Houston County School District (2023)

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

Houston County School District: Our PLC Story

For Houston County, our journey to build a shared understanding and commitment to the PLC at Work process began in June 2006 with Tom Many and Eric Twadell. School and district-level administrators were introduced to the why and how of professional learning communities with the stated goal that “Houston County would become a PLC.” Components of the process were implemented in some schools; time was set aside at the school and district level for collaboration; and school leadership teams were put in place. However, over time, it became clear there were inconsistent understandings regarding the PLC process, no clarity in our purpose, teams’ lack of focus on positive results with student learning, and limited and inappropriate use of data for making instructional decisions.  As a result of inconsistent expectations, ineffective monitoring, and the aforementioned issues, we lost our focus on attaining this goal during this timeframe.

In 2016, with the implementation of new state rules for recertification and professional learning on the horizon, our work in implementing the PLC process became more intentional and explicit as the state was now requiring all professional learning be job embedded within the school learning community. This new requirement became the catalyst for our district to get all teachers and leaders on the same page with our understanding and commitment to the PLC processes.  We began by clarifying our PLC understandings, examining our level of collaboration within our schools and district, and identifying areas of opportunity for growth. At the same time, we formed the District PLC Task Force to serve as the guiding coalition that would lead to improvements in our PLC understanding and implementation. Representation on the District PLC Task Force comprised district leaders along with elementary, middle, and high school administrators. It was also determined that the schools of the three principals represented on the task force would serve as pilots and models for district implementation of the PLC process.  To ensure consistent understanding and communication of expectations, Task Force members and their school teams attended the July 2016 PLC at Work Institute in Atlanta, GA. Although the PLC process was not new to us, this Institute was instrumental in igniting our vision that led the district toward full implementation of and commitment to the PLC process.

To reinforce our commitment to become a PLC district and to keep PLCs at the forefront of our work, monthly meetings and professional learning for district and school level administrators took on a new focus and direction. Using the knowledge gained from attending the PLC Institute and accessing resources such as Learning by Doing, Global PD, and All Things PLC, Task Force members led the way in our PLC implementation. Through modeling and reinforcing the tenants of PLCs: “the why” of PLCs, the three big ideas, four pillars of the PLC process, guiding questions of PLCs, “coblaboration” vs. collaboration, and PLC lite vs PLC tight. We developed the compelling need for a common language and the alignment of our PLC practices.

The turning point for us was in not only making it a priority to participate in the Institutes Solution Tree offered, utilize the resources, and put these things into practice but also in having the common understanding and expectation that this was our new way of doing business within our schools and the district. Additionally, with this movement underway, we realized that if this were to be a sustainable endeavor, we had to ensure we continued to build on the work. We had to build a culture of buy-in for all staff. We had to get more than just our District PLC Task Force members and their school teams exposed to the inspiring and motivating atmosphere of an Institute. We needed more bang for our buck. We wanted as many district and school leaders exposed to Luis Cruz, Anthony Muhammad, Mike Mattos, and other dynamic PLC specialists that we could manage. It was one thing for Task Force members to attend the Institutes and lead the work, but it was a game changer when we started having these presenters come to our district and share their expertise.

We began to map out our district-led implementation with the integration of not only Solution Tree Institutes but key Solution Tree presenters to reinforce and help sustain our work. Luis Cruz was the first presenter, and perhaps the most pivotal we invited to our district. He worked with us on PLC Mindset and School Culture. Luis was instrumental in developing a paradigm that PLCs are the work within a school district and are focused on transforming the culture of how we do school business. Anthony Muhammad expanded on this work with Transforming School Culture, a few months later, at our annual Leadership Summit. District-level administrators and school-level administrators, with their school teams, could now see and understand the importance of what we were trying to do. We were expanding our critical mass. We were developing a strong collaborative commitment of “all means all” and “by student, by standard.” The importance of building a culture of collective responsibility was firmly established.

Our next step in implementation was to identify essential standards and supporting standards. Teaching & Learning Department curriculum content coordinators facilitated this work within our schools. A district-level teacher committee was convened to vet the essential standards so that a uniform district list could be developed for content area school use. At the same time, district and school-level collaborative team conversations were focusing on unit planning and the development of common formative assessments (CFAs) aligned to the standards. Strategies to remediate and enrich learning were also being discussed and developed. District and school leaders, and their teams, realized outside assistance to properly implement unit planning and CFAs was needed.  Tim Brown guided our personnel through the purpose and development of CFAs and introduced us to the backwards design process for effective instructional planning.

