Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Success Skills and Priority Time: RTI at WJHS

Response to Intervention (RTI) is a huge focus for the Bentonville Public School District (BPS).

Our former Superintendent, Michael Poore, renewed this focus upon his arrival to our district and our current Superintendent, Dr. Debbie Jones, has taken over the charge to improve our district's RTI structures.

In addition to leadership and administrative focus, BPS has allocated a significant level of funding for RTI training for both administrators and teachers.

Couple that with the fact that we are committed to dedicating "Priority" time during the school day and you can see that our district's efforts to improve RTI are significant.

As great as those efforts are, they pale in comparison to the efforts of our faculty/staff.

An effective RTI system, requires outstanding staff members. that are dedicated to the success of all students.

Our teachers have a sense of collective responsibility.  That is to say that we see all students as "our" students rather than focusing only on those that we directly instruct.

Our teachers constantly work to improve their pedagogy and instructional practices to ensure that we are creating the best possible learning environment and concentrated instruction.

Our teachers work in Professional Learning Community (PLC) teams to constantly determine exactly what students should know and be able to do, administer and review common assessment data, and ensure certain access to both remediation and enrichment activities as needed.

This year, our teachers have committed to ramping up the advisory component of our RTI system to help ensure that "success skills" instruction is a routine part of our school day.

Over the past two years, we've also worked to completely revamp our seminar period (now known as "Priority" time).   During this time, we have created a system that allows us to offer targeted ("closed") sessions for Tier II interventions and "open" sessions for enrichment opportunities.  These open sessions also serve to help with our goal of building a school that students run toward by providing students with opportunities to do the things they love, be creative, and otherwise get involved in our school.

Our entire staff is to be commended for our outstanding accomplishments related to RTI.  We are also fortunate to have Jessie Hester and Ashley Jones who work closely with the administrative team to direct our RTI improvement efforts.

The value of having teacher leaders in this capacity can not be overstated.  Mrs. Hester and Mrs. Jones provide unique insight into the demands on a teacher's time and serve to help create structures that are not only good for students, but manageable for teachers.

As you can see, in addition to significant district resources, an effective RTI system takes an entire faculty committed to excellence and ensuring success for all students- by student, by skill/standard.

We're extremely proud of the progress that we've made and acknowledge that our work will never be completely done.  Thankfully, we know that our students are more than worth the effort.

Tim Sparacino, Principal

P.S. We held our first priority day today and captured some of the moments in this Storify story.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Lifelong Learning

Lifelong learning is absolutely critical for any profession.  Education is no different.

In Are Our Schools Fostering Lifelong Teacher Learners? (from Tech & Learning) Adam Schoenbart, a High School English teacher, asserts that what's best for students-- choice, passion, curiosity-- should be the same for adult learners.

Adam says, "I want to work in, teach in, and learn in schools where learning is the culture and language of what goes on every day.  A school that create conditions where leaders and participants continually develop a shared depth of understanding about the nature of the work."

The staff at WJHS continually strives to develop a learning culture.


First of all, as you know from The Wildcat Way Defined post, Ongoing Learning is one of our CORE values.

As a leader, I personally strive to constantly model lifelong learning by sharing the thoughts and ideas that I gain from professional reading and daily interactions with my professional learning network.

We've also created a robust Teachers Visiting Teachers (TVT) program.  Within our TVT system, we schedule learning walks where groups of teachers visit multiple classrooms during a class period and then debrief about what we saw.

Today, we had our first learning walk of the year.

Participants were: Cheryl Cox, Shelly O'Dell, Blake Cook, Tim Sparacino, Bryan Hale, & Kandi Cowart (not pictured).

We've also created a Flipboard magazine called "WJHS Learns" that provides our teachers with "one click" access to professional reading material.

We by no means have arrived...but we are striving to be a model school for professional learning.

Our basic message to our staff is described in the two images below:

Another critical component of lifelong learning is experimentation.  It is absolutely essential that learners feel free to fail as they implement innovative practices.

Our staff embraces the concept of "I blew it!"  We know that innovation does not occur without multiple attempts and rarely proceeds failure.  Each of our staff members receives an "I blew it!" card and each faculty meeting contains an "I blew it!" segment where we share and celebrate our failures.

In conclusion, if we desire and expect our students to love learning and become lifelong seekers of knowledge, we must model that behavior for them and share our journey with them.

