A Middle School Principal’s Perspective: Year 2 of RTI Implementation

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    Our focus for year two of RtI was twofold. First, we wanted to increase the number of students exposed to interventions across the school and, second, increase the amount of active participation by all of our students.

    The second goal was a result of a workshop that we attended through the state learning site program. Dr. Anita Archer, a well-known expert on literacy and student engagement, had come to our state to present a session on improving student vocabulary through active participation.  Several members of our team attended the session and were blown away by the ideas presented by Dr. Archer. Upon returning to school, we immediately began formulating a plan for emulating Dr. Archer’s methods. Those who went to the session shared some of what was presented and even demonstrated techniques and activities that we had learned. The most exciting part was that Dr. Archer would be coming to our school later in the year to spend a day modeling her recommendations by actually teaching our students. We were all looking forward to that day, especially after teachers began to see positive reactions to her techniques from the students. If I get a chance, I will describe how that day went in a later post.

    Our initial goal of increasing the number of students exposed to interventions across the school proved to be quite a task. You may remember that our entire sixth grade received some sort of intervention in the first year. In addition, about halfway through the year, we added the remedial reading students in seventh and eighth grade. Our plan for this year was to expose all seventh and eighth grade students in a similar way that we had done so in sixth. This would require an adjustment to the work day for our outside “interventionists.” When we only needed them in one grade, we were able to cover that by just having them in for a couple of hours. Adding the other two grades meant that we needed them for a longer period of time. Fortunately, the district was able to procure the funding to cover this through grants from the state. The interventionists would now be in our school for four hours a day.

    We also expanded our math interventions in year two. Basically, we used the model that was working in sixth grade to get some of the seventh and eighth grade students exposed to more math “core curriculum” instruction. This would take place during the intervention period with the math teacher from each team. The basic subject team (another middle school advantage) would consult with the building RtI team to decide which students could spare some time from their literacy intervention in order to get the additional math help. Other students would get time in our Successmaker Math Lab in place of one of their Related Arts (most likely foreign language). Again, this model was working well in sixth grade so it made sense to expand it into the rest of the school.

    As we continued working through our second year of implementation, more and more staff members began to buy in to what we were trying to do. From my perspective, this was due in large part to not only the success of the program, but our commitment to tailor it to meet our needs.

    For instance: at some point we discovered that our Tier 2 students were not making progress in comprehending non-fiction text. While our comprehension interventions, Soar to Success and Literacy Navigator, were well received, they did not do enough to address our area of weakness. After much discussion and feedback from our team, it was decided that we would introduce a new intervention to try and help with non-fiction comprehension. That intervention would be the Read for Real program. In order to try and get things moving, we selected Tier 2 students to place in the intervention and went with it. Even though the protocol was to run this sort of thing past the district office, we did it anyway. Normally, I would not recommend taking this approach, but we had two things in our favor: Our assistant superintendent was a man of action and very supportive of our program. The other factor was the success of what we had done so far. Our feeling was that this was a case of, “Don’t ask permission, beg for forgiveness”. 

    Another change that we made was an attempt to address some of the continuing behavior problems that were occurring in our school. We decided that, instead of using reactive strategies like a typical detention hall, we would try to be more proactive and hold behavior lessons during detention. These lessons would be focused on using Restorative Practice strategies to get our chronic offenders to understand the long-term consequences of their behavior. The detention hall supervisor would give students the option of participating in the lesson. Those who did so would finish their detention earlier than those who did not. While we had no means to measure the effectiveness, it was generally accepted as a better alternative than just passive discipline.

    As we continued with the “Secondary RtI Learning Site” program, we began to get more and more feedback that indicated that we were on the right track. At our state-level meetings with the other schools, our impression was that we were on pace with, if not ahead of, our colleagues from across Pennsylvania. So much so that we frequently got calls or emails from the other schools asking us questions about our program.

    We also continued to get invitations to speak to others about what we were doing. In February of year two, I spoke at a regional RtI workshop about what was going on at our school. While I had some great feedback from various educators in our area, I was particularly intrigued by a conversation with a principal from a district in a neighboring county. His middle school was in year one of implementation and had not done half of the things that we had at the same point. This was a district with an outstanding reputation for educational programming. As I came to find out, I would get to know a whole lot more about this district and their programs in the near future.
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