Helen Mathews Elementary (2023)
- Number of Students: 454
- Percent Eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch: 28.63%
- Percent of Limited English Proficient: 6.61%
- Percent of Special Education: 14.67%
- White: 86%
- Black: 1.46%
- Hispanic: 6.4%
- Asian: 0.44%
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 0%
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 0%
- Multiracial: 5.7%
- Other: 0%
Staff at Mathews Elementary officially began our systematic PLC journey in August of 2018. While the quality of educators was second to none, there was a clear divide between classrooms, grade levels, Title Reading services, and special education. “My kids” and “Your kids” were common phrases. While our school’s state test scores remained above the state average, there was marked room for improvement, as scores had demonstrated inconsistent progress in past years. It was clear that change was needed to create a culture of collective teacher efficacy. Prior to beginning the journey into a systematic focus on learning, collaboration, and results, the foundation had already begun to be laid through the development of culture and climate that would allow the PLC process to become deeply embedded into everything we do as a school.
In the words of Bob Nelson, “You get the best efforts from others not by lighting a fire beneath them, but by building a fire within them.” Beginning with the development of a mission, vision, and collective commitments, the staff at Mathews Elementary boldly declared who we are and who we want to be as a team and community. Through a journey to discover the needs of our students, families, and community, combined with a deep dive into the “why” of our staff, Mathew's mission “Lead with Character, Learn with Confidence, Love with Courage” was born. We then focused on a vision that described our focus on creating a culture where students discover their strengths and reach their maximum potential. The vision also created intentionality in setting high expectations for each student and celebrating the belief that all children can and will learn through meaningful, engaging learning experiences. Finally, we created our collective commitments that allow us to hold ourselves and each other accountable for focused, collective accountability led by intentional modeling of what we want our students to become. Collaborative monitoring and continuous improvement became not just what we do, but who we are.
Collective commitments allowed us to have open communication in a professional and mutually respectful environment. As a collaborative team, we held ourselves to the following commitments:
The teachers and staff at Mathews Elementary are committed to fulfilling the building and district mission. In doing so:
❖ We will make all decisions with student learning as our focus
❖ Together we will embrace responsibility for all student learning and developing each student’s full potential
❖ We will model everything we expect from our students including lifelong learning, respect, and responsibility
❖ We will collaboratively monitor the achievement of our individual students by using the results of assessments to guide our processes of continuous improvement.
❖ We will embrace a solution-seeking mindset
Development of this culture took immense levels of trust and vulnerability on the part of all staff members. Learning to trust each other took time, and we knew that productive struggle and courageous conversation would be at the heart of becoming what we wanted to be for our students. We became comfortable with being uncomfortable because we knew that would be where we grow. Through ongoing reflection through the Seven Stages of PLC, we worked from being a group to becoming a team who focused collaboratively on the right things for the betterment of ALL of OUR students.
As we transitioned into the practices of a strong PLC, our building leadership team quickly became our Guiding Coalition. Distributed leadership became common practice. Development of teacher leaders allowed us to grow exponentially in our understanding of what it means to function within a PLC. As a collaborative team, teams were guided in learning to work collaboratively within a PLC and we began our journey into the understanding of backward design and deconstructing district-determined essential standards to ensure we had a solid understanding of what we wanted students to know. This was a journey that allowed team members to deeply understand the curriculum they were teaching. The administration and instructional coach worked closely with the Guiding Coalition to learn how to determine learning targets with the support of state documents that allowed us to know the level of understanding and the vocabulary necessary for student mastery of each essential standard. Teacher leaders from Guiding Coalition then worked with their teams to do the work aligned with their grade level. As teams were researching to have a clear understanding of standards, learning targets, and levels of mastery, they began to establish common formative assessments aligned with learning targets. Throughout this process it was clear, distributed leadership was essential to our progress as a PLC.
