Marlene Bicondova •
Curtis Middle School • San Bernardino, California
Curtis Middle School
At Curtis Middle School, we are currently in the planning stages of answering question 3 of a Professional Learning Community; What do we do when student don't learn?
After facing the brutal facts about our test scores and grade reports, teachers at our school were asked to consider the following scenario and questions: After the first three weeks of school, twenty of your 200 students are receiving F grades. How does the school currently respond? What are the consequences the students have to face for not completing work?
We learned that until now, it has been up to teachers and teams alone to try to figure out what to do with these failing students. After much reflection we decided that we needed a systematic school-wide plan that goes beyond the regular reading and math support classes offered on our site.
In response to this challenge, we created the Curtis Safety Net, a unique intervention plan designed to make learning mandatory. The basic idea, based on Rick Dufour's intervention model developed at Adlai Stevenson High School is to identify a manageable group of about 100 students who are receiving the most failing grades in the school and place them in the Curtis Safety Net.
Students start out in the lowest tier and must meet specific criteria in 3 week cycles to earn their way out of the Safety Net. During each three week increment, students who fail are moved up in tiers that require increasing mandatory interventions and the reduction of school-wide privileges. For example, within the first tier of the system, students are required to complete all assignments, turn in weekly progress reports, and attend mandatory lunchtime tutoring. If these requirements are not met in 3 weeks, students are moved to tier II. Some of the ideas for tier II include: counselor meetings, mentors, lunchtime tutoring, and mandatory after school tutoring two days a week with the loss of team privileges. Once students improve their grades and progress, he or she works his way out of the Safety Net which reduces the required mandatory interventions, and increases the privileges he or she lost. Once the most serious academic concerns move out of the net, students at the next level of need will be filtered in. As our program specialist who was involved in the initial planning states it, "The big idea is for kids to be held accountable for their learning and to ultimately accept that learning is not an option."
To assist with the intense monitoring of these students, a full time "Net Keeper" will be trained to continuously track the progress of the students by collecting progress reports, communicating with teachers and parents, gathering the data charts, and moving students in and out of the Safety Net. The Net Keeper also has the responsibility of physically moving the students' names up and down a large wall replica of our Safety Net so students can visually see their current placement on the net.
Consistent with any challenge given to a true Professional Learning Community, we realize that creating our Curtis Safety Net will require a continuous cycle of inquiry: planning, implementing, studying results, and making necessary adjustments. One of our Science teachers, Lynn Neighbours also involved in the planning of our Safety Net stated, "As teachers we value our students and we're willing to put in the effort and time."
Additionally, as we begin to work on this unique style of intervention, we will take the advice of the PLC experts and continue to work on good teaching practices and further developing our school culture.
"Finally, no system of intervention will ever compensate for bad teaching. A school that focuses exclusively on responding to students who are having difficulty without also developing the capacity of every administrator and teacher to become more effective will fail to become a Professional Learning Community." Dufour Whatever It Takes.
As I responded above below Jennifer's reply, Ms. Bicondova described our Safety Net program in her responses to rcrescente and Chancellor. Due directly to the collaborative culture that has become ingrained throughout our staff, there is an over-whelming positive climate both in the manner in which staff interacts with each other, and in the academic conversations occurring during curriculum team meetings. Each Thursday, for an hour and a half, teachers are engaged in creating / modifying common assessments, analyzing the results from the latest common assessment, and / or composing focused lessons for the next standard to be addressed. It is important to understand that this has been a process that we have internalized and embedded in the fabric of our campus. The continuous application of the improvement cycle has instilled a common belief that all students can learn and that learning can be mandatory.
Without sounding too repetitive, Ms. Bicondova succinctly describes our Safety Net program in her responses to rcrescente and Chancellor. You are absolutely correct about the improvement in staff relationships. Due directly to the collaborative culture that has become ingrained throughout our staff, there is an over-whelming positive climate both in the manner in which staff interacts with each other, and in the academic conversations occurring during curriculum team meetings. Each Thursday, for an hour and a half, teachers are engaged in creating / modifying common assessments, analyzing the results from the latest common assessment, and / or composing focused lessons for the next standard to be addressed. It is important to understand that this has been a process that we have internalized and embedded in the fabric of our campus. The continuous application of the improvement cycle has instilled a common belief that all students can learn and that learning can be mandatory.
Yes, we have gathered data on how the Safety Net is working. If you are thinking of starting your own Safety Net system, be sure to read through my reply to Chancellor’s question above as it summarizes the long process we went through here at Curtis.
