Clear Lake CSD

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

PLC Story:

As a community of educators who have always valued professional development and the strength in learning to grow, our district struggled with meeting the demanding needs of various professional development offerings. We felt like we needed an organized approach to professional development.  We had a lot of really good things happening in all our buildings, but it was not consistent from grade to grade or even in each grade/subject.  As we looked to grow as a district, we realized the best people to provide professional development was our very own professionals in our buildings.  We understood the value of learning from one another. The professional learning communities three big ideas:  a focus on learning, a collaborative culture and collective responsibility and a results orientation were perfect to guide us to a new and exciting culture of growth as professionals. 

Our first step was to gain a better understanding of the PLC process.  Our administrative team went through a book study, Professional Learning Communities at Work, Third Edition (Dufour, Dufour, Eaker, Manny, and Mattos 2016).  The book study led us to want to learn more about how the PLC process worked.  The next step was to have our administrative team along with our Teacher Leadership Compensation (TLC) leaders attend a PLC at Work conference in the summer of 2017.  We came back from that conference believing the PLC process was exactly the right work to focus on, so we committed to the process.  

Our first goal was to establish the “why” for our staff.  We kicked off the 2017-18 school year with two days of professional development centered around the “why” of becoming a professional learning community.  Clear Lake was already performing well as a district.  On most of our state assessments our students were scoring in the 81% or higher in percent proficient.  Our graduation rate was in the mid to upper 90%.  We had good attendance and very few discipline issues, but as we started looking at that 81-95% proficient we realized on average 29 students per grade in grades 3-8 were not proficient in either math, reading or science.  We had 50 high school students that failed at least one course the year before.  Then we asked the question:  Are we okay with that?  Our administrative team posed two questions to our staff: 1) Are you okay with these statistics and 2) Do you believe ALL students can learn at a high level?  Most were not okay with the statistics, but we had a good number of teachers that did not believe all students could learn at a high level.  

We started by working with our staff on the four questions and what collaborative teams should look like.   We worked on essential/heart standards and a focus on student learning.  As we found out the first year we tried to teach a lot of things, but really never got focused on the right work.  As our administrative team evaluated the first year, we realized we needed to get more focused.  We did put together a district Guiding Coalition that worked together to develop a new mission statement “To Ensure a High Level of Learning For ALL”

We decided to take a team of administrators and teachers to the RTI at Work Conference in May of 2018 and this was the turning point in our journey.  Our team had the opportunity to spend some individual team time with Mike Mattos at this conference and he emphasized, “you have to go slow, to go fast”.  He encouraged us to have our teams pick one essential standard and go through the entire process (ie. all four questions) and do it well and then take another essential standard and go through the entire process and each time you do it you will get better.   The hands on approach and time to work in our teams at this conference was key.  Principals used their end of year professional development days to get ready for next school year.

We decided to devote all of our Wednesday early outs to time for our collaborative teams to meet.  We set expectations for each building and each principal was expected to work with their building to meet the expectations.  The expectations for the 2018-19 school year were:

  1. Establish a Guiding Coalition for your building

      2.Create a doable plan to present to staff at the beginning of the school year 

      3.Establish Collaborative Team

      4.Will use common formative assessments in the process

      5.RTI structure in place for at minimum Tier 1 and 2 - both for teams and building

      6.Establish building goals and how you will get there

      7.  Plans will be given to the superintendent before August PD days.

As a district we committed to ensuring that our teachers had at least one hour each week to work in their collaborative teams during their contracted time.  We also built in a minimum of 30 mins of daily intervention time for students within the school day. 

One of the keys to our success was ensuring our school board supported the process, so from September 2018 to April of 2019, we did a book study with our school board at our monthly meetings on “In Praise of American Educators”, Richard DuFour, 2015.  This book really helped our school board understand why we needed to adopt the PLC process and understand how the process works.  By the time we were done with the book study they were 100% behind what we were doing and approved the mission statement “To Ensure a High Level of Learning for All” and why All really means All.  The really great part of this is that our board has bought into this mission statement and we always come back to it when we talk about decisions we make at the board table.  It makes for great conversations and I believe has led to the trust between our teachers and our school board.