While ensuring we were maintaining and sustaining district and school-level expectations for a collaborative culture, work to establish a collective culture of responsibility was being emphasized. Members of the District PLC Task Force and their school teams along with members of our Student Services Department attended the RTI Institutes in Tampa, FL and Plano, TX.  As a result, pilot schools began implementation of Academic Opportunity (AO) Time and school-level intervention task forces. The district Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) Task Force began discussions on districtwide RTI practices. Systems of interventions to provide support for student learning were developed and shared within the district. Early Intervention Program (EIP) and Remedial Education Program (REP) services increased to monitor and serve students needing Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions.

To build our knowledge base and to see how full implementation of these processes looked, the District PLC Task Force visited three schools recommended by Solution Tree as exemplary PLC schools using the PLC process. The schools were in Cobb and Fulton Counties, Georgia: Cambridge High School, Sweet Apple Elementary School, and Pine Mountain Middle School. These schools used flexible scheduling to provide students with more time for interventions and enrichment. The extra time provided for staff to collaborate along with the flexible scheduling were two key areas of interest for the District PLC Task Force members. These visits enabled us to meet with administrators, attend PLT meetings at all three levels (elementary, middle, and high), and ask clarifying questions. The visits were extremely valuable.  The Task Force was able to see the whole professional learning process in action and come away with ideas for creative scheduling and developing teacher leaders.

By this time, we had experienced extensive professional learning through our district implementation, resource usage, and Institute attendance. After we had seen where we wanted to be through the school visits, we needed to connect the dots between where we had been, where we currently were, and where we were going. Did we need to wait until our PLC foundation was fully implemented before we shifted our energies to RTI? Do we work on both at the same time? Our answer to these questions came in the form of a question from Mike Mattos. He asked, “Can the students wait?” We decided, “No, they could not.” We solicited help from Mike to work with district leaders, school administrators, and school teams for two days. He validated all the good work that we had done so far, but he challenged us to do more. During this two-day training, he connected those dots and enabled our administrators to develop an understanding of the importance of making sure they had a PLC foundation in place within their school to support the RTI process. He also got us off on the right foot with our RTI implementation. Essential actions were developed and common missteps in the RTI process were illuminated. Furthermore, teams developed an understanding of the importance of useful and clearly designed CFAs. Lastly, teams and administrators developed an understanding of using data obtained from CFAs to determine interventions and enrichment to support the RTI process.

Mike’s work also made us begin to look at our assessments, which helped us realize the need for a universal screener. To make sure the district had a balanced approach to assessments, the NWEA MAP Growth universal screener was piloted and gradually phased in.  A homegrown data collection system was developed, known as the Houston At-Risk Profile (HARP).  HARP was used to electronically gather students’ demographic information, program status (ELL, Gifted, Students with Disabilities, students with 504 plans), behavior indicators, attendance indicators, and achievement data (MAP Reading, MAP Math, Reading Lexiles) to provide a risk measure student by student. By collecting data that leads school personnel to identify students at risk, teachers and administrators can drill down and support students for continuous interventions. In addition to learning interventions, schools provide AO Time, a designated time outside of the regular instructional block but during the school day, for interventions and enrichment. Each summer, during the month of June, the district also provides the Summer Learning Academy to assist students with closing learning gaps and achieving mastery of standards.

Leveraging the power of teacher leaders was an area we needed to develop. During our visit to Pine Mountain Middle School, principal Jasmine Kullar explained the key role her teacher leaders played in implementing PLCs. We wanted to harness this power within our schools. Jasmine worked with our district and school administrators to help us understand the influence and roles of teacher leaders. This training was well received, especially from our attending school leaders, and ultimately led to the creation of the Houston County Teacher Leadership Academy, which Jasmine kicked off for us!

The District PLC Task Force and our Executive Cabinet, consisting of the Superintendent and his district-level leadership team, worked together to develop our district collective commitments. On June 4, 2018, these commitments were introduced at our Leadership Summit to all district and school administrators and school level guiding coalitions.  AO Time became a collective commitment districtwide. To advance our efforts in building a strong culture of collective responsibility and to keep culture at the forefront of our work, Anthony Muhammad was also able to work with us on this day on Transforming School Culture, Part 2. By now, we fully understood the meaning of his words, “Culture eats structure for breakfast.”  We were getting there, but we appreciated the importance of keeping culture in the foreground.

In our deep dive with common formative assessments, there were still elements we felt needed work. Our school teams were struggling in this area. There were inconsistent information and expectations at the school and district level regarding CFA development, analysis, and use in guiding instruction. In an effort to get the district and schools on the same page with these understandings and expectations, we asked Cassandra Erkens to come to our district and work specifically with our District PLC Task Force members and district office personnel. We needed to be a united front in supporting and communicating with our schools and their collaborative teams on CFAs. To extend the work Cassandra began with us, she recommended Nicole Dimich Vagle’s books and work to us, specifically Design in Five.

