Clinton Junior High (2023)

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

Clinton Junior High School is in a rural district in Arkansas that serves a high poverty population. 70% of our students are reported as low income, but the entire school is eligible for free lunch through the Community Eligibility Program based on families in the district who qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. Currently 16% of all families in our school are considered homeless. Despite these obstacles, there had always been a sense of pride in our school as it served as the hub of the community. We were proud of our school and students for achieving above expectations at the state level, but our results had become stagnant and we continued to want more for our students and community.

The PLC Journey of CJHS began in the summer of 2018 when a small leadership group attended our first PLC at Work Institute. During that institute, we gained many ideas on the cultural shifts needed in our building, including the change from teaching to learning, intervening for skill and will, involving students in their own progress, grading based on skill and not behaviors, and distributing leadership. The message at the institute was inspirational but often felt focused on traditional teams. This led us to question if this could work for us, a school built on singleton teachers. We returned home ready to implement the new concepts but still burdened with doubts on acceptance. 

After the institute, one of the first goals was to better involve teachers in the leadership process; therefore, a guiding coalition of staff with diverse experiences was established to help guide decisions moving forward.  We then began to revamp our mission and vision statements to reflect the new direction. We spent the first year gaining insight from teachers, parents, students, and community to reflect a mission and vision statement that better reflected our current purpose and where we wanted to go in the future. Other programs were put into place including student mentor groups where students learned how to set goals and monitor their progress. A “No Zero” policy was also set up to ensure all students were completing assignments so that grades better reflected student learning. 

We had added programs that aligned with the PLC model but continued to lack cultural change. The guiding coalition knew the biggest challenge we were still facing at CJHS was to provide meaningful collaborative time. With singleton teachers, the master schedule was still not allowing all teams to have time dedicated to the PLC process. In 2019, our three district principals approached the school board with a presentation on the importance of Professional Learning Communities in our schools and the idea of a one-hour early release weekly to allow teachers dedicated time to answer the four guiding questions in the PLC process. 

After years of working in isolation, collaborative teams experienced hardships as they struggled the first year to find common ground. We knew additional support was needed to move the school forward in the PLC process, and in 2020 our school was fortunate to become a part of the Arkansas Cohort 4, which provided a grant to receive coaching and support from Solution Tree. Through our coaches, the most important lesson learned was that not every PLC looks the same. Rather than following exactly what others were doing, they helped us create a system tailored for our situation, our identified needs, and our vision for the future.

Our journey has not been what we originally planned, for we received the exciting news of our Cohort Award while schools were shut down for Covid. We began working with our coaches upon returning for a tumultuous 2020-21 school year. Rather than trying to raise our stagnant testing results, we found ourselves working to regain our pre-Covid scores. Although this is not what we had in mind, the coaching and support proved invaluable during the recovery process. Through Professional Learning Communities and Solution Tree, our teachers learned to identify and place primary focus on the essential standards. Our vertical teams, which were once viewed as a hindrance, instead became a benefit as we identified prerequisite standards missed during the educational interruptions and developed a pacing plan to regain this knowledge. Teachers and students now have a deeper understanding of the learning targets needed to reach essential standards. The shift from teaching to learning is apparent as teachers track data student by student. In our revised master schedule, we have included daily Tier 2 and Tier 3 intervention times for students lacking mastery. 

Although our recovery is not complete, the state testing data reflects that our students are regaining knowledge at an above-average rate. One cohort of students exceeded the highest reading scores ever for their grade at CJHS. Through our new inclusive practices, we have seen the number of students with disabilities in need of support decrease. We attribute these improvements to our new focus on individual student needs learned through PLCs.


We have also learned through the PLC process to celebrate small accomplishments along the way to growth. Our school recognizes staff members who are leading the charge towards student growth, including monthly school board recognitions. Students are rewarded daily through morning announcements, pep rallies, and assemblies for their achievement and growth. 

CJHS teachers have changed their focus to include the entire student body, rather than solely focusing on their assigned students. When many say “it cannot be done in a small singleton school,” we are a model of how the PLC process can be adapted to improve any school.


1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

Before we began our journey with PLCs at Clinton Junior High School, our campus of singletons expected each teacher to be individually responsible for the standards and lessons taught within their classrooms. As we began implementing Professional Learning Communities, one of our first steps was to create a guaranteed and viable curriculum for all students. Once placed into meaningful teams, our teachers began collaboratively selecting essential standards for each grade. The vertical teaming allowed us to gain a better understanding of which standards truly had endurance and prepared students for readiness in the future. As the process continues to grow in not only our school, but also in the Clinton School District, our teams have expanded these conversations with staff in other buildings. We know the next step for continued growth is to foster this cross building communication with all teams in both Clinton Elementary and High School. 

