New Glarus Elementary School (2023)

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

During the 2013-2014 school year, the administrative team read the book, Professional Learning Communities at Work.  This reading prompted the discussion about high expectations of learning for all students.  The following summer, the team of five New Glarus School District administrators traveled to Lincolnshire, Illinois to attend the district’s first Solution Tree PLC at Work Institute.  We were inspired and determined to create a system where collaboration would create great results for all students.

The journey with the staff began in the 2014-2015 school year.  We knew we could not do this alone.  True collaboration would require a team of leaders.  The first step was creating a leadership team at the elementary building.  Our grade level configurations at the time included multi-aged classrooms at the first/second grade and third/fourth-grade levels.  The multiage teams and the combined 4-year-old (4K) and kindergarten team were asked to choose a team leader.  As we jumped into our first collaborative team meetings, teams worked to set norms, define roles, and begin discussing question number one - what do we want students to learn.  This was our first step to becoming a Professional Learning Community.  

At New Glarus Elementary School, we also begin our days with the question, “why do we exist or why are we here?”  The answer is “to learn!”  What began as a guiding question for our work has become the driving purpose.  Every morning during our Morning Meeting with staff and students, the question is asked, “why are we here?”  As a unified voice, our staff and students respond with “to learn!”  The leader of the Morning Meeting then states, “today, it is important; you can do it!”  Then all staff joins in with, “and we believe in you!”  This has become our mantra every day.  We are here to learn, both adults and students.  This is our mission statement - “we are here to learn.”  It is why we exist.  Our vision, or the answer to the question about what we want to become, has been to a Model PLC School.  We put our sights on this goal as our vision since the beginning of our journey.  Our staff determines our team norms at the first staff meeting each year.  We review last year’s norms, and through a brainstorming process, we determine if we need updates or changes.  The norms are at the top of every team notes protocol.  

In the summer of 2015, the New Glarus Elementary school team leaders attended the PLC Institute in Lincolnshire.  The team left the institute changed.  A sense of urgency and the need to implement the work of collaborative teacher teams and ensure high levels of learning for all students became a driving force for our Building Leadership Team and in turn, our grade-level teams.  One of our team leaders created a presentation for the back-to-school staff meeting.  It was set to music and showed a picture of every student who had not met grade-level, academic expectations the previous year.  Our teacher leader gave a compelling case for the need to work together and focus on the four critical questions of collaborative teams. The staff was motivated and determined to make a difference, student by student, skill by skill.  

The New Glarus Elementary School staff committed to weekly collaborative team meetings.  Our first step was to determine question one.  We had already started to unpack the standards at each grade level before attending the PLC Institutes. At about the same time, we realized our curriculum in English Language Arts was not meeting the standards or the Essential Learning Outcomes (ELOs) we were selecting.  The process for a universal ELA curriculum also commenced in the 2016-2017 school year.  Our ELA team of teacher leaders reviewed several sets of high-quality materials and selected one to pilot in the 2017-2018 school year.  We adopted and fully implemented a universal, rigorous curriculum proposed by the teaching staff in the fall of 2018.  Not to be left in the dust, the math team of teacher leaders at the elementary was also realizing the lack of rigor and connection to standards in our math curriculum.  So, they also begin the process of reviewing high-quality materials based on the same criteria as the ELA team.  In the fall of 2018, several teachers in second through fifth grades piloted a new math curriculum, while kindergarten and first-grade teachers all jumped into a new math curriculum.  This meant that kindergarten and first-grade teachers were implementing two sets of core curricula at the same time.  This would have been completely overwhelming if it had not been for the collaborative teams working together with a vision of what the ELOs were for students.

As we were adopting high-quality materials, the collaborative teams realized the need to focus on a few essential learning outcomes.  It was not possible to make all 110 standards in first grade, for example, essential.  Through collaborative team meetings, we narrowed each grade level’s Essential Learning Outcomes (ELOs) to no more than ten. We used the three criteria for determining if a standard should be an ELO - 1) does it have leverage for future learning (pre-requisite skill), 2) is it assessed on high stake assessments (state test and/or district benchmark assessment), and 3) does it have endurance over time.  Not only did it take several months to narrow the ELOs to a manageable number at each grade level, but we also spent several meetings making sure the vertical alignment of the ELOs made sense across grade levels.  