To inspect what we expected and follow up on the Leadership Summit held during the summer, district and school-level administrators visited identified schools within the district to observe the level of implementation of our collective commitments. These visits were done during one of the LEADing Edge professional learning days for administrators. Subsequently, we repeated these school visits, to different schools, to observe teacher collaboration during team time.

In recognizing and acknowledging the initial efforts by our district MTSS Task Force to establish districtwide RTI practices that provide support for student learning with the inclusion of AO Time for intervention and enrichment in our schools, there were still holes in implementation. Struggles encountered with cultivating our purpose and expectations with CFAs was also happening with our RTI supports. We began clarifying the purpose and expectations with school leaders and looking for a way to provide exposure to as many of our personnel as possible to examples of a successful RTI system of support. Guidance came in the form of our Solution Tree representative who presented the idea of bringing the RTI Institute to us. Perhaps even our neighboring county could benefit as well.  Bibb County School District was in the same place as our district in working to develop a way to provide timely, targeted, and systemic interventions for students. We co-hosted the RTI Institute in Macon, GA with the Bibb County School District and with much enthusiasm. Expanding our personnel’s exposure to creating an intentional intervention plan, strengthening Tier I in the classroom, and identifying interventions and enrichments to support all students was invaluable. Thus, aligning our instruction and assessments with a focus on priority standards was our next phase of the PLC work. We had to be more intentional in analyzing our data and focusing on our results. To this end, our Teaching & Learning Department added a Coordinator of Accountability position within the department to focus us solely on this work.

In May 2019, Nicole Dimich Vagle provided professional learning with school guiding coalitions and district personnel on a topic she referred to as Essential Assessments.  The outcome of this training led to the Houston County School District working with Solution Tree to host the All Things Assessment Institute in Macon, GA, July 17-19, 2019. With the onset of the new school year, relevant learning from the institute created a focus on assessment protocols throughout the district to ensure that assessments matched essential standards and learning targets. As a follow up and to provide additional support to school and district-level administrators, professional learning in the implementation of the Design in Five protocol, based on Nicole Dimich Vagle’s book, was conducted.  This training was delivered over several months, and schooladministrators were asked to bring in evidence of their teachers’ work to share and provide feedback to one another. 

To further support the needs of students in our district, in October 2019, representatives from several schools attended the Achievement for Students in Poverty Institute in Orlando, FL. Those who attended, shared their knowledge with other school administrators during upcoming professional learning sessions. Just as we were gaining momentum with discussions about this learning, the COVID-19 pandemic struck worldwide. From March 2020 to January 2022, COVID affected the work of our district.  Our school district shut down from March 16, 2020, to May 22, 2020. While we recognized COVID was not our fault, it was our fight. Throughout the COVID shutdowns, our PLC teams continued to work with fidelity to complete the unfinished learning that disrupted the school year. Virtual learning was a challenge for our district. While out of in-person school during the pandemic, teachers and administrators continued to collaborate and plan effective instruction virtually. Upon reopening school in August 2020 for a new school year, where learning could occur both at home virtually and in the classroom, a strong focus in helping our students close gaps left from the previous school year that was filled with uncertainties became the emphasis in our PLC work. Professional Learning Teams (PLTs) worked with renewed commitment to assess the needs of our students, both academically and emotionally, and provide strong Tiers 1, 2, and 3 support. 

During this period, school and district leaders participated in a virtual session with Mike Mattos entitled, “If it is Predictable, it is Preventable,” in March 2021. Steps were discussed that schools could use to create highly effective, multi-tiered systems of support to target learning gaps during COVID using the PLC at Work process. Mike Mattos answered the question, “What is the number one move a district can make to improve PLC work?” His answer was to create a strong system that involves the development, examination, and implementation of products created by teacher teams. 

As we wrapped up the 2020-2021 school year, we reflected on our PLC work and the alignment to the four pillars, which are our mission, vision, values, and goals. Considering all that we experienced with COVID-19’s negative effects on schools, we determined that we needed to revisit these pillars to ensure that our renewed work was being built on a solid foundation. In the 2021-2022 school year, we distributed surveys to gather feedback from board members, school and district leaders, and guiding coalitions to examine if revisions to our pillars were needed. Based on survey results, changes were recommended; therefore,we began professional learning to strengthen our leaders’ understanding of the purpose of each of the four pillars and brainstorm ideas about what our statements should be. A salient message was communicated that we should add language about “continuous growth” to our mission statement since student growth had been a major area of focus for several years with our districtwide implementation of MAP Growth. Our vision statement was revised to articulate what we wanted to become. When analyzing our values statements, we realized some statements began with verbs and others did not. To ensure our values conveyed our behaviors necessary to fulfill our mission and vision, we revised statements as actions, beginning with verbs. We believed that our goal areas were still pertinent; therefore, we did not change them.