What are you learning?  How are you learning it?  Do your students know?

Tim Sparacino, Principal

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Our Goal: Create a School That Students Run Toward

At WJHS, we strive to create a school that students run toward, not away from.  We believe that students can't reach their full potential in a school where they aren't inspired.

This morning that belief was further reinforced for me when I read an article from ASCD entitled "The Schools Students Want to Attend.

My favorite points from the article were:

-Numerous studies show that engaged students are more likely to be motivated to learn, experience satisfaction from learning, persist in challenging work, and improve their academic achievement.

-Academic success and engagement are not mutually exclusive.

-It is becoming clearer that engagement is the lens through which students see school, and is therefor their window toward hope for their future.  In Gallup's report, vice chair Connie Rath noted that "students who strongly agreed that their school is committed to building student's strengths and that they have a teacher who makes them excited about the future are almost 30 times as likely to be engage learners as their peers who strongly disagree with both statements."

-Real engagement, not compliance, comes when learning goals are clear, relevant, and appropriately challenging, and the classroom culture signals that teachers are genuinely invested in student learning.  This means making room for students to try new things, make mistakes, and learn from their mistakes.

-"Relationships are the prime factor of teaching,"  Kim Thomas said, "What do you love?  What makes you laugh?  You can build off that in any content area."

-"To engage kids, we first need to let them know they matter," added Quaglia.

-We will only be successful if our schools are places where students want to be.

The points above could have been plucked from many of our faculty meetings and staff development sessions over the past few years.

I'm honored to work in a school where creating a learning environment that students want to be in is the primary goal. Our teachers and staff work tirelessly to make WJHS one of "the schools students want to attend."

Tim Sparacino, Principal

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Starting the Year Off Right

At WJHS, we think that it is critical to focus on relationships and engaging lessons during the first days/weeks of school (actually all year but that's another post!).

During my classroom visits yesterday, I saw numerous examples of teachers that were getting students "hooked" from the first bell.

Some examples were:

Creating personal flotation devices for minions.

Building troop launchers.

Collaboratively created classroom norms.

Gummy Worms and Math?

A happiness wall.

We are doing everything that we can to help ensure that your child runs toward, rather than away, from our school.

You can keep an eye on what's going on behind the scenes here at WJHS by following us on Twitter (@gowjhswildcats), Instagram (GoWJHSWildcats), and/or Facebook.

Tim Sparacino, Principal

The Wildcat Way Defined

What exactly is The Wildcat Way?

The Wildcat Way for our faculty and staff can simply be defined as all the actions that we take to develop our students above and beyond standardized test scores.

There are many facets that comprise The Wildcat Way so we use the graphic below to easily communicate what it's about.

Let's break the graphic down and explore all the components of The Wildcat Way.

You'll notice that at the pinnacle of The Wildcat Way graphic we list the students that we serve, our Wildcats.  We strive to be about more than test scores and to connect with students on a personal level.  We know that the specific lessons that we teach may not be remembered for years to come but the relationships that we build, the life skills that we help instill, and the success that we help inspire will be.

Our CORE values are at the base of The Wildcat Way.  Our commitment to our CORE values of Collaboration, Observation/Ongoing Learning, Relationships, and Expectations drive us rather than reactions to mandates or accountability measures.  Our CORE values ensure that we keep the focus on what is most important.

Next, the arrow represents our actions.  You see, The Wildcat Way is more than a slogan.  It's a system that we operate within.  Our staff understands the need to move from beliefs to behaviors.  We do more than "say" The Wildcat Way, we live it.

At the center of The Wildcat Way is our Focus on Excellence Framework which helps ensure that students master essential skills.  Our teacher teams use Professional Learning Community (PLC) practices to constantly assess student progress and develop intervention and enrichment activities based on student needs.

In addition to our PLC efforts, we systematically "Look Back/Look Forward" which means that on an ongoing basis, we seek input, review feedback, and brainstorm ways to constantly improve in order to live up to our motto of "Excellence in all that we do- Academics, Activities, Arts, and Athletics."

Finally, we strive to model the traits that we want our Wildcats to be embody.  Those traits are Welcoming, Involved, Leading, Dependable, Cooperative, Ambitious, Teachable, and Serving.

That is The Wildcat Way.

Tim Sparacino, Principal