Townsend Elementary (2023)
- Number of Students: 473
- Percent Eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch: 73%
- Percent of Limited English Proficient: 11%
- Percent of Special Education: 27%
- White: 26%
- Black: 33%
- Hispanic: 22%
- Asian: 1%
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 1%
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 3%
- Multiracial: 14%
- Other: 0%
Townsend Elementary School has been a school that generations of proud families have attended for decades. In May 1999, a tornado hit the community surrounding Townsend Elementary that forever impacted the socio-economic status of the neighborhood. In the aftermath of the tornado, the neighborhood steadily became a community of high poverty and need. Older homes became “Section 8” housing and lower economic families moved in. Many students struggle not only with poverty but with academics as well. More kids were being tested for special education and gaps in learning were much more prevalent. More and more children were coming to school without having the basic literary and foundational mathematical skills needed to be successful in school and life. We took notice and then we took action!
There were many discussions about what actions needed to be taken to improve student achievement. No one quite knew how to help fix this problem. Finally, in 2015, with the help of our administration and veteran staff, a school-wide intervention program called Tiger Time was born. Tiger Time was provided daily for 40 minutes to provide time for intervention and enrichment related to grade-level standards. However, teachers were skeptical because there was uncertainty about how it was used and there wasn’t much time to plan for the extra support. There was conflict in some of the grade levels over what skills were considered highly important and should be a priority. Some teachers were very opposed while others were committed to finding solutions to help students. We wanted to do the right thing for our students but were unsure what steps to take. Grade-level teams decided which skill they would focus on weekly. Teams would give students a generic quiz, usually made up of 10 questions, and then would randomly choose who would teach the leveled groups. We taught and reinforced that skill for the whole week and then met again to discuss what we would do next. Never did we reassess to see if progress was made or if we needed to spend more time on the skill. We thought we were making a difference, but it was not enough. More changes were needed. At this point in our journey, Townsend was heavily invested in “PLC lite”. We were implementing parts of the PLC process but with important components were missing. In addition, Townsend had gone from a prestigious “B” status to a “D” status on the state report card from the Office of Accountability. We were placed on the Additional Targeted Support and Improvement (ATSI) list from the state department with the greatest area of need in the category of Students with Disabilities.
Over the next few years, site administrators selected a few staff members to attend Solution Tree conferences and share what they had learned. Throughout the next several years, we made small changes but did not see positive results because of continual staff turnover and lack of collaborative time.Veteran teachers were doing what they thought should be done. However, processes needed to be tweaked and mindsets needed an overhaul. Turnover and time were our biggest barriers to success.
In August of 2020, we met these barriers head-on. Townsend gained a principal who had a new vision for our school with the collaborative process of Professional Learning Communities at the forefront. Creating a positive school culture for staff and students became a priority. A newly formed leadership team led the staff in coming to a consensus to create a mission statement, vision, school-wide and grade-level goals and collective commitments. Creating an organizational mindshift from “my kids'' to “our kids” gave our team collective responsibility in the process. The leadership team met monthly to inform site-wide decisions and guide the PLC process. Collaborative team meetings became mandatory and essential for student success. Teams worked using the”R.E.A.L. Criteria” to identify Essential Standards, unpack standards, and identify learning targets. Teams collaborated to create Common Formative Assessments (CFAs) to measure mastery of each Essential Standard for students. Next, data from the CFAs were used to drive daily (Tiger Time) remediation and enrichment of Tier 1 Essential Standards. Collaborative discussions of each individual student’s academic progress and the effectiveness of interventions were constant. Schedule changes were made to provide for extra planning time for teachers and intervention time for students. Our principal, who had once worked at our school as an instructional coach and reading specialist, saw that we could not keep doing the same thing and expecting change. She tirelessly wrote grant after grant seeking to fund personnel, high quality resources, professional development, and on-site coaching from Solution Tree related to the PLC process. Funding has provided the school with a reading specialist, tutors, and most importantly has allowed us to partner with Solution Tree for ongoing onsite coaching. Townsend has worked closely with a coach from Solution Tree for the past three years. With barriers removed the staff and community of Townsend has implemented positive change and seen real results. Every staff member is invested in the vision and mission of Townsend. We have established collective commitments and hold strong to the fundamental belief that ALL students can learn at HIGH levels. Teams work collaboratively to answer the “Four Critical Questions of Learning” and the “Three Big Ideas” of PLC drive our work.
