Hot Springs Junior Academy (2023)

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

Hot Springs Junior Academy (HSJA) is a 7-9 school that brings together all 4 elementary schools in the Hot Springs School District, and we have been on our PLC journey for 4 years, with the last three years in the PLC pilot program. The HSJA is currently serving over 820 students. Our poverty rate is over 86%, with 100% receiving free and reduced lunch. Following district realignment, the school transitioned from a 7th-8th grade middle school to a 7th-9th grade junior academy. Consistently, over 70% of students entering HSJA are below grade level in reading and math with many lacking foundational skills necessary to master grade-level instruction.  20% of our students receive special education/504 services, and 3% are English Language Learners, and we also have a 24% mobility rate. Prior to beginning our PLC journey, HJSA teachers primarily worked in isolation with no real connection to a mission and vision. Additionally, all students did not have consistent access to grade-level instruction, as the programmed curriculum only assisted with missing foundational skills.

The PLC journey has ensured that we have a very specific purpose for HSJA administration, our teachers, and our students: to ensure all HSJA students are provided with a viable curriculum through essential standards. Hot Springs School District has been a vital support for consistent PLC implementation across all schools. PLC training has been ensured for all administrators with PLC training offered to all staff members throughout the year. HSJA applied and was accepted as a PLC Cohort 4 school beginning in the 2020-2021 school year. Administration and staff have received intensive training and guidance from Brig Leane for the last three years.  


Our first year in the PLC cohort was one of significant change. The school transitioned to include an additional grade level, moved to a new building, and returned to school from the Covid-19 pandemic under a hybrid instructional model. The primary need for HSJA was to ensure a common vision and mission for student learning and success. Our initial step was to establish teams and build a consensus for our mission (See Vision/Mission Document). Our established mission became “to ensure high levels of learning for all students to compete in a global society.” Moving forward, all decisions focused (and continue to focus) on ensuring our mission. We built a Guiding Coalition to guide teams as they focused on the 4 critical questions and transitioned from working in isolation to working within teacher teams. Teacher teams determined essential standards and built a viable curriculum to ensure high levels of learning for all students (7th grade Math Essentials Example). 

Our inaugural year in the PLC cohort presented many obstacles. The primary barrier to instruction was reacclimating students to on-campus instruction while managing virtual instruction simultaneously. With the option to attend school virtually and lingering Covid outbreaks, student attendance was extremely poor and inconsistent. Our master schedule posed an additional obstacle as the lack of common planning times did not allow Guiding Coalition leaders to consistently meet with and guide their teams. We immediately determined our next step would be to build a master schedule for the upcoming school year organized around teams within the PLC. 

Our next step was to create the “celebration tracker”, a shared document to house all critical team documents including team essentials, unit plans, and CFA data (2021-2022 Celebration Tracker). This step was critical in transforming our culture to one of collaboration rather than isolation, and one focused on student learning rather than teaching. Additionally, the document served to highlight and celebrate success within the school and helped identify teams that needed additional support.


Our second year in the Cohort brought about change with the hire of a new principal and assistant principal. However, the focus on the PLC journey did not change. As our culture continued to shift, we emphasized a focus on celebration. To maintain this focus, each day began with the mission and vision and a celebration of the work teachers or teams were doing to support the mission and vision (Daily Announcements 2021-2022). After a few weeks, our students knew the mission and vision and would approach the front office to shout out their teacher for not giving up on them and always making learning a priority in class. This practice kept our vision and mission at the forefront and helped build a culture of celebration. To further this cultural shift, we began celebrating students for mastery of essentials. During these quarterly celebrations, students who passed all current CFAs for essentials were recognized at a ceremony receiving a certificate, a picture with the principal, and a raffle ticket for $50 cash to be drawn at the end of the celebration.