Grade-level teams, as well as teams of special education staff and our encore staff (art, music, phy ed, etc.) along with the school principal, have attended an institute every year since 2015 including the virtual institutes during the pandemic.  Thankfully, our district and school board has committed resources to our professional development and learning, and it has been impactful for our staff and students.  As we continue on our journey with a focus on learning, we are always looking to what is the next step to ensure all students learn at high levels. When the pandemic hit, it was our collaborative teams that took action to determine what was most important to make sure all students were learning, how to assess student learning both in person and online, and share the workload of teaching in two environments simultaneously.  We are incredibly grateful for both our teams and our high-quality materials which allowed our students to grow and achieve at high levels despite a pandemic.  Our students’ scores did not decline due to the unprecedented crisis, nor did we experience the level of learning loss that negatively impacted so many schools around the world.  While we were navigating the pandemic, we created our non-negotiable list for both our Tier One and Tier Two expectations.  We also completed a book study of Taking Action as an entire district to clarify our non-negotiables.  These steps will serve us and our students as we continue to determine our next steps of growth and achievement.  

As we look to the future, our next steps on the journey will be continuing to refine our Tier One and Tier Two expectations related to the 4 Critical Questions.  It is our strong belief that teams do not simply check items on a list and call it done.  There is a constant reviewing and improving of processes.  We are also returning to RtI at Work for refining our Tier Three framework and creating teams focused on students who need support beyond Tier One and Tier Two.  We are committed to the process of high achievement for all students, and we will continue to evaluate who needs additional support to reach those levels and determine our best plans for intervention.  The PLC lifestyle has become embedded in our school culture and sets the bar of high expectations for our students, staff, and community.


1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

One of the first critical components we determined we needed in order to monitor student learning was a guaranteed and viable curriculum and that the curriculum was not created in isolated classrooms.  Teachers determined that we needed a plan that was dependent on the teacher in the classroom. It was important for the staff to have high-quality materials with a strong scope and sequence that all teachers of a grade level had access to for instruction.  When teachers move grade levels, retire, or leave our school, it is important the universal plan remains and a new staff member can be provided the professional development to implement the guaranteed and viable curriculum plan.  

Our staff has committed to the process of implementing high-quality materials across all curricular areas based on the following criteria - it meets all the standards, has embedded assessments, provides professional development for teachers,  has a strong scope and sequence of skills across grade levels, and has proven results of increasing student achievement.  The process for determining the universal curriculum plan in our school and district has been a team of teachers and administrators reviewing materials based on the criteria above, reviewing outside agencies such as Ed Reports, and piloting chosen materials.  All stakeholders are a part of our guaranteed and viable curriculum selection, and we created a non-negotiable checklist for our universal curriculum.  

Our universal curriculum plans ensure that all teachers are committed to the same learning standards.  Being committed to the same expectations and success criteria provides clear direction for monitoring student progress.  We created a document to track student achievement of the Essential Learning Outcomes (ELOs) of the universal curriculum for English Language Arts (ELA) and math at the elementary level.  During the weekly team meetings, teachers review the data of the common formative assessments to determine which students need additional instruction and practice as well as the students who may be ready for enrichment activities.  Because this document is reviewed weekly, teams are aligned in administering, scoring, recording, and monitoring student data.  The universal curriculum and the determining of the ELOs at each grade level provide us with solid answers to the first two critical questions: 1) What do we want our students to know? And 2) How will we know if they have learned it?

Through collaborative team meetings, staff narrowed each grade level’s Essential Learning Outcomes (ELOs) to not more than ten. They used the three criteria for determining if a standard should be an ELO - 1) does it have leverage for future learning (pre-requisite skill), 2) is it assessed on high stake assessments (state test and/or district benchmark assessment), and 3) does it have endurance over time.  Not only did it take several months to narrow the ELOs to a manageable number at each grade level, but the building leadership team also spent several meetings making sure the vertical alignment of the ELOs made sense across grade levels.  

