White River School District (2023)

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

Tell us how you built shared understanding and commitment to the PLC at Work process.

In 1998 there was only one school in White River School District that operated as a PLC at Work. That school, Mountain Meadow Elementary, outperformed the other elementary schools in the district, region, and most elementary schools in Washington State. As a result of that success, district leadership realized that for all schools to achieve at high levels, there needed to be consistent implementation of the PLC process in every school.

From the school board and superintendent down to the teacher teams, we knew it was important for the district to start with the “why”. As Anthony Muhammad and Luis F. Cruz (2019) point out, “A leader has to create a compelling, fact-based case for change, and then use his or her ability to convince people to make the organizational challenge their personal challenge” (p. 25). In White River School District, we were going to implement PLC at Work concepts and practices. Why? Because, by doing this work, we knew we could improve adult professional practice and student achievement levels at every school, on every team, and in every classroom - kid by kid and skill by skill - as measured by multiple indicators to include:

• Grades

 • Attendance

• State assessment results

• Student growth data

• Graduation rates

 • Enrollment and completion of post-secondary education

• Dual credits earned

• Increased enrollment in AP courses and increased AP courses being offered for successful student completion of a more rigorous and challenging curriculum

 • ACT and SAT results

• Positive behavior interventions and support (PBIS) and multi-tier systems of support (MTSS) data

 • Special education data

• Ninety percent K–2 reading goal

• Historically and contemporarily underserved student data (socioeconomic status, race, gender, English learning status, special education status, and so on)

As a district, we had a dream that was grounded in students learning at higher levels. To achieve that dream, we had to build shared knowledge on research-based effective practice and focus the work within the district. White River School District required every board member, district office leader, principal, and members of each school leadership team to attend a PLC at Work Institute. The first year that we moved to a district-wide PLC at Work model, regular emails were sent to ALL staff that built knowledge of what a PLC at Work was, and how it functioned. In year two we implemented a one-hour late start, and we provided a short script for every staff member who might answer a phone call about the late start, that provided an explanation of the work in a few short sentences. In addition, White River held one board meeting a month that focused on learning about the concepts and practices of a PLC. During this meeting, invited school grade-level and content-area teams shared their essential standards, common formative assessments, the process to analyze data, and how they provided additional time, support, and extensions linked to their formative assessment data. The school board and superintendent team also had the opportunity to view team products. Through these meetings, board members and the superintendent built shared knowledge and a common vocabulary that guided district direction and focus areas for improving learning. It started with a clear direction from the top.

Districtwide alignment was provided by the school board and superintendent with the creation of a clear vision for the work and determining focus areas for schools to implement and monitor. One important focus area was to establish a guaranteed and viable curriculum across the district. Establishing high-performing collaborative teams became the vehicle to improve learning, and this started and was modeled by the school board and superintendent team. District office leaders were expected to work collaboratively and lead with the filter of improving learning for all rather than making decisions in isolation based on individual department initiatives. Principals at all levels learned together and implemented PLC concepts and practices in every school in the district. Building leaders created teacher teams at each grade level and in content areas throughout the district. Master schedules were adjusted to give teams time to collaborate and to ensure students received effective interventions at three levels (Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3). The number-one priority and common thread across the district was to live the mission: ensuring high levels of learning for each student, preparing them for success beyond high school. The work surrounding living the mission wasn’t one initiative of many initiatives; it was the only district initiative. The White River School District was committed to implementing the PLC process as the vehicle to achieve its mission.  This seventeen-year journey of PLC implementation in White River School District has been sustained by staying the course and improving learning by using the four critical questions of learning in a PLC to drive the work and limit district initiatives. We built a shared understanding and commitment by studying and implementing the concepts and practices of a PLC. And when more students learned more because of our efforts, we celebrated both the students and the adults.

Tell us how you are facilitating a culture of continuous improvement in your district.

