Magnificent teams for student success

Creatively and resourcefully supporting all students

By Susan Denton | March | April 2020
You’ve met with parents, teachers and the student. The student continues to struggle behaviorally and academically. You are at your wits’ end for how to support this student. You feel as though you’ve exhausted all the options. What do you do next? How do you proceed? In every educational organization, we are consistently met with concerns for how to help students be successful in their academic settings. We worry and stress about being able to provide what students need. Schools dissect dashboard results and reflect. As districts and schools collectively, we have spent years learning and putting into practice a plethora of systems: Systems for Response to Intervention, Positive Behavior Intervention Systems, Multiple Tiers of Student Success and Social-Emotional Learning, in addition to being responsible for rigorous curriculum instruction and student engagement to demonstrate proficiency and mastery on state standards. Each of these systems provides specific responses by adults to support students in their charge, all important aspects of our current status in education. How can we possibly do it all, and better yet, do it all well? Know where you are and where you want to go Understanding what students need is one part of the educational equation. Knowing what to do with that information is the other. When you feel as though you have exhausted your resources, how do you move forward? Our answer is to move forward as a team. Magnificent Teams for Student Success is our spin on MTSS, Multiple Tiers of Student Support. Our Magnificent Team for Student Success helps to drive the types of support we offer at our school. It doesn’t happen overnight. We were deliberate about making sure our LCFF/LCAP matched the needs of our students and staff. A great deal of thoughtful discussion with all stakeholders helped us secure support in the areas where we needed it most. Addressing student social-emotional and academic needs became our highest priority. Don’t be afraid to advocate for what you need at your site. Take risks and give new ideas life Stepping into the unknown and taking risks works when you use a team. Our school MTSS team believes in the mission and method to combine all our supports into a strong, flexible and responsive system that epitomizes the growth mindset at the very core. We firmly believe that through creativity, drive and compassion we can build systems to support all students. Through our teams, we design interventions to support all students. We have worked to develop support systems for behaviors, academics and attendance. One common phrase we frequently use is, “Maslow before Blooms. Take care of the heart to reach the head.” Working to make sure a student is emotionally ready to engage in the learning process is key. Students who struggle academically may be dealing with issues at a much deeper level. That level of stress prevents them from opening their minds to connect with the learning process.  Identify areas of growth Standard Middle School is a 6-8 middle school of more than 1,000 students located in the southern central valley of California. It serves students and families in a very low socio-economic district. Students from our K-8 district join us from three elementary schools, and we primarily feed to one nearby high school. Many of our students experience generational poverty, have family members who struggle with substance abuse or incarceration, and/or qualify for special education services. We are unique in California as we have a low English-Language Learner population. While we have spent a great deal of time investing resources into programs that support the behavior and emotional needs of students, we recognize that those areas are key in our strategic plan to grow academically.  Additionally, we are a district which firmly believes that it is our imperative to provide the best opportunities for our students. Over the past few years, we have developed our middle school into a school that includes courses in the arts, technology, science and innovation. Our school provides a full fine arts program, including band, choir and drama electives. We are a 1:1 Chromebook school, along with the rest of our district. Students have access to electives such as Agricultural Science, Leadership, Media Arts/Yearbook, Technology Lab and Project Lead the Way. We have Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) electives and are working on becoming more AVID schoolwide. Our dedicated staff is supportive of each of these programs. We grow our elective choices every year, and our district is committed to making sure every student in every grade level attends a field trip each year. For example, we send all of our sixth grade students to a week of science education camp, at no cost to families. These are the experiences we want every student to have. We want to contribute to the growth of the whole child: To go, to do, to explore.  Build your team Educators are passionate. Educators believe in doing what is best for kids. That takes a team, a dedicated and strong team. Bring those passionate people into a team where they can make a real difference. Find out what your staff is passionate about and turn that into part of the plan. Who is on your team making an impact at your site? How can you maximize that impact?

