A Middle School Principal’s Perspective: Building a Schoolwide Framework

As the school year moved along, we continued our implementation across the sixth grade and within our struggling readers in seventh and eighth grade. Our obvious next steps, as long as everything continued to go so smoothly, was to expand the program into our entire seventh and eighth grades. After speaking with some of the consultants and other schools involved in the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network’s (PaTTAN’s) Secondary RtI Learning Site Project, we decided that we should wait until next school year to begin to tackle full-scale implementation.

Our plan for the spring was to prepare for the state standardized testing (PSSA) while fine-tuning our RtI program. We continued to meet regularly with the secondary learning site group. At these meetings, we were required to report on our progress and plan for the future. Through this process, we identified two areas that we felt still needed to be addressed. The more obvious area in need was mathematics. You may remember that we instituted a program for some of our more seriously struggling sixth grade math students called Successmaker. While this program did help a portion of our “Below Basic” math students, we still felt that there were a significant number of children who needed some form of math intervention that were not receiving it. The additional problem was the lack of research-validated programs that would help with targeted math instruction. 

Fortunately, we were able to find a pocket of students who were not in our Ramp Up to Literacy program that would benefit from some additional math intervention. Rather than wait for an approved program to appear, it was decided that we would take our math curriculum and provide these students with additional instruction during this literacy time that was not necessary for them. Basically, these 80 sixth grade students would have intervention in the morning and then a “math boost” later in the day in place of reading class. The progress of these students in the program would be monitored through their achievement and 4Sight testing.

The other area that we felt we needed to address was behavior interventions. We learned that a number of schools were implementing Positive Behavior Supports (now known as Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports). While we did receive some positive feedback from schools that were implementing PBS, we did not feel that it would work for us. Instead, we decided that a focus on the school discipline culture was needed. After careful consideration, it was decided that the Restorative Practices framework would be the most in line with what we were trying to accomplish. Since so much of the current and planned programming directly involved the Math and Literacy instructors, we came to the conclusion that our best chance of effective implementation would be to use the social studies teacher on each team. It was decided that each of these teachers would go to the Restorative Practices training in a “train the trainer” model. They would then return and be the leader of the behavior interventions on their team. Our hope was that this would slowly begin to transform two things: the manner in which our students treated one another and the way in which behavior problems were addressed in our school.

Once we finished PSSA testing in the spring, our main goal was to try and keep the momentum going into the remainder of the school year and beyond. Our RtI model was gaining support beyond our school. The sixth grade math program that we created was up and running. All of the social studies teachers were getting trained in Restorative Practices. Our plan was working almost too efficiently. As the principal, one of my major concerns was that we would begin to lose our key people to other schools. While I recognized that being a leader means creating others to follow in our footsteps, I was worried that a loss of a key player would mean a major setback for our program. Right around this time of the year, my fears became a reality. One of my assistant principals who helped create our program was promoted to the position of elementary principal in our district. While I was thrilled for him, I was also worried that it would hurt our program. What I learned was that he had been working so closely with so many in our school, that there were a number of people capable of stepping in to pick up some of the load when he moved on, thus further proving what a great leader he was and deserving of the promotion.

Late in the 2008-2009 school year we received another opportunity that would bring positive recognition for our program.  In June of 2009, we were asked to do an “RTI Talk” for the National Center for Learning Disabilities. This would turn out to be a great experience for us as it gave us a chance to share the lessons that we were learning while implementing RtI. It also gave us some positive recognition within our district that we felt was overdue. Other schools were finally beginning to pay attention to what we were doing. Anyone who has been through something like that will tell you, it is that type of reinforcement that pumps up a staff and improves morale. (Of course the honorarium to help support or programs that came with it was appreciated as well!)

It was such a great experience to spend that time prepping for and participating in the hour-long “chat” that was done over the internet. We were able to field a number of great questions that not only helped those asking, but also gave us a chance to take stock in our program and analyze where we stood. If you find it helpful, here is a link to that discussion: Effective Teaming and Collaboration within RTI.

In reviewing our plan during the NCLD Talk, we decided that we needed to come to a decision on some fine-tuning of the program for the following year. Later that month, we set up training for our seventh and eighth grade staff on the interventions that we would need them to run next year once the program went school-wide. Teachers were trained in Read Naturally, Rewards, Soar to Success and Corrective Reading (SRA). So now we would have an “Intervention” period and a “Reading” period in sixth grade. RtI would take place during Intervention and the Ramp Up To Literacy would take place during Reading. The additional math program was also during the Reading period for students not in the “Ramp Up” program.  Other sixth graders would get math intervention during their electives classes with the Successmaker math lab in place of foreign language. In seventh and eighth grade the plan was to use interventions during the reading period (they did not have the extra intervention period because of an extended basic class each day). The math program would take the place of remedial reading. We also extended the Successmaker math program to seventh and eighth grade students in need. Things were indeed looking up in preparation for year two of implementation
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