John Thomas School of Discovery (2023)

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

John Thomas School of Discovery (JTSD) launched as a public K-6 STEAM laboratory school within the Nixa Public Schools system 11 years ago. As the oldest elementary building in the district, the idea of a laboratory school stemmed from declining test scores, low enrollment, and as a response to the need for choice in public schools.  JTSD was now in the unique position of becoming a new school with a half-century of history. The school was developed by inviting all stakeholders to the table to develop an innovative vision for what our schools could become. Throughout the design year, ten teams determined the critical features of our building, which includes: a STEAM focus, a non-evaluative lottery drawing from the entire district , an extended 20 day calendar, a parent volunteer commitment, enhanced technology integration, and an enriched PBL environment.  Our community rallied around us as we worked to create an innovative building focused on infusing the wonder of STEAM in everyday teaching and learning.

From the earliest days, we achieved growth and recognition as a highly collaborative building, focused on writing and teaching quality curriculum for students and regularly sharing this progress with others through a range of training opportunities. We were recognized with various awards and continued to take risks and transform what school could look like for students. Despite this level of success, a review of our 2017 Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) scores provided impetus for change. Achievement levels were lower than what we were accustomed to, even with the state’s new assessment system causing scores to decline statewide. During this time, our district also made the commitment to fully embrace Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).

The faculty at JTSD recognized change needed to take place, and we were ready to embrace a new opportunity. During a weekly school-wide collaboration time, each staff member was asked to write down ideal characteristics of a JTSD student. This exercise led to many thought-provoking conversations, and ultimately the revision of our mission, vision and goals

 At the same time, we realized that our two building leadership teams could be transformed into a guiding coalition. Our ImPACT (curriculum) team continued to develop our guiding principles, while the STEAM (behavior) team developed our vision of how a JTSD student should behave not only in the classroom but in all school settings.

Reinvigorated around a common purpose, we dove headfirst into all things PLC. Our district provided numerous training sessions, while we worked as a team to understand how deepening our collaboration would lead us to greater success. Our commitment to PLCs has allowed us to better understand what efforts in our building were working and what should be abandoned. Over the course of our PLC implementation, test scores have steadily increased, helping make us one of the top performing elementary schools in the state of Missouri, all while remaining an innovative building with a tight-knit culture.

 Major Implementation Milestones

  • Revised Mission/Vision - Through collaboration, our team re-developed and refined our purpose, creating statements that are easy to remember and carry out with our families

  • Collective Commitments and Building Goals - Our team came back to the table to define our collective beliefs so that we all understand our expectations of success at JTSD. We then set goals that allowed us to strive towards our mission/vision.

  • Building Strategic Plan Development - all stakeholders came to one table to create a strategic plan that mirrored our district’s school improvement plan. This process created a five-year action plan for our school’s goals.

  • PADI (Pacing, Assessment, Data, Intervention) document and ongoing training provided to clarify objectives and tasks that assist teams in answering the four corollary questions of PLCs

  • Revised team meeting agenda to include major elements of PLCs - Teams began collaborating with a purpose. Each team used a similar agenda format to ensure we comprehensively covered all necessary aspects of Tier 1 instruction. This agenda included a team goal, which outlined how each team in our building would contribute to our overall building goals for the year.

  • Yearlong Scope and Sequence - All integrated units and curricular documents were compiled into an easy to reference plan for the year. This enables our support staff to quickly understand grade-level content and integrate where possible.

  • Guiding Plan for Success (GPS) - Each team developed a plan to track deconstructed standards, individual grade level pacing. unit development, and CFA creation

  • Building-Wide Instructional/Collaborative Framework development - Our Assistant Principal waded through our building’s Shared Google Drive and compiled a “one-stop shop” that organized all of our building’s documents for ease of use. (See Section 8)

  • RTI Framework Development - Over the course of ten weeks, our Impact Team developed our vision for RTI in our building and created plans to achieve this vision with students.

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

At JTSD, our staff values the collaborative process to ensure all students are learning at high levels. We feel Professional Learning Teams (PLTs) give our teachers the opportunity to build upon their professional development and guide our students to take ownership of their own learning.  Composed of grade level teachers, enrichment, specialist, and special education staff, our building’s curriculum team (imPACT) meets weekly to focus on student learning and help guide work in the PLTs.

Many current building-wide practices have grown out of initial imPACT work. Teachers use curriculum pacing guides from the district level, data from common formative assessments (CFAs) and common summative assessments (CSAs) to guide instruction. These pacing guides focus on essential and priority standards developed by DESE and Nixa’s curriculum department. Teachers use collective data from common assessments to discuss best-practice teaching strategies and differentiate instruction during class time and RTI times. 

