Fallsmead Elementary

  1. PLC Story
  2. PLC Practices
  3. Achievement Data
  4. Awards
  5. Resources

MY PLC Story

My experiences as a teacher, principal of two very different schools, and as a central office administrator have shown me that an effective equitable school leader must keep two very different balls in the air in order to raise student achievement and close the achievement gap. The first is changing the beliefs and the teaching behaviors of the educators and the second is creating policies and procedures needed for effective change. While these changes are occurring, the effective leader must be cognizant of the difficult psychological challenges that these changes often bring to the entire staff. In order to support and encourage the challenging work that is necessary to ensure that every student reaches their full potential, the PLC leader must provide staff development to support the  creation of a common purpose. This work together leads to a collaboratively developed vision and mission.  Changing beliefs and changing policies and procedures lead to high student achievement. 

From the moment I became an administrator, with On Common Ground and Professional Learning Communities At Work as my guides, I promoted my belief that teams collaboratively plan for instruction, and use  frequent formative assessments and data to determine progress, leading to reteaching, flexible groupings, and acceleration. Together, these  are the keys to high achievement for all students. I called this process the Cycle of Success to guide our PLC work. 

At Clopper Mill Elementary School, and at Fallsmead Elementary School, I led the staff in the process of writing our vision and mission. The entire staff developed the Vision and Mission that represented who we were as a staff and our vision of our perfect school. In order to help all students succeed, leaders must develop a culture that is consistent with their vision, where risk taking is encouraged, and where there is a genuine commitment to rigorous instruction.  If change is to be sustainable and effective, the principal must enable many to become leaders who are willing to take risks to effect change.

Our revised vision and mission led to huge changes in the master schedule. In order to have time to focus deeply on curriculum, plan for formative assessments, determine proficiency, and examine student work, we needed to provide each team with 2 extended planning sessions per week, one for reading and one for mathematics planning. This was a change that the staff was very excited about and adopted quickly and with gusto.   An additional important factor that led to great results was the participation of the reading specialist and staff development specialist in every extended planning meeting. They were charged with specifically helping teachers delve into the standards and developing SMART goals for each lesson. During planning we asked, "What should students know and be able to do? How will we know if they have learned it? What will we do if they don't learn? What will we do it they already know it?" The master schedule played  a huge part in developing a results-oriented PLC culture. 

In order to encourage the shared leadership necessary to effect change and the improvements needed, I created several tiers of decision-making in our schools. At Fallsmead, we have a Core Team, consisting of the principal, assistant principal, counselor, staff development specialist and reading specialist. This team meets weekly for several hours, planning staff and leadership meetings, looking at grade level data, trouble shooting team needs and planning for staff development based on student and teacher needs. Since the Core Team members are in the classrooms and participating in planning, they are our first line of defense to identify student needs and successes.

In addition to the Core Team, we have a Leadership Team, consisting of the team leader from each grade level, and specialists, as well as PTA parent members. This team is specifically charged with developing procedures, looking at summative school-wide data, conducting a root cause analysis in order to write the next year's school improvement plan (SIP) , monitoring the SIP periodically and leading their teams in our data chats. This team is very skilled at data analysis and provides support to their teams all year. 

The grade level teams are the final and most vital structure that is on the front line of teaching and learning. This year, we have focused on increasing our capacity at each grade level to study the enormous county curriculum and determine, based on the state standards, what was the most important information to allow students to be successful. We developed templates that each team used to drive their collaborative  teamwork and planning. In addition, we met every 6 weeks for data chats with each team.  At the data chats, we discussed students who were not making the progress we had hoped for them. The team provided ideas and developed improvement plans for the interventions, flexible grouping and follow-up.

Part of being a PLC is a commitment to continuous improvement and experimentation for students and staff. Developing a culture that allows teachers to ask for help and/or bring new ideas deepens the work and brings about new excitement and ownership. I am confident that the school will continue its journey as a successful PLC!

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

Monitoring Student Learning on a Timely Basis

In order to achieve our Fallsmead vision that "we believe in and are committed to the highest level of academic, social and emotional achievement of all students", we must be strategic and vigilant about each student's growth. This vision drives us to gather student data frequently, sometimes daily, and to monitor these results collaboratively in order to adjust teaching and learning.

