Trailblazer Elementary School: Colorado Springs, Colorado

Trailblazer Elementary School is a K-5 school in Colorado Springs, CO with an enrollment of 323 students. The student body consists of 55% Caucasian students, 8% African American students, 10% Asian students, 25% Hispanic students, and 2% Native American students.  The percentage of children receiving free and reduced lunch is 18.6%.  The school has been in existence for eleven years and has been recognized as a John Irwin School of Excellence and a National RTI Site.  Katherine Griego is the founding principal of Trailblazer Elementary.

What did you do?

When Trailblazer opened its doors, a team came together to create a three-tier model and discuss interventions that were available and appropriate for students. The team named themselves Advocates for Children at Trailblazer (ACT) and became our problem solving team. The ACT team is comprised of the principal, intermediate teacher, primary teacher, literacy resource teacher, special education teacher, parents and school psychologist.  It is centered on students’ academics and behavior.  The team meets weekly to discuss individual students about whom colleagues have concerns.  Data is closely reviewed along with instructional strategies and curriculum.

As the RTI model became nationally recognized, Trailblazer refined the three-tiered process for students.  The universal tier or core instruction is available to the entire student body.  This tier consists of: a 90-minute uninterrupted literacy block, 60-minute math block, Writers Workshop and the integration of social studies and science.  Students also receive differentiated instruction in small groups.  Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) data and curriculum-based measurements (CBMs) are used to identify those students who are proficient and those students whose response indicates that they need more intense support.  Students who are proficient continue on with the core or universal tier and beyond.

Those students whose performance places them in the yellow area (partially proficient) or red area (unsatisfactory) receive more targeted and intensive Tier 2 or Tier 3 interventions.  The smaller skill groups focus on specific student needs in the areas of literacy and math.  Progress monitoring for Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions are monitored every two weeks with CBM probes.  Student results are graphed, printed and reviewed at the monthly problem solving ACT team meeting.  If a student is making progress, interventions are kept in place.  For students who are not responding to these interventions, more intensive interventions are implemented and reviewed in the next four week time frame.

What challenges did you face?

In the course of rolling out our Response to Intervention plan, we faced a number of challenges.  Initial hurdles included the education and training of staff with regard to instruction delivery and progress monitoring for Tier 2 and Tier 3 students.  Naturally, this need presented the additional challenge of providing professional development around differentiation, specific interventions and fidelity of implementation.  These trainings were necessary for staff members as well as tutors involved in the process.  These training activities were decided upon through a staff assessment of needs.  These activities were scheduled throughout the year on Professional Development days and after-school during staff meetings. Next, education and parent involvement in the RTI process required extensive planning and public relations work from our staff.  Finally, the complicated task of rescheduling student and staff time to allow for critical interventions was daunting to say the least.

What was the outcome of your effort?

Our efforts were rewarded with two-thirds of our student population demonstrating a year’s growth (minimally) on the Colorado State Assessments in reading, writing and mathematics.  Also, in addition to higher levels of staff collaboration, we found increased instances of data based decision-making.  Staff reported excitement about and greater use of research-based instructional strategies. Finally, Trailblazer Elementary received the John Irwin School of Excellence Award in 2004 and each year since then.

What advice would you give others?

In order to pledge success for every child using the RTI model, I would advise educators to seek building-wide commitment to the process and assemble a problem solving team dedicated to data analysis, interventions and progress monitoring.  Also critical are the use of research-based instructional practices implemented by a staff of interventionists.  Equally important is the development and dedication to a continuum of services for each tier.  In short, go slow to go fast!

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