Valley Springs Elementary (2023)
- Number of Students: 325
- Percent Eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch: 51%
- Percent of Limited English Proficient: 0%
- Percent of Special Education: 14%
- White: 95.8%
- Black: 0.3%
- Hispanic: 1.2%
- Asian: 1.2%
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 0.3%
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 0%
- Multiracial: 1.2%
- Other: 0%
Valley Springs Elementary School (VSES) is located in Boone County, Arkansas serving approximately 325 K-4 students. Our PLC journey began in August 2020 as Cohort IV of the Arkansas PLC Project. We had been working for several years to build a professional learning community that would ensure high levels of learning for all yet we weren’t focusing on the right work. In the past, teachers at VSES were ‘getting together’ to discuss what they were doing in the classroom and how their students were performing, but this did not affect practice in a meaningful way. Teachers would go back into their classrooms and continue with what they liked to do with the strategies they enjoyed using. They were working in isolation and spending an excessive amount of their own time preparing lessons and interventions. Our student data showed us that we needed to change what we were doing. We applied for the ADE Grant, believing that learning to work as a true professional learning community would help us to achieve better student results.
The first year of our journey in 2020-2021 was a tough one due to Covid restrictions, teachers navigating through online teaching platforms, and trying to maintain a balance between professional and personal life. And on top of that, we were beginning the PLC process, meaning for some of us a brand new way of assessing students, reviewing data, and addressing the results. Solution Tree could not have assigned us better coaches. They came in with a list of tasks to be addressed but also with a mindset and heart that knew we were already on overload and were ready to hold our hands through the process.
Our initial focus was to learn the intricacies of what makes a professional learning community function effectively and to start building a culture of change. One of the tasks that were given to us was to create a mission and vision statement as well as collective commitments. The VSES Guiding Coalition, which includes a representative from each collaborative team, led the entire staff in a process to create a new mission statement that captured our fundamental purpose: Together, we inspire, grow, and educate; reaching all students to continue the tradition of excellence. We continued this work to create our vision statement and collective commitments which would become the foundation for our work going forward. Allowing the entire staff to have their voices heard and be an integral part of creating this increased morale, made each person feel valued and started the shift from buy-in to commitment. It was amazing to see teachers stepping out of their comfort zones and empowering their colleagues to participate in a collaborative culture. The mission, vision, and collective commitments are now displayed in the school and referred to regularly by teachers and teams.
While we worked to build the foundation of our PLC, we wrestled with the four critical questions and how we answered them. With the help of Solution Tree coaches, we reviewed our essential standards and learned to create clear learning progressions. We embraced common assessments and developed strategies for monitoring student learning. We reflected on how we were responding when students didn’t learn and modified our master schedule to provide more targeted support for those students as well as planned extensions for those who were ready or exceeding expectations. We gained a deeper understanding of the instructional cycle and made changes in instructional practices. Collaborative teams learned to focus their time on critical tasks that positively affected student learning, like reviewing assessment results together. Through collaboration and perseverance, we were more intentional about what we focused on and therefore able to impact student achievement. This process also guided us in forming a Problem-Solving Team (PST) to review data and make decisions about how we serve those students needing intensive interventions.
As we continued to deepen our understanding of PLC processes, we modified our school schedule and teaching assignments to better support teacher collaboration and student learning. We moved away from departmentalization and “singletons" in Grades 3 and 4 to accommodate a more collaborative culture. Teams learned to create shared drives to organize their team agendas, plans, assessments, and data. Teachers actively seek out opportunities to observe other proficient teachers to strengthen their skills.
We engaged our students in monitoring their learning and progress as we realized the benefits of student self-efficacy. Through focused teaching of academic behaviors such as organization and student goal setting we have empowered our students to self-monitor their own learning goals. We are more intentional about celebrating growth to create a culture of learning. “I can” statements were created for each rung of the ladder (learning progressions) which allows students to understand the expectations for the learning being presented.
1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.
The first major task was to determine the essential standards. Working with Solution Tree coaches, teams learned to use the REAL criteria (Readiness, Endurance, Assessed, Leverage) to identify the most critical standards at each grade level. In June 2021, K-4 teacher teams organized literacy standards across grade levels to ensure vertical alignment of student learning. In November 2022, the teams worked to align the essential standards for mathematics as well, clarifying what the expectations were at each grade level.
This led to a clarification of essential standards and learning targets across all grade levels, K-4. Through ongoing professional development and practice, all teams learned to create detailed learning progressions that outlined the concepts and skills that students needed to learn and the order to teach them. This helped teams to gain a greater understanding of how to teach these learning targets and also enhanced teams’ work in developing and analyzing assessments.
Despite going through changes in curriculum, classroom organization, and teacher assignments, teams kept the focus on clarifying what students need to know and be able to do through reviewing and refining their learning progressions and assessments. Rubrics have been created to also provide teachers with a better understanding of what proficient work looks like across the grade level.
