteed and viable curriculum.
Because we believe that all students are our students, we leverage the expertise and skills of our specialists in our faculty to include special educators, multilingual learning teachers, and teachers with skill sets developed through AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination). We collaborate and integrate high yield instructional strategies and share data collection with these specialists.
New Teacher Assimilation
We recognize that there are specific school wide procedures that are unique to our school culture and environment. From the initial phase of teacher recruitment, our interview process includes a collaborative group of teachers that support the interview process, in order to gauge the synergy of the group. Additionally, questions including the candidates experience and desire to analyze data to inform instructional practices, design and administer formative assessments, and their overall perception of professional collaboration allow us to select potential teachers to join our school community.
The need exists for early career teachers who are new to the profession or teachers entering our district with experience. Each summer, we host a New Teacher Bootcamp, and the focus of this event is the detail the expectations for professional collaboration, how our district develops and implements a guaranteed and viable curriculum, how we plan and implement Tier II and Tier III intervention strategies, data collection and analysis through Mastery Manager and our data analysis protocol, and our behavior modification model. The objective of this professional development is to provide teachers with a baseline knowledge of school wide expectations for professional collaboration and our culture that exists around it.
Internal Teacher Leadership
We believe that cultivating teacher leaders is a huge component of sustaining any Professional Learning Community. We provide opportunities for all of our teachers to facilitate meetings and conversations. In turn this helps us identify our teacher leaders who can help with the continued implementation of the PLC process in our school. This internal teacher leadership has allowed our PLC process to sustain through administrative changes, staff changes through normal attrition (i.e., teacher retirement, relocation out of state, etc.), a transition in facilities, and pandemic learning.
Often, these individuals do not share commonalities in content area, grade level, or years of experience in teaching. Specifically, these teachers have taken the lead in developing common assessments internally, as well as being active leaders in the development of assessments and curriculum in our district. They have modeled assessment reliability and validity through their organically created data dashboards to correlate common formative assessment data with STAR Renaissance and SC Ready state summative assessment data. We utilize their experience with curriculum and assessment development and instruction to provide mentorship for early career teachers through the intentional placement of teacher leaders through their teaching assignment.
Achievement Data Files
Additional Achievement Data
The following data points are included:
- Student Achievement Data for the school years ranging from 2015-16 to 2021-22.
- Student Progress Points measure overall school growth in our statewide accountability system. Fulmer Middle traditionally performs above the state, district, and Schools Like Us (+/- 5 % of poverty index) averages in the area of student progress. This measures the amount of growth that schools achieve, which calculates the individual growth of students from the previous year.
- Cohort data for the past 6 school years that measures specific student groups as they transition from our feeder elementary school and matriculate from our middle school. Elementary feeder data is included, with the exception of the 2014-15 school year which was a pause year due to the change in the state summative assessment. The total calculation is based on the baseline student scores in 5th grade in comparison to their 8th grade scores.
- Screenshots of our statewide accountability rating from 2004 - 2013 that measure the overall performance which indicates a positive growth trajectory beginning in the 2006 school year. This resulted from the implementation of the PLC process during this school year.
- Benchmark data was collected from the STAR assessment from 2019-20 (Fall and Winter) and 2020-21 (Fall, Winter, and Spring). This data was collected in lieu of the state summative assessment data due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Data was collected to monitor the progress of students enrolled in our Lex 2.5 after school program (Tier III intervention) for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years.
- An example of a teacher-created dashboard that is utilized to correlate state summative assessment data, benchmark data, and teacher-created common formative assessment data.
National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform National School to Watch
- Initial Designation 2011-2012
- Redesignation I 2014 - 2015
- Redesignation II 2017 - 2018
- Redesignation III 2020 - 2021
Principal named South Carolina Middle Level Principal of the Year by the South Carolina Association of School Administrators (SCASA) 2022.
Multiple Palmetto Gold and Silver Recognitions from the South Carolina Department of Education for Overall Performance and Closing the Achievement Gap.