College Gardens Elementary School: Rockville, Maryland

Albert P. DuPont, Ed.D. is the principal at College Gardens Elementary School in Montgomery County (MD) Public Schools. College Gardens is a pre-kindergarten to grade 5 school with approximately 675 students. The school is the first International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme World School in the state of Maryland. In addition, the school offers a partial Chinese language immersion program and autism services for select students. Dr. Dupont has been the principal there for four years and has spent 18 years in a variety of educational settings as a teacher and administrator.

What did you do?

College Gardens has always been a high-performing school based on state assessment targets. However, there was a different reality when it came to our African-American and Latino/a children and those with special needs. We were not hitting the mark as well. According to state assessments, African-American and Latino/a students and those with special needs scored 15-20% lower than their Caucasian or Asian peers. Therefore, we began to examine the systems we had in place to improve achievement for all students. RTI provided a systemic and systematic way for making this happen.

Through a shared leadership model and collaborative problem-solving, the school has worked on establishing well-defined, well-designed, and well-deployed systems for analyzing students' progress. To begin, the principal had to communicate a clear vision for a process that works for all students and works for staff. The staff then took the following steps:

  • collaboratively developed a strong vision and wrote it into the school improvement plan
  • built on the school's professional learning community model
  • developed stronger grade level, vertical, and specialist teams
  • focused team efforts on results (via collective inquiry) and progress monitoring rather than just planning lessons
  • focused staff efforts on action (implementing interventions) and used that data (e.g., universal screening assessments, formative and summative assessments, state and district assessments) to build shared knowledge of the teams

What challenges did you face?

The major challenge was the feeling of uncertainty that occurs when first developing the RTI process. At the beginning of RTI implementation, staff expected that there was a "set" process where they will be told what to do. They discovered that to make RTI work for them and the students, they had to develop the systems. Staff members soon began to accept that RTI is a collaborative process that must be developed as a professional learning community. There are no easy answers and answers are unique to each school. For example, deciding on decision rules for the three tiers was tough process. Yet once it was done, we had a set of guidelines to work with and adapt.

The RTI framework (tiered instruction model) gives schools only a start. The hard work is developing the systems to ensure effective implementation (decision-making rules, strategic monitoring process, monitoring with fidelity).

The other major challenge is articulating how state and district initiatives and policy align with RTI. At this juncture, a principal's guidance is critical. Staff can then begin to perceive RTI as a framework that supports what they are already expected to do, rather than "just another thing to do."

What was the outcome of your effort?

Some of the many outcomes include:

  • Quicker feedback loops about student learning
  • Teachers planning for small groups more efficiently
  • Teachers examining instruction more closely regarding their teaching and the student's learning
  • Increased student self-esteem due to progress
  • Increased parent understanding of their child’s progress and ability

What advice would you give others?

I would encourage others to:

  • Select staff for your RTI team that are ready to be leaders, are action oriented, and bring expertise to the table
  • Provide a clear vision, incorporate it into your school improvement plan and revisit it at every staff meeting
  • Incorporate RTI professional development into existing teacher meetings (e.g. monthly staff meetings)
  • Look for opportunities to provide useful tools that meet the needs of staff trying to implement RTI (e.g., checklist of data necessary for building level, problem solving meeting)
  • Encourage risk taking and push teachers to stretch their professional goals/capacity
  • Select an RTI team that supports shared leadership at grade level teams

Leaders should have a clear vision and core values that will guide the school to improving achievement for all students. It is the responsibility of all members of the educational community to be leaders and this includes teachers, support staff, students, and parents. School staff must begin to develop a culture of shared leadership that allows everyone to participate in collaborative, risk-taking environment.

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