The teacher teams updated our report cards with the chosen ELOs, so that what they are teaching and assessing aligns with what families were receiving in feedback.  They also aligned their grade level ELOs with the new curriculum to determine what was a ‘must know’ when teaching the lessons and might be nice to know if there was time.  As the ELOs and the curriculum became more aligned, the teacher teams set higher expectations for success criteria and teams began to collaborate around questions three and four of the PLC critical questions.  They also aligned the high-quality curriculum assessments to their ELOs for the identification of students who needed additional intervention or extensions.  Because teachers use a common curriculum, common formative assessments, ELOs determined by grade levels and aligned vertically, and have agreed to the success criteria for the ELOs, the school developed a spreadsheet system for recording data student-by-student and skill-by-skill across all grade levels in kindergarten through fifth grade.  One document records data for the English Language Arts ELOs and one for the math ELOs. The links show an example of the first-grade ELA and math ELOs.  The spreadsheets include tabs for all grade levels.  Therefore, teachers have access to view all the data across the district.

Monitoring the progress of each student, skill by skill is the purpose of the data spreadsheets.  Teachers discuss student by student, skill by skill the progress students are making on the ELOs at their weekly team meetings.  If a student or a group of students is not meeting the success criteria, teachers determine if it is a universal curriculum need or a need of a small group of students.  At the universal level, strategies for reteaching the entire grade level are determined and what resources are needed for the whole group.  If it is a small group or only a few students, the teacher team considers which group had the best results by teacher, and who is the best person to provide additional support and reteaching.  These are the grade level's Tier Two groups, and those groups meet during the specific time set aside in the schedule for reteaching.  Teachers also monitor the progress of students receiving the specific retaught skills to determine when students in Tier Two have reached proficiency and are ready to move on from the Tier Two intervention group.  Grade-level teams had created their own documents to track and monitor the progress of students receiving Tier Two interventions and supports so that they can accurately report to parents and other team members student success. 

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

Because we have a universal curriculum with clear ELOs and success criteria, creating a system of interventions and support in a timely manner was the next step.  Over the past several years, we worked to include time in the schedule for Tier Two and Tier Three interventions.  While it was a challenge, we have created a schedule that provides 30 minutes of Tier Two time and 30 minutes of Tier Three time every day. 

Determining who needs the additional Tier Two time is clearly defined by the common formative assessments and student performance on the questions related to the ELOs.  In the weekly team meeting, teachers determine what Tier Two intervention is needed, who is going to teach it, and what materials will be used.  They are also working at each grade level to provide progress monitoring tools for Tier Two teaching.  Because teams are looking at the data for all students on the tracking tool, it is also clear which classroom teacher had the most success with a particular ELO and is most likely the right fit for reteaching the skills to students who need additional instruction.  We also developed Tier Two non-negotiables for consistency.

Students needing more support with our Tier Three interventions are determined by percentiles of our district benchmark assessment.  Because Tier Two and Tier Three times are built into the schedule.  Tier Three students have all of the universal instruction, Tier Two support, and Tier Three instruction.


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

Since attending our first Professional Learning Communities at Work Institute in the summer of 2015 with our leadership teams, we have been able to have all of our staff attend at least one institute since they have been hired.  It is part of our onboarding process for new staff members.  These institutes have been a key component in our staff’s commitment to the PLC process.  

The second essential factor in building teacher capacity is to be sure every teacher is part of a collaborative team.  While we do have singletons because we are a small district, they have colleagues across other grade levels or departments who they can collaborate with throughout the school year and they are given time throughout the year to make cross-district and grade-level connections.  Within our grade level teams, everyone belongs to a team.  Setting team norms at the beginning of each school year also ensures that collaborative teams focus on the right work, student achievement.  The collaborative teams have made sure their work aligns with the Tier One and Tier Two non-negotiables we have agreed upon as a district.  Collaborative teams meet weekly at a set time so that supporting staff such as special education teachers, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, etc. can plan to join the team meetings.  Each team uses a similar note protocol, the link has an example of the fifth-grade team’s note protocol, and the notes are accessible in the staff shared drive for all to view at any time.  

