School district holds special work session

The Three Rivers School District Board of Directors held a special work session Wednesday, April 5 at their board office on New Hope Rd for the purpose of a discussion TRSD Superintendent Dave Valenzuela coined “The Data Academy.”
According to Valenzuela, “We have kind of a precedent-setting work session tonight. We’ve been talking about The Data Academy for some time now and we’re ready to rock.
“We have some wonderful guests. Some teachers in the room, the elementary administrators, our COSA that has helped us spearhead this work and obviously our district leadership team.”
The superintendent went on, “I’m beyond excited about where we are going as a district around our board work, our board focus and how the work that we do in this arena will support the work our teachers do and our administrators are doing in the schools.”
Valenzuela explained that the primary focus of the special work session would be defining how professional learning communities, or PLCs, which are groups made up of students, teachers and other personnel involved with education, yield data that correlates to student success and achievement. He said that this data is crucial to the district’s core values (SEE IMAGE).
“The process that we’re going to talk about tonight, professional learning communities, is pivotal to us achieving or supporting that core value,” said Valenzuela. “We are a PLC district. We live and breathe this operation – what we are going to talk about tonight is what we do and who we are.”
The superintendent said that next February, the board will start having briefings on student success data at every monthly regular session.
“Our goal is to make sure that when you see a presentation from a class or a classroom teacher, you totally get what they’re reporting, what they’re telling you and how we got here,” Valenzuela said. “Because it’s not just about the numbers; it’s about the growth. It’s about the improvements we see and how they’re responding to that information they get from those assessments.”
Following Valenzuela’s initial remarks, the meeting turned into a freewheeling discussion that touched on a number of topics, including standards-based education, effective teaching strategies and the culture of care TRSD strives to provide.
The research of John Hattie was cited during the forum, a report entitled Visible Learning Research, which takes into account student assessments on an international level to rate how effective different facets of schooling are. According to this research, areas such as teacher clarity, student expectations, direct instruction and parental involvement rate higher than student-centered teaching, homework, mentoring and class size in shaping student success.
The very highest-ranked method for student success was collective teacher efficacy, defined as teachers working as a team on a common goal and believing they can do more when they work together.
Collective teacher efficacy was labeled “the cornerstone of a professional learning community” during the forum.
The forum also delved into a continuous improvement cycle laid out by Ainsworth and Viegut in their work, Common Formative Assessments, which examined, “Relationship between power standards, proficiency scales, learning targets, well-planned lessons, checks for understanding, the common formative team generated assessments, team analysis of the common assessment process, feedback, additional time, support, and extension, and the common formative end of unit assessment.”
It was noted that there was not enough time in the special session to examine what each of those terms meant individually, but that, “Each of those is a step in the process and helps make the structure so that any new teacher coming in and any existing teacher will be more successful.”
The four guiding questions educators in a professional learning community ask are: 1) What do we expect our students to learn? 2) How will we know if our students have learned it? 3) How do we respond when students experience difficulty in learning? 4) How do we respond when students do learn?
Towards the end of the forum, and after much spirited discussion, Valenzuela interjected with a message of praise for his fellow school district personnel: “I just want the board to recognize real quick how much pride you should have in this team and the culture that’s being established around supporting student success and high levels of learning for every student that exists in Three Rivers School District. That is no small thing and so the level of excitement blows me away, and I love it.”