Kristen Gordon •
Main Street Visual and Performing Arts Magnet School • Hot Springs, Arkansas
The Right Work: A Team on a Mission
For the past three years, Main Street Visual and Performing Arts Magnet School (MVPA) (previously known as Oaklawn Visual and Performing Arts Magnet School (OVPA)) has been engrossed in the PLC process through the Arkansas Department of Education’s Professional Learning Community (PLC) Pilot Project. At the beginning of this process, OVPA went through an administration change at the principal and assistant principal level. During this time, the school was underperforming and was experiencing high teacher turnover. The teachers worked in isolation and there was no consistency or collaboration throughout the grade levels or building. Common planning time was only used to discuss logistics and to share information. Though all staff in the school were working very hard to do what they could for each student, there was no shared mission, vision, or goals. During the 2016-2017 school year, OVPA administrators noticed that the state of Arkansas was planning to use millions of dollars to implement PLCs. After further investigation, a team of four staff members went to the PLC at WorkⓇ Institute in Atlanta, Georgia during the summer of 2017. To the team members’ surprise, many of Arkansas’ legislators and members from the Department of Education were in attendance. After learning about the PLC process and its positive effect on student achievement, the school decided to apply for the Arkansas Department of Education’s PLC Pilot (Cohort 1).
Learning by Doing
After attending the institute, our team was confident that we would receive an invitation to partake in Cohort 1 due to the amount of networking we had done during the institute with the legislators and members from the Department of Education. However, we received word that our application was declined. We trusted in the PLC process and knew that its mission was a way to increase student success, so we decided to incorporate learnings from the book, Learning by Doing. Our first step was to “get the right people on the bus” that would help drive the work. Thus, we created our first Guiding Coalition, which was made up of teachers we thought would help lead the work. Shortly thereafter, we started learning everything we could about what it meant to function as a PLC by reading books and watching Global PD videos. We purchased Learning By Doing for all of our staff and started to build shared knowledge as a group. For this first year, we focused on building culture and answering question one: “What do we want students to know and be able to do?” Our team quickly realized that we had to make sure we were functioning as a team while focusing on the same goals. In October 2017, our administration team started to attend all collaborative team meetings. We facilitated the team meetings and tried to mirror what we were learning via the books we were reading and the Global PD videos we were watching. Our biggest goal during the team meetings was to build shared knowledge and unpack grade-level standards. After facilitating team meetings for months, the lead teachers (who were also on the Guiding Coalition) began facilitating the meetings. This is when we started to see a shift from “I” to “we.”
Hard Work Pays Off
Feeling more confident and better prepared, in the spring of 2017, our Guiding Coalition re-applied for the Arkansas Department of Education PLC Pilot Project for Cohort 2. We used all that we had learned the previous year and included it in our new application. We found out in the summer of 2018 that we were selected to be part of Cohort 2; we could not have been more excited! We knew that we could continue the hard work; however, now having Solution Tree coaches on site would help us drive the work even deeper.
During the 2018-2019 school year our district implemented “Early Release Wednesdays” which gave our collaborative teams one more hour per week to meet. We were able to use this time to continue the work we had started. During this school year, 29% of new enrolling Kindergarteners were already identified as needing special education services. This created a need for our school to create a system of support for all learners. Our Guiding Coalition planned weekly professional development to continue to build our shared knowledge. As a team we learned best practices and the “why” behind PLCs became crystal clear. Another big shift we took on as a building was to learn what building consensus truly means. Hence, that year our mission, vision, and collective commitments were redesigned to include ALL learners.
During the last two years our school has improved tremendously as the PLC process has caused us to reflect on every aspect of our school including our practices, policies, and procedures. During these transformational years, we grew from a PreK-4 campus to a PreK-6 campus, moved into a different building, and received a new name! The work of our teams continued to grow and we started to only focus on what truly matters. Our Guiding Coalition has been the driving force with the changes that have happened these past few years. Our teams have worked collaboratively with our Solution Tree coaches, which has helped us to grow as educators, practitioners, and leaders. In the beginning our team was unsure of the work, but as we continued to build shared knowledge, we started to see positive change within the building.
Through this process, we have learned that the answer is truly in the room. We have transformed into a collaborative culture where student learning drives everything! Our collaborative teams are focused on the right work. Main Street Visual and Performing Arts Magnet School staff are proud of the work that we have accomplished during these past three years, and we know that through this process, we will continue to improve our practices each day to ensure high levels of learning and growth for all students.
Kristen Gordon is principal of Main Street Visual and Performing Arts Magnet School. She is featured in the documentary, "A Child's Best Hope: The Arkansas PLC Story." In 2017, the Arkansas Department of Education launched the Professional Learning Communities at Work Project to transform education across the state. The documentary follows three schools including Spradling in various stages of the implementaiton process. Watch the documentary: https://www.solutiontree.com/st-states/arkansas-documentary