Each collaborative team also has a team leader who represents the team’s efforts and needs at a monthly leadership meeting.  The Building Leadership Team (BLT) has been working to build teacher capacity by evaluating their team’s effectiveness and setting goals to improve their work.  We have been using instructional toolboxes of team resources as well as most recently signing on to Global PD.  Team leaders share their celebrations and challenges with one another in order to provide support for each other as leaders and the teams they are serving.  The collaborative efforts of the team leaders at the BLT in turn build leadership capacity to facilitate the work of each team.


Achievement Data Files

Additional Achievement Data

In Wisconsin, schools receive a state report card.  The report card includes an overall score as well as scores in specific areas - achievement, growth, target groups, and on-track for graduation.  The overall score is also designated with a description with the highest level of distinction being Significantly Exceeds Expectations.  There are a couple of things to note when looking at the report card scores: 1) in between the 2017-2018 school year and the 2018-2019 school year, the elementary school was reconfigured from a K-4 school to a K-5 school and 2) no state report cards were issued for the 2019-2020 school year due to the Covid 19 pandemic.  Our state report card data for the past four school years shows growth.  We had a slight dip when we implemented our new curricula, but we have continued to show improvement and our scores are better post-Covid than before.  

The Forward Exam is the Wisconsin state assessment given to third through eighth graders every year in reading and mathematics.  At the elementary level, fourth-grade students also take assessments in science and social studies.  This table shows the results of the Forward Exam in third through fifth grades at the elementary school since the 2017-2018 school year.  The percentages are the percent of students determined to be proficient or advanced on the state assessment.  Again, there are no scores for the 2019-2020 school year as the assessment was taken by students due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Another tool used to track student achievement and growth is our district benchmark assessment.  We use the iReady Diagnostic Assessment tool three times a year to measure progress.  Our PLC teams review the data at the completion of these three data points to determine students who need additional support through a Tier Three plan and look for trends over time.  This document shares the growth of our kindergarten through fifth graders in both English (ELA) and math for the school years of 2019-2020, 2020-2021, and 2021-2022.  The only missing data is the spring assessments for the 2019-2020 school year because of the pandemic.  

Additionally, we have developed a schoolwide learning outcome (SLO) goal, or SMART goal.  It is for all students to achieve at least 80% proficiency on the Essential Learning Outcomes for each grade level in English Language Arts (ELA) and math. In the past two years, we have begun tracking the data for student achievement on the ELOs at the end of the year.  While we do not have trend data for this new data point at the elementary school level yet, it has provided teaching teams with a focus on ELOs in regard to our school's SMART goal.  We are also continuing to work on making sure the data is correctly uploaded from Skyward, our student information system, to Educlimber, our data warehouse. This document provides the reference for this year’s SLO, or SMART goal, and the benchmark data from last year that was used as a reference.  This is an ongoing area of growth for our collaborative teams around common formative assessments and essential learning outcomes that will propel our school’s results forward.

As is evident in the data shared, the New Glarus Elementary School has experienced growth in student achievement in both reading and math even through a global pandemic.  We are extremely pleased with the growth our students have shown in spite of the pandemic.  During virtual instruction, it was our teams of teachers working collaboratively that provided continuous support for both in-school and at-home learners.  This work is too difficult to do on your own, especially during a worldwide health crisis.  Because of strong teams, both teachers and students were able to continue the learning journey without significant learning loss.  One area, in particular, we have heard from many schools, is the need for phonics instruction in the upper elementary grades due to students missing these skills at the primary level during the pandemic.  Because our primary teachers worked collaboratively to provide high-quality instruction, reviewed assessment data and implemented Tier Two interventions for phonics skills, our upper-grade teachers are not seeing this as a need in our students.  We are incredibly proud of the efforts of our staff to work collectively and provide high levels of learning for all students, and our students' continued growth despite the pandemic.


2016-2022 - PBIS recognition by the state of Wisconsin for behavioral support for five consecutive years

2019 - Kohl foundation principal award for our school

2022 - #1 elementary school on state-issued report card scores in the county

2023 - 2nd place team in the state for Wisconsin Educational Media and Technology Association - Battle of the Books Competition

Have conducted visits both in-person and virtually for over 30 other elementary schools from around the state and neighboring states regarding our implementation of high quality curriculum materials for both math and ELA

Have had multiple teachers be contributing members to the state's Department of Public Instruction regarding the selection and implementation of high-quality materials