Spc. Rafael Hernando III Middle School (2022)

  1. PLC Story
  2. PLC Practices
  3. Achievement Data
  4. Awards
  5. Resources
Specialist Rafael Hernando III Middle School is a Title I School located in the border city of El Paso, Texas and is one of fifty campuses in the Socorro Independent School District. Hernando Middle School is committed to developing a globally aware community of life-long learners and we have collectively committed to using research-based practices to ensure high levels of learning for all, working collaboratively, and providing a safe, caring, and motivating environment. The campus proudly serves a student population of 756 students in grades 6th – 8th broken down as follows:  
  • 73% Economically Disadvantaged 
  • 30% Emergent Bilingual 
  • 15% Special Education 
  • 16% Military Connected 
In January 2019, our campus inherited a new Principal, Mrs. Valerie Hairston. After a few months of observation and state assessment data, deficits in student learning were identified. While Hernando was by no means considered a low-performing campus, state data from the STAAR exam revealed a regression in student scores during the previous two consecutive years and had been tiered a “borderline” Tier III campus by the Socorro ISD leadership.  

With this baseline data in mind, Mrs. Hairston took a team of teachers and campus leaders to their first PLC at Work Institute in St. Louis Missouri during the summer of 2019. The team who attended the institute began to lay the foundation for our PLC journey. High priority was placed on guaranteeing the campus would have the structures necessary to implement the PLC process. The 2019-2020 master schedule would provide content teams with embedded time for collaboration at least three times a week.The master schedule also established time within the school day for an intervention period or Cav Time. The model for Cav Time was very similar to the Pioneer Middle School model presented by Mike Mattos. Students were scheduled for Cav Time by teachers in assigned agendas while other students attended extension opportunities.  

An underlying reason for the regression in student performance was identified as a lack of quality Tier I instruction. In January 2020, Hernando Middle School worked with Solution Tree to contract Maria Nielson who provided professional development to the entire campus on establishing a Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum through the “15-Day Challenge”. Maria would work with our campus on multiple occasions to ensure this process was well established at Hernando. To this day, the 15-Day Challenge is the process that teachers at Hernando Middle School utilize to plan instruction. This process alone has made certain teachers well-versed in their content and statestandards.   

In our work with Maria, frustration about the Cav Time intervention period was shared by the campus leadership team. Maria suggested that we visit Mr. Bob Sonju at Washington Fields Intermediate School in Utah where the same intervention model was being used. With her help, Mrs. Hairston and two campus instructional coaches were able to arrange a visit with Mr. Sonju. This learning provided reassurance of the process we were following and through his hospitality, Mr. Sonju provided clarity and advice on how to proceed with our intervention period. In January of 2021, our campus leadership team would work closely with Mr. Sonju through a Solution Tree contract. Mr. Sonju would guide us to greater clarity on the state standards by utilizingproficiency charts. Along with our 15-Day Challenge, each of our “Boulders” or essential standards is now accompanied by a team created proficiency chart.  

The final priority for the campus at the start of our PLC journey was to establish and model a positive campus culture for both teachers and students. The foundation for all professional learning that takes place at Hernando is the use of research to identify best practices. With that said, John Hatti’s work in Visible Learningwould pave our way. The campus leadership team worked with our school improvement team, counselors, and support staff to look at discipline trends, school policies, and opportunities to improve student-teacher relationships. The aim was to minimize school discipline issues that ultimately resulted in a loss of classroom instruction. Teams worked to establish a more relaxed school uniform policy, the creation of a calming room to assist with student self-regulation, and greater awareness of equitable practices for all students.  

Like the rest of the world, March 2020 would bring the greatest challenge any of us had ever faced in our professional career. Despite the challenging times, the professionals at Hernando Middle School remained committed to continue our pursuit of high levels of learning for all. Regardless of the mode: on-line, hybrid, or face-to-face, our growth as professionals in this process continued and as a result, 2022 STAAR data showed that in almost all content areas,our students came out of the pandemic with better scores than those we had BEFORE the pandemic. This year, Hernando Middle School is only 1 of 5 middle school campuses in our region to receive an “A” rating from the Texas Education Agency along with 6 of 7 possible Distinction Designations in the areas of Math, Science, Social Studies, Closing the Gaps, Comparative Academic Growth, and Post-Secondary Readiness.  