At JTSD, our teachers utilize the district pacing guide as a springboard for curriculum creation using backwards design or UbD to create their own Guiding Plan for Success (GPS), a grade-level road map to learning. During PLT meetings, an agenda is co-created by each grade level team and its members to maximize time. These agendas are created with a focus on Planning, Assessment, Data, and Intervention (PADI), an acronym created to summarize the corollary questions . Standards are deconstructed and integrated into units. The linked example provides a glimpse at the process and planning that is required in order to have a successful integrated unit. Through collaboration, enrichment teachers work with grade levels to enhance the experience for all students. For example, the music teacher incorporates sound energy into his classroom to coincide with science units for several weeks; the librarian develops collaborative units with grade level teachers to help students gain practice in research and project design; and the PE teacher creates opportunities for our students to deepen their understanding of health and fitness topics that were introduced in core classrooms. 

Our pacing guides are living documents to ensure students have time to master the required standards, which is determined by data analysis on CFAs. Then, at the end of each school year, students in grades 3 - 6 take the summative state exam. These assessments test students’ progress toward mastery of Missouri Learning Standards (MLS). JTSD continues to excel academically while also increasing student opportunities to access a real-world curriculum through project-based learning.


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

JTSD uses an adaptation of Nixa’s Response to Intervention (RTI) pyramid to answer key questions three and four: how will we respond when students have not learned it and how will we respond when students have already learned it. Our district has developed ‘tights’ around RTI that align with the RTI pyramid. JTSD devoted a large portion of our professional learning time working to develop and customize our response to the RTI pyramid including major shifts like designing our master schedule to allow for each grade level team to have 20-50 minutes daily for intervention and extension time.

Our Student Success Team (SST) is our site intervention team, composed of administrators, specialists, teachers, and other support staff. Their primary responsibilities are problem solving, diagnosing, planning and monitoring interventions and extensions. This team developed a ‘Help Me’ button, which is attached to our weekly communication from building administration. This gives teachers an easy and convenient way to request assistance to meet individual student needs. This feature can be used for behavioral or academic needs. Throughout the intervention process, students and parents work with this team to ensure all needs are being addressed and monitored in a timely manner.

Our teachers use a variety of methods to identify students’ needs; including CFA data, monthly benchmark data and daily informal assessments. We collaborate within grade level teams to identify needs and group students based on varying levels of performance. For example, our 3rd grade team collaborates to form groups of students to work on a variety of recently assessed priority standards. The groups are flexible and can be changed at any time to meet the needs of students. Our 3rd grade team has met with our 5th grade team to share ideas and successes, exemplifying our culture of collaboration throughout the building. 

JTSD is developing an innovative approach to student intervention and extension during the school’s extended June session (Summer STEAM @ JTSD). Monthly benchmark testing is utilized to identify student learning needs in English Language Arts and Mathematics based on priority standards. Students who need social-emotional support are also identified by the school counselor. The master schedule is modified to allow all grades to have the same intervention time and provide more staff the opportunity to be involved. Weekly staff collaboration time was utilized to help teachers plan their projects and prepare. Teachers and staff utilized project based learning to provide student learning intervention and extension that made learning fun and engaging. For example, 4th grade students who needed English language arts intervention were provided extra support by planning and performing a poetry slam for teachers and family members. To gauge the benefit of this endeavor, students took an assessment at the end of June to determine the success of the student interventions and extensions. 

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

At JTSD, we are preparing “STEAMazing” critical thinkers for life. We value high-performing collaborative teams that are focused on improving our learning for all students. We take pride in knowing that all students at JTSD are our students no matter what grade level. Each teacher strives to give each student an enriched learning environment by collaborating weekly with their team. Team members share high-impact instructional strategies such as backwards design, creating common formative assessments, and reflecting on their pedagogy. Our teacher teams use our Strategic Implementation Guide to discuss PLT/PLC goalposts and help improve their collaboration to help students. By creating safe environments, teachers are able to learn from each other, be vulnerable, and continue growing in their craft.

Teachers collaborate in professional learning teams which use data to help reflect their teaching and performance using the Strategy Implementation Guide. Our guiding coalitions (Impact, STEAM, and SST) work together to design professional learning opportunities through our Monday morning collaboration hour. This one-hour Monday late start allows our team to stay connected and grow together through teacher-led professional development. These topics are typically in response to questions coming directly from teachers or based on student needs, while also giving us the opportunity to connect on district initiatives. In 22-23, we rearranged our team assignments to create curriculum teams, allowing a specific teacher on each team to become a PD leader in an assigned subject area.

JTSD’s vision not only reflects student success but also educator success. Having a collective mission helps push our teachers to perform at a higher level by engaging in guided teaching studies, continuing professional development, collaborating with the whole school, and continuing their education at a masters or doctorate level. Sixty-three percent of our staff  have their advanced degree with an additional 15% working towards their degree. Our staff has continued to grow their influence, going on to become Assistant Superintendents, Principals, Assistant Principals, Instructional Specialists, and Instructional Coaches.