In June 2022, we held our first Leadership Summit since the COVID-19 pandemic and shared our new mission, vision, and values statements to project a laser-like focus on having all of our PLC work moving forward to be centered around the four pillars. We welcomed Eric Twadell back to our district to assist us with refocusing this work. The theme for this Summit was PLC Reboot ’22. The structure of this Summit was one of Eric refreshing us on the work and then grade level PLTs conducting breakout sessions based on our Collective Commitments. Attendees were able to learn from other PLTs about topics such as collaboration, essential standards, common formative assessments, interventions and enrichments, and leader sessions for organizing and monitoring the work in PLTs. During this Summit, we also introduced a newly created resource for our district, The Houston County PLC Video Library. This online video library became a resource for our schools to demonstrate and model the work being done within our district.  We may not be able to send a grade level team or guiding coalition from one school to another to observe their work, but these personnel can view a video of the work at their convenience. From PLT meetings at all grade levels to guiding coalition meetings, we are proud to have exemplars of the PLC work throughout our district.  For the June 2023 Leadership Summit, we are currently planning the same type structure but with a more intensive focus on RTI.

Our focus areas for the 2022-2023 school year have been to “reboot” our PLC/PLT work, teacher leadership, and singletons. As mentioned earlier, Jasmine Kullar has been instrumental in the development of our teacher leadership academy. From meeting with Jasmine during a visit to her school in 2018, to her leading a workshop for our school and district-level administrators, to working with us during the pandemic, via emails and Zoom meetings, to guiding us through the design of the Teacher Leadership Academy, she helped us understand the influence and development of teacher leaders in the PLC process. Out of this work, The Houston County Teacher Leadership Academy (HCTLA) was created.  Jasmine helped us kick off the Academy in September 2022. The selected teacher leaders are expected to be a part of their school’s guiding coalition and to work directly with the administration on promoting and supporting the PLC work in their school.

Recognizing the significance of singletons, we have worked since our initial implementation in 2016 to include these personnel within the PLC process. Due to lack of training specific to their needs as singletons, it was evident the work was somewhat confusing and frustrating for them.  To help us shore up this area of weakness and to get some consistency across schools and the district in regard to the participatory expectations of these singletons within the process, we asked Jon Yost to work with us in November 2022. Schools’ lead singletons and at least one of their school administrators were asked to attend this training. Jon emphasized the importance of meaningful collaboration, building the groundwork for this collaboration based on their specific situations across separate schools or within the same school, and aligning disparate singletons under the same PLC process. Singletons and administrators voiced an appreciation of our securing Jon to work with them, as well as our acknowledgement of their needs and struggles in being a part of the process. Prior to leaving the session, they requested Jon return to do a part two training with them, so Jon is scheduled to return to us in February 2023 to continue our work.

All schools within the district, as well as the district office, have representatives who have participated in a PLC at Work Institute. As a result, the Houston County School District has many exemplary practices; however, we recognize the work is never finished, and we continue growing in our knowledge. At the beginning of each school year, the Superintendent welcomes us with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment to the right work aimed at  students’ learning at high levels. Veteran principals support new principals through a PLC mentoring group. In their mentor meetings, book studies are conducted to strengthen learning about PLCs. e.g., For example, Starting a Movement by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck has been a valuable resource used to guide new principals in the PLC process. In addition, PLC collaborative planning days have been included in the school calendar to facilitate the work of school teams. In the past, school administrators presented school improvement initiatives to the Executive Cabinet in a round table forum.  Currently, we have evolved through the work of PLCs, and Executive Cabinet leaders now visit schools to observe, monitor, and provide feedback to leaders on processes and practices.

Today, PLC practices are the foundation for all our work. PLC structures and tenets of the three big ideas are embedded in our strategic plan, discussed and shared at leadership meetings, expected in guided coalition meetings, and put into practice in our weekly teacher collaborative team meetings.  The importance for our PLC journey is conveyed by our Superintendent at our district’s annual convocation, board meetings, and monthly Superintendent’s Meetings.  The success of our PLC work is also celebrated at these meetings. School board members have been trained on the PLC processes, and those whose schedules allow it attend our Leadership Summits to gain deeper insights. We are proud to have three schools identified as Model PLC Schools and others on the way.   We will constantly be striving to learn more and do more for our students, and since 2006, the culture has shifted. We continue to grow and impact student achievement because of PLC processes. Our PLC work will continue to make the Houston County School District a great place for students, teachers, and administrators to learn and grow.