In White River, facilitating a culture of continuous improvement is directly connected to the work of our collaborative teams, specifically the collaboratively developed unit plans, common formative assessments and the TACA (Team Analysis of the Common Assessment) process. During our Monday weekly collaborative team meetings, teacher teams come to the table with evidence of student learning. This evidence reflects essential standards/learning targets taught and evidence of what students learned last week. This could be data from a quick formative check for understanding, examples of student work, or data from an end-of-unit assessment. They come to the table prepared to discuss the data and student work and determine next steps. Likely, the team will focus on identifying instructional strategies that helped students achieve during core instruction. If the teams are using this time to determine who will receive additional time and support, they will have the name of each student and his or her data or student work. The benefit of having students’ work at the table is that you can see exactly where the students are struggling. Teams then move on to discussing the question, What standards and targets will we teach this week? The discussion focuses on the targets that you will teach this week related to the essential standard. The team should also discuss instructional strategies and how to engage students, as well as what resources you will use. The team will also discuss what barriers some students might have to accessing the learning targets for the week. The teams agree on what formative check for understanding, student work, or data they will be bringing to the table next Monday.  All of this should be written down/captured and part of the work in the team’s collaboratively developed unit plan.

Our most effective teams—teams that get results with students—use the TACA process weekly to record the learning journey toward meeting the standard in the unit of instruction. The TACA is a data protocol and process to talk about your students and their learning. The TACA process and the unit plan are critical keys to the continuous improvement cycle. Teams engage in this process unit after unit. Before teams start planning their next unit, they review the TACA from the previous year. This helps to remind the team where students were successful, what instructional strategies and resources worked best, where students struggled, and which skills needed reinforcement. The team then makes adjustments in their unit plan based on this information and the needs of the children in their classrooms.

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

Describe the process that your district uses to create and implement a guaranteed and viable curriculum.

In the White River School District, we believe that a student’s address shouldn’t determine what they learn. In other words, every second grade classroom in the district should have the same essential standards, the same scope and sequence, the same pacing, and the same high quality common formative and summative assessments. This holds true for every grade level and course district-wide. Collaborative teams in the district understand that guaranteed and viable mean that the standards need to be paced in a realistic manner. The scope and sequence is the same across the district at the elementary level and in every section of each course at the secondary level. Teams start by identifying the essential standards as well as identifying the essential outcomes all students must master. When we implemented the process at the elementary level, we used Larry Ainsworth’s (2004) book, Power Standards, as our guide. After every grade level team in each elementary school has completed this process, a district office team which includes the assistant superintendent, teaching and learning administrators, principals, and teachers from each school or region engage in a review of the standards. This district team then creates a list of common essential standards that emerge from the school teams. They also create a list of outliers, essential standards that emerge from some teams but not all teams. The district leadership team sends the list of agreed on essential standards and outliers to the building collaborative teams for feedback. We refer to this as an accordion process. The key to this process is input and ownership by all teams in the district. (Eaker, Hagadone, Keating, & Rhoades, Leading PLCs at Work Districtwide: From Boardroom to Classroom, 2021, p.43). 

Once the standards and outcomes are clearly established, the team determines the scope and sequence in each unit and for the year. A significant aspect of this work is to clearly articulate specific and student friendly learning targets, proficiency scales and success criteria along with what mastery of each target looks like in student work. This leads to intended outcomes of instruction and what we want our students to be able to do after completing the unit.  District-wide, grade level teams create a common pacing guide to help ensure a guaranteed and viable curriculum across all grade level classes. Collaborative teams measure student learning of each of the identified essential standards by end-of-unit common formative assessments. If a student moves across town and attends a new school in the district, he or she will slide into the same unit of instruction addressing the same essential standards and will be assessed by the same common formative end-of-unit assessment. In the Resources Tab, you will find examples of unit plans from each level which capture this work.

Describe the strategies your district uses to monitor student learning on a timely basis.

The mission of the White River School District is clear, “Ensure high levels of learning for each student and prepare them for life and success after high school”.  This process begins at the School Board and Superintendent level by setting the direction and focus of the district, establishing a focus on learning, and by regularly analyzing student learning data.  The District Leadership Team, which includes building administrators as well as teacher leaders, meets monthly and regularly reviews student learning data by grade and subject area as well as developing district wide SMART Goals.  This team also practices and rehearses the work that the Building Leadership Teams will implement within each building.  At the end of each District Leadership Team meeting, each principal and their team is tasked with committing to their next steps, creating a plan for those next steps, and committing to providing evidence to bring to the next district meeting.

