Claudia Lyles •

Cherry Hill Public Schools • Cherry Hill, New Jersey

Cherry Hill Public Schools (Cherry Hill, NJ)

During the 2009-10 year, five elementary schools in Cherry Hill School District worked under the direction of Solution Tree Associates to develop as Professional Learning Communities.  PLC training began in August 2009 and continued through the spring of 2010. Core teams were trained from each school.  These teams included the principal, guidance counselor, reading specialist and one teacher per grade level. Each of the schools is K-5; two of the schools are Title 1.

The work of the PLCs began in earnest at the start of the school year. As the training with ST progressed, the core teams provided turn-around training and guidance to the full faculties in their respective schools. In some of the buildings, fall professional development days were dedicated to additional training.  In most of the schools, a PLC “room” was created.  Although these rooms were not fully dedicated to PLC, they displayed the norms, commitments, meeting schedules and evidence of student performance. Building schedules were adjusted to provide, at a minimum, one weekly period of collaboration per team.

Under the direction of the Office of Curriculum and Instruction, principals took the lead in establishing a new way of thinking about and addressing instruction and student performance. Norms and commitments were regularly reviewed and PLC agendas were tightened so that time spent in collaboration was targeted and productive.

Intervention groups were established and taught daily. Assignments to these groups were skills-based using universal and teacher-made assessment data; the intervention groups were composed of students from each class in the grade level. As a consequence, the teachers began to form a more cohesive bond and a shared commitment to the success of each child.

In the fall of 2009, students were pre-tested with Learnia, which is a formative assessment and one of the universal measures used in grades 3-8.  The test provides immediate feedback on student performance and is easily used to inform decisions about individualized and group instruction. Post-testing occurred in the early spring of 2010. The growth measured by the spring assessment was amazing! The impact on the achievement gap was phenomenal.

Using math data from grade 4, and with the exception of one school where the 8.7 % gap between African Americans and their white peers remained the same, all of the schools saw a closing of the racial gap. Kilmer school, a Title 1 building, clearly closed the gap between the fall and early spring.  In October, there was a measured 34% gap between the number of proficient/ advanced proficient African American students and their peers. In the spring, 100% of the African American fourth graders scored at the top levels in comparison to their white peers whose percentage was 91.8.  At Kilmer, not only did the gap close but the African American students exceeded their white peers by 8.2%. Johnson School, also Title 1, reduced the achievement gap from 27.3% to 18.2% over the course of the year as well. Harte school, although more affluent, reduced the gap from 37.1% to 25%.

It should be noted that the district has worked on closing the gaps over the past ten years.  There have been mixed successes.  The new variable in 2009-10 was the implementation of PLC in these schools. In addition, Johnson and Kilmer Schools, both Title 1, received simultaneous RTI training by Solution Tree.

As I visited the PLC meetings over the course of the year their development, growth and progress were evident.  The conversations were focused on students, decisions were data driven, planning was targeted and collaboration was in the air!

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