One of the hardest transitions for some of our teachers was the make-up of our collaborative teams.  This was easy for our PK-3, but our 4th and 5th grade had one teacher in each grade teaching, ELA, one teaching math, one teaching science and one teaching social studies in each grade.  We were able to have two teachers in each of our collaborative teams at the high school for our core subjects like math, science, english and social studies, so they could plan common formative assessments and start to have some good conversations.  For our singleton subjects we combined our CTE (Family Consumer Science, AG, Business, Computer Science, Industrial Tech) into one collaborative team.  For our specials, like art, physical education and choir/instrumental we made a k-12 vertical team for each area.  We also encourage our CTE teachers to continue to have conversations with other common areas of study within the AEA and state.  Our middle school, which is grades 6-8, had one teacher in each grade teaching each subject.  Their teams were grade level teams and they were doing some really good cross curricular things in the grade level teams.  They were having some good conversations about students, but it was not the specific conversations that needed to happen.  They were not able to talk about common formative assessments and they had nothing to compare their data to.  As you can see from the expectations for the year there were some frustrations, because they could not have the kind of conversations in their collaborative teams that they needed to. Throughout the year we worked to show them they needed to change so we could have at minimum two teachers teaching each grade or subject.  We brought in Anthony Muhammad for two days in January or 2019 to work with our entire staff on the culture and climate.  This was another key breakthrough for our staff.  This got most of our staff to start believing in the importances of ALL really means ALL and the possibility that all students could learn at a high level, the need for common formative assessments and the reality of what happens if a student does not graduate high school with the ability to learn beyond high school.  Our 6-8 teachers are a great group of teachers doing a good job with our students and our students were performing pretty well, but to really be able to get to the next level we needed to have at least two teachers teaching each subject at each grade level.  I looked to the allthingsplc website for help and found that Solon middle school, which was a similar size district as Clear Lake had just made this same transition a couple years ago, so we took a team of teachers to visit Solon and talk with their middle school staff.  This showed them it could be done, but there was still some hesitation.  It finally came down to letting them know that starting with the 2019-20 school year we would be going to teacher teams.  This meant each grade/subject would have at least two teachers teaching it, so our 7th and 8th grade math teacher taught 2 or 3 sections of 7th math and 2 or three of 8th math, same for ELA, Science and Social Studies.  In 6th grade we decided to combine ELA and Social Studies teachers each teaching 2 or three sections and combining math and science teachers to do the same.  

Our third year of our PLC journey was 2019-20 and again we set some expectations for the buildings. The real key priorities for our third year was to have our guaranteed and viable curriculum for K-12 in math, ELA and Science established.  We did this two grades at a time and we involved all the teachers that taught the particular grade/subject to ensure every teacher that was going to be required to teach these essential standards had a voice in this process.  

Our other main focus was training our staff on formative assessment.  The other huge turning point for our journey was bringing in Luis Cruz for two days to work with our entire staff for two days in August of 2019.  I believe by the time Luis left after the two days all of the teachers believed that “ALL” really means “ALL” and that we could ensure a high level of learning for all students on our essential standards.  Luis also did some key work with our building guiding coalitions at the end of each day.   They were able to establish  their purpose and a clear understanding of their role in the culture and climate of their building.  This third year was definitely the year we felt like our collaborative teams understood why we were doing the PLC process and how to do it.  We have the following things ingrained in what we do:

  1. We have a Guaranteed and Viable curriculum established k-12 in ELA, Math and Science

  2. We need to ensure all students learn the essential standards.

  3. We have collaborative Teams with at least two teachers teaching the same grade/subject

  4. We understand that the conversations in our collaborative team meetings are focus on the four PLC questions

  5. We must use common formative assessment, which means students will get a chance to take the test again.

  6. We realize that we need to throw our egos out and ensure the teacher that is most qualified to teach a concept/skill is the one working with the students that need more help.

  7. We have Guiding Coalitions established at each building and they understand their purpose and they realize they help create the climate and culture of their building.

  8. We have built in time everyday (minimum of 30 minutes) during the school day for students to get support.

  9. We have built in during teacher contracted hours a minimum of one hour a week for our collaborative teams to meet.

I do know one thing for sure, we would not have been able to do what we did for our students last March through May during the COVID-19 shut down of our schools.  We are a 1:1 school district k-12 and because of our established PLC process and our collaborative teams work together we were able to transition to virtual/online learning and the majority of our students were able to get some learning in the last two months of school.  Our collaborative teams were still able to meet virtually and discuss essential standards that MUST be taught and work together and learn from each other on how to deliver quality instructions for our students.  This was truly professionals learning from each other.  We were able to get 80-95% participation in our online learning at the end of the year.