Following the district level meeting, each Building Leadership Team meets to discuss and implement the information from the district meeting, analyze unit learning data, set school SMART Goals, and create intervention plans for students who need additional time and support with their learning. This process creates a systemness, which DuFour and Fullan (2013) refer to as “...being as good as one can be during individual and collaborative work and being aware that everyone needs to contribute to improving the larger system." (p.18)

Collaborative teacher teams throughout the district meet every Monday morning for one hour to plan instructional units, clarify what is essential for each student to master in each unit, and monitor student learning on a frequent and timely basis using collaboratively developed common formative assessments. Teams then use the results of these common formative assessments to provide students with additional time, support, or extension. Teams also use these results to review and set new SMART Goals and to reflect on professional practice. Teams use a data protocol called the TACA (Team Analysis of a Common Assessment) form to review the results of each unit assessment. 

There are clear expectations for how the Monday collaborative team meetings proceed.  The primary filter for the work are the Four Critical Questions of Learning.  If a visitor or someone from outside the team were to attend a team meeting, they would find the conversation centered around a standard or specific learning targets. It is an expectation that evidence of learning/student work or data from the most recent common formative assessment is at the table and being discussed. This is critical to the conversation of improving teacher professional practice as well as providing timely student feedback and targeted intervention and extension. District and building administrators attend these team meetings on a regular basis to provide support, assess team needs, and gain an understanding of whether the kids are learning or not. There should be no surprises when a unit assessment or the state assessment results come in!  Building administrators review team unit assessments during their leadership team meetings and discuss progress and needs for improvement. The superintendent and cabinet also review benchmark and end-of-unit data monthly to answer the question, are the kids learning and how do we know? In addition, to identify where additional support is needed by a team or school.

White River has created a Google site that houses all of the work that teams at each level use called The Works Site.  There is a specific site for each level, elementary, middle and high school. These sites contain all of the important documents, learning data, and resources each team develops. They house the guaranteed and viable curriculum in White River. The Work Sites are accessible to all teaching staff, making it possible for teachers in one building to access resources from another building. District and building administrators can see student progress unit-by-unit, student-by-student, and skill-by-skill in real-time as each unit is completed. 


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

Share how you are creating and implementing systems of intervention and extension to provide students with additional time and support for learning.

The multi-tiered system of support/intervention in the district at all levels begins with the grade level or content team in the planning process for Tier 1 instruction. Teachers and teams are intentionally planning weekly for every student in their classrooms. The UDL (Universal Design for Learning) process is alive across the district. Teacher teams plan ahead for students with challenges engaging with grade-level power standards. Intervention is directly connected to Tier 1 instruction when a small group of students receives additional time and support from the classroom teacher on a specific skill. The time and intensity in these intervention groups are highly fluid, as students may move through this quickly if they show growth. These groups are constantly changing based on formative assessments and progress monitoring. 

In addition, an intervention block is a part of our master schedule in all grade levels to provide every student with additional intervention or extension based on assessment data. Teachers and administration meet in Response to Intervention teams every four-six weeks to review the weekly and bi-weekly data and make instructional decisions based on that data. Using student data, teachers and paraeducators provide interventions. The students with Tier 3 needs receive intervention in the smallest groups with our most qualified teachers or through support or co-taught classes.  Students at or above the benchmark receive support to extend their learning needs. Again, these extensions are directly connected to level 4 on the proficiency scales. We don’t allow anything to trump intervention and extension time.

Students who fall far below the benchmark also receive a triple dip during the day. These students are identified based on their data. This small group or individual intervention provides a re-teaching or pre-teaching of skills to help the student succeed in Tier 1 instruction. This additional support is another way to support students and close the skill gaps. The collaborative team determines the time and intensity of support.

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

Explain how your high-performing, collaborative teams focus their efforts on improved student learning.

