A Middle School Principal’s Perspective: The Story of an RtI “Convert”

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    Jonathan G. Ross is the principal of Lionville Middle School (grades 6-8) in the Downingtown Area School District.

    In early 2008, I was approached with the idea of implementing Response to Intervention (RtI) in the middle school where I was principal. My initial reaction was negative to say the least. I had spent my entire teaching career at Drexel Hill Middle School, where I was now in charge. During that time, I had become accustomed to the way things were done in our suburban Philadelphia school of 1,300 students. Even though we had yet to make Adequate Yearly Progress on our state testing, I really felt like we were headed in the right direction. It was not until I saw some significant data that I finally began to recognize that a change was needed.

    The meeting was with our district reading supervisor and the leader of the school psychologists. They had been sent by our assistant superintendent to show me two pieces of data. One was the results that our district was seeing with RtI on an elementary school level. A couple of years earlier, our district had become one of the first in Pennsylvania to begin using the intervention process as a means of addressing the reading problems of elementary students across our eight (at the time) elementary schools. Suffice it to say, the data were trending upward. 

    The second piece of data was a bar graph showing how the reading achievement in our district was taking a significant drop after students had spent their first year in 6th grade (our school was Grades 6–8). At first, I tried to explain it away with the typical “denial” responses. It wasn’t until after our meeting that reality set in. Something was not working in our reading program, and I wasn’t helping by dragging my feet.

    After speaking with my assistant superintendent, I decided to do what any smart principal would in my situation: I put my two bright assistant principals in charge of spearheading this initiative. This turned out to be the best decision I could have made. These two young men were up-and-coming leaders in our district (who later went on to become outstanding principals of their own schools). They wasted no time in putting together a plan based on sound research and the experiences of our elementary schools. With a great deal of assistance from our district leaders and members of our local Intermediate Unit, they established an outstanding framework for a program that would work with our schedule and available staffing.

    The three of us spent countless hours reviewing the plan and determining the best way to roll it out to our staff. Just before the end of that year, we decided to do two things that, in hindsight, turned out to be crucial for the success of our program:
    1. We used the last teacher day of the school year to bring in a local expert to present a full rundown of the basic components of RtI to our faculty. This gave the staff an opportunity to be prepared for the road ahead.
    2. In the first year of the program, we would only implement the changes in 6th grade. Since this was where the data showed the dip, we felt that by rolling it out there it would have the most immediate impact while also giving us the chance to work out the bugs. What we didn’t anticipate was that this would also allow the staff in 6th grade to talk to colleagues in the upper grades about how the interventions were helping the students.
    So that was how we started using RtI. In future posts, I will outline exactly what our plan looked like, discuss the multitude of issues that we faced in getting our program to work, and even share some of our results. As you might guess, it became quite a success
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