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Cool Schools: Elementary school recognized at PLC model school

GOSHEN, Ind. -- Uniting as teachers for the future of the students is the focal point of Jefferson Elementary School in Goshen.

If you stepped inside Jefferson ten years ago, you’d see a very different environment than you see today.

 “Everyone kind of did their own thing,” said Melissa Highley, a third-grade teacher. “You were in your own classroom, you were doing your own thing.”

Now the dynamic has changed with the implementation of a PLC, or professional learning community.

A PLC is a process where educators collaborate and research to achieve better results for the students.

Utilizing the PLC model has been a work in progress for the staff at Jefferson since 2010 when groups of teachers started looking into the idea.

At first, it seemed unlikely.

“We were like there is no way that this is going to happen,” said Tricia Brickner, the instructional coach at Jefferson. “It was so overwhelming to us to get all of these structures in place.”

But over the years the school has worked to set the culture that teachers are always learning too.

The staff took the process step by step refining their methods until it worked.

 “We’ve kept implementing the different systems that go in place with a professional learning community, whether it’s collaboration or giving common assessments to the kids or providing interventions,” said Principal Curt Schwartz.

That work has lead to a sense of community within the walls of Jefferson.

Megan Stanton teaches second grade at the school. She says after years of searching for a job within her own community, she decided to branch out to other areas.

Although she was reluctant at first, she says the staff at Jefferson made her feel welcome and loved. Even hanging a flag from her alma mater, Grace College, on what would be her classroom.

 “I knew no one from here and yet I felt loved and cared for by the Jefferson community right away,” said Stanton.

All the teachers agree, the staff is a team.

“Everybody just roots for you,” said Katie Seel, a first- year kindergarten teacher. “Whether it’s your first year teaching or you’ve got something going on during the weekend. And that love and that sense of community… it just, it’s an awesome feeling.”

 “I can go to any teacher and get any help that i need,” said another first-year teacher, Ali Cook. “We’re all working for one goal and I love that.”

And as the unity has developed within the teachers, the school has also seen growth in the students.

 “When we first started this our percentages were somewhere in the 60 percent when we would go into interventions. And after talking and improving our practice, our students when we come out of tier one there’s 85 percent of students who are where they need to be,” said Brickner.

This year, those years of hard work gained recognition. Jefferson was recognized as a PLC model school for other schools interested in implementing the process. This makes it one of only three elementary schools in the state to achieve that title.

“I feel good for my staff because that’s at the heart of what we’re doing,” said Schwartz. “It’s their blood, sweat and tears that they’ve put into this process that has allowed them to reach the student performance at the level that they have now.”

Schwartz says he regularly hears from anyone who spends time with the staff that there is a unique dynamic among them.

He believes his main role in keeping the school moving forward is to keep that dynamic alive through the people he hires, making sure their heart matches the heart of the staff.

“Because the processes that we have in place are going to help whether it’s a first year teacher or a veteran teacher,” he said. “Those systems are going to help those teachers refine their craft and what they’re doing, but I can’t change their heart.”

Achieving the PLC model status doesn’t mean the work is done. The school still has plans to move forward and grow for the betterment of the students and the staff.

 “It’s not a matter of having obtained a certain status or a certain recognition,” said Schwartz. “It’s about continuing to refine the systems that we have in place to make them the most impactful that we can.”


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