Throughout the last decade, JTSD has established year-long internships through two local universities: Missouri State University and Evangel University. The year-long experience helps grow pre-service teachers and builds towards our shared vision. Year-long interns are immersed into the fast pace experience and play a crucial role in our building. Almost 30% of our classroom teachers are a product of these internships.

In 2017, JTSD created STEAMU, a professional development consulting firm that runs out of our building. This firm sprang forward from a discussion teachers had while on recess duty, as they searched for ways to turn the visitors in our building into a learning opportunity for ourselves. We quickly integrated these plans into our 2015-2020 Strategic Plan to get things moving. We partner with districts to identify growth opportunities and then work to identify teachers who are prepared to present on that topic. In our five years, we have trained over 700 teachers on a variety of topics including project-based learning, STEAM, special education, building administration and innovation, and shared leadership. Through this firm, we are able to increase our professional learning budget. With this boost, we were able to alter our JTSD schedule and take our entire staff to the National Science Teaching Association conference. Last June, we were able to take seventeen staff members to the ICLE Model Schools conference to present on our shared leadership as well. These opportunities pack a dual benefit. As our teachers prepare the trainings, they are learning and becoming experts in their practice. We are then able to attend conferences and continue to grow their practice from a different lens.

JTSD strongly believes in the power of shared leadership. The administrative team at JTSD works to enable all stakeholders in our building to have a voice and autonomy in “creating STEAMazing critical thinkers for life.”


Achievement Data Files

Additional Achievement Data

Students at JTSD have consistently demonstrated high levels of learning with state assessment scores at or above the state average since our inaugural school year in 2012-13. Teachers understand the role of MAP data and use it as beginning-of-the-year benchmarks to guide student learning. Despite the pandemic’s negative influence on student learning, our learners continued to exceed both district- and Missouri-level scores in third through sixth grade. Teachers in all grade levels also employ teacher-created common formative assessments (CFAs) and monthly benchmark data to reveal learning gaps and guide supplemental instruction. Additionally, we assess our K-2 students using the Developmental Reading Assessment 2 (DRA2) to find individual reading levels.

An important part of our PLC journey over the past three years has been expanding and refining data sources to pinpoint specific learning needs and deliver targeted instruction for every student. Throughout the gradespan, we utilize Evaluate, our monthly benchmark assessment, to track student growth in Mathematics and English Language Arts. This tool, coupled with CFA data, helps us identify learning gaps, establish Tier 1 and Tier 2 interventions, and gain a more thorough understanding of student growth over time. In addition, our professional learning teams discuss the critical guiding questions for student success: What do we want students to be able to know and be able to do? How will we know they learned it? How will we respond when students don’t learn? How will we extend their learning if they’ve already mastered it? 

These different data points help steer our Response to Intervention time (RTI). Each grade level is afforded 20-50 daily minutes of intervention time, planned and implemented by classroom teachers as well as reading interventionists, special education teachers, administrators, and instructional coaches. District level specialists attend and collaborate with professional learning teams to provide specific differentiated support for tiered interventions. This team of educators embraces the mindset that all students are “our students.”

  • Innovative Educational Practices Award from Greater Ozarks Cooperating School Districts (GOCSD, 2017) for A STEAM based approach to an innovative school culture

  • International STEM School of Excellence Award from the International STEM Education Association (ISEA, 2018)

  • Outstanding Team Award (2018) from Learning Forward Missouri

  • Innovative Educational Practices Award from GOCSD (2018) for STEAM-U

  • Instructional coach, Ryan Mahn, received the STEM Champion award from the International STEM Education Association (ISEA, 2018)

  • Principal, Dr. Jennifer Chastain, received the Transformational Leadership award from Missouri State University (2018)

  • Awarded over $370,000 in grants from T-Mobile, Stanley Ball Foundation and the Department of Agriculture, as well as various local grants (2019-present)

  • The JTSD Discovery Singers, a 100 member choir, was selected twice as one of only 3 elementary choirs in the state of Missouri to perform at the Missouri Music Educators Association (MMEA) annual conference in 2019 and 2022

  • The JTSD team, for their work with STEAM-U, were the featured speakers at the Show-Me Curriculum Administrator’s Association conference (2019)

  • Educator Mary Floyd (2022) and Instructional Coach Ryan Mahn (2020) received the Nixa 10 under 40 award of excellence from the Nixa Chamber of Commerce

  • JSTD and Counselor, Tyne Burns, selected as a Nationally Recognized Missouri Counseling Program (NRM) only one of 12 schools in the state to receive this recognition (2022) 

  • International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA)-STEM School of Excellence (2023)