As we were determining what the right work was, we continuously went back to the four critical questions of a PLC: What do we want our students to know? How will we know when they’ve learned it? What will we do when they haven’t learned it (remediation)? What will we do when they have learned it (extension)? As we were learning the components necessary to form a strong PLC, we broke our collaborative time into three separate sessions: pacing, planning, and data meetings. This allowed teacher teams to focus the work they were doing and deeply understand the components of each step. As time went on, teams transitioned from meeting during early release and one planning time a week to meeting three to four times a week as they realized the value of intentional collaboration in moving toward meeting our building goals.
One clear foundation of our school culture was our focus not only on academics but also on the social emotional and behavioral development of all students. With our passion for ensuring all students discover their strengths and reach their maximum potential, the importance of developing the whole child cannot be neglected. As such, early in our journey, we realized the work was too big for the Guiding Coalition alone. We quickly identified the need for our SOAR Coalition whose focus was on the behavioral and social-emotional development of students. The focus of this team aligned with all of the work of a PLC but specifically aligned to behaviors, social-emotional health, and restorative practices. We ensured the work aligned through ongoing reflection of the RTI at work essential actions in both behaviors and academics.
Two years into our journey, our district developed our strategy implementation guide (SIG) that allowed us to deepen our learning and understanding of PLC processes. This began our exploration of RTI within the master schedule. Beginning in the 2021-2022 school year, RTI was embedded into our master schedule. Development of the master schedule took place with the input and support of the Guiding Coalition. As a team and in true PLC fashion, we came together and collaboratively discussed the needs and impact of all grade-level and support teams to align our interventionist and allow the highest level of support for all students. This allowed us to develop a schedule to best meet the needs of all stakeholders.
The incorporation of RTI meant that intentional and focused remediation and extension became part of our culture. Tiered systems of intervention were developed and systems and processes were put in place that allowed us to monitor student learning building-wide. In order to successfully implement RTI, we made decisions as a building that allowed us to change supports to ensure an all-means-all mentality. One specific quote from Buffman, Mattos, and Weber fed the fire of becoming what our mission says we will be. “RTI should not be a program to raise student test scores, but rather a process to realize students’ hopes and dreams. It should not be a way to meet state mandates, but a means to serve humanity. Once we understand the urgency of our work and embrace this noble cause as our fundamental purpose, how could we possibly allow any student to fail?”
As we continued to grow and develop in our PLC journey, the use of the district SIG was critical. Teams reflect upon the SIG and the Guiding Coalition and SOAR Coalition support teams in the journey. As we learned how to use the SIG, we implemented the pathways to continue to develop our system of distributed leadership and allow teams to learn and develop systematically in the areas that would most benefit them and their students We do this through intentionality and a process of continuous improvement aligned to a Building Improvement Plan.
In all of the work that has been accomplished, we can’t underestimate the importance of promoting this culture not only for our students but also for all staff. We know the impact of the work we do, and we also recognize the importance of celebrating and having fun together. Our social committee developed a monthly social calendar to allow our staff to build relationships outside of school, and our office team developed a teacher appreciation calendar that allowed us to build relationships and celebrate each other inside of school. Fun and fellowship have become key to maintaining strong relationships, positive attitudes, and encouragement for each other. That combined with a burning desire to be the best we can be for students continues to feed the fire of our journey.
1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.
- At Mathews Elementary, we believe that the work we do as a collaborative team not only benefits students' achievement but utilizes individual teacher skills. When we collaborate with teams, we collectively have years of professional development, academic successes, and real word experiences. We work together to create a valuable curriculum that benefits every learner, from every background. Composed of grade-level teachers, enrichment, specialist, and special education staff, our building professional learning teams meet multiple times a week to focus on student learning and help guide work in the PLC.
- While working with so many different professionals, we are able to pull from all different backgrounds to insure that our curriculum is valuable and meets our learners’ needs. Teachers use curriculum pacing guides from the district level, learning targets, deconstructed standards as determined by teacher teams, and data from teacher-created common formative assessments (CFAs) to guide instruction and determine students that are in need of interventions and extensions. The curriculum guides focus on essential and priority standards developed by teacher teams and facilitated by Nixa’s curriculum department and the work of DESE (Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education). Our teachers share data from common assessments to discuss best-practice teaching strategies and differentiate instruction during class time and RTI times.