This also allowed our teams to meet at the end of the year and talk about the essential standards that all student were expected to learn at the end of the year and write a common formative assessment to give students when they got back to school in August, to identify the gaps students may have entering the 2020-21 school year.  This allowed us to really focus on the essential standards for the new school year and be able to systematically work on any prerequisite skills they were missing.

We feel really good about the start of the 2020-21 school year and our ability to really “double down” on the key things to accelerate learning, as Mike Mattos said in the “Mind the Gaps” training.  Our PLC journey has been a huge success for our district and I feel our staff understands the “why” and the process.


1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

This starts with looking at the four PLC questions:

1) What do we want students to learn?

2) How will we know when they have learned it?

3) How will we respond when they do not get it?

4) How will we respond when they already know it?

Question one is identifying the essentials standards and establishing the guaranteed and viable curriculum.  These essential standards must be established by the teachers who actually teach the curriculum.  Our collaborative teams developed their essential standards and then we work with two grades/consecutive subjects at a time to ensure what we were teaching at one level would prepare them for the next grade/subject.  Our teams then create specific learning targets for their units.

Collaborative team created common formative assessments are the key to question number two.  Our teachers realize they need to design the common formative assessment before they start teaching the essential standard.  This has led to great conversations about how they will teach and teachers sharing different strategies for teaching, which is true professionals learning.

The assessment must be given the same time and assessed the same, which also leads to rich conversations.  We have made it a priority for our teachers to be prepared with their data for their collaborative team meetings as they discuss how their students did on the common formative assessment.

Our RTI process is questions number three.  This is when our collaborative teams discuss how their students did and dig into why they missed the questions they did.  Again, this has led to many great conversations about teaching strategies and how different students learn.  This is where our teachers decide who and how they will help each student that did not learn the material.  Our teachers are continually improving their ability to break this down by student, by standard and getting as specific as possible.  The key is to get the teacher most qualified to teach the student who needs the most help in that area.  We have found as we continue to improve the core instruction the less students that need the tier two interventions.  

We continue to work on improving our RTI process for our SPED students.  Our SPED teachers are actually a part of the subject/grade level collaborative teams and are involved in talking about core instruction along with intervention times.  We also work hard to ensure our SPED students get the needed amount of specially designed instruction (SDI) for each goal area.


Question four is also a big part of this process.  We have some students that already know the material when they take the pretest.  These students are given extension activities throughout the unit.  Our Talented and Gifted (TAG) instructor has worked to put together a google folder of extensions for our teachers to use with these students.  One of the expectations in our second year of this new process was for every collaborative team to meet with our TAG teacher and talk about possible extensions and the best way to challenge those students that already know the material.  We also have a K-12 math and ELA iXL licenses for all students, which can be used for both interventions and extensions.  IXL software adapts to the level the students are currently at, so students that need extra practice can get extra proactive, while students that are above grade level can do more challenging problems.  I know the majority of our focus has been on the students that  “do not get it”, but if we are here for ALL students we need to ensure ALL means ALL.


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

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

Clear Lake had a “PRIDE” or intervention  time for students to get help, but when our team of administrators and teachers came back from the RTI at Work Conferences we realized the way we were doing our “PRIDE” time was not really the way we needed to be doing it.  This is one thing we really focused on getting better at, looking at the assessments and really asking the question “why did they miss that question”, not just “well they missed that question.”   Our teams transparent and consistent systems in place in monitoring and responsiveness to student data.  We have created a culture that has moved from a “my kids'' to an “our kids” in providing support and interventions.  We made sure that our “PRIDE” time was during the school day for our students.  Each building has a PLC google folder where they put their collaborative team agendas, PLC worksheets with their essential standard, learning targets data from the pretest, during instruction formative tests and end of unit test along with interventions and other information.  Our administrative team meets twice a month to talk about this data and the learning for building professional development and times each week.  This also serves as learning for our guiding coalitions in each building.  For the 2020-21 school year we added 10 minutes onto the student day and we put that 10 minutes all into the “PRIDE” time to ensure they had at least 30 minutes.  As we look at the district data, we establish district goals, which flow into building goals and then into collaborative team goals.