Teachers and teams at VSES use a variety of strategies to carefully monitor students’ learning on a timely basis. During daily Tier 1 instruction, teachers use different formative techniques to check for understanding and gain insights into student thinking. Collaborative teams use regular common formative assessments to gather information about student progress on essential standards. When teams plan units of instruction, they decide when it makes sense to use a common assessment to check on student understanding. Teams have learned to create efficient and targeted common assessments that help pinpoint student misconceptions. After they review their own student’s work, they meet with their collaborative team to review the results together. Our teams have learned to use several different data protocols to analyze student work and decide on follow-up steps. Based on the results, they decide how to respond to the data. They plan reteaching, decide on Tier 2 interventions, and figure out who will work with each intervention group.
2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.
We have had an identified 30-minute Tier 2 intervention block in the master schedule for several years, but the block was not being used as effectively as it could be.
In Year 2 of the ADE Grant, the guiding coalition received intensive training in Response to Intervention (RTI) concepts and practices. We then developed a schedule and staff assignments that would maximize the effectiveness of the Tier 2 block and also provide Tier 3 services for students who needed them. The new schedule was going to require modifications in the schedules of part-time teachers who are shared with other schools in the district. These modifications would need to be approved by the district superintendent. The GC asked for the opportunity to present the plan to the superintendent. They then shared student data, explained the need for the new schedule, and advocated for the plan. The superintendent saw the value in the vision and approved the plan.
In Year 3, we further developed our systems of intervention and extension. The guiding coalition led teachers and teams in an examination of Tier 1 instruction, Tier 2 intervention, and Tier 3 supports. Teams got more intentional about using common assessment data to identify students for Tier 2 support. Classroom teachers, special educators, and interventionists coordinated schedules to provide students with support. We established a “Problem-Solving Team” that included the principal, counselor, special educator, and other staff to discuss and manage Tier 3 services for students. The guiding coalition led the staff in applying the RTI model to expectations for academic and social behaviors. We established a school-wide focus on goal-setting and organization and clarified expectations for student behavior.
3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.
Collaborative teacher teams are the engine that drives teaching and learning here at VSES. Teachers at each grade level are organized into collaborative teams that are provided teamwork time for at least one hour and fifteen minutes every week.
Previously at VSES, teachers in grades 3 and 4 were departmentalized, with individual teachers taking responsibility for teaching specific subjects. When the principal and guiding coalition realized that this arrangement was keeping teachers from collaborating at a high level, a decision to shift to self-contained classrooms at all grade levels was made. As a result, all teachers at VSES have the opportunity to collaborate regularly with teammates who are teaching the same grade level and the same essential standards.
Teams at VSES value their collaborative team time and they work to make the most of every session. They are careful to focus team time on student learning and answering the four critical questions of PLCs. They have used protocols and developed processes to complete critical tasks like unpacking essential standards, developing assessments, and reviewing student data. Teams create and follow detailed agendas to keep them on task and focused on the work. All teams have developed clear team norms that guide their collaborative work times.
Teams focus their collaborative work on student learning by developing team SMART goals based on student data. As they teach standards and assess student learning, they mark progress toward their common goals. Teams celebrate growth and look for ways to improve results together.
Collaborative teams at VSES regularly use common formative assessments to monitor student learning. Teams have learned to collaboratively review student work and assessments as a team. They review data and look for instructional strategies that are getting positive results. Teachers are open to learning from each other and they use collaborative team discussions to build their own skills as teachers.
The principal and the guiding coalition are committed to helping teams build capacity. We provide regular professional development support including Faculty Learning Meetings, which are staff sessions that are focused on collaborative practices that are aligned with school goals. Once a month, we have early dismissal that provides additional team time for up two and a half hours.
Teachers at VSES have learned to reach beyond their grade level in their efforts to ensure student learning. Over the past three years, they have intentionally engaged in vertical discussion and planning to organize the instructional program from Kindergarten through Grade 4.
The power of collaborative teams at VSES has had an effect on our approach to providing interventions and support for students. Previously, if a teacher had a student who was struggling, the teacher would try to reteach and meet the student’s needs. Now, as teams have developed and as teachers have a greater understanding of the instruction that is happening in other classrooms, teachers are more willing to have other teachers provide instructional support. There is a higher level of trust among teachers and teams.
Achievement Data Files
Additional Achievement Data
STAR Early Literacy and STAR Reading are the K-2 state assessments we are required to administer 3 times per year. This year we increased the benchmark level for proficiency from the 40th percentile to the 50th percentile. Third and Fourth-grade teachers use the STAR assessment as a progress monitoring tool. 2019-2020 Third and Fourth Grade data is from ACT Aspire Interim given in March prior to school closing for COVID.
The principal is a facilitator for the Highly Effective School Leadership Certification -a partnership between Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators (AAEA) and Solution Tree
Valley Springs Elementary School was featured on the All Things Assessment website. Here is the link to the article: Seeing Possibility: Using Learning Progressions to Help Students Climb toward Mastery
2023 Third and Fourth Grade Quiz Bowl Team Champions
Member of DESE State Guiding Coalition
SchoolDigger Rank 2022:
87th of 487 Arkansas Elementary Schools (2021 we were ranked #114); Valley Springs Elementary School ranks better than 82.1% of elementary schools in Arkansas
SchoolDigger Rank 2023: 51st out of 492 Arkansas Elementary Schools which was a positive rank change of 36; Valley Springs is now in the top 10% of elementary schools in Arkansas.
Awarded Promising Practices School April 2023