Transformational, Innovative, Student-centric Programs

The Superintendent’s Report—March 3, 2016—Historically, teachers had to develop instruction that was designed for the majority of students in their classrooms. Students who struggled with skill deficits would often fall behind their peers and are never able to catch up. Our new approach with these students is to first identify these deficits and then create learning paths that meet their specific needs.

Although the State of Tennessee mandates that public schools support K-8 students who fall below the 25th and 10th percentiles on math and language arts assessments, they do not define how districts help these students. This model is called Response to Intervention (RTI). The only guidelines are that a school district must assess all students, identify students with deficits and then provide them with additional instructional support outside of the regular classroom structure.

In an effort to be innovative and focus on individual students, Germantown Municipal Schools hired four highly qualified teachers to serve as RTI Coaches for the 2015-16 school year. These “coaches” analyze data, develop individualized plans, work with teachers and assist with delivery of the RTI model. These positions are restoring some much-needed teaching and planning time to regular classroom teachers.

Houston Middle School teacher Jennifer Ledford explains the alleviation more simply in a recent testimonial. “I love RTI this year, because it provides me time to really talk to the kids and assess their learning needs and gaps. Mrs. Watkins [her RTI coach] always takes the time to answer my questions and talk with me about the students. She organizes all of the paperwork so I can focus on the actual interventions. She allows me to do what I need to do to reach and help the kids.”

RTI Coach Courtney Watkins offers an expert, extra pair hands in each classroom.

We are proud of the work being accomplished by these RTI Coaches in our classrooms. At the beginning of the school year, students with deficits were identified using a universal screening process. Quickly, a team of school psychologists, district coordinators, and the newly hired RTI coaches interviewed all these students in order to identify their specific needs. The identification of these children should not be based solely on a paper-pencil or computerized test. Using both quantitative and qualitative data, RTI coaches created learning paths for each student, and small groups with similar deficits were placed with educators possessing expertise in the specific area of need. Finally, throughout the school year, RTI coaches have overseen all learning paths by performing fidelity checks during scheduled interventions, providing feedback to interventionists, and monitoring student progress through the documentation process required by the Tennessee Department of Education.

Overcoming academic struggles is a community issue, and Germantown Municipal Schools is fortunate to have strong support from parents. Another task taken on by the RTI Coaches is meeting with parents and other stakeholders to explain student progress and reflect on learning paths.

Farmington Elementary School Principal Zac Percoski has noticed a difference this year. “We are much more organized, on target, and effective in our interventions. I think that our data will show that students are making progress and seeing benefits. We are operating with fidelity to the process,” he says. Percoski acknowledges that educators work very hard and have, in the past, become overwhelmed with lofty expectations. Developing these individualized plans are time consuming and take expertise, but are imperative in his opinion. “I don’t think that we can continue to improve or even maintain our current level of service without the position [RTI Coaches].”

Our program of creating “coach” positions has had a tremendous impact. In March of 2015, our universal screener found 610 children (grades K-8) who required state mandated intervention. By, February of 2016, our hard working team of RTI Coaches and classroom teachers has reduced that number to 341 children. A 56% reduction in the number of students who are requiring these extra supports is statistically dramatic proof that our program is effective.

Our successes are being noticed statewide, as our RTI Coaches have been selected to share these practices with several other districts at the Partners in Education Conference (hosted by the Tennessee Department of Education) and the Southwest CORE office.
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