Mike Mattos, principal •

Pioneer Middle School • Tustin, CA

Pioneer Middle School

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins asks, "Why try for greatness? If you're doing something you care that much about, and you believe in its purpose deeply enough, then it is impossible to imagine not trying to make it great. It's just a given. Greatness is not a function of is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline." Three years ago, the staff of Pioneer Middle School faced this very choice...would we settle for being a good school for most students, or would we be a great school for all students? With an unquestionable passion for our students and learning, our staff's decision was "a given". Collectively, we worked with the Pioneer community to create our current mission: To maximize every student's academic potential and personal responsibility. This singular purpose is firmly grounded in our fundamental belief that all students can learn at high levels. We believe it is not merely our job to teach; instead, it is our steadfast responsibility to ensure that all students learn. While our mission is quite simple in concept, its creation and implementation has proven to be powerful and dynamic.

To ensure high levels of learning for all students, we work collaboratively as a professional learning community to identify essential standards, share best instructional practices, create common assessments, and analyze student assessment data. Failure is not an option, so we have developed a "Pyramid of Interventions" to provide additional time and support for all students. We meet weekly with at-risk students to monitor progress and to provide additional help if needed. Because our mission is to maximize every student's academic potential, our focus extends beyond assuring grade-level proficiency, and challenges students to master more rigorous curriculum. Over half of our students take accelerated level coursework, including honors language arts, geometry, foreign language, and science. At Pioneer, it is "cool" to be smart, to help others, and to take pride in your school. Last semester, almost half our students received Principal's Honor Roll (3.5 GPA or higher) and over 900 students were recognized for their school achievement.

While academic success is important, we also believe that middle school should be a place for all students to explore new disciplines, to experience new opportunities, and to have fun learning. To this end, all students set quarterly, "REAL Wildcat" goals for academic achievement, extra-curricular involvement, exploration, leadership, and service. Currently over 100 students participate in student government, over 700 students in our fine arts programs (band, orchestra, chorus, art), over 800 students in our sports programs, and over 1000 students in academic competitions. Grade-level programs transition our students from the nurturing attributes of elementary school to the flexible and age-appropriate expectations of future high school students. Eighth grade mentors meet weekly with our sixth grade students to teach them the "Wildcat Way", helping to prepare them for success at Pioneer, in high school, and beyond.

Steadily, we are making our mission a reality. Over the past two years, Pioneer's state test scores rank in the top three middle schools in Orange County and top 2% in the state. Recently, Pioneer was named a 2007 California Distinguished School. While our staff is honored by these recognitions, what we most celebrate is the knowledge that we are ensuring the learning and future success of our students.

Posted in: Create Systems of Intervention & Enrichment, Design Assessments, Develop Curriculum

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Hi Mike,Kuddos to you and your staff for coming together to service the great needs of children. Awesome job ob helping the 8th graders lead by example,GREAT idea!!!! Thanks for sharing your story you demonstrate great leadeship! Keep up the good work.

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Sounds like a great school to work at!! I particularly like the fact that you use 8th grade mentors for your 6th graders to quote "Show them the Wildcat Way". This must bring your school together as a whole and create a feeling of pride in all your students!

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Rick DuFour

First, congratulations on finding an additional person and room to assist your school in its efforts to help more students learn at higher levels! As you decide how to best utilize this person, lead your staff to distinguish between the intentional non-learners—the students who are capable of learning the essential skills and concepts, but for whatever reason “won’t do” their work —and the students who are putting forth their best effort to learn and “can’t do”….yet.

The “won’t do” students who understand the essential skills and concepts but who did not complete assignments would likely be best served by your classroom assistant who will provide an additional push, monitoring, and will insist they complete their assignments in “guided study hall” during electives. The “can’t do….yet” students will likely need extra time and support from the certified teachers on your staff who can help them learn the essential academic skills and concepts, perhaps using different strategies, settings, and voices than were used during the original classroom instruction. The interventions provided by your instructional staff should be timely, specific to the needs of each student, and directive – happening during the school day in ways that do not require students to miss new direct instruction in order to receive interventions.

There are many examples of schools listed under Evidence of Effectiveness on this site that have created schedules and structures to support during-the-day interventions. Although changing the schedule and redefining roles and responsibilities will take flexibility and planning on the part of your staff, the potential for raising the bar and closing the gap makes it worth the effort. Good luck in this endeavor of engaging your staff in answering the third critical question, “How will we respond when students have not learned?”

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Todd Spear

Hi Mike, Thanks for the input regarding your building and where your staff has taken the students. It is really outstanding. We are currently starting the PLC Journey and the staff is excited but at the same time they have many questions.

We were able to place a classroom assistant in a room of her own during our afternoon hours to provide intervention time for students during the elective rotations. I am looking for some guidelines on the structure of that time, how students should be placed and just the best use of that resource. Any guidance would be helpful. Thanks Mike. Todd Spear, Principal, Lakeland Junior High School.

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Mike, Just wanted to let you know that I just heard you speak in Tampa this week. You were very informative and inspirational. I am working as an assistant principal for curriculum and we are beginning our third year implementing PLC's. I was glad to have some faculty members present with me and my principal at this conference. I feel it is assisting us in moving forward to the next level with our PLC's. Thank you for sharing your experiences and knowledge.

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