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California Distinguished School Application

Description of the Model:

Historically, Pine Valley Middle School is a high performing school by many measures. Under the former state accountability system, our API scores were consistently in the low 900s and as the STAR assessments concluded, our API was 918. In addition, over half of our students regularly make the honor roll. In 2013, an average of 84% of our students scored Proficient or Advanced in English Language Arts while 78% did the same in Mathematics. Though these statistics were a clear indication of a strong academic program, a portion of our student population was not succeeding and still needed help. Hence, as some of these student groups were not reaching their growth targets, Pine Valley Middle School was designated a Program Improvement School by the State of California and we were forced to look for additional ways to support the students who needed us the most.

While our vision has always been for Pine Valley to provide equal access to a rigorous standards-based curriculum to all students, we understood that students who had the most difficulty succeeding in middle school tended to be school dependent and needed more direct and in-depth intervention within the school day. This need became even more evident as we worked through the transition to Common Core State Standards (CCSS). For years, independently, many teachers had been helping individual students with academic needs before or after school, sometimes even during their lunchtime. Though students may have improved their skills in the short term, student/staff time and resources were not being used optimally and the campus community needed a framework and structure in which to operate. In the fall of 2013, a model program with specific practices was born and the seeds of the Pine Valley Response to Intervention (RTI) structure took root. We knew that if long term success was going to be achieved, the Pine Valley staff would have to begin the process of operating as a Professional Learning Community within a structure that supported the collective work of students, staff and parents. A new school slogan was introduced to the school community, #EveryPumaCounts!

Pine Valley’s Single Plan for Student Achievement, as well as our district’s Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), provides our school direction and resources for supporting all students in meeting standards. Though RTI work was a focus at Pine Valley two years before it became a district initiative, since 2015, Response to Intervention practices were designated as a specific need in our district’s LCAP as we made efforts to close the achievement gap. Under the guidance of our Site Council, funds have been allocated from federal (Title 1), district, and site discretionary, as well as Pine Valley’s Education Foundation to fund professional development that not only supports best teaching practices but the PLC and RTI framework in which we do our work. The interventions we have developed first identify needs through the use of data and proceed to provide a structure of support to address those needs.

At Pine Valley, RTI is defined as a 3 tiered systematic approach to enhance the learning of ALL students. At its foundation, Tier 1 is the best teaching practices that all students receive in class daily. Despite our best intentions, when students need additional support to master Essential material, Tier 2 supports consist of smaller, more specialized classes, where students are enrolled based on collected data, grades, teacher recommendation, and CAASPP scores. In these classes, students receive access to grade level standards while at the same time, backfilling vital information missed along their educational journey. At the top of the pyramid, Tier 3 supports become even more intense and more individualized and often require accommodations and modifications defined in an IEP. The foundation of Pine Valley’s RTI structure is built on the foundation of understanding the relationship of 3 core principles; the Essential Standard, the Learning Target, and “I can” statements.

If the premise of any school subscribing to the RTI structure is that, all students will learn at high levels, the curriculum teams must first meet to collectively decide what is prioritized as an Essential Standard for ALL students to learn. The deemed Essential Standards are taught in more depth and are measured more acutely. The defined Learning Targets clearly state the objective of the lesson and what students are expected to know after a unit. Finally, the “I can” statements are the things students say or do to show a level of mastery of a Learning Target or Essential Standard, in “student friendly” language, rather than educational jargon. Most importantly, this is the Learning Target broken down so students can self-assess their progress. In 2016, Pine Valley staff began the process of displaying (in all academic classes) Essential Standards and “I can” statements to allow students an opportunity to triage the vast amounts of information that are delivered at them each day. Teachers display Essentials on classroom walls and/or student interactive notebooks. What is expected to be learned is posted and referred to when appropriate.

As school administration looked for ways to support the work of teachers and students, structural modifications were also required. This included two campus bell schedule changes in August 2014 and August 2017. The latter allowed for common prep time for many academic curriculum groups. More time together allowed for PLC work to flourish as Essentials and Learning Targets were discussed and developed and common assessments written and assessed. The 2014 change directly impacted the student body and resulted in two 30 minute Academic Prep (AP) periods per week where teachers offer sessions to meet the assessed Essential needs of their students. More importantly, it empowered the student body to consider their own individual needs and gave them a choice of where to go to get those needs met.

Weekly, since 2016, staff, students and parents have continued to work together to optimize the best use of Academic Prep. Using a software program, PlusTime, teachers offer their sessions and it is then the responsibility of students to select the appropriate session to attend. Special Education case managers also use this additional time to support the executive functioning needs of their students. We are proud of our 90% weekly success rate of students registering (by the deadline) from this menu of support.