- Once we determined our district's essential standards and the state priority standards along with the learning targets for each standard, our teachers work to create engaging units based on our district's unit planners that are aligned with our district's pacing guides. Our planners and pacing guides ensure that teachers across all grade levels are all coving the same standards and at the same rigorous level. During multiple meetings per week, we collaborate to determine appropriate activities, best instructional strategies, and common formative assessments that will accurately assess student growth. These meetings are driven by a shared team agenda that guides our teams through data analysis conversations that demonstrate the relationships and trust that our teachers build. Teams have autonomy in their agenda format but agendas consistently focus on the four critical questions of a PLC. These conversations then help our teachers determine high levels of instructional strategies and which students need intervention and extension based on CFA data. This step helps allow every teacher a voice to ask questions, learn new stills, and truly take accountability for all students in their grade level. Next, our agendas guide our pacing process and create meaningful units that align with district and state expectations. Lastly, it helps provide a routine for planning and team preparation for the following weeks.
- At Mathews, we believe that all students can and will meet high expectations. This can only happen when we all work together as collaborative teams and across grade levels to determine that our curriculum is preparing them for their features. We work hard to ensure that when students transition into the next grade level or into another classroom, they are being met with the same level of high-class education as they were before. We do not just teach the students sitting in our individual rooms, we take responsibility for each child that walks through our building doors. When one student succeeds, we all do.
- At Mathews Elementary, we analyze data throughout the school year with reading specialists, administration, and classroom teachers to make sure all students are provided with the necessary interventions as well as making accurate growth. We utilize a variety of tools including state testing results, formative classroom assessments, CFAs, summative assessments, and district benchmark EVALUATE data as well as beginning, middle, and end-of-year district assessments. Behavioral data is collected through anecdotal notes, minors, and major office referrals.
- We engage in weekly collaboration with instructional coaches, reading specialists, and administration to plan instruction to promote all student learning based on student data.
- Common formative assessments are created by collaborative grade-level teams. Assessments are made to be short and quick to administer while having very intentional questions to monitor and assess students' understanding. Teachers work to determine a proficiency scale for grading so that every student in the grade level is being held to the same rigorous expectations that meet state curriculum standards.
- Collaborative teams use multiple data tools to track and share data among their teammates. By sharing our data, we are able to monitor students in the entire grade level to ensure that students are being successful. While monitoring, our teachers follow data protocol sheets to promote meaningful conversations not only about scores but about dissecting each question and determining the deeper reasons behind a student missing a question or skill. While talking, teachers work together to share and show different instruction strategies or sequences that were successful with their own students based on data. This allows such an opportunity for growth for new and veteran teachers. Through this process we all share one common goal, to monitor students during our units to ensure success without students falling behind.
- To stay on track with district pacing guides, our collaborative teams follow a PLC Flowchart. This tool helps guide our teams to use backward design to prepare efficient lessons based on essential standards and learning targets. Next, it supports planning for proper common formative assessments and determining when to hold data analysis conversations, Last, it provides the steps to take when the students succeed and when they need additional support. The chart also helps by providing us with our main goals to drive the process and the work we do. When we feel that we may be lost in the process, the chart helps to bring up our driving questions: What do we want students to know? How will we know that they have learned it? How will we respond when learning doesn't occur? How will we respond when learning has occurred?
- Throughout the process, reflection is critical. Our Guiding Coalition utilized the Solution Tree Simplifying RTI Culture Survey to help us determine the next steps and opportunities for improvement on our journey. When an area of need is determined, we utilized action storming to determine the next steps in our processes.
2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.
- Collaboration was established as a period of time for educators to collaborate on student learning.
- In 2021-2022, a daily Response to Intervention time was implemented into our master schedule.