Houston County School District: Areas of Future Growth

In any journey, the road is not always smooth. We have had our own detours and rough patches, but since 2016, we have stayed the course. There are areas that we are always revisiting and making sure we are following our district’s collective commitments. A few areas that we would like to work on for the future include singletons, grading, and sustained leadership focus on the PLC work.

As mentioned previously, we will continue the work with our singletons. We recognize they need additional opportunities participating in professional learning around the PLC work and discovering how their contributions can positively impact student learning. Involving them on a more in-depth level will require commitment from the singletons and from the school administrators and district leaders.

While our work with backwards design has supported our development of formative and summative assessments based on essential standards and learning targets, we recognize the need for a more standards-based grading system. We see evidence in schools where PLTs have taken steps to correlate students’ grades to essential standards by focusing on mastery of learning targets or utilizing progression scales. This, however, is not consistently practiced across the district, and this remains an area of opportunity. 

 As Luis Cruz shared in his development session with us, professional learning communities are a journey, not a destination. As we continue our journey in the Houston County School District, our goal is to create a system where those who continue the work throughout the years to come can clearly understand the “why” behind supporting our district as a professional learning community. We aim to continue the work that has already been established and strive to accomplish our district’s mission of producing high achievement for ALL through continuous growth. In Houston County, we truly believe that “All means All.”



1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

Monitoring Student Learning on a Timely Basis:

In order to prioritize student achievement and growth, our district established the Houston County Collective Commitments. The premise for the Collective Commitments is that “All educators will work in collaborative teams and take collective responsibility for student learning. No one works alone.” The commitments are also centered around the four PLC guiding questions:

  1. What do students need to know and be able to do?
  2. How will we know when students have learned it?
  3. What will we do when students haven’t learned it?
  4. What will we do when students have learned it?

Our district began the process of identifying essential standards for each grade level and subject area. Schools provided input to the district, and then a committee with representation of teachers and curriculum specialists worked collaboratively to determine the final list of essential standards. After this process, the schools were asked to use these essential standards to monitor student progress through common formative assessments. Collaborative teams were initially required to identify 3-5 essential standards per semester to monitor results by student, by standard. Based on feedback from teams, as they gained a better understanding of the PLC processes, we increased to 6-10 essential standards per semester. These are the standards students are guaranteed to master prior to moving to the next grade level. Schools have the flexibility to select the standards they believe are most relevant to their student population. They can add to the minimum requirements and may have their own internal monitoring process.

Another commitment our district made was to establish Academic Opportunity (AO) Time at all schools. This designated time outside of the regular instructional block but during the school day allows staff to commit time for Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions. Time is always a concern in education. The Houston County School District wanted to send a clear message that we will prioritize this time to meet the needs of our students. This time could not conflict with the teaching of essential standards. Each school had the autonomy to schedule the time to best meet the needs of their school’s population. The use of the Team-Teaching Assessment Cycle is used to monitor students’ learning and provide additional opportunities for students to receive interventions and enrichments.

When we began the PLC journey, our district did not have a consistent, norm-referenced academic screener. To address this need, the district adopted NWEA MAP Growth to use as a screener. MAP Growth was piloted and then phased in to be used at all school levels. The purpose was to help determine instructional gaps for students and gaps in our curriculum. One such gap we identified was in phonological and phonemic awareness. Using this information, our district committed resources to the elementary level to help improve this area. MAP Growth has been useful in helping us measure growth and achievement during three assessment windows.  It is used to facilitate data discussions and guide us toward more effective instructional practices and interventions.

Houston At-Risk Profile (HARP) was developed with multiple data points to identify our most critical students. It ranks students using a variety of criteria, such as demographics, program status (EL, Gifted, Students with Disabilities, 504), academic assessments, attendance, behavior, and retention, to help us strategically plan support for these students. 

Another tool, the Houston County Literacy Inventory (HCLI), is used by schools to monitor student literacy. It includes running records to determine reading levels, comprehension, and sight words recognition. Students are monitored throughout the primary and elementary years.  This information is valuable as students transfer across the district to ensure they receive the proper support and rigor in their literacy development. It also gives administrators and teachers at the middle schools valuable insight in the area of literacy as students transition from elementary schools.