Data monitoring can be, and often is, derived from state and county testing results; however, it is also should be student work which informs our planning and next steps. Because every day is critical in the life of a child, teachers and administrators cannot wait for results of yearly state assessments to determine if their efforts have paid off.  Weekly, even daily mini assessments are necessary to be sure a teacher's lesson has been effective. During team planning, the focus is always on results. With the support of our Staff Development Teacher/Math Coach and the Reading Specialist, grade level teams meet twice weekly for extended team planning. Teams use a team planning template/agenda to ensure that our planning protocol is followed with fidelity. Teams start with unpacking the state standards and looking at the curriculum to determine what the expected outcomes would be for the upcoming lessons. Proficiency is agreed upon, methods and materials are discussed, and collaboratively teams decide how the students will be monitored, as well as, what student work will be collected for the next planning meeting. Attention is also paid to whether the previous lessons need to be repeated or if a few students need reteaching. Teachers share successful strategies to help teammates.  Plans are also made for students who already know the material as well. Flexible groups are formed to ensure that each student achieves at the highest level possible. We found that given the required elements to be included in each planning meeting, each team was much more willing to collaboratively develop and effectively use their own planning template that met their learning styles and needs. 

To ensure that the Core Administrative Team was a part of the monitoring of student learning, “data chats” were held every 6 to 9 weeks with each grade level team. In these meetings, staff worked to identify students who continue to struggle despite teacher support and to identify if further intervention or support was needed. This past year, we found that teams were more invested if, given criteria to include, they created their own data chat agendas. The level of investment and commitment to the process was much higher when the teams were allowed this autonomy.

This collaborative cycle of planning, teaching, frequent data analysis , reteaching and intervention, ensures attention is paid to  all students and response to needs are immediate. 

2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.

Creating Systems of Intervention

The Core Team and I implemented a great deal of professional development about differentiation, reteaching, and intervention. Teachers know that our vision is about learning. If a student isn't learning, we are responsible to make changes and provide support. This past year, we focused on enhancing our Data Chat process to allow grade level teams more involvement in developing how their data would be presented. The participation and expertise of the teams was truly astounding! Each team came prepared with their own agenda, they chose which data points to use in their discussions and presented their information with a true depth of knowledge.

At Fallsmead, we have a large regional learning disability program (LAD).  Students with IEPs are fully included in the general education classrooms. All the Fallsmead teachers collaborate with our special education team. Students with IEPs are supported in the classroom by the special education teachers, as well as by the paraeducators assigned to the grade level. This support will usually be small group instruction, reteaching or clarifying grade level instruction. General education students can also benefit from this in-class support. In addition, many IEP students receive pull-out services for an hour or two a day to scaffold their learning to allow them to access grade-level work. 

In addition, grade level examination of student work, during extended planning, often reveals students who have not met the proficiency expectation. Teachers are empowered to move students, for small group instruction, to other classes at the same grade level. This cross-classroom instruction based on differentiated needs ensures that students receive the appropriate leveled instruction with peers.

A Maryland requirement is for every teacher to create a Student Learning Objective (SLO) for students not meeting benchmarks. These SLOs often guide our discussions of intervention and are monitored throughout the year, including at our data chats. SLO data is now also a part of the Professional Growth System in MCPS and becomes part of the teacher's final evaluation. 

Lastly, the reading specialist. the staff development teacher and school paraeducator often work with small groups of students to target skills that are found to be barriers to the students' learning. 

Intervention is multi-tiered based on teacher and team analysis of student need. Next year, a new team will be added where teachers will be able to meet with the counselor, special education teacher and an administrator to continue to enhance and coordinate our response to student learning needs.

3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.

Building Strong Collaborative Teams

As an administrator, my core values have guided me to collaboratively develop a shared vision of teaching and learning that supports the achievement of  all students. I have sought and succeeded in building trust, as well as demonstrated an openness and respect in my relationships with parents, students and staff. In order to succeed, an administrator must establish processes whereby all stakeholders’ input is collected, analyzed and used to assess professional growth. I am committed to the continuous improvement of  students, staff and self through collaborative planning, staff development and the formation of committees to examine ways to improve student growth. 

Our Mission at Fallsmead states, “As a collaborative community of students, staff, and parents, we will foster a learning environment driven by high expectations which provide opportunities for learning that ensure engagement, excitement and enrichment through respect for all cultures and build relationships between the community, staff and students." This mission was written by and for our staff. It, along with our vision for “the highest level of academic, social and emotional achievement of all students”, drive the entire Fallsmead staff to work together in order to ensure student success. 

Our Fallsmead teams work together in powerful collaboration that perfectly characterize a professional learning community. The teachers systematically work together to analyze student data in order to improve their classroom practice and raise student achievement. Relationships are built in a culture that respects teachers and the hard work in which they engage  every day. We have encouraged open communication and safety that allows teachers to ask for help, and openly discuss struggles without fear of retribution. 