- Our teachers use a variety of methods to identify students’ needs including formative classroom assessments, anecdotal notes, CFAs, summative assessments, and district benchmark EVALUATE data as well as beginning, middle, and end-of-year district assessments
- Enrichment teachers, special education teachers, specialists, instructional coach, and building administrators push in during RTI as support. Our master schedule was created so that classrooms have a protected time 4 days a week where students can be placed in RTI groups and receive targeted support. During this time, students cannot be pulled from the classrooms for services, but additional service providers join the classroom teachers to give additional support as needed. For example, a special education teacher is often assigned their own RTI group to run in a general education classroom. The special education teacher has collaborated with the team to determine which skills to teach and which students need the intervention. These groups of students are not strictly special education students. This allows us to support a variety of students. When determining teachers for specific RTI grouping, we focus on their instructional strengths, not their content area.
- Mathews 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? How will we respond when students have already learned it?”
- At Mathews, we recognize that all teachers have different and unique strengths that may reach a student’s needs more effectively than their classroom teacher. Through building strong relationships with our team members, our staff members are comfortable asking for help and guidance on skills that their data is showing the need for improvement. By students transitioning from classroom to classroom during our daily RTI block, all teachers are happy to take responsibility for assisting students through RTI lessons. During collaborative times, teachers determine their teaching strengths, collaborate to determine which students to assign based on CFA and benchmark data, and teachers plan extremely targeted and intentional lessons to reteach skills. Teachers then assess the students in their RTI groups throughout the week/weeks based on their growth and through formative assessments on that exact skill.
- Our Student Success Team (SST) is our site intervention team, composed of administrators, specialists, teachers, and other support staff. This team meets on a weekly basis to collaborate with teachers, parents, and students. The goal of this team is to provide additional time and support when tier 2 support is not adequately meeting the individual student's needs.
- Grade-level teams are given scheduled times throughout the year in addition to our weekly collaboration times to have full days to plan together.
- We partner with Burrell school-based services to provide social-emotional support to students, families, and school faculty.
3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.
- At Mathews, our collaborative teams consist of a guiding coalition, a behavior-focused (SOAR) coalition, MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Support) team, and PLTs. Both the guiding and SOAR coalition consist of grade-level team leaders as well as administrators, counselor, instructional coach, reading, enrichment, and special education. The goal of these teams is to review data in order to empower all students to achieve academic, social, and emotional excellence in a safe, supportive environment. We partner with our families and community to create a culture where students discover their strengths and reach their maximum potential. We intentionally set high expectations for each student and celebrate the belief that all children can and will learn through meaningful, engaging learning experiences.
- When meeting with PLTs, grade-level teams meet to analyze data from the previous week, plan intentional instruction, create common assessments, and determine the most effective teaching strategies and practices for all students. RTI groups are formed for very specific skills and after very intentional teaching, we reevaluate weekly to see whether progress was gained or not. The effort of all team members in a high-functioning team shifted to more of a collaborative teaching of all students instead of individual classes. The style shift created a more productive learning environment for all students and teachers. This highly effective collaborative style led to interventions and extensions based on specific data and the overwhelming need to fill learning gaps.
- As part of our tiered intervention, collaborative teams complete a form during one monthly collaborative time. This is done in conjunction with reading specialists, special education teachers, paraprofessionals, enrichment teachers, and other support specialists as appropriate. Teams discuss students across the grade level. During this time, overall student progress (both behaviorally and academically) is discussed. Notes are made on a shared document, and potential interventions are discussed. In the following days, the core building SST (student support team) comes together to monitor the shared Multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) document and to identify students who may be in need of additional support. This ensures we have a systematic process in place so no student falls through the cracks.
Achievement Data Files
Additional Achievement Data
Students at Mathews Elementary take the Evaluate assessment quarterly in kindergarten and first grade and monthly in second through fourth grade. Mathews’ students consistently score at or above the district average on the Evaluate assessment. Mathews Elementary also consistently performs above the state average on the end-of-year Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) test. Teacher teams at Mathews analyze Evaluate and MAP data to determine next steps and make continuous improvements.