Our planning time that we allot for teachers to work together has taken on a new aspect as we have been on our PLC journey. Teachers have traditionally had time to meet; however, what they are doing during these meetings has changed. Previous discussions about plans, copies to print, field trips, and guest speakers were common during planning times. Teacher teams now operate as Professional Learning Teams (PLTs) with agendas, norms, and processes to make the meetings more productive. They are now focused on backwards design, common formative assessments, sharing instructional practices, data analysis, and interventions and enrichment. The Team-Teaching Assessing Cycle is utilized for each instructional unit. The focus is on student learning, not just teaching. The discussions are centered around “our students,” not just my students or my class. Collaborative teams monitor student learning and show evidence of student learning by student, by standard for the determined essential standards. This monitoring is used for meeting SMART goals.  

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) has helped us create the right learning environments in our schools. We now view behavior as another instructional component.  Every school in our district has been through PBIS training and implementation. This work helped build consistency of expectations. The program has helped schools focus on Tier 1 behavioral expectations. There has been a focus on using data in this area and looking for effective ways to monitor and implement Tier 2 and Tier 3 behavior interventions.

Throughout this journey, School Improvement Plan (SIP) visits are conducted by the Executive Cabinet, consisting of our Superintendent and his district-level leadership team, to monitor and provide feedback on the implementation of our PLC Collective Commitments. They meet with administrators in their schools, conduct classrooms observations, and talk to teachers in their PLT meetings. Often principals are asked to provide products of the PLC work occurring in their schools, discuss evidence of their team’s stages of development, as described by the article “One Step at a Time by Parry Graham and Bill Ferriter, and discuss their school’s data.

Our schools have been able to embrace the concept of instructional agility, which we learned about from Cassandra Erkens, Tom Schimmer, and Nicole Dimich Vagle. We are more intentional about using data-driven evidence from screeners, common formative assessments, summative assessments, and observational data to make real-time decisions and support the learning of all students.


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

Systems of Intervention and Additional Learning Time:

The district is tight on the requirement that ALL schools have a coordinated plan, during the school day, to provide additional time and support for students. It is timely, directed, precise, and systematic. The plan at each school is designed so that students will not be removed from initial essential standards instruction. This time is also designed to provide not only support for those struggling but also a time of enrichment.  Schools use assessment tools such as MAP Growth, common formative assessments, HCLI, and other data sources that may be specific to individual schools. 

This additional learning time may vary depending on the school and the needs of the students. The scheduling may be loose, but the requirement of additional time for Tier 2 and Tier 3 work is tight. At the elementary level, a school may have a daily time set aside so that all adults in the school are available to help with supporting students. Some schools have time built into the subject blocks throughout the day, and available staff may be assigned to help during those blocks. At the middle and high school levels, most schools provide an alternating schedule that devotes about 40 minutes to interventions and enrichment. This is often on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with the four core subjects assigned a content priority day. 

After attending the RTI Institutes in Florida and Texas, our district formed the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) Task Force. The purpose of this task force was to clarify the terminology and practices of MTSS, so we would all be speaking a common language regarding this work. The task force also updated the districts’ RTI Handbook.  There were some schools on the task force participating in action research for social and emotional health initiatives and academic supports. This allowed the district to make sure these programs were valid and would possibly benefit the needs of other schools. Our district has begun to use a student information system called PowerSchool to monitor data for Tier 2 and Tier 3 students and for progress monitoring of students with disabilities. This work along with the messages we were hearing from the institutes, workshops, and literature really began to reshape our thinking.  We began to see the RTI process as a mechanism to get students back on track, instead of as a pipeline for special education placement. The work of this task force and reading of Yes We Can! by Heather Friziellie, Julie Schmidt, and Jeanne Spiller validated the idea that this work is not easy, can be messy, and is filled with barriers. However, with continuous reflection, problem solving, and collaboration among all educators, we can make changes and do a better job to improve the outcomes of all students.

Our district recognized that it was important to find additional resources to support students.  The district office began looking at various service models that are state funded to make sure we were maximizing these funds and, in turn, supporting teachers and students. Many of our Title I schools were using funds to hire intervention teachers, instructional coaches, and support staff. Non-Title I schools did not have these funds, and some Title I schools needed more support than their budget would allow. Through some creative planning and scheduling, our district was able to maximize state funding through Georgia’s Early Intervention Program(EIP) for grades K-5 and Remedial Education Program (REP) for grades 6-12. This allowed our district to hire more educators to work with students throughout the day on Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions. The priorities remained the same, which were to focus on essential standardsand restrict pulling students from essential instruction. Schools that received extra staff were able to use them as they saw fit to provide more support for the students who needed it. 

In addition to the support provided during the school day, our district also offers a Summer Learning Academy for students in K-12. In grades K-8, the focus is on essential reading and math standards. The goal is to close gaps and prevent regression over the summer. Students are selected using MAP Growth data, previous state assessments, and reading levels. The grades 9-12 program is a credit recovery program to help get students on track for graduation. Several schools offer Saturday School, before school tutoring, and/or after school tutoring throughout the school year. Houston County is doing whatever it takes to maximize learning for our students. 