Considering the data, we have been consistently looking at various indicators to help make decisions regarding the Safety Net. First, the number of D and F grades on our campus has decreased dramatically over the past two years. When we started, we had about three hundred students with F grades on our campus. Today we are hard pressed to find more than forty students with F grades. As it currently stands, we can now concentrate on those students who have no Fs, but still have D grades. Also a sign of improvement, during our third year of PLC implementation we finally saw results in our state test scores. Last year we exceeded our 9 point school wide API goal (total 32 point growth) and we met all our growth goals for all subgroups. As far as AYP is concerned, we did not meet the national target, but we made percentage jumps in both Reading Language Arts and Math, which had remained stagnant for many years. We also looked at the trends of state test scores of all students who participated in the Safety Net and found that they overwhelmingly performed better than the previous year. Of course we attribute our school wide growth to the whole PLC process, but we definitely feel as though the Safety Net has been a big part of our recent improvements. As a school in an inner city, low-socio economic area, we have a long way to go, but we do expect a lot more growth now that we are in the middle of our fourth year of implementation. We will be happy to keep everyone posted on our progress.
For those of you that have attempted to create a Safety Net and have not found it to be successful, I would first consider if the school culture was ready for such a system to be in place. Second, consider if your system included adequate student accountability and monitoring components.
Before embarking on such a grand adventure, our campus spent two years answering questions 1 and 2 of the PLC process (What do we want students to know and how will be know if they know it?) because we needed a solid foundation from which to build upon. This included extensive training on how to collaborate effectively, identify essential standards, and create common assessments that would parallel the quality of state tests. It also took the entire two years to get the majority of our teachers on the same philosophical page through the reading of professional articles and having collaborative discussions. Teachers overwhelmingly needed to agree that it is our job to make our students learn and to lay all excuses aside in order to create this system. Once our administration felt that the school culture embraced these ideas (aside from the small pocket of nay-sayers), we then began to have the leadership team study various Safety Net models such as: Levey Middle School (Anthony Muhammad), Pioneer Middle School (Mike Matos) and Adlai Stevenson High School (Rick Dufour). Only then did we begin to develop our own model with the understanding that each year it may look much different than the year before depending upon the needs of the school. Two and a half years later, I can proudly say that the Safety Net has evolved, but most importantly, it is a part of our school culture, as evidenced by teacher comments and by the dramatic decrease of D and F grades at our school. I can tell you from experience that we tried many different formats and some of those attempts failed miserably. Every time we felt like giving up, we came up with a new idea (cycle of continuous improvement) until the data proved that the system was working.
As far as holding students accountable, it is important to build in consequences for students who fail to show up or improve their grades. As stated in an earlier reply, we are able to get 95 percent of our students to show up to the after school portion of the SN system. Students who do not show up as scheduled, are required to attend two sessions of the lunch time tutoring classes (our Net Keeper picks them up early from class, prior to lunch). During the day, our Net Keeper (our program specialist, Janetta Wood) has four different classes. The students who fail to show up to after school tutoring on a regular basis are assigned to this class. We also have a few clerks that help make parent phone calls for students who are not showing up or making progress. Additionally, I am certain there are many ways to hold students accountable, but having one point person responsible for the monitoring can really help improve the system.
It is challenging enough to create and maintain a truly effective PRTI process, but this can be further complicated by diminishing budgetary allocations. Ultimately, it forces a re-focus on what the priorities of the site are. Although limited monies may be available to pay key staff additional duty hours for after school tutoring, monitoring, etc…, a staff that has shifted its practices and beliefs to align with PLC principles will create ways to “make things happen.” For example, teachers from our 7th and 8th grade academic teams regularly visit the Safety Net classroom to work with students in all needed academic areas – this practice comes at zero cost to the site. In addition, these academic teams alternate their time during lunch to provide lunchtime tutoring sessions. Another possible minimal cost variation to this is to have each team become its own mini-Safety Net, where team members rotate their time to tutor and monitor students assigned to the “Net” (please note that the PLC principles have been embraced by staff for this type of collaboration / participation to occur). Currently, we have a program specialist who not only teaches four elective classes during the school day, but facilitates the lunchtime and after school tutoring programs as well. Eventually, funding will end for our program specialist position, and our site will again look at our current status, re-examine the data, and make necessary changes to the Safety Net to ensure that learning remains mandatory.