Today, the staff at Hernando Middle School will tell you that they are on a mission to “Move Mountains”. While others may say that high levels of learning for all is impossible, we know that together, we can in fact Move Mountains and one day disrupt the status quo. Our current data reveals that while we have made growth and our students are doing well according to stateand district comparative data, students served through Special Education are not growing at the same rate as our other student groups.Even though by state standards, we received a perfect score in “Closing the Gaps”, the minimum state standard is low. We are currently focused on establishing best practices and growing as professionals in this area so that we can better serve our students and ensure high levels of learning for all. In January 2022, we began to work with a Solution Tree consultant with expertise in Special Education, Mrs. Kimberly Cano. In addition to our continued work with Solution Tree consultants, we remain committed to growing our teacher's capacity through continued professional learning at Solution Tree events such as PLC at Work Institutes and Soluciones 


1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

One of the most vital components of the PLC process is monitoring student learning and progress. Our teachers monitor student learning in various ways; common formative assessments, campus 3/6-week common assessments, district 9-week checkpoint assessments, and district interim assessments. Within a few days of a checkpoint, teachers use their team collaboration time to analyze student data in a meaningful way while students complete their individual data trackers and reflect on their learning goals. 

In order to ensure that all students receive a guaranteed and viable curriculum, teams identify and unpack the boulders for each unit; based on the district’s pacing guides per content area. Once the team reaches a consensus for these essential standards, they then develop proficiency charts for every ‘boulder’. Finally, the teams complete the 15-Day challenge adopted by Maria Neilson.   

During content team collaboration meetings, teams answer the second PLC question: How will we know if they have learned it?, to create common formative assessments (CFAs) that are aligned with the identified essential standards. After each CFA, teachers analyze their data collectively and then individually, allowing immediate feedback to guide their instruction. This process allows teachers to group their students based on the proficiency charts they created for each essential standard. Students that are grouped in the “Does not meet category” are assigned to Cavalier Time, which is the intervention period embedded in our daily schedule. Additionally, teachers provide targeted intervention during small group opportunities during station activities each week. Another opportunity to reach students needing focused skill support occurs during after-school tutoring each week. Our district is on a year-round calendar. During the two-week fall and spring breaks, along with the start of summer break, students are provided with a week-long intersession school where teachers determine the focus for each week and choose the students they will invite based on their proficiency data charts.  

It is equally important for teachers to monitor students learning as it is for the students to track their own learning and goals. This facilitates an advisor/advisee relationship in which teachers have students review their testing data and set challenging, yet attainable goals for their state assessment in the Spring. Each teacher has developed a graphic organizer for the students to track their growth based on results from any common formative assessments that have been administered.  Students can easily see the gains they have made upon the completion of their assessments. 

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

In 2019, Spc. Rafael Hernando committed to providing ALL Cavaliers a time within our master schedule to provide intervention and extension, as needed.  The first model we utilized was modeled after Mike Mattos’ design.  Students had an agenda and were told to go to intervention classes or other learning opportunities such as guitar or robotics.  We also provided time and student data trackers where students would use Fridays to chart their data and to reflect on their progress.  Since we did not have another campus that we could refer to for advice, we reached out to Solution Tree (Maria Nielson) for assistance.  She referred us to her friend and colleague, Mr. Bob Sanjou in Utah.  Ms. Hairston, (Principal) Ms. Hernandez, and Ms. Rocha (Instructional Coaches) visited the campus specifically to learn how to utilize this time more effectively.  Mr. Sanjou let us speak to the teachers and walk around the intervention time.  He also reiterated that this time was specifically meant to provide intervention to the students who needed it and would probably not receive it outside of class time.  Not only did we return more committed to the process, but we were also inspired by this PLC model campus and worked a few more times with Mr. Sanjou.  Unfortunately, that visit occurred in February 2020 and the pandemic changed everything a month later. 

