2018 was a strong academic year at Schenk Elementary. Students showed a marked rise in literacy and math achievement.
Principal Sue Abplanalp believes this progress is due to a data-driven structure that put systems in place, heavily supported by teamwork.
When Abplanalp arrived at Schenk two years ago, she conducted a staff needs assessment to find out what was working well and what needed support. And then she asked, What are the staff’s long term hopes and dreams for the school?
What she learned was that the staff identified themselves as caring educators who value the diversity in the student body. They also felt that supportive parents were among the school’s top strengths.
She also found that staff perceived classroom climate, special education support, communication and overall test scores as areas that needed strengthening.
So Abplanalp looked at the data to see if staff perceptions were accurate, and found overlaps.
Together, she and her core staff developed a plan that they presented to her full staff. The plan was collectively embraced and put into action.
“So I broke down the data to create a sense of urgency among staff because they needed to understand that we all have something to do with this. I said, based on the data, this is what our kids are doing. The School Improvement Plan is going to address the special ed issues, which means staff need to meet more often, it’s going to address the behavior referrals and there’s a plan to increase the test scores through culturally responsive teaching. And then I shared with them how, through a process of school structures, this was going to happen.”
That was the birth of the ten-point School Structure Plan that built teams around curriculum alignment, grade levels and needed actions. To fortify them, the teams were assigned weekly, monthly and bi-weekly meetings with check ins.
This marks Schenk’s second year of school reform, with math and a student-centered approach to learning (culturally responsive pedagogy) as the school’s focus. This, Abplanalb says, accounts for the tremendous growth.
“Our school was given an opportunity to meet with our district math coach whatever amount the school wanted. They decided they wanted to meet every other week and she helped them go through proper ways of implementing the math core with fidelity. Teachers were able to have a lot of questions answered and align their curriculum very well.”
Instructional coach Emily Pease says the frequency in which core leadership teams meet has significantly changed climate and academic achievement.
“Core leadership meets Monday, which doesn’t include classroom teachers, so we go over structures and systems, it’s for all of us to be on the same page. Math and literacy
teachers make decisions about WIN (What I Need) or skills block. We have reading interventions to access tiers of support through their classroom teachers. We look at the data– how did our map scores look in January, how can we help students, etc.”
Among other changes that have positively affected the classroom at Schenk is communication. Positive Behavior Coach Reva Finkleman says that this has dramatically affected the classroom environment and performance. With communication between core leaders, the psychologist, social worker and Abplanalp, and weekly reviews of data, coaches can see where students and individual teachers need more support.
“Communication is huge, there’s a lot of communication about what’s best for kids and best for the building. One big drastic change with communication is through work with Developmental Designs within our building. It gives staff the tools and resources within their classrooms to support social-emotional needs and focus on building relationships with kids so classrooms are safe and feel comfortable. The teacher is their first place to go so we have take-a-break buddy rooms, work around culture response practices, meditation in classrooms and are doing settling things when kids come in.”
Finkleman says connections within the grade levels are also supporting learning with WIN blocks, or intervention blocks where kids are getting to know teachers within the building.
“There’s a bigger sense of community when students and staff feel supported, kids feel calm and classrooms are in harmony. So we do coaching cycles with staff to implement classroom routines. In them we talk about zones of regulation, we talk about routine just to build community and trust, and then we see an increase in academic engagement. With that the climate has improved for family and staff. Our climate survey looks good and talks about our community as a whole. I think we were ready for the work Sue brought to our building. Schenk is a pretty great place to work.