Campus culture, social-emotional learning, Blended Learning and keeping an eagle eye on student progress combined to lift Noel and Pease elementary schools from an F to a B in state accountability ratings.
Pease and Noel are sister campuses. Pease has prekindergarten through second-grade students, and Noel has third through fifth. Pease students don’t take the STAAR exam as it starts in third grade, so their success is tied together.
Noel Principal Jennie Chavez said they have three multi-classroom leaders this year. They had two last year. Each MCL has a Reach Associate.
Multi-classroom leaders are teachers with a record of high-growth student learning and leadership competencies. They teach part of the time and lead small, collaborative teams of two to eight teachers, paraprofessionals and teacher residents in the same grade or subject, the Opportunity Culture website said.
A Reach Associate is a classroom aide position providing instructional and noninstructional support to a team of teachers, as designated by the team’s multi-classroom leader, the ECISD website said.
Noel has 445 students and Pease has 580.
“We were very consistent with our SEL (social-emotional learning) seven mindsets; just building that … low-risk environment for the students, which helped with the collaboration piece that we use in blended learning, because we also are a fully implemented blended learning campus,” Chavez said.
Blended Learning is an education program that integrates a virtual and face-to-face learning environment for students, the National Education Association website said.
“With our SEL connected with Blended Learning, it just fit. It helps student engagement. In the rotation stations with Blended Learning, the teachers give immediate feedback through teacher exemplars. The students always have that immediate feedback. They can check their work. They’re not waiting until the end of the week; they’re not waiting until the end of the month; they have that immediate response, so that they always know where they’re at, and they can track their progress. That’s very important because the students need to know what they need to work on,” Chavez said.
The campus also employ professional learning communities where teachers work collaboratively to analyze student data and achieve better results for students.
“The teachers look at the data and see what needs to be taught. Then we have reassessments to see whether or not the students are where they need to be after those re-teach lessons. … But I think just keeping up with where students are, giving that immediate feedback, having that strong campus culture, it really helped students feel that it was within themselves to work (to get) where they needed to be. They set goals for themselves, and they had weekly meetings with their teachers to discuss their goals — whether or not they were met, what they still needed to work on, things like that,” Chavez said.
She added Noel had a lot of visitors last year who came to observe the Blended and social-emotional learning. They also have a grant from Transcend to redesign. Chavez said the campus is in its last year with that.
“We were complimented, after every visit. They really liked what they saw with our SEL. They really liked what they saw with Blended Learning; just the campus culture, the feel of our campus, the environment that was created in the classrooms,” Chavez said.
She added that it was a gradual process.
“We piloted after the first year with just one grade level in the spring. And then last year, we did two grade levels in the fall and then by the winter of last year, it was a fully implemented throughout the whole campus, third through fifth. … That really helps with personalized student learning. It targets (what) the students need to work on, what skills they need to work on to be on grade level, so it’s personalized for each individual student through those rotation stations. In the rotation stations, they have an independent group, a collaborative group where they work with other students, a technology group where they’re using computer-based programs. We use the ones that the district provides. We used a couple of other programs in reading and math,” she added.
“Then they have a small group station, which is the teacher, and the teacher works with the students on the skills that are targeted towards them, and what they need to work on,” Chavez said.
Consistency also was a factor in Noel’s success, and by extension, Pease.
“It’s just the consistency … that data-driven instruction, backwards planning, always knowing; having that end in mind; following the pacing guide of the calendar; how many days do we have to work on this particular unit before the next assessment? What do the students need to be taught? At what rigor does it need to be taught for them to be successful? And then after, what didn’t work? What needs to be retaught? Is it whole group? Is it small group. We have to look at the amount of students; if it’s a small amount of students, then we work in small groups. If it’s the majority of the class, we work whole group just analyzing that data that way,” Chavez said.
Backwards planning is keeping the end in mind — counting the days they have to teach all the material before an assessment and knowing based on how they scored on previous standards whether they have the time allowed to teach new instruction and re-teach lessons.
Chavez said last year was positive and all the visits they received were positive.
“The feel on the campus was different. Everyone was motivated, even toward the end of the year where you hear people say they’re tired, or students are already tired. Ours never got there. They never got that feeling. They were always still motivated. They were always … trying to do better. The students were always trying to improve their scores. So we were really looking forward to that end result because everything had been so positive all year,” Chavez said.
But they wanted to know if it was really going to make a difference and it did.
“… When the scores came out, it was a very pleasant surprise to have a B rating … We kind of felt, yes, we’re going to get out of improvement required. We’re not going to be an F campus. We were just hoping we would have improved enough to get out of being rated an F campus. … When we got to a B, it was so exciting to be able to share that with them,” Chavez added.
They celebrated every assessment and all the student growth.
“I always let the teachers know where they were after each assessment, where they were for our campus, where they were within the district. … And the teachers did the same with their students, so the students always knew how they performed and whether or not they were on target. We keep charts in the classroom so that the students are recording their growth. We send home folders to the parents, so the parents know monthly how their child is doing. We track Istation; we track Imagine Math. The students always know where they’re at. They … can talk (about) their progress and success to their parents,” she said.
At Pease, Principal Micah Arrott said they were proud of Noel’s accomplishment.
“We are sister campuses … so their accountability standards are ours. This year we’re a B, which is fantastic. We’re so proud of them, as well as feeling some pride in ourselves because what we send over in third grade,” Arrott said. “There’s a lot of pressure because you’re not just your own campus. Another campus is depending on you … to send up kids ready to go.”
She added that it’s a different dynamic than other campuses because they are both equally important to each other’s success.
The principals and assistant principals collaborate.
“… You both have to be on the same page as far as knowing that growth is important,” she said.
Arrott added that Superintendent Scott Muri emphasizing the importance of kindergarten readiness and foundational skills in prekindergarten through second grade let teachers realize their work was important and valued.
They set the foundation for where children are heading for the rest of their lives, Arrott said.
“That really kind of shifted everything … on this campus as far as the teachers realizing these are the most important years in a child’s education,” Arrott said.
Like Noel, Pease has multi-classroom leaders and Blended Learning. Pease uses Raise Your Hand Texas with Curriculum Associates for its Blended Learning.
Additionally, Arrott said the teachers really put in the time to get students prepared for the upper elementary grades — third through fifth.
“The teachers did the work. They really put in the time. … (By) intervening with students on their levels, which is what Blended Learning does, we are able to meet those students where they’re at and then push them; grow them,” Arrott said.
Teachers learning those strategies and having students take the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) test was pivotal in enabling Pease to take the data and drive instruction so they knew where the students were specifically.
“That’s been a turning point as well because we’re able to really pinpoint what good instruction looks like and then meet those kids. That was kind of a big shift, too. … A lot of things came together at once that … made it intentional and focused,” Arrott said.
Before MAP, there were district-based assessments that weren’t specific to each grade.
“With NWEA MAP, it breaks it down to where you know exactly where the gaps are with the kids and what they need. And then with the Blended (Learning) and having that grant and that support, we’ve been able to look at each child and then … personalize the instruction for what each kid needs,” Arrott said.
NWEA is a research-based not-for-profit organization that creates academic assessments for students pre-K-12, its website said.
“It gives me such a sense of pride in what this campus has done in a very short period of time and where we’re going because we’re just getting started,” she said.