Teacher teams use the data to find gaps within student learning and determine learning variables. Through a collaborative process, Mathews teachers share best practices and differentiate instruction in order to best support student growth. Each week teachers meet to intentionally plan targeted lessons. Teachers also work on goal setting with students and create ownership in their learning. This shared process allows teachers to gain a greater understanding of their students’ learning and helps to guide instruction.
Teacher teams at Mathews have worked through the PLC process to learn how to effectively break down and analyze student data. Teams use data from Evaluate and teacher-created CFAs to determine their intervention groups. Each grade level has 20-30 minutes a day allotted to work with Response to Intervention (RTI) groups. During scheduled RTI time, teachers focus on specific learning targets that students have not yet mastered and divide students among grade-level teachers and interventionists so students are working with the professional that is best equipped to meet their needs.
Student achievement has dramatically increased on both MAP and Evaluate assessments as a result of teachers going through the PLC process. Teachers focus on tier 1 instruction in their planning and pacing meetings, then focus on interventions and extensions when analyzing student data.
In looking at the data, you can note that there is a window where data is not available due to shutdown during the Covid Pandemic. Through the use of Evaluate in the months prior to and immediately upon return from the shutdown, we were able to continue to monitor student learning and achievement data. The use of this ongoing benchmark assessment allowed us to immediately address any gaps that may have been created through online learning.
- SpEd Camp- In 2016 teachers at Mathews Elementary created a professional development opportunity unlike any other. Nixa Edcamp SpEd is an annual “unconference” where the participants drive the learning for the day. Participants are encouraged to bring up the topics they would like to discuss and sessions are created based on the needs of those in attendance. The discussions are collaborative and engaging and the networking opportunities are unmatched. In its 7-year history, Nixa Edcamp SpEd has greeted educators from over 20 different school districts throughout Missouri and Arkansas. While the topics of this unconference are based around special education students and how to help them, the participants come from a variety of positions including special education, general education, paraprofessionals, administration, special education directors, speech therapists, occupational therapists, and many more. They also encourage student teachers and interns to participate in the day's events so they can not only learn from their peers but also make connections to help them further their careers. Mathews has seen growing success each year they have hosted this event and they hope to continue to grow even bigger in the future.
- Each Friday morning, the Mathews school community engages in Family time. This is an opportunity for introduction to whole-school activities and initiatives, review of expectations and current activities, and most importantly, a time to celebrate accomplishments of our students and staff. As a community, we utilize this time to recognize individual and group accomplishments in academics and character. The focus on celebration creates a sense of family, community, and forward progress while acknowledging the contributions of our collaborative culture.
- Throughout our journey as a PLC, we have had the opportunity to showcase our learning, collaboration, and achievements as other schools and districts have visited our collaborative times and experienced RTI in action.
- The focus on culture not just for students but for staff as a whole has been highlighted throughout our district, community, and social media.
- Mathews’ teachers have shared their learning about and through PLC at various professional learning conferences including GoCSD and STAR Summit.
- Mathews Elementary is an official Energy Bus School
- Goals and celebrations are regularly shared with families through Seesaw, newsletters, and district communication platforms.
- Mathews has implemented PBIS practices since 2010, achieving Gold Star status several years running.
- We continually partner with Nixa High School to create engaging opportunities for all students.
- Playground Physics with the High School,
- Reading Buddies with the High School
- Art Project with the High School
- We engage our community with a variety of opportunities including Bingo for Books, Fall Festival, Book Fairs, and a yearly.
- Mathews’ Day Parade.
- Glow with the Flow
- Honor Choir
- Through collaboration, our teachers create new ideas to continuously engage our students with meaningful learning opportunities.
- Cow Eyeball Video
- Interactive Lessons
- Disgusting Critters
- Sound Unit
- Bag Worms