Once the essential standards were selected, our teams broke down the standards into meaningful learning targets. This skill became invaluable to our backwards unit-planning process. Our teams discussed what mastery would look like for the overall standard.  From knowing what the summative assessment would look like, they were able to create sequential smaller targets that led to mastery. Our teachers are now more focused on creating better formative assessments throughout the unit that help monitor student progress frequently and pinpoint where assistance is needed before the final assessment. Through the same process, our students are now more informed of what they are learning as the targets have been conveyed to them in student friendly “I can” statements used during instruction. 

In vertical singleton teams, our teachers have found ways to continue to meaningfully collaborate around their units. In teams, common rubrics that cross all grade levels have been developed. Teachers can then bring student evidence to our meetings to calibrate grading and collect exemplars of what mastery looks like. SMART goals for student performance are created and then formative assessment data is collected for review, where other team members provide strategies to help guide interventions for those in need. As new teachers have arrived in the building, they have expressed appreciation for the groundwork laid by teams on the standards, pacing, and unit planning. This has allowed them to immediately focus on students rather than feeling overwhelmed and isolated.

As teams are primarily responsible for monitoring the smaller learning targets in class, the school also monitors student progress through providing universal screeners in reading and mathematics three times a year. Students who are identified as two or more grade levels behind are provided extra support outside of core instruction on past year essential standards. 

A collective focus has emerged as all content teachers have taken an active role in developing literacy skills. Science teachers and literacy teachers have collaborated on the shared essential standard of citing evidence. Our social studies team has taken the initiative to monitor reading fluency and comprehension across all three grades using nonfiction passages. All teachers understand how their curriculum can improve our school goal on improving reading levels. 

Our biggest shift in creating a guaranteed and viable curriculum for all has been through our inclusion and co-teaching strategies. In 2018, our leadership team heard Mike Mattos speak the message that if you take a group of students and teach them below grade level, they will always remain below grade level. It became clear to us that we had been doing an injustice to many of our students with disabilities, especially in regards to mathematics. We immediately adopted our new math curriculum across all classes, ensuring our special education students would be receiving the same content as their peers. In 2021, we began to shift to inclusion classes with a three-year plan to full inclusion. By the second semester, team members were asking for more inclusion classes to be added in each grade. Our master schedule ensures that no student misses instruction in any core subject for supplemental support. The results are promising, as our students with disabilities scoring “in need of support” have decreased over the last school year. 

Our growth in guaranteed and viable curriculum is not limited only to students with disabilities; it applies also to students who take accelerated courses. Students who master the essential math standards at a faster rate now can complete three years of math in two years and begin high school coursework as eighth graders. Since 2018, the number of students selecting this option has more than doubled. 

As we continue to improve our PLC practices, we are adding opportunities to involve students in their own learning. In mentoring groups, students are tasked with monitoring their own grades and attendance. Taking this concept a step further, CJHS has now implemented student-led conferences where students are asked to share learning targets with parents, provide examples of their mastery of the targets, and develop individual goals for improvement. This will help us foster communication of our guaranteed and viable curriculum to parents and community.


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

The intervention system at CJHS has been positively affected through our involvement in Professional Learning Communities. Before implementing the PLC model, we designated a daily instructional period to address identified weaknesses in the four-core areas: non-fiction reading, geometry, charts and graphs, and writing. Solution Tree coaches showed us that our focus had been on teaching rather than learning; therefore, we adapted our master schedule to provide much-needed interventions. 

Currently, all CJHS students attend a 45-minute Tier 2 intervention/extension period called SWARM. A nod to our Yellowjacket mascot, SWARM is an acronym for “Students Working At Reaching Mastery.” After analyzing data from formative assessments, teachers support students who lack understanding in specific learning targets before the summative assessment is given. Intervention blocks are two consecutive days, Monday-Tuesday or Wednesday-Thursday, with Friday being reserved for enrichment activities or mentoring groups. The frequent rotations are managed with an online system, RTI Scheduler, which allows teachers to select students for interventions. To better inform students of their weaknesses, teachers identify the interventions by learning targets.

Our RTI system is an all-hands-on-deck approach. During the first year, students were assigned to either interventions or enrichment activities. Those students who repeatedly needed interventions viewed this time as a punitive experience. Through this, we learned that all students should participate in an academic activity during this time to avoid the stigma of reward versus punishment. With our new approach, teachers who are not offering Tier 2 interventions provide students with other academic extensions or supports. This may look like a science teacher providing time and feedback on a science fair project to a coach teaching research techniques used to determine bias and credible sources. 

On Fridays during SWARM, all students are able to select enrichment activities that are of interest to them. We use this time to build social-emotional connections while also having students explore interests that connect to the values and history of our community. These activities have included an English teacher sharing her overseas experiences through origami, the custodian training students on soldering skills, and our counselor teaching cattle roping with the help of students involved in the local rodeo circuit. 