Our teachers also realize that all students learn differently and have worked hard to implement different ways for them to receive extra help.  Our interventions are guided by student needs and teachers work with administrators to determine whether it is a skill or will and these are constantly monitored  with formative assessments and collaboration with teachers and administrators.  We have also implemented a failing/incomplete policy at our high school.  At the end of every week teachers identify any student that is either failing their class or is missing assignments and those students are not eligible to play in any game/activities until they are off the failing/incomplete list.  Teachers are available to help them from 3:15-3:45 each day.  We realize this is afterschool and not all students can stay after school, but it is a second option for students besides the “PRIDE” time.


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

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

We have spent a significant amount of time creating a culture and climate that focuses on “did the student learn the material” and a belief that all students can learn at a high level.  High level to us means grade level or above on  the essential standards and graduation plus, which means they are prepared to learn beyond high school.  

Our teachers value their time with their collaborative team and they have been able to move from team time focused on administrative things in the building to a focus on how to improve our instruction so we can ensure all of our students learn the essential standards.   We have also built a culture where teachers feel no matter how long they have been teaching they can still learn from others.   When you take the focus off of you, it is amazing what you can accomplish.

Each team established their own norms that guide their team time and these norms are reviewed at the beginning and the end of each team meeting.  Three norms that every team committed to having are: 1) start on time; 2) be prepared (bring data or material for the meeting); 3) must have an agenda.  It has been really fun to watch our collaborative teams evolve over the last three years and the benefactors of this transition is our students.  Our teachers believe in this process and I believe the sky's the limit for what they will accomplish in the future.


Achievement Data Files

Additional Achievement Data

We realize that to become a model PLC school district we need to show improvement over three years.  Usually one of the key ways to show improvement is scores from state assessments.  Clear Lake started the PLC process with the 2017-18 school year.  The Iowa Assessments at that time were not aligned with the Iowa Core curriculum, which made it hard for teachers.    The 2018-19 school year we finally got a new assessment, and the ISASP became the state assessment.  This test was more aligned to the Iowa Core and what our teachers actually were teaching.  The ISASP was much harder with many more questions at a level 3 and 4 in depth of knowledge, which is a good thing, but consequently all school’s scores went down.  Then of course in 2019-20 schools did not have a state assessment due to the Pandemic, so we will not be able to use the state assessment data to show improvement.  We do believe there are many other ways to show improvement, which we have detailed below.

As we look at “ensuring a high level of learning for all students” we believe the ultimate key is their ability to learn beyond high school, so we have really focused on some of those key areas.

The ACT assesses high school students’ educational development and their ability to successfully complete college-level work. Clear Lake is committed to ensuring all students are prepared for success at the post-secondary level and since the spring of 2017  the composite score for the ACT test has gone up from a composite score of 21.7 in 2017 to a composite score of 23.3.

Many schools have added Advanced Placement courses as a way to increase the number of rigorous courses at the high school. Clear Lake has increased the number of concurrent enrollment offerings through NIACC over the last three years enabling students access to more rigorous classes and also receive both high school and college credit. (See chart in data files)

We feel that along with the concurrent enrolment we have been able to encourage more students to enroll in college the semester right after they graduate.  We have seen an increase in students enrolling in college the semester following graduation: 2017 - 72%, 2018 - 77% and 2019 - 80%.

We also feel like college is not always the best option for students, so over the last three years we have started a Registered Apprenticeship programs and added AG/FFA and computer Science to our high school to provide more options for our students beyond high school

One of the most important things we continue to focus on and work to improve is our graduation rate.  Clear Lake typically has a graduation rate above 90%, but we feel like if we are going to have a mission statement that says “To Ensure a High Level of Learning for ALL” we should continually strive for a graduation rate of 100% every year.  We are not there yet, but we have seen an improvement over the last two years: 2018 - 93.64% and 2019 - 96.59%.

We have also continued to focus on our IEP students, our at-risk and low SES students.  By adding programs like AG/FFA, apprenticeships and work experience classes we have found a niche for these students and because we feel it is helping our IEP and low SES students stay in school and graduate.  We have increased our Graduation rate of IEP students each year from 73.2% in 2016-17 to 100% graduation rate for IEP students in 2017-18 and 2018-19.  Our Graduation rate for free/reduced lunch students has increased from 89,8% in 2016-17 to 92.6% in 2018-19.