If our RTI Tier 1 program responds to PLC questions; 1.) What is it that we want our students to learn and 2.) How will we know if they learned it... PLC question three leads us to our Tier 2 supports when answering the question, How will we respond when some students do not learn? With a sense of urgency, we annually visit our feeder elementary schools each spring and review the data from our incoming 6th graders (CAASPP, IAB tests, CA Dashboard information, teacher input) and enroll students in interventions that meet the specific needs of students falling behind their grade level peers. With the tumultuous years of middle school ahead of them, parents are appreciative of the immediate attention. In response to a disproportionate amount of students going into our feeder high school not ready for Algebra, beginning in 2016, PVMS created and offered two new math classes; Double Block Math 6 (DBM6) and Double Block Math 7 (DBM7) for students scoring within two years of their grade level peers. In 2017, we also changed the format of our 6th-grade literacy program and started reading support classes for identified seventh and eighth graders falling two or more years behind grade level.

DBM6/7 are on grade-level courses designed to provide students with a strong mathematical foundation to meet grade-level CACC math standards while providing additional support to students to access the areas of focus. The additional support includes a two-period block of time utilizing a co-teaching model, providing a smaller class environment conducive to meeting individual student needs, and providing a hands-on, researched-based approach to master the areas of focus.

At all grade levels, our Supported Reading Program is designed to help students who need additional support in reading and writing beyond what is taught in their daily English class. Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI), a researched based curriculum is used to support our most “at risk” students as they prepare for high school without basic comprehension and phonemic awareness.

As our RTI model morphs with the California model of MTSS, we continue to find additional ways to not only support academics but even more importantly, the basic social-emotional, mental health, and behavioral needs of our students. Currently, we believe that we have a solid foundation for that work. Beginning in 2014 we launched the idea of Student Families, a cohort of mixed sixth, seventh and eighth graders. Families are introduced the first week of each school year, during our Week of Welcome (WOW). During this week, students participate in team building activities, goal setting and take baseline common academic assessments. The overall goal of this week is that students get excited about the upcoming school year and the experience they will define together. The week allows students to break down some middle school stereotypes and lays the groundwork for a positive school climate and realize that #EveryPumaCounts. Quarterly, our Leadership students develop lessons for our “Family Reunions,” and our cohorts reconvene to discuss appropriate adolescent topics, including: stress management, social media safety, character building, random acts of kindness and bullying prevention measures, If you see something, say something. We also used Family Reunions to be certified a No Place for Hate campus, an Anti-Defamation League sponsored program.

To combat chronic absenteeism (2.9%), we embrace the issue as a learning opportunity for students and their families. From last school year to this one, Pine Valley absences have decreased by approximately 2000 days (1.1% of membership days) which translates to an increase of ADA, nearly $140,000 for our district. After administering warnings and requesting parental support of habitual offenders, students are asked to read and reflect on positive attendance strategies, rather than a punitive response that may remove them from additional instructional minutes. Attendance information is also proactively shared with families as the campus participates in a district partnership, the One More Day initiative. From 2016-2018, Pine Valley’s SARB cases have declined from 28 to 11.

Though suspension rates at Pine Valley are declining and lower than similar demographic schools in our district, there is still work that needs to be done, especially with our Hispanic Pumas as that percentage is disproportionately higher at twice the rate (3.6%). A silver lining in our higher rate of Hispanic suspensions is that we have focused our attention on building stronger relationships with these families. They do not feel that consequences are punitive, rather that we understand their specific family dynamic that may be negatively impacting their child’s school behavior. Regardless of ethnicity, involving families is crucial as we lay out our expectations for student behavior. Though an adverse circumstance may bring us together, positive relationships are being built and families see the school as a partner who can provide resources and support. In regards to suspension, school counselors and administrators hold “intake” meetings with students and their families when returning from suspension to review supports in place that promote future positive behavior. When a recent vaping trend hit campus in 2017, the school administration and counseling team educated staff and parents, so they knew what to look for and how to have conversations with kids about the temptations of adolescents. Our community partnership with the Discovery Counseling Center has also helped us get students the social and emotional support needed when “making a mistake,” as DCC counseling sessions can be “in lieu of” suspension days. It is through these proactive measures that have allowed PVMS students to find a positive adult connection on campus and as a result, perhaps a reduction in the number of suspensions from 2.1-1.7% since 2016.

Implementation of the Model:

Pine Valley’s RTI model would not be successful without open lines of communication with our parent community. Our slogan, #EveryPumaCounts, is displayed throughout the campus, in parent communication, student spirit wear and on our classroom posted mission statements. They are made aware of our work through presentations at PTA, PV Education Foundation, and Site Council meetings. Other means of communication include: Remind phone application, daily bulletins, Twitter, Back to School Night, Principal’s newsletter, and our website. Parents are engaged in a conversation or informational meeting(s) when students are targeted for Tier 2 interventions such as Double Block Math, and Supported Reading Program. These meetings inform parents of the learning and skill outcomes for students and knowing that #EveryPumaCounts.