Our intervention system continues to evolve. At first we provided Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions during SWARM. Recently, we adjusted the master schedule to allow at least one teacher each period to provide Tier 3 interventions to students. This allows us to place any student in need of Tier 3 support with a certified teacher without adjusting the student’s schedule or taking away from core instruction. Tier 3 students are identified from state testing and universal screener results indicating the student is two or more grade levels behind; teachers may also refer students to the RTI committee for review and placement in Tier 3 supports as they see missing prerequisite skills that aren’t addressed in SWARM. 

Intervention supports are not only provided for “skill” students, but also provided for “will” students. CJHS implemented a no-zero program called ZAP (Zeros Aren’t Permitted). Students who do not complete formative assessments are monitored through a computer program called ICU Database. Families are notified of the missing assessment and after a period of time, students are assigned to a working lunch with a certified teacher. This teacher provides motivation for students, but more importantly tutors those who have not completed the assignment due to academic struggles. ZAP has been successful in reducing the number of failing grades and retention and in increasing achievement for both “skill” and “will” students who are most often placed in the program. 

One of the advantages of being a small school is our ability to personally connect with students and provide interventions that go beyond the classroom. After COVID, we discovered a number of disengaged students. Our grade-level teams created a list of students of most concern for effort and attendance. From those lists, each of our 28 teachers adopted a student he or she had a personal connection with to do daily check-ins. After the second semester, 10 of these students showed double-digit growth in reading on the universal screener while 12 showed double-digit growth in mathematics. 


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

Since beginning our Professional Learning Community journey, there have been significant shifts in shared leadership and building teacher capacity to take active roles in increasing student learning as members of collaborative teams. 

After hearing the message of PLCs, staff members formed a guiding coalition with the mission of helping lead the work of each collaborative team. Each member of the team was chosen to help hear as many unique voices as possible, ensuring that each subject, grade, team, and learning style was represented. The guiding coalition has driven the change in the building from implementing and improving systems of intervention to developing mentoring programs to build student capacity in monitoring their own learning. 

As a singleton school, we found challenges creating a master schedule that allowed collaborative teams to meet during the school day. To combat this, the three district principals approached the superintendent and school board to request banking instructional minutes during the week to allow for a weekly one hour late start/early release dedicated to PLCs. Community surveys led us to our current Friday release days, which provide collaborative teams contractual time weekly to meet for one hour. Since that time, modifications to the master schedule based on our RTI strategies fortuitously opened up common planning time for teams. Although teams are not required to meet during this time, we continue to see daily evidence of collaboration during these planning periods.

Although we are tight on the idea that each team will address the four critical questions of Professional Learning Communities, each team has the capacity to set its own agenda for weekly collaborative time. The guiding coalition discusses the direction each team is taking and provides feedback when needed. 

Individual teams have grown in capacity since we began our work with Solution Tree. Teams have grown from developing norms on how to work together, to building deeper collective commitments on how to progress student learning. Although none of our teams have members that teach the same course, they continue to use the critical friend model as they work through the process of Plan-Do-Study-Act. One week a team may bring examples of student work to calibrate assessment on a shared rubric. Another time, team members could bring evidence of student data to discuss which students need continued support and share instructional strategies, demonstrating mutual accountability for all students. The key point to each team is to focus on improving student learning. As our processes continue to grow, teachers have taken the initiative to request monthly meetings in horizontal teams where conversations are occurring on how to address literacy needs across the grade level in each subject. We are excited to see how this teacher-led initiative impacts student achievement.

Each team has access to the work of other teams through shared Google folders where teachers can access unit plans, assessment rubrics, data collection, and other items. This allows teams to develop common academic vocabulary and create connections for the students across all subject areas. In addition, it allows for open conversations on individual student strengths and weaknesses to develop plans for improvement when a student may struggle in one area but excels in another. 

Finally, this simple example best summarizes how we know the collaborative process of PLC and shared leadership is taking hold in our school. When our two newest teachers were hired this year, each time the administrative team asked them if they needed anything or had any questions, both replied, “Not right now, my team is taking care of me.” 

  • Niche #1 Standout Middle School in Arkansas (2020, 2021, 2022)

  • Niche #3 Standout Middle School in Arkansas (2019)

  • U.S. News Best Middle Schools in America. Top 10% in Arkansas. #32 overall. (2021)

  • Solution Tree Arkansas Cohort 4 Grant Recipient (2020)

  • Office of Education Policy Top “Beating the Odds” Junior High (2015, 2016) 

  • Office of Education Policy Top 20 High Achieving Junior High Schools (2015, 2016)

  • ADE Reward School Status for 6 - 10% Growth (2016)

  • Quiz Bowl

    • State Runner-Up 2018

    • State Champions 2019

  • Beta Club

    • School of Merit (2016, 2017, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022)

    • School of Distinction (2018)

    • Gold Key Award (2020)

    • Many State Beta Event Placements

  • Future Business Leaders of America

    • Several Regional and State Champions in FBLA Events

    • Two Top 10 Placements at National FBLA Convention 2022

  • Principal Serves on Statewide PLC Guiding Coalition

  • Principal Selected to Attend Master Principal Academy Phases 1,2 and 3