Teachers continued the shift to instruction through collaboration and an emphasis on student learning. Essential standards became a primary focus within teams. Teachers collaborated to distinguish between essential standards and those which are ‘nice to know’ (Unit Planner Example). As the year progressed, teachers collaborated to analyze and increase the rigor and DOK levels of CFA questions. Teachers focused on ensuring CFA questions truly captured student mastery of essentials. Work within teams became consistent throughout the school as unit plans and data were updated and discussed at each team meeting. These documents served to keep a focus on student learning. Unit plans are teacher created and consist of pacing for essentials, CFAs, and plans for intervention and extension. Unit plans also show student performance on CFAs to indicate students for interventions and extensions (CFA Data Sheet Example). The final piece of a unit plan is a reflection to guide teachers as they plan for instruction, assessment, intervention, and extension the following year. Through this work, teachers recognized success within a PLC is an ongoing process rather than a final destination point.

Our next step was to ensure consistent tiered interventions in every class. Tier I was our primary focus. Teachers participated in and led job-embedded professional development for Tier I instructional strategies and best practices each Wednesday. In addition, we received targeted professional development in math, literacy, tier II interventions, and assessments. Tier III interventions were targeted through seminar classes (45 minutes Tuesday and Thursday). Students performing more than one grade level behind on standardized tests were placed in a math or literacy, Tier III seminar, depending on the greatest need. To address Tier II interventions, the Guiding Coalition designed a schedule for students not receiving Tier III interventions. Students who had not passed a CFA after multiple attempts received targeted instruction during seminar until they mastered the learning target. Our approach to tiers of instruction made it clear to students that learning at HSJA is not optional, it is required. Our students began to take a stronger sense of ownership in their learning and assessments.


During the 2022-2023 school year, we have continued to solidify our collaborative culture and meaningful work as a PLC. Our pre-planning for the school year included designing a master schedule that aligned common planning time for each department (2022-2023 Master Schedule). This shift allowed consistent work across teams and streamlined communication through the guiding coalition with a united focus on the mission and vision. We also added seminar days to the master schedule to increase targeted interventions for students from two days to four days. To begin the school year, teams reevaluated essential standards and reached a consensus to set 6 essentials as the minimum for each team. We have a renewed focus on our pacing, ensuring adequate time to teach the essentials, assess, intervene and extend student learning (Algebra Calendar example). Beyond our guaranteed and viable curriculum, we planned for meaningful and consistent learning of supporting standards at grade level and beyond (Instructional Strategy Unit Planner Example).

Through student performance data, we targeted a school-wide focus for improvement: writing. With this focus, teams agreed upon and began using a school-wide writing rubric for consistently teaching and assessing student writing in all subjects (Schoolwide writing rubric). In addition, an English teacher connected with all classes twice per week during seminar targeting writing instruction while modeling instructional strategies for teachers. Through seminar, teachers have embraced the belief that all students are “our” students and have made a commitment to helping all students become successful readers and writers.

 We have continued to improve tiered interventions as our teachers consistently embed tier II interventions in the classroom. Students are now receiving more immediate feedback and timely interventions to ensure their mastery of the essentials. Planned intervention time also includes targeted extensions (8th Grade Science Unit with Extensions). Many departments provide choice boards allowing students who have mastered an essential to have different options in how they will extend their learning. 

We have experienced significant and meaningful growth as a team over the past three years. Through the PLC process, we have developed collective beliefs: the process is ongoing; we learn best from each other; collaboration is key; and the focus is always on learning. To ensure these outcomes, we target the four critical questions to guide us and remain results-oriented. We routinely reflect on making appropriate changes to instruction that best serve the learning needs of our students. The Guiding Coalition will continue to lead the school and support our culture with a vision of continuous improvement and student success. We are proud of the collective work we are doing at Hot Springs Junior Academy, and the growth we have achieved these past 3 years. The process will continue as we push to get better in each class, each day, and with each student.



1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

All instructional decisions within HSJA teams are centered on student performance data. The foundation of each team is the established, guaranteed and viable curriculum. Collaboratively, all teams used state standards and curriculum to determine essential standards in each course. Essentials are continually monitored for their effectiveness each time a team meets. Through continuous use of the teaching and learning cycle, teams analyze student work and progress providing necessary changes to Tier I instruction prior to the CFA and unit assessment. This cycle, monitored through unit plans, creates a curriculum that better meets the needs of all learners.


