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RtI Implementation at Weld Re-4 Schools

By: Shirley Jirik, Ed.D.Published: September 13, 2011
Topics: District-wide Implementation, Implementation Planning and Evaluation, Professional Development


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Dr. Shirley Jirik earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with an emphasis in Child Development from University of Northern Colorado in 1999. She taught kindergarten, was director of a day care center, and then became a counselor at a Residential Treatment Center, which eventually led to a teaching position there. She has been a special education teacher in Weld Re-4 Schools since August 2004.  In August 2009, she transferred to a Teacher on Specific Assignment position to provide support for RtI implementation throughout the district. Dr. Jirik earned her master’s degree in Special Education from University of Northern Colorado in 2005 and earned her doctorate in K-12 Education Leadership in 2011.

Weld Re-4 School District is a district of approximately 4,000 students in northern Colorado. Our implementation of a Response to Intervention process didn’t begin in earnest until 2009, although the discussion of a process had occurred in the previous years. In August of 2009, the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) mandated using RtI for identifying students with learning disabilities. Weld Re-4 Schools officially began implementation in the fall of 2009 with leadership support to make changes to the assessment framework enabling us to meet this CDE requirement. 

Getting Started


Year 1:  2009-2010
One of the critical pieces implemented in the first year was staffing. With temporary funding, the district was able to hire a Response to Intervention Teacher on Specific Assignment (TOSA) to provide support. At the elementary level, we added math to our three, yearly universal screens that were already being conducted in the area of literacy. At the secondary level (6th-9th grade) we added a benchmarking system administered twice a year in the areas of math and language arts. We also implemented mandatory progress monitoring for students meeting specific criteria. Along with a new electronic system for assessment, we asked teachers to participate in dialogues concerning how they can utilize these data in order to improve instruction. As you can see, we had many “new” things in place with implementation. Because funding was only temporary, there was a sense of urgency to getting some structures in place.

  
A charge was also made in the area of professional development, specifically focusing on the problem-solving process, targeted research-based interventions, data literacy, and general implementation support.

Year 2:  2010-2011
We began to use the Data-Driven Dialogue process after attending a spring seminar with Bruce Wellman and Laura Lipton in Connecticut. As a result, a colleague and I were able to expose others in leadership to this method for using data to drive our instructional efforts. We were able to share this collaborative inquiry process with the District Leadership Team in May 2010 and again in the fall of 2010.

The district teams continued with their efforts to implement RtI in their respective buildings and further the process district wide. There was still a bit of a ‘grass roots’ approach with most of the teams consisting of general education teachers, school psychologists, counselors, and special education teachers. We gained momentum by the end of the school year and every building had a Problem-Solving Team (PST)/ Student Intervention Team (SIT) in place with a system for keeping records electronically. We still have some work to do before everyone is using data to guide the problem-solving process, but we are moving in the right direction!

Challenges


One of the biggest obstacles we faced was finding time for professional development for teachers and leadership. For the elementary schools, we have introduced an early release schedule for the 2011-2012 school year so teachers have more time to collaborate. We hope this will help with the ‘time’ challenge. Another hurdle we faced was lack of leadership. We had to start from square one with our implementation and many members of leadership did not have time for yet another new initiative. It has taken some convincing for others to see that RtI is not anything new or isolated. RtI simply takes all of that ‘best practice’ and ‘research-based’ theory and puts it into action. Thankfully, there is now realization by most teachers that RtI isn’t just a special education initiative. As a result, many have taken ownership of the initiative.

Currently, all 8 schools in the district have a problem-solving team in place and many have regular data dialogues occurring as well. Data is definitely becoming part of the conversation more and more and that is in part due to RtI. There is an electronic documentation system in place district wide for RtI purposes as well. Students will not get ‘lost’ in transitions between buildings due to paper files. We continue to work on partnering with parents and community members as well as our ongoing efforts in the area of professional development.

District wide, student achievement data (AIMSweb RCBM) indicate an improvement in our 1st -5th grade students from January 2010 to May 2011. In Grade 2 to Grade 5 RCBM data, students were at or near the national aggregate norms in year one of implementation, but for years two and three we have seen an increase.  For the first benchmark this year, we are well above the national aggregate norms. While we cannot control for all variables, this is interesting to note.

Teacher surveys conducted in May 2010 and April 2011 asking for teachers‘ perceptions of the level of RtI implementation at their buildings indicated a significant increase in the number of responses indicating that ‘we do this in our school’ specifically in the area of problem-solving teams. We also earned a competitive grant through the Colorado Department of Education that will assist us with further data collection and provide us with technical support during year three.

Keys to Success


My advice to others would be to stick with it!  Even when times seem tough, and the waters seem uncharted, there is a purpose for what you are trying to do. Taking steps to make the K-12 public education system better for ALL students can start with one teacher in the classroom who goes that extra step to differentiate their instruction so all the students have access to it. As they say, “success breeds success” and when one class is successful, then teachers, parents and administrators will want to see it replicated.  In my opinion, this philosophy starts with believing that all students can learn and then taking action accordingly.
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