Every Monday morning starts the same way in every grade level and school in the district. The one-hour late start dedicated for collaborative teacher teams to do their work is sacred. There are no interruptions or other activities that take precedence with this time. Teams focus on the Four Critical Questions of Learning and work within a cycle of continuous improvement. Teams throughout the district collaboratively create units of instruction that follow the same Repeating Process:

  • Set SMART Goal
  • Identify essential standards, write proficiency scales, and unwrap standards into learning targets
  • Create the end-of-unit formative assessment
  • Design instruction/engagement
  • Design checks for understanding aligned to the target and check for understanding
  • Provide additional time and support aligned to the target and checks for understanding
  • Come to the team meeting with evidence of learning and be prepared to discuss what the students have learned based on the evidence - check for understanding, data, or student work
  • Give the end-of-unit formative assessment
  • Score and analyze the assessment using the TACA protocol/process
  • Look at end-of-unit data and student work as a team
  • Apply interventions and extensions
  • Review SMART Goal
  • Repeat….

Through this cycle, teams work collaboratively to implement PLC processes and most importantly, increase learning for the students they serve. Teams spend this time collaboratively creating units of instruction, analyzing student work, and planning instruction and interventions. At the elementary level, grade-level teams in each building have common planning to ensure additional time to focus on the work of the team. Extra time is built into the teacher contract for teams at all levels to continue their work outside the workday. We know that the work of improving learning for all kids takes more than one hour a week! 

Each grade level and content area team has an identified team leader. The team leader serves as the team’s lead learner, providing guidance and a voice for the team in the school’s Building leadership Team. The team leader is a critical linchpin in building teacher capacity to work collaboratively as a high-performing team. The team leader guides the work by modeling effective collaboration versus cooperation practices. He or she does this by communicating clearly and regularly, maintaining norms that promote team inquiry and accountability, ensuring "talk time" for all members of the team when meeting, allowing data and student work samples to steer conversations, and celebrating success.  The team leader always guides the focus back to student learning when unrelated or non-productive conversations or topics that could divert the team’s attention arise. Having strong team leaders who are trained, supported, and model such skills allows other teachers to build their own capacity and support student learning. Teacher team capacity is also enhanced through district wide team leader training. The benefit of such an approach is that principals and team leaders are consistent in their learning and planning across the district, sending a common message to each and every team in every school by speaking with the same voice and truly meaning it when they say, “These are all of our kids.”(Eaker, Hagadone, Keating, & Rhoades, Leading PLCs at Work Districtwide: From Boardroom to Classroom, p. 78).

In addition, elementary teams meet every 6-8 weeks with TOSAs (Teachers in ELA and Math on Special Assignments) to improve their instructional practice. Examples of work during these PD sessions include unit planning, planning instructional rounds, developing formative assessments, and adjusting intervention plans. Secondary content teachers have specific professional development that’s embedded in their school day. Thev professional development work at all grade levels is focused inside the bookshelf.

Schools in the White River School District recognized as Model PLC Schools:

White River High School

Mountain Meadow Elementary School

White River Staff who have become Solution Tree Associates based on the continued progress of the PLC process in White River:

Janel Keating-Hambly

Mike Hagadone

Cody Mothershead

Stephanie Kraft

Jeff Byrnes

Tracy Nelson

Scot Curran

The following books have been published about PLC implementation in White River:

Every School, Every Team, Every Classroom: District Leadership for Growing Professional Learning Communities at Work

 Kid by Kid, Skill by Skill: Teaching in a Professional Learning Community at Work

 Leading PLCs at Work Districtwide: From Boardroom to Classroom

 Leading PLCs at Work Districtwide Plan Book

 Staff Recognition

 Janel Keating-Hambly:  2019- Robert Handy Award for Most Effective                                                   Administrator in Washington State

Lori Curtis:  2018- NCCE Outstanding Technology Leader of the Year

Meagan Rhoades:  2013- Puget Sound ESD 121 Classified Employee of the Year

Mike Hagadone:  2011- Washington State High School Principal of the Year