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

Building Teacher Capacity:

As our journey began, our District PLC Task Force shared practices with our administrators and encouraged them in their school’s PLC journey. This was accomplished through local professional learning, attendance at Solution Tree events, and use of Solution Tree books and resources. Our pilot schools served as models for others. Schools were invited to bring their staff to visit pilot schools’ guiding coalition meetings, academic opportunity times, and intervention team meetings. We believe it is a powerful tool for administrators to see the work in their own district being done successfully. Teachers and leaders begin to think that if another Houston County school can do it, so could they. This was an important part in building efficacy among teachers and administrators. 

We had always been data rich, but having lots of data and not knowing what to do with it or how best to use it to get the result we needed was a concern. In essence, we realized we were data rich but information poor. Our district saw a need to support administrators and teachers by creating an Assessment and Accountability department. The staff in this department helped break down this roadblock. It allowed administrators and teachers to understand and feel more confident in the use of screening data, HARP, MAP Growth, and common formative assessments. They help by providing digital tools and data protocols related to assessments.

Establishing norms and expectations for PLTs allowed teachers to avoid distractions that often occurred previously in collaborative team meetings. These expectations helped to hold all members accountable for supporting the “all means all” mentality. As meetings were more efficiently run, teachers could dig deeper into practices and support one another. We want teachers to feel that no one is in this school improvement work alone because they have a collaborative team there to support them. This idea that their team has their back has been a great selling point for new employees. 

Just being a part of an effective PLT is a great way to support teachers. Our district also supports new teachers with on-going professional learning and a mentor at their building level.  They participate in The Houston County New Teacher Orientation prior to pre-planning and attend five to six meetings throughout the year on various topics. Many schools also have their school-level mentoring programs to support new teachers. With the shortage of teachers, we try to do everything we can to support new teachers and help them make a connection with our district, understand the PLC process, build relationships with their teammates, and be indoctrinated in the Houston County ways of approaching teaching and learning.

Each school has a guiding coalition comprised of teacher leaders. These teachers have been identified for their leadership abilities and commitment to the PLC work. As leaders, they are promoting learning for ALL (students and staff), supporting the district collective commitments, and implementing the school’s strategic plans. Members of the guiding coalition are asked to attend the district’s leadership summit after post-planning. This is a time when teachers, administrators, and district leaders come together to participate in professional learning centered around our next steps in our PLC journey. In previous years, we have had several Solution Tree associates present as our keynote speakers. Schools demonstrating gains resulting from PLC practices also present at the leadership summit to provide other school leaders the opportunity to learn and grow. This forum allows the administrators and teachers to show off their success in this PLC work and ways they contribute to the district’s journey.

Much of the teacher training we received in the beginning of our journey targeted teacher leaders, guiding coalitions, and building level administrators. As the work continued, an increased number of teachers were given the opportunity to attend PLC Institutes and workshops. Our district helped co-host an RTI Institute in Macon, Georgia, and we recently had over 300 in attendance at the PLC Institute in Orlando, Florida. The summer Institute was pivotal in helping us gain the momentum we desired.

During this school year, we have observed substantive evidence of teachers consistently applying their learning to practices. They use phases from Design in Five by Nicole Dimich Vagle for unit planning and CFA development. Mike Mattos enhanced teachers’ understanding of essential standards, data protocols, and RTI work. The seven stages of team development described in “One Step at a Time has helped PLTs assess where they are and where they need to grow. The rubrics in Learning by Doing have allowed us to evaluate the work of teams and set goals for what work needs to follow. As our teachers grow in knowledge and confidence, teacher efficacy grows, and this results in the commitment to help all our students succeed.

As a district, we have developed our own professional learning video library to focus on exemplary PLT practices. It includes the work of PLTs at all levels and subjects.  It provides examples of AO Times, guiding coalition meetings, and intervention team meetings. This work began during the 2021-2022 school year and will continue as we grow and share our practices with each other and validate the work being done in our schools.