Team planning is a continuous cycle of deep examination of four critical questions: 

    What do we want each student to know and be able to do?

    How will we know when each student has learned it?

    What will we do if a student has trouble learning it?

    What will we do if a student already knows the material?

Teachers spend a great deal of time working with our staff development teacher and the reading specialist unpacking the Maryland State Standards, as well as, the MCPS Curriculum 2.0. Teams must collaboratively prioritize which curriculum is essential and viable. Instructional time must be used wisely to ensure students master the essential outcomes. 

Once outcomes are decided upon, our teams work together to develop lessons that will achieve those outcomes. At the same time, they decide what proficiency will look like in the classroom and how they will assess the students’ knowledge or skill. They finally decide what evidence they will bring to the next meeting to evaluate the lessons. When evidence of learning (student work) is presented at the next meeting, teams share ideas on  how to intervene with struggling students. Teams know that using this cycle of planning, teaching, assessing, and analyzing data allows them to work together to achieve our collective purpose of learning for all. I am most proud of our creation of structures to promote a collaborative culture at Fallsmead, and my staff’s deep commitment to working together to achieve the goals of our mission and vision. 

Achievement Data Files

Additional Achievement Data

Fallsmead is a diverse school in Montgomery County Public Schools. During the 8 years I have been principal, the staff has been extremely stable. We are a committed PLC with a very clear mission and vision for student learning. Over the last few years, the student body and the students' needs have changed. For instance, while the total number of students receiving ESOL has not increased very much, the level of need has changed dramatically. This year and last year we enrolled many more level 1 English Learners who had little or no English at all. This and other changes have impacted the classroom and the teaching strategies, causing us to reexamine our priorities, staff development and school improvement plans. One achievement we are particularly proud of, in light of these challenges, is receiving 5 Stars out of 5 Stars on the Maryland 2017-2018 School Report Card, specifically achieving the annual target 9/10 for "Progress in Achieving English Language Proficiency! We are also very proud of the most recent staff survey results,(attached) where we have scored 95% to 100% in almost every category. Staff results were 100% for "My school leadership sets clear expectations for staff", "My school leadership team fosters a collaborative work environment", "My school promotes a culture of respect and collaboration among all staff", "Staff in this school are commtted to using a veriety of mthods to help every student succeed". Our data and staff climate survey clearly outline our committments to being a PLC!

I have also included examples of the huge gains that were made when I was principal of Clopper Mill Elementary School 2002-2007. Clopper Mill is a Title 1 school with a very different profile from Fallsmead Elementary School. Before I became principal, the school was not making AYP and was losing ground each year. During my tenure at Clopper Mill, students, in all subgroups, made great gains in both reading and mathematics. In 2006, we were recognized by the Maryland State Department of Education for our excellent progress.

Success for every student, in every school, is most important!

  • 2017-2018 Maryland State Department of Education Report Card Fallsmead Elementary 5 out of 5 Stars. Percentil Rank 91 in the state.
  • 2018 English learners making progress towards learning English-90.5%
  • 2018 Superintendent's Administrative and Supervisory Award- September 
  • 2018 Finalist for 2017-2018 Dr. Edward Shirley Award for Excellence in Educational Administration and Supervision-Roni Silverstein Certificae of Merit.
  • Contributing author, chapter 11: The Equitable Leader: Changing Beliefs and Actions, Innovative Voices in Education: Engaging Diverse Communities (2012, Rowman & Littlefield)
  • 2003-2006 Recognized and awarded by the Maryland State Department of Education for Clopper Mill Elementary's Maryland School Performance Program (MSA) assessment results, reading gains for all subgroups: African American+26.9%, Hispanic: +41.4%, White: +8.1 %, Asian: 27.8%, FARMS: +46.6%, Special Education: +50.9%, and, LEP: +65%. 
  • 2014-2016-Member of the MCPS MCAAP PAR (Peer Review)Committee, advising and supporting new principals.
  • 2016 Presenter -7th Annual DC Data Summit, Regional Educational Mid-Atlantic
  • 2014-Developed and presented regional webinar for Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Mid-Atlantice, U.S.Department of Education, "How Adaptive Leaders Use Root Cause Analysis to Collaboratively Solve Student Achievement Needs". April and November 
  • 2013-Presenter at the REL ESOL Conference, Washington, D.C., "The Equitable Leader". 
  • 2008-Presenter at the National Staff Development Conference, Washington, D.C., "Using Data: Are you Data Rich and Analysis Poor".