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A Middle School Principal’s Perspective: Fine-tuning RtI Implementation

By: Jonathan G. RossPublished: April 8, 2013
Topics: Data-based Decision Making, Implementation Planning and Evaluation, Literacy, Middle School


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After speaking to that colleague from another district at the local workshop, I began to hear more about secondary schools starting the process of implementing RtI. Principals from around the region were contacting me to ask about various components of our program. Most of them mentioned hearing about us from that recent workshop or from seeing the web chat that we did the year before. Apparently people were typing in “middle school” and “rti” for web searches and kept hitting on our presentation. I did not mind all of the questions because I was doing my own questioning to those who called. My feeling was that we needed to continue to look at how our framework could be fine-tuned and improved.

Later that spring we had a couple of meetings to discuss the future of our RtI model. The first was a building-level meeting with our RtI team and some outside leaders affiliated with our state pilot program. We began to look at how we could get our core curriculum more connected to RtI. As one of the outside consultants stated, “When you are outside the core, you can still be working on standards.” That statement really struck a chord for me. I was worried that we had become so focused on our RtI implementation that we were ignoring the standards for those kids. We also decided that it was time to reexamine our use of data. My concern was that we were collecting so much and keeping it under the umbrella of our RtI initiative. I thought that there had to be a way to expand our use of all of this information.

About a month later, we were called to a district-level meeting to have a similar conversation about the future of our program. The assistant superintendent, who I have mentioned before, had been instrumental in kick starting our program. He called us to his office to discuss the various interventions that we had used. Our district school psychologist who first got me involved in RtI joined us as always. We also had our first meeting with the district curriculum director. It was interesting to see how, now that we had a successful initiative, a new person wanted to begin to get involved. It turned out that it was helpful to get a new perspective on what we were doing. I think that this is pretty common, especially in larger districts where so much is going on. We had some debate about the various interventions being used. Ironically, it was decided that we would use the Read for Real curriculum to replace Soar to Success. If you remember, we caught a little heat for implementing that earlier in the year without asking permission. We looked at getting some more training for teachers to use Literacy Navigator and Great Books, which were both successful with our Tier 1 and some Tier 2 kids. Finally, we discussed that the Wilson Reading program was growing in the elementary schools and how we needed to prepare for an influx of students requiring that intervention in the future.

My plan continued to be to focus on how we could be using all of this data more effectively. I began to think about the perceived disconnect between the students and what we were doing with data and I realized that was the missing component to our plan. We needed to find a way to get the kids to interact with the myriad of results in the same way that we had with the teachers.

After giving it some thought, I decided that I needed to act on my desire to find a way to connect our students with the piles of progress monitoring data that we were collecting. Being a card-carrying member of the middle school philosophy, I am always looking for opportunities to make the most of the relationships that we strive to build at the middle level. My proposal to the staff was to begin to mentor our students in the interpretation of their own results. We would take the data meetings that we had been holding for entire teams and focus them on individual students. While the idea seemed like it would work to me, in retrospect I would probably work out more of the details before sharing it with the faculty. In my excitement to begin, I neglected much of the organizational detail involved so, understandably, there were several questions about implementation. We decided to put that idea on the back burner while we worked out some of the finer points.

In the meantime two big changes were about to occur in my professional life, both as a direct result of my involvement with Response to Intervention on the secondary level. The first was probably more of a new opportunity than a change. It seemed that I had made some positive connections with the National Center for Learning Disabilities and the RTI Action Network. I was contacted in the late spring about serving as a mentor for other secondary schools that were starting to use the RtI framework in their schools. This would take place in the form of monthly meetings online with educators from around the country. The idea really appealed to me and I was honored to be asked to be a part of it. I am proud to say that, two years later, I am still a mentor for this worthwhile program. Any school leader at any stage of RtI implementation would be well served to look into the possibility of participating in these groups.

The second event was of an even larger scale. I was contacted by a nearby school district about interviewing for an opening as a principal in one of their middle schools. If you remember a couple of entries ago, I mentioned that a principal from another district had spoken to me after a presentation about how they were just getting started with RtI in the secondary schools in his district. It turns out that the principal from the other middle school in this district was retiring. Coincidentally, I had submitted an application to that district months ago and had frankly forgotten about the opening because so much time had passed. As anyone who has been in similar circumstance can say, it is not an easy decision to begin looking at new opportunities elsewhere when you have been in the same school for 18 years. After spending considerable time talking to my family and close friends, I felt that the time was right to explore the possibilities.

So, fortunately for me, I was given the opportunity to make this change. It was certainly a bittersweet situation as I had vested so much in Drexel Hill Middle School. It is a wonderful school with so many dedicated teachers and families. In the long run I have always believed that, if you set things up the right way, no one person is irreplaceable. Even now, two years later, I am very proud of the work that we did together at that school. As I would soon find out, my new school would provide me with even more opportunities for growth.
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