Connecting with students helps us communicate that we want them to know we have a growth mindset to make changes that have their best interests at heart.
In addition to our teaching and classified staff at our school site, we have grown a large support staff. This amazing team makes it all happen. It includes two school counselors, a behavior intervention specialist, a site-based school psychologist and an intern psychologist, as well as a retired teacher/psychologist. We also support students with a school campus supervisor and two assistant principals. Our district contracts with our local law enforcement agency for a school resource officer. The community also has resources that we now offer at our site, including AmeriCorps Mentors for seventh and eighth grade students and an additional mentor program for our 6th grade students. We reach beyond our own doors to help provide support for students.  Be creative with academic and enrichment opportunities for students What is it about your school that makes yours unique and draws students in everyday? Do you regularly schedule in fun for your students? We do and it works (it helps with attendance percentages as well). Together with student leadership, we are intentional about creating positive experiences at school for our students. Our PBIS team and student leadership team plan days to celebrate with rallies, dances and lunch time games to demonstrate to students a “work hard-play hard” attitude about school.  Our current systems: Tier 1 – For all All students in our school benefit from Tier 1 strategies for academics, behavior and attendance. We believe in creating activities and opportunities for student success. We want to see our students thrive. Recognition, awards and special events along with developing strong relationships with our students build our Tier 1 supports. We utilize our late-start Mondays for department Professional Learning Community meetings where we regularly review and analyze data to drive our instruction and interventions. We provide social-emotional curriculum for every advisory class through the Second Step program. We train students on all aspects of our PBIS schoolwide expectations. Student voices and celebrations are shared in our weekly video news broadcast. If it is good for kids, we want to do it. Tier 2 – For some When the traditional classroom and school supports are not enough, students gain additional support through Tier 2. For some, this is having our Behavior Intervention Specialist push into the classroom, or for students to connect with our school counselors. For others, having a variety of counseling services is important. “Take care of the heart so we can reach the head.” Of these, we offer pet therapy through a local non profit rescue, Marley’s Mutts, and Counseling Crew Tuesdays, where students come and socialize with board games during their lunches. Our counselors also create needs-based small groups and are instrumental in providing academic and emotional support for our students.  Additionally, we have a unique program called Circle of Friends — The Tribe which connects our special education students with general education students one day each week. Students have lunches together and participate in a variety of community-building activities. Our program has also been recognized with a Golden Bell by the California School Boards Association. We have seen these friendships blossom and continue into high school.  Tier 3 – For few We know that the top tier of support can be the most time consuming with the students we see most often. For whatever the reason, behavior, social-emotional, academics, or attendance, these are the students we see most often who require more support. These Tier 3 supports are “other means of correction” to prevent a knee-jerk reaction to suspension. We have worked hard to create positive supports for students depending on their needs. Several students visit the neighboring special education preschool class to mentor and learn empathy. We have implemented a program called BOOST, where students meet with school psychologists during their lunches and work on specific Second Step curriculum aligned to meet that group’s needs. Many students volunteer to come to these workshops as well. We also provide a Saturday recovery program whereby students can work on missing assignments, requalify for graduation status and have an opportunity to restore their record for behavior. Our greatest program and most widely-used is our Alternative to Suspension Program, which is an on-site restorative practices program designed with group counseling to have students own their behaviors and make plans to improve. We encourage students to practice their learned skills and strategies as well as talking to an adult they have identified on staff.  We also utilize a variety of community-based resources for students, including partnerships with our Sheriff’s Activities League for afterschool and weekend programs; a collaboration with the local Army Cadets; and a partnership with the local state prison for a program called EDGE (Education Diversion and Goals to Endeavor), where screened prisoners work together to discourage youth from delinquent behavior by showing them the end result of their behavior. Teaming with outside resources helps us broaden our capabilities to improve the lives of our students. Share your successes and build on them We are proud of how far we have come and look forward to where we are headed. Often, we are asked how we do it. “How do you swim the ocean? One stroke at a time!” Our district has been increasingly active and diligent in creating these supportive school structures. In fact, our district theme is “We Care!” and this mindset permeates our culture. With extensive training and support for trauma-informed practices and PBIS at every site, our schools are all now recognized by the PBIS Coalition of California. Our middle school is currently recognized as a GOLD status school. Our firm belief in the restorative practices and in being well-trained in trauma-informed practices has transformed our school and mindset.  Believe in the power of relationships Without trust, students will not respond to any intervention, even if it is well-planned and created with the best of intentions. Connecting with students helps us communicate that we want them to know we have a growth mindset to make changes that have their best interests at heart. Leaning into problems helps us create solutions where we can affect real change. It is our goal to ensure that we are focusing every effort to improve student behaviors, including providing clear expectations (PBIS); social-emotional curriculum (Second Step in advisory and BOOST); common respect; redirection, reteaching and practice; positive relationships; multiple opportunities for success; recognition of success; and understanding the student.  Our hope is that through the power of relationships and seeking to do what is best for the whole-child, we will continue to create systems of support for the students and families we serve. Through our dedicated adults and stakeholders, we bring all of our support systems together. It truly takes a team — a Magnificent Team for Student Success.

Susan Denton is the principal at Standard Middle School.

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Association of California School Administrators