Parkade Elementary celebrates success of Missouri Professional Learning Communities

Thursday, April 21, 2011 | 8:27 p.m. CDT; updated 1:01 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 30, 2011

COLUMBIA — Parkade Elementary School unveiled the results of the newly implemented Missouri Professional Learning Communities program to the Columbia School Board on Thursday morning. The program aims to improve student behavior and academic performance in a proactive manner.

Since its creation during the 2003-04 school year, more than 300 schools in Missouri have adopted the program. Parkade Elementary began its branch of the program in 2008.


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The program places students into one of three tiers. In the third tier are children who need the most intense structure, and tier one includes children who need the least guidance. The model also has two sides the children are evaluated on: academic and behavior.

"We knew there were structures necessary to get our kids where they need to be and we knew that this model was what we needed to be doing," Parkade Principal Amy Watkins said.

Data show it has resulted in significant improvements in both students’ behavior and learning. A report issued by the school said its total number of disciplinary referrals have reduced by more than half. Parkade Vice Principal Carrie Freeman said the school celebrates this success often and the data are proof the program is working.

"The initial data is absolutely showing progress in our kids and I think our teachers are seeing that it's making an impact on the students," Watkins said. "As a teacher, that’s what we want to see is the educational impact on the students and this model is really responsible for that."

The program is state-sponsored and evolved from the Missouri Accelerated Schools program. It emphasizes four main questions:

  • What should students know and be able to do?
  • How will the school determine students have learned essential knowledge and skills?
  • How will the school respond when students do not learn?
  • How will the school respond when they already know the material?

Parkade developed plans for how they would put the program into effect. They utilized AIMSweb, a progress monitoring system based on frequent student assessment, to consistently track data on how the students were doing. Watkins said one of the most significant things done was the building assessment and meeting calendar, which was developed to benchmark the progress of the monitoring cycles.

When beginning the process, Parkade surveyed teachers to identify schoolwide needs and collected data from the students, both of which showed significant challenges in behavior. Since behavior often affects academics, Parkade Elementary decided the behavior side was a good place to start.

Students with behavior problems move through a system of levels with varying privileges.

In the first level, "Classroom Community," students have all privileges and are with their peers and must participate in learning. If a student exhibits problematic behavior, they move to the "Safe Seat," a specific spot in the classroom separated from the student's peers. 

If a student's behavior is still a problem, he or she moves to the safe seat in a "Buddy Room," a different classroom with another grade level class. 

If issues persist, the students go to the "ABLE room," where they are separated from well-behaved classmates. 

And if all else fails, the student is sent to the office, is no longer able to stay in school and must have a meeting with his or her parents. 

Students who disrupt learning move through these levels in order, and as they improve, they regain privileges. 

"We don't want kids to be at tier two until they graduate high school, so we're working on fading them out of those levels," Freeman said.

The School Board also urged Parkade to get parents involved in the process.

"This is our first year of truly having this model in place," Watkins said. "It's a complicated system and it's not easily taught to parents, but the response has been positive. All parents want their child to succeed, that is an absolute, but they don't always know how to do that."

In fall of 2010, Parkade assessed students' academic placement based on their levels on two tests and their AIMSweb fall benchmark score. If a student was below a certain level in two out of the three assessments, they were placed in tier two.

Grade level teams meet each Wednesday to analyze the data and talk about both the intervention efforts and classroom efforts regarding individual students.

Vertical teams were also formed to assess specific tiers. The newest teachers at Parkade have worked on tier one, focusing on core programs and resources. Teachers who have additional training have been working on tier two, and study research based interventions, monitor the success of the interventions in place and planning professional development. Every Thursday after the team meetings, leadership teams meet for tier three to reflect, plan, problem solve and monitor the work of all the processes in place.

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