We also changed our math sequence at the high school.  We no longer offer general/basic math.  The lowest level math class is Algebra I and to help the lower level math student be successful in Algebra they take a Tiered Algebra class at the same time as our Algebra class.  This is raising the expectation for math, but it is also going to better prepare lower level students, including the students with IEP’s and low SES students to get to a higher level math class and be better prepared for learning beyond high school.

One of the areas we have been tracking and focusing on is the number of students on IEP’s and how many of them we are exiting out of SPED, because they have met their goals.  We have seen a increase in the number of students especially at the high school level that have exited out of SPED from 2017-18 to 2018-19, but we did not make our goal in 2019-20 because of the pandemic cutting the year short.






# of Students exited from SPED




Percent exited




# exited from IEP Goal




Over the last six years the state has really been focusing on reading at the elementary and specifically grades 1st - 3rd.  We are required to give a FAST test to grade K-6, which is a test that measures reading fluency.  Our teachers realize this is just one piece of reading, but we are required to give the FAST test three times a year.  We have seen our FAST scores increasing in some of our grades.

Clear Lake evaluates grade level data over time to monitor the effectiveness of curriculum, instruction and support structures.  Collaborative teams have worked extremely hard at identifying essential standards and ensuring we have a k-12 guaranteed and viable curriculum that we can ensure all students can learn at a high level.  We have uploaded several PLC process worksheets that are used by all our collaborative teams to show the way our teams work through the process.  These sheets identify the essential standard, the learning targets, SMART goal, along with interventions, skills needed and pretest data, formative assessments during the process and end of unit summative data.  These sheets guide the collaborative teams.  Our teams do one of these templates for each essential standard.  We feel this is improving our process tremendously.  We are now working on refining these sheets into a unit plan stucture with pacing guide along with key skills and notes that pur teams will use in future years.

Collaborative teams actions include:

  • Frequent monitoring of student learning data at the team, building and district level that includes screening, diagnostic and formative assessments for all students.

  • A collaborative process by grade level teams, support staff and building leadership with structures in place for collective responsibility that is focused on they are all our students and we will  ensure ALL students learn at a high level.

  • A responsive RTI system that includes evidenced-based interventions.

  • Our Special Education teachers are part of the subject and grade level collaborative teams to ensure we working are together, which ensures our SPED students get tier I instruction by the regular ed teacher and are involved helping with the tier II interventions and then they can talk about what they need help with for Tier III or SDI time.  

  • Most of our SPED teachers are in the regular education class with their students coteaching, which helps both the regular ed. and SPED teachers and students.

  • Our PLC worksheet allows us to insert specially designed instruction for SPED students and also identify extensions for our students that already know the material and implement enrichment activities for ALL.





Clear Creek Elementary PLTW Distinguished School Award for implementing the PLTW Launch.  Clear Creek uses the PLTW launch to meet the new Next Generation Science standards.

Two of our TLC coaches are master PLTW instructors and are regular presenters at National PLTW Summits.

Our Superintendent, Mr. Gee was asked to present at the PLTW National Summit in November 2019 on how to grow PLTW programs in a small community.

Clear Lake also started a new computer science program three years ago and has continued to expand it.  Clear Lake is one of 10 school districts in Iowa that teachers computer science in all grades.  We use PLTW computer Science curriculum in the high school and are continuing to expand this in the middle school

We have also started a new PLTW Biomed strand in the high school

Awarded over $30,000 over the last two years for the Iowa Department of Education Computer Science PD grant

We started a new Agricultural Science and FFA program in 2019-20 and are extremely successful with over 60 students in high school FFA the first year.

One of ten schools in Iowa with a Registered Apprenticeship Program and now have two areas: welding and general construction

Awarded the Governor's STEM Best Award two years in a row.

A group of educators were Invited to speak at the Governor’s Future Ready Iowa Summit in April 2019 on our Preschool PLTW Launch module.  Clear Lake is the only school in Iowa doing PLTW Launch in preschool.

Superintendent was asked by the Iowa Department of Education and Governor’s Office to be on a task force to develop a template for continuous learning for schools to use during the COVID-19 Pandemic shutdown (March - June 2020)