This year, Cavalier Time returned to the master schedule.  Through our data we identified specific areas that we wanted to target this year. We are targeting our Reading because our data shows that this is an area of concern.  That is why there is multiple opportunities for students to utilize Reading Plus and or Small Group Reading. 

The students who have been identified by their teachers based on CFA data report to their specified teacher and work in small groups during this intervention.  Furthermore, the students that stay in class work on various school-wide content programs. Also, since the teacher selects which group, he/she need to work with, it allows students to refine their content skills with a group similar learning need. 

This is also true of Math and Reading Labs that we have for every grade level. Students who need more support in these contents are placed in and out depending on their progress. These classes are designed to fill learning gaps in Math and Reading without sacrificing grade-level content. We are always flexible to working and changing the schedules based on what our data shows but we are very much committed to providing the time for it. 

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

When we began our PLC journey it was important to the campus leadership team that all teachers be well-versed in why this work is critical to our students’ current and future lives. Since the start of our journey,Hernando Middle School has utilized the data and statistics in Mike Mattos' “Time Bomb” video to drive the urgency we have to ensure all students learn at high levels. As a campus, we want to be well-equipped to lead this work regardless of the leadership and staff changes that may occur in the future. As a result, we have worked hard to expose all staff to PLC professional development via campus PD, a variety of PLC Institutes and Summits, and through the assistance of PLC consultants.  

The campus leadership team is composed of campus-level leaders that represent all areas of the school community including campus administration, instructional coaches, counselors, parent-engagement specialist, Communities in Schools coordinator, and our librarian. This team meets weekly to identify campus needs and provide solutions from all aspects of a school, home, and community partnership. The priority for this team is to work through all resources available to provide students and families with the support they need to feel safe and ready to learn. The members of this team provide attendance support, behavioral and mental health support, community resources, ESL classes for families and community members, family night events and military support for our military families amongst other things. The well-being of our faculty and staff is also a priority to this group and academic support through professional development, coaching, and campus climate are addressed.  

Currently, the members of our newly formed guiding coalition are teacher leaders with expertise in areas of need as determined by current data and our campus improvement plan which show a need for support in reading and for students who have an IEP. This team isfocused on increasing reading skills for our students campuswide and will continue to review, monitor, and plan for teacher learning in these areas. The guiding coalition conducts classroom learning walks, reviews multiple forms of campuswide data, and provides opportunities for staff learning.  

Our master schedule allows for both content and grade-level teams to meet multiple times a week. All content teams have team collaboration time within their schedule which allows them to spend time learning and growing together through their fourguiding questions while making progress toward their agreed-upon goal.  This time is dedicated to establishing their guaranteed and viable curriculum, creating CFA’s, reviewing data, and establishing intervention and extension opportunities. Grade-level teams also have common time to meet to discuss cross-curricular concerns, schedule parent block meetings, discuss student academic and behavioral progress, etc. While singleton and elective teachers do not have common planning time built into the master schedule, at a minimum, elective singleton classes have regular job-a-like days with content teachers and leaders throughout our district. These job-a-like days allow our elective teachers to connect with other teachers who teach the same content as they do and establish meaningful professional relationships.  


Achievement Data Files

Additional Achievement Data

Compartivtive growth data for each subject area can be viewed using the following links. Data compares the growth between pre-COVID data (2018-2019) to current 2021-2022 data. 

Texas Education Agency Comparative Data can be viwed using the following link: 

  • Texas Association of Secondary School Principals Texas School to Watch 
  • 2022 Texas Education Agency (TEA) "A" Rated Campus 
  • TEA Purple Star Campus (Military Family Support) 
  •  2022 TEA Distinction Designations: Math, Science, Social Studies, Comparative Academic Growth, Comparative Closing the Gaps, Postsecondary Readiness