Systems are in place to carefully monitor and ensure a viable curriculum. All essential curriculum documents are housed within the learning dashboard - accessible by all teachers and administration. Essential documents include unit plans for each essential used for planning instruction and utilizing the 7-step process; data sheets to ensure teacher awareness to inform planning for students who have mastered an essential and those who need additional Tier II support; pacing calendars to plan for collaboration, instruction, assessment, intervention and extension. Pacing calendars ensure the curriculum is guaranteed and viable throughout the school year. These documents are used to guide all team and department meetings. 

Data sheets are used to continually monitor and update student progress on all common assessments. This information informs teams on needs for intervention, extension, and changes to instruction, each of which is documented in essential unit plans. These data sheets serve as the catalyst for all instructional decisions including RTI.

The learning dashboard additionally includes the essential achievement tracker. The tracker serves as a ‘scoreboard’ to provide quick feedback to teachers and administration regarding student achievement and intervention needs.

Grade-level teams and departments are led by teacher leaders who make up the Guiding Coalition. While these members provide the day-to-day guidance and monitoring of the department, the administration is able to monitor progress through the learning dashboard. These documents are interactive allowing the administration to leave comments and feedback to teams and individuals.


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

Systems of intervention and extension are planned for and built into each essential unit plan. All teams begin instruction with a plan in place to target common areas of struggle with the skill or learning target. Plans for targeted intervention include instructional strategies proven through team collaboration to best support student learning. In addition, extension plans are built to provide deeper learning and interaction within an essential standard for those students who quickly master a skill. During the 21-22 school year, interventions were conducted beyond routine class times. However, for the 22-23 school year, the Guiding Coalition determined an increase in Tier II instruction was necessary, therefore the Tier II interventions and the extensions are now built into regularly scheduled class time.

To further support student learning, a block of time called ‘Seminar’ is built into the weekly calendar. During the 21-22 school year, seminar was held two days per week. Through data analysis, the Guiding Coalition determined it necessary to increase seminar to four days per week for the 22-23 school year. During this time, students are scheduled for targeted instruction including Tier III math and reading intervention taught by our math and reading teachers. In addition, students not receiving Tier III intervention participate in targeted writing instruction - a data-informed area of weakness for a majority of HSJA students.

Content and grade-level progress is easily monitored through the learning dashboard’s essential achievement tracker. Using this quick reference, the administration is clear on which teams and/or departments need additional support, assistance with pacing, and improved Tier II results. When students are not successful, immediate action is put in place to support these students and the teachers who serve them.


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

In order to build high-performing, collaborative teams, teachers are provided with consistent, scheduled time to work collaboratively. The 21-22 master schedule included common planning time for teams. However, there was not common time for Guiding Coalition members to meet with departments. To ensure such time, the initial step in planning the 22-23 master schedule was to provide common planning time for departments. As the master schedule reflects what a school values most, the HSJA master schedule shows the school's focus on collaboration. The master schedule now allows for common planning time for departments 85 minutes every other day.

Within team and department meetings, collaboration is focused on improving student learning. Teams use their documents within the learning dashboard to guide collaboration and next steps. Teams routinely analyze student work to inform instructional and planning decisions. Teams also schedule and conduct inter-rater reliability meetings to ensure consistent scoring practices. Data is utilized to ensure CFA and CSA questions are rigorous and align with state-standardized testing.

Over the last three years, HSJA has built and embraced a focus on job-embedded professional development. Teachers consistently learn (or lead) professional development for research-based instructional practices. In addition, HSJA staff members participate in PLC coaching for assessments, interventions and extensions, math, literacy, and leadership within the guiding coalition.

The school has established a culture of celebration focused on student achievement and teacher collective commitment to student success. HSJA hosts quarterly awards recognizing students for their mastery of essentials and growth on standardized assessments. In addition, teachers and students are honored through daily morning announcements for the work, growth, and achievement within the classroom, on CFAs, and learning experiences. All student and teacher achievements are chosen by the administration through the work in the learning dashboard.


Achievement Data Files

Additional Achievement Data

Data Analysis

Our school’s student achievement data over the past three years reflects the challenges and changes we have experienced.  In 2019-20, the pandemic closed our school doors, and the state assessment was not administered.   In the Fall of 2020, our first year as a PLC cohort, we added an additional grade level and went from a 7th and 8th grade campus to a 7th, 8th, and 9th grade campus which is an increase of approximately 250 students to our campus. 