On the state report card, Townsend was a “D” in 2019, and is now a “C” in 2022. At the start of the 2022-2023 school year, Townsend’s student body grew by approximately 40% as a result of a neighboring school closing and an influx of transfers to our site. Entry data from the majority of our transfer students has shown that they are one, two, or even three years behind grade level. On the state report card, the neighboring school was a “D” in 2019, and a “F” in 2022. Now more than ever, our staff believes in the process of working collaboratively, focusing on learning, and on results. Students have grown exponentially this year because of the great effort of the educators at Townsend. We are no longer a school of “PLC Lite” we are heavily invested in doing “PLC RIGHT”... because it works!
1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.
Townsend’s previous version of “PLC Lite” was not working! With new site leadership and team members committed to positive change, our team worked to transform learning for our students AND grow in our instructional practices as adults. First and foremost, we had to get really clear on answering the first critical PLC question: What do we want all students to know and be able to do? We created a guaranteed and viable curriculum by first coming to a consensus on essential standards for each grade level. Teachers examined each standard using the R.E.A.L. Criteria (Larry Ainsworth, Marzano) to determine which standards were essential for students. Using the R.E.A.L. Criteria, teachers examined if each standard demonstrates: readiness (Do students need to know this skill to mastery for the next unit or grade level?), has endurance (Do students need to know this for a life-long skill?), is assessed in a high-stakes manner, and if there is leverage (Do students need to know how to do this across a variety of content areas?). Teams reached consensus on the Essential Standards by ensuring that all voices were heard and the will of the group was evident. After establishing Essential Standards, teams worked to unpack each standard, identify specific learning targets, establish what success criteria looks like for each standard, and created a timeline to ensure that all standards would be taught in the time allowed.. Our goal is for all students at Townsend to have an equitable learning experience in any classroom they are placed in.
2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.
Data from CFAs help teacher teams plan to answer critical PLC questions three and four: How will we respond when some students do not learn? How will we extend and enrich the learning for students who have demonstrated proficiency? Responding to CFA data was a critical next step! Using the CFA data to inform next steps of instruction helped teachers to identify students who needed extra support in specific learning targets. Collaborative teams compare results to decide the best instructional practices, interventions, and enrichment opportunities for our students. Teams talking about what strategies did not work during instruction was just as important as talking about what worked well. We shifted from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning. This was accomplished by working collaboratively to concentrate on using student data to pinpoint learning targets for the next steps of instruction, as well as discussing instructional strategies to maximize student mastery. After intervention is implemented, another CFA is given to measure students’ growth towards mastery. Students who have already demonstrated mastery of the standard received extension and enrichment that helped to move them to higher levels of learning related to grade-level standards.
At Townsend, we use multiple data points to measure student success. In addition to using CFAs and state assessments we also use STAR Early Literacy, STAR Reading, STAR Math, and Lexia to monitor student achievement and growth. Site administration works with collaborative teams to provide coaching and support during collaborative meetings. Team leads run the collaborative meetings with our common site-wide agenda template and site data protocol. Our MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Support) team meets monthly to review individual student progress toward identified goals and examine the effectiveness of student supports (academic and behavioral). Student supports may include: reading tutoring, Reading Specialist intervention, explicit phonics instruction with a resource teacher, a check-in-check-out program, or small groups with the Behavior Interventionist. Students making progress towards their goals continue services; after two data points demonstrating grade level proficiency, a discussion takes place around removing those out of the classroom supports with ongoing progress monitoring.
3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.