Pine Valley uses our early release days for professional development based on the needs of students and teachers as determined by the administrative team and are centered on the pillars of RTI. Teachers are actively encouraged and supported in taking release days to develop professional relationships with their grade level teams, develop common assessments, and revisit Essential Standards. Opportunities are given to teachers and paraprofessionals to attend seminars, work with teachers on special assignments, and participate in cohorts to push their practice. Weekly curriculum meetings, monthly grade level and quarterly cross-grade level teams allows for the strong development of campus PLC’s. This time allows teams to examine assessments, plan AP offerings, and discuss student learning on a by student, by standard basis.

The administrative team helps to plan and guide all instructional learning activities. The team reconvenes and evaluates the success of these learning opportunities. Teachers give feedback through surveys, and Curriculum Leaders gather information before and after RTI site professional development. The administrative team believes in professional development and learn alongside teachers and participate in cohorts, ACSA academies, and book studies.

All students access our Tier 1 support AP; students are expected to sign up using PlusTime to attend a class that fits their individual needs. While the emphasis is on student accountability parents are made aware of the purpose and process for AP, through Back to School Night, a link on our website and reiterated in conversations with counselors, teachers, and administrators. For students who are not meeting Essential Standards, the role of AP as an intervention is reiterated to parents at Fall and Spring conferences.

The success of our RTI program is evaluated by students showing proficiency or mastery of Essential Standards. Other means of assessing or monitoring student growth is through reading assessments, given on a trimester basis for sixth graders, IAB testing, and anecdotal feedback from teachers, administrators and non-instructional staff. At the end of the year, students in Pine Valley’s Tier 2 interventions, are discussed holistically to determine the best supports for each student moving forward. Staff and the administrative team engage in a data-driven discussion throughout and after Tier 2 interventions have been offered, determining the success of the program.

Results of the Model Program/Practice:

Pine Valley’s Tier 1 practice of AP is helping students grow academically. According to a recent staff and student survey, 60% of all AP offerings are focused on guided practiced or reteaching. 80% of our eighth graders, who participated in AP for their entire three years at Pine Valley believe that AP has benefited them academically. Feedback from students supports the success of this Tier 1 strategy. One 8th grader reported, “I used to think it was a waste of time, but now I think it is great because you get extra time to get help in whatever subject you need, without wasting your lunch period or time after school.” Another student stated, “I used to just pick wherever my friends would go, but now I go to the place with the best environment for productivity.” This sentiment is echoed by 61% of our students who have improved the way that they use AP from sixth to eighth grade. Parents also report their appreciation for AP. A seventh grade mother said, “Pine Valley’s AP tutorial period is an outstanding asset. Occasionally, just ten minutes of extra teacher assistance is the difference between fully grasping a concept or falling behind. Knowing that the help is available also decreases the stress and pressure that can sometimes occur during the class period when new concepts are presented.” Another parent shared, “My son has utilized AP time to prepare for math, science and history exams. The teachers customize the AP period to reflect the current curriculum and my son has felt more prepared as he opts to attend a topic focused AP.”

Data shows that our students are improving due to their Tier 2 interventions. The success of the Supported Reading Programs is evident through our Puma’s reading growth. The sixth-grade Supported Reading Program, made up of 16 students, showed a 28% increase in one reading level, 11% increase in two reading levels and an incredible, 39% increase in three or more reading levels. Sixteen percent of students did not increase reading levels, and their lack of progress has enabled them to receive additional supports. The seventh and eighth grade Supported Reading Program, two classes of 18 students, shows similar results. Twenty percent of students increased their reading by three or more grade levels. An additional 36% increased by two grade levels. Finally, 27% improved by one grade level. Overall, ELA CAASPP results show that students in our targeted intervention (a smaller group) improved by 21%, compared to our non-targeted students, improving by 5%. The regular reading assessments and spelling inventory data guide teachers to adapt and modify their curriculum.

Students enrolled in Double Block Math 6 show positive learning outcomes in their CAASPP testing; 69% of students improved in their overall math CAASPP score from 5th grade. The structure and teaching practices of Double Block Math 6 change based on the formative and summative assessments that are given throughout the year. The total amount of non-targeted students that met standard increased by 10% over the previous year.

As our understanding of RTI and MTSS broadens, we study our work and reflect on ways to improve our practice. As a middle school, we embrace the opportunity to reinvent ourselves to one-third of our population each year. We must be comfortable with a level of vulnerability as we look for additional ways to improve. Seeking input and feedback from our campus community has always been and will continue to be a critical part of our growth. Pine Valley is driven by the belief that #EveryPumaCounts. This includes all of us... students, parents and staff.