For the PLC journey to continue, we have recognized the importance of developing leaders to continue this work for years to come. We currently have three programs designed to develop leaders at several levels. We have the Houston County Leadership Development Program (HCLDP) with two phases: One phase focuses on preparing teachers to become administrators, and the other focuses on preparing assistant principals to become principals. The HCLDP programs have been established for several years, and we integrate learning about PLC leadership in sessions related to instructional leadership and planning and assessments. Our newest program is the Houston County Teacher Leader Academy (HCTLA). The focus of this program is based on Robert’s DuFour’s work of “widely dispersed leadership” and Jasmine Kullar’s presentation delivered to us in May 2018 about developing teacher leaders. This PLC journey is not the responsibility of a single leader in the school.  It takes the collective commitment of leaders at various levels to get the job done.  When leaders leave or retire, there must be others to step up and continue the work. We kicked off our HCTLA in fall of 2022 with Jasmine Kullar as our lead presenter. We meet six times a year on various topics based on the Georgia DOE teacher leadership standards. Learning activities revolve around topics such as leading crucial conversations, fostering a collaborative culture, working with adult learners, using assessment data to improve instruction, and working with families and communities.

Another focus has been on promoting collaboration among singletons in our district. Our school district understands the need to establish stronger, more focused PLTs for our singletons so that we can fully carry out our commitment that “all educators will work with collaborative teams.” To focus on this work, we invited Jon Yost to share with some of our singletons on ways they can contribute to the school and district’s PLC work. All those who attended received the book he co-authored with Brig Leane, Singletons in a PLC At Work. The overwhelming response from this training was the sense of appreciation from the teachers for being acknowledged and recognized as key players in the PLC journey. We already have plans for him to continue this work in the spring of 2023. 

The Houston County School District comprehends that building teacher capacity is an on-going process. We are committed to continuing our professional learning and collaboration opportunities to include development programs for new teachers, veteran teachers, and administrators to see the PLC work continue in our district for years to come. 


Achievement Data Files

Additional Achievement Data

Since the adoption of Professional Learning Communities systemwide, our district has consistently seen improvements in our state assessment scores, including subpopulations such as special education, English Language Learner and economically disadvantaged.  As a result of COVID-19 and the subsequent school shutdowns, state standardized testing data was not available during the 2019-2020 school year. We utilized MAP Growth data during that school year to determine whether students were making adequate progress in meeting their academic growth goals.

As most districts did, we also experienced the effects from the COVID-19 shutdown in March of 2020, but our district was able to put measures in place for the 2020-2021 school year to ensure that we could open safely for in-person learning while continuing to offer a virtual option. Professional Learning Communities were an integral part of addressing learning deficits during the 2020-2021 school year and continue to be the main driving force for our instructional program.  Our data indicates that this decision helped mitigate some of the effects of the shutdown, and our students have continued to score above the state across subjects and grade levels.  

We did see a drop in US History between 2018 and 2022, but this is a result of moving to dual enrollment US History for the majority of our students.  Students taking dual enrollment US History or AP US History are no longer required to take the Milestones End of Course assessment, so the only students currently taking this assessment are those that did not qualify to take the dual enrollment course. 

In our subpopulations of special education, English Language Learner, and economically disadvantaged, our students have consistently performed above the state average when compared to like students.  Pre-Covid, our subpopulations outscored the state in 75% tested areas across contents and grades.  In the years since the 2020 COVID shutdown, our subpopulations have outperformed the state at a rate of 93% across content areas and grades. 

While it is difficult to make comparisons from cohort to cohort, we do see evidence in many subpopulations of sustained improvement since 2018.  This is especially evident in our ELL populations, particularly in early grades. 


2021-2022 Title I Distinguished School - Centerville Elementary

2019-2020 Title I Reward Schools - Centerville Elementary, Eagle Springs Elementary, Huntington Middle, Morningside Elementary, Shirley Hills Elementary, and Tucker Elementary

State STEM/STEAM Certified Schools - Eagle Springs Elementary, Northside Elementary, and Thomson Middle 

U.S. Department of Education - National Blue Ribbon School - Kings Chapel Elementary

Ga Military Flagship School Award - Langston Road Elementary (2022), Warner Robins High (2021), Hilltop Elementary (2020)

2023 AP School of Distinction - Houston County High

GADOE - School Climate Level 4 Rating:  Out of 37 schools within the district, 2 Primary, 10 Elementary, 3 Middle, and 5 High received a level 4 rating. Total of 20.

GADOE - School Climate Level 5 Rating: Out of 37 schools within the district, 1 Primary, 4 Elementary, and 2 Middle received a level 5 rating. Total of 7.

FY20-FY22 AP Scholars - HCSD

Number of AP Scholars - 149

Number of AP Scholars with Honor - 64

Number of AP Scholars with Distinction - 99

GADOE PBIS EOY Recognition - 2021-2022: Out of 39 schools, the HCSD earned the following recognition status from the GADOE.

Distinguished Schools (3)

Operational Schools (9)

Emerging Schools (19)

Installing Schools (8)


**See additional awards and recognitions for the HCSD in the Resource Section of this Application.