One of the first things that the Townsend staff developed under new leadership in 2020-2021 was a new mission and vision statement. The entire staff collaborated to share their ideas about what they wanted for Townsend. Staff members came to a consensus where all voices were heard and the will of the group was evident to develop a mission and vision statement that would drive all things at Townsend. Next, staff worked throughout the year to develop a set of Collective Commitments by coming to a consensus around several areas including: collaboration, culture, adult learning, student learning, and learning environment. These commitments are our “rules of engagement” and are referred to often along our journey as we work to carry out our mission. Beginning in the 2020-2021 school year, our staff developed yearly academic SMART goals that aligned with our mission and vision to ensure all students were learning at high levels. Goals are developed using data such as: state testing, CFA data, as well as reading and math screeners. We also decide how these goals will be measured and monitored. Next, our grade-level teams created quarterly goals and worked together to develop team norms and commitments for each school year.
A critical step that we learned along the way was the importance of the onboarding process, how we share our PLC journey, and how we build shared knowledge with new educators as they join our team. Our current onboarding processes include: an invitation to PLC summer conferences by Solution Tree, professional development days to teach new teachers to Townsend about the PLC process, as well as matching each new staff member with a mentor teacher and site instructional coach that supports them throughout the year with lesson cycles. We strive to create a community of learning for adults that is supportive and collaborative.
This past year has been a year of significant growth for our team leaders. We have intentionally poured into the teachers on our leadership team (guiding coalition) to help build their capacity in ensuring the sustainability of the collaborative process. We have devoted professional development based around, Help Your Team, and have worked together to streamline school processes such as: data protocol, school-wide collaborative team agenda template, and more. Site administrators have supported team leads throughout the year with side-by-side coaching as they lead their team meetings, as well as fostering a collaborative meeting time for leads to discuss leadership practices with one another. There has been a significant increase in commitment from teachers regarding the collaborative process led by their peers.
We believe that strong teacher collaboration is one of the main keys to success for our students. Collaborative teams meet weekly to review current CFA data and plan for the next steps of instruction. Our team leaders continuously lead their grade-level teams through the four critical questions for learning. Teams have been effectively able to disaggregate data and now spend the majority of their collaborative time discussing instructional strategies that worked well and did not work well to move students to mastery.Our teachers trust one another and trust each other’s ability to deliver high-quality instruction. In recent months, to maximize the collaborative team time, the site has been able to adjust our schedule so that we ensure extra plan time on Friday mornings for two collaborative teams each week. As a result, each collaborative team has a “Power PLC” once per month.
At Townsend we also love to celebrate students and staff! We recognize students regularly for academic and behavioral growth and achievement through awards ceremonies, grade level contests, positive office referrals, and positive phone calls home. Our teams celebrate the hard work of their colleagues through shoutouts in our weekly staff newsletter-affirming to one another that the work we are doing is important. Teams also celebrate by communicating the successes of students with fellow team members, by giving “Growth Award” trophies. During our monthly site staff meetings awards are given out by staff members to highlight each other’s hard work in carrying out our mission.
Achievement Data Files
Additional Achievement Data
At Townsend, we collect student achievement data from several sources in addition to collecting CFA data:
-STAR DATA: Star Early Literacy (K/1), STAR Reading (2-5) STAR Math (1-5)
-State Testing Data (20/21, 21/22) (During the 19-20 school year, data was collected using STAR in lieu of state testing data due to COVID 19.)
-Lexia: Students have used Lexia at Townsend school wide for the 21/22 and 22/23 school year. During the 22/23 school year, we decided to use Lexia data as the main data point to help determine additional resources for students. The snapshot of Lexia data from the 22-23 school year demonstrates tremendous student growth in reading (K-3). We celebrated this in a big way with our students and staff!
-State Report Card Data: Townsend (18/19 and 21/22) The state department did not issue report cards due to COVID-19 for the 19/20 and 20/21 school years. Also included in the data is the state report card from 21/22 from the neighboring school that closed. This data shows achievement levels for students entering Townsend for the 22-23 school year.