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Fulton School Board hears report on Professional Learning Communities

Three years into implementing Professional Learning Communities, district leaders gave the Fulton Board of Education an update Wednesday night on how the school improvement model has been working.

Director of Instruction and Curriculum Mary Sasser and Director of Professional Development Karen Snethen started off with a brief slide show outlining what Professional Learning Communities (PLC) are and how the district uses them.

According to Sasser and Snethen, a PLC is a process through which educators collaborate “in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve.”

They said the three main ideas of PLC were ensuring that students learn, creating a culture of collaboration and maintaining a focus on results using data-driven decisions.

They said the district has worked on answering four corollary questions:

•What do we want students to know?

•How do we know when students aren’t learning?

•How do we respond when students aren’t learning?

•What do we do if they already know it?

Snethen said implementing the PLC program has resulted in a change of focus throughout the district to become “much more student-centered.”

After Sasser and Snethen, each of the building principals shared their experiences with the learning communities.

Bartley Elementary Principal Connie Epperson said she has witnessed a shift in the culture of her building.

“There used to be a focus on your classroom and how your students are doing,” Epperson said. “Now all the staff are working together.”

In that spirit of collaboration, Epperson said Bartley teachers commit to observing another classroom once a month. Each teacher also signed up at the start of the year to give a professional development presentation to their colleagues, something Epperson said “has been very powerful.”

Bush Elementary Principal Lynne Engle said her school has put its focus on those four corollary questions, and that working on data team cycles is one of the things that has made a big difference.

“It’s such a powerful thing to have in place and helps the students move forward,” Engle said, noting the school has used the data teams as a way to better implement intervention with math in particular.

McIntire Elementary Principal Beth Houf said the collaborative culture has been the biggest focus in her building because “that is the foundation of everything.”

As Snethen and Epperson noted, Houf said she has seen a shift at her school from “my kids” to “our kids.”

Houf said her school’s goals for next year are to sustain that collaborative culture and to work on the fourth corollary question — “What do we do if they already know it?”

Middle School Principal Chris Crane said “the culture piece” was a “big thing” in his building as well, noting his experience has been similar to the other principals.

“We’re actually going to go back and go through year two again, with the data piece,” Crane said of the middle school’s focus for next year.

High School Principal Jason Whitt said his school’s primary focus at first was developing a strong mission and vision for the high school, which he said has brought the staff together.

Sasser, who works out of the high school, said there also has been a focus on utilizing data.

“This yer our focus is on data teaming at the classroom level,” Sasser said.

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