HSJA chooses to administer the NWEA each year in addition to the state mandated ACT Aspire.  In the absence of ACT Aspire data in the year 2020 (Covid pandemic), we included our NWEA data.  We wanted to look at the impact the PLC process had on our staff and students.  Specifically, we wanted to look at the data from three different groups of students as each group progressed from 7th grade through 9th grade.  

As evidenced by the data, our students have shown growth that is consistent with or above the national average in reading (see resource titled  nwea-reading-growth.pdf).


*This particular group of students were affected by Covid all three years of their junior high experience, which included virtual and hybrid learning.

**Average national growth is based on the NWEA 2020 RIT Scale Norms Study–the most recently released norm data.

Our first year in the cohort, our 3 year growth for math exceeded the national average.  In year two, our growth did not meet the national average; however, it was this specific group of students who felt the impact of covid on all three years of their middle level/junior high education.  This school year, our third year in the cohort, we showed growth consistent with the national average.  It is important to note that according to the NAEP, also known as Nation’s Report Card, that the biggest drop in math performance occurred during this time period–it is a nationwide issue, but we are confronting it and showing growth once again (see resource titled nwea-math-growth-1.pdf).


*This particular group of students were affected by Covid all three years of their junior high experience, which included virtual and hybrid learning.

**Average national growth is based on the NWEA 2020 RIT Scale Norms Study–the most recently released norm data.

 In the Fall of 2020, our Socioeconomically Disadvantaged 7th grade students began their first year at HSJA with an overall math average RIT score of 212.1.  In their 8th grade year, these students grew to 216.6, and by their final year at HSJA they had grown to an average of 220.5—for an average growth of 8.4.  These same students also showed consistent growth in Reading.  In the Fall of 2020-21, our 7th graders had an average RIT score of 210.3.  In their 8th grade year they grew to an average of 215.5, and in their final year at HSJA they grew to a 217.9, for an overall growth of 7.6 (see resourced titled nwea-mean-rit-econ-disadv.pd)


In the Fall of 2020, our ELL (English Language Learners) subpopulation began their 7th grade year with a math average of 205.3.  As 8th graders, they grew to an average score of 211.7, and they completed their three-year career at HSJA as 9th graders with an average score of 213.4, for overall average growth of 8.1.  This same group of students also grew in reading from a beginning average of 193.5 to 201.2 to 195.3.  This group of students grew in reading from the beginning of 7th grade to their ninth grade year, but this group also had the highest mobility rate of over 40%, which explains the drop from 2021 to 2022 in reading (see resourced titled nwea-mean-rit-ell.pdf).


Our Students with Disabilities also showed consistent growth.  Over the same three-year time period, our 7th graders' math scores increased from 197.1 to 198.6 to 203.4 as 9th graders—a RIT growth of 6.3.  Likewise, this same group of students grew in reading from 195.7 to 198.9 to 202.5 for an overall growth of 6.8 (see resourced titled nwea-mean-rit-ss-disabilities.pdf).

 In regards to standardized test scores (ACT Aspire), our school experienced an initial drop in scores from the pre-pandemic standardized testing scores, which was a trend nationwide.  However, with a schoolwide focus on reading, including grade level Tier I instruction, and additional Tier II and III supports, our students have grown in ALL three grade levels in reading on the state assessment while the state proficiency level has dropped in two of the three grade levels.  In addition to overall growth, our economically disadvantaged students have shown consistent growth in reading since the pandemic in ALL three grade levels, even scoring higher than the state average in two of the three grade levels.  For example, our 8th grade grew from 35% proficient to 40% proficient, a gain of 5%, while the state actually dropped 1% in the same time period.  Nationally, the subgroup of economically disadvantaged students is one of the most difficult student populations to move.  Since HSJA joined the cohort we have consistently moved our economically disadvantaged students as evidenced by our data which directly correlates to our strong Tier I instruction and Tier II supports (see resourced titled act-aspire-reading-2021-2022.pdf).  



The HSJA has had the district Teacher of the Year for two consecutive years since joining the PLC pilot.

The HSJA is also a certified HRS level 1 school and in the process of getting HRS level 2.