Even though there are many options to choose from, here at Curtis, we use our teachers as tutors for the after school portion of the Safety Net, and we use our Net Keeper during the school day. Although it is best to have the interventions during the school day, we are able to get 95 percent of our students to show up to the after school portion of the SN because if they do not attend as scheduled, students are required to attend two sessions of lunch time tutoring classes (our Net Keeper picks them up early from class prior to their lunch). During the day our Net Keeper, Janetta Wood, has four different elective tutoring classes. The students who fail to show up to after school tutoring on a regular basis are assigned to this class (in lieu of their regular elective class). She does the majority of the tutoring, but most recently, and on their own accord, our teams of teachers began to visit the students in the Safety Net class to tutor them and to ensure they are making up assignments as needed. The fact that teachers have volunteered to give up their conference period is a definite a sign that the Safety Net is part of the school culture, and not just another program. Also, keep in mind that the Safety Net is one component of our larger PRTI system which is in place for students who lack in reading and math skills. The Safety Net on our campus serves to address mostly the students lacking in motivation or those who are struggling with grade level standards.
For some of the questions posted to this article, I have asked Terry Comnick, our program specialist quoted above, to assist me in answering questions and adding his own perspectives. He also helped develop the beginning stages of our Safety Net and has been with Curtis since the beginning of our PLC process. I am sure you will find his insights very helpful.
I think it's great that your school has been able to successfully implement a professional learning community that recognizes the importance of working together for a common cause - student learning. I also work at a middle school where emphasis is placed on students that have been identified as having major skill weaknesses in either reading or math. We currently have several interventions in place for those students but it seems like there is only a small number of teachers committed to this process. How were you able to get the faculty devoted to the time and efforts necessary to make the "Safety Net" successful?
I am very interested in how the Safety Net plan is working for you so far. We are currently working on the same areas of language arts and math in my school. One plan that has been tried this year was to pull out the students who were in need of extra help during their science and social studies classes several days during the week. I am a science teacher, and I do want the students to succeed in language arts and math, however it makes it very difficult to teach the students science when they are not attending class regularly. The Safety Net plan may be just what we are looking for here. Have you been able to gather any data fromit yet as to how well it is working?
It is not only inspiring, but encouraging to read that other school communities are implementing true learning communities for teachers' and students' support. I found your post to be especially interesting because in my masters program we were required this week to read the exact article that you reference by Richard Dufour about professional learning communities. I am currently not teaching so I cannot provide personal information but I hope when I do get a job, the school I am employed through represents this practice. I know assessment is crucial to improve student learning but that is not enough if only one or two teachers are involved. I am very interested in how long your school has been using this approach and if it has been proven effective. One question that I have is how or who runs this? Do the teachers rotate or maybe a resource or part time position? I hope that your school also meets regularly to assess this program and discuss its effectiveness or ways to improve on it. I am sure one thing has changed as a result of the implementation of this program, teacher relationships! I would hope that test scores have improved as well as students' eagerness to learn. Kudos to you and your school!
I really like the idea of the Curtis Safety Net intervention plan. It must have taken many hours of planning to get this
plan operating. We offer tiers for our students, but it seems as if no one knows what to do with them. The students
were assigned mandatory enrichment (tutoring)hrs according to the tier they were placed. Tier 3 being assigned the most hrs and 1 less. The student are not being accountable and thus frustrating the teachers. What advice can I get on how to form a more structured PLC plan. During PLC, the teachers
assessed data, reviewed profiles, and planned so hard, but it seems to just not be working.
The Curtis Safety Net sounds like a wonderful idea. I especially liked the tiered approach. It gives students small, obtainable goals and rewards them for their progress. My school has attempted a similar type of intervention in the past. Student failing 2 or more classes were required to attend lunch time tutoring. The tutoring was offered during the first 25 minutes of their lunch period and was lead by a group of teachers called Instructional Coaches. There was a Coach from each content area present during all 3 of our lunch periods. They were also assisted by student leaders. It worked wonderfully for 2 years. However, with our budget cuts and lack of funding we are no longer able to spare the instructional coaches because we needed them back in the classroom. My question is, do you any advice on how we can implement a similar invention opportunity without needing additional manpower or taking teachers out of the classroom?
My reply is more of a question. I think this plan is an excellant way to keep the students that struggle in school on a track to sucess or at least to do better than they are on their own. In the plan it calls for tutoring during and after school at times. Are the tutors the teachers? Are they the teachers from the PLCs? Are the tutors other students?