Palmer High School: Colorado Springs, Colorado

Jeremy Koselak is special education math teacher in charge of 9th grade interventions and RTI coordinator for Palmer High School in Colorado Springs, CO. He works to advance the implementation of RTI across all tiers as measured by student achievement. Jeremy has worked closely with Tom Kelly, Principal, to pilot RTI in his urban school of 1,900 students.

What did you do?

We are now in the fifth year of implementing the RTI framework. At the beginning, we focused on attending many conferences and visiting other high schools. Our process began with organizing and reviewing what interventions we already had in place and then using those to create a pyramid of tiers. The next phase involved educating our staff about the rationale for RTI (i.e. early intervention, dynamic flexibility, prevention, data collection to inform instruction). The most recent manifestation of RTI in our building, indeed the centerpiece of our intervention service delivery system, is the development of the Tutoring Center during the school day. A work in progress, this fall we will now have teachers from all content areas helping students in the Tutoring Center in all core subject areas. The main goal is to improve student achievement through strategic identification of needs. As the hub of interventions, the Tutoring Center will also serve as our Student Focus Team (similar to a Problem Solving Team, though more focused on measurable academic outcomes) for monitoring students throughout the RTI process. In the Tutoring Center, we will work closely with classroom teachers to document interventions, discuss student needs, and track progress in multiple content areas. In order to improve efficiency, our school is in the process of streamlining our behavior intervention delivery system (specifically looking to increase student involvement in the school and firming up community mentorships). Ultimately, we envision the two groups (our behavior team and our Tutoring Center team) to work closely together to be more proactive with our most at-risk students.

What challenges did you face?

At the trainings we attended we kept hearing, "It is just too hard at the high school level to do RTI." Getting beyond the mantra has proven to be quite an uphill battle unto itself. However, the most difficult challenge was promoting the RTI framework as a "shared responsibility" rather than a special education initiative. The typical staff reaction with new proposals is a "flavor of the month" mentality and so we worked hard to inform everyone about RTI and provide details of the framework to prevent this from happening. Specifically, we believe that RTI is a natural extension of the Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) that have been an integral part of our school evolution towards continuous improvement. We are still working on showing staff that RTI is not just another thing on the teacher's plate, and that it is more than just a special education mandate being handed down to us. We want staff to understand that RTI consists of using data to verify that we are presenting quality curriculum through best practices and implementing early intervention support to those students identified as needing extra assistance. Because of the way we have continued to educate our staff about RTI, they are now much more open to the notion that these challenges demand PLC support and a shared effort to reach the toughest students in our school.

What was the outcome of your effort?

The outcome is a work in progress. This is not a quick fix. Rather, RTI is the process by which a school makes continual improvement of its educational delivery system by ensuring that students don't fall through the cracks. We are always tightening up our systems and reviewing data with an eye towards making decisions and monitoring at every step along the way. One major step in Palmer's RTI evolution was to streamline our placement of incoming freshmen into interventions classes (standard protocol). At some level, both an outcome and an ongoing challenge, RTI has demonstrated the capacity to "lift the hood" and truly look at the impact of instruction. As we increase our work with data to identify struggling learners more quickly, we are finding areas of instructional and curricular concerns that may be contributing to learning struggles. In response to this finding, we have begun a push for PLC's to share responsibility and amplify collaboration in order to improve educational outcomes for the students of each instructional member of the team.

What data could you share reflecting improvements due to RTI initiatives?

Our Tutoring Center data set is the most encouraging this year. As the centerpiece of the RTI process in our building, mostly targeting freshmen, we have experienced considerable success in several areas. Some of the areas of growth are reflected in grades and reducing our failure rate. Others are more anecdotal regarding student reflections on their learning experience and attitudinal shifts amongst the staff that assisted in the Tutoring Center this year. We are witnessing better vertical alignment within PLC's as a result of the collaboration in the Tutoring Center. Namely, as teachers work in the Tutoring Center, they become more aware of what is going on from grades 9 through 12 and across various content areas. This has spurred on discussions about the importance of curriculum transparency, consistent grading policies and collaboration.

What advice would you give others?

  • Find a way to centralize your resources in order to maximize service delivery. Ideally, this could take the form of a Tutoring Center.
  • Don't get too hung up on the pyramid specificity offered by RTI experts (after all, what exactly defines a Tier 2 intervention anyway?) Instead focus the majority of your resources on establishing quality diagnostic tools to identify what students need help and then addressing those needs in a timely manner.
  • Make sure you have a strong, cohesive data system so that people aren't buried in data entry.
  • Get beyond "buy-in" with your staff and push towards ownership. The more this work is shared, the more successful it will be. Our approach this year is all about "shared responsibility for all learners."
  • Above all, accept that RTI is a work in process and all of us have much to learn about how to best implement this model. Without a doubt, it has the potential to help schools improve the quality of education across the board.
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