Professional Learning Communities expert Janel Keating, left, the superintendent of the White River School District in Buckley, Wash., works with Island City Elementary School teachers (back to front) Ingrid Bornstedt, Rachel Robinson and Ellen Lester. (PHIL BULLOCK/The Observer)
It is an hour which defines the La Grande School District, helping it capture the attention of the Oregon Department of Education.
Each Monday during the school year, La Grande classes begin an hour late so teachers can meet for Professional Learning Communities sessions. The teachers meet to share information about their students’ progress and develop data-driven strategies to help them meet state benchmarks.
These sessions are conducted as part of a PLC program started four years ago, which has progressed to the point that the Oregon Department of Education is recognizing it as forward thinking. The school district recently received a $75,260 Direct Access to Achievement grant from the Oregon Department of Education to help its PLC program continue evolving.
La Grande School District Superintendent Larry Glaze said the grant indicates that the state is looking at the district as a model. The ODE wants the school district to be a site where educators from other districts can receive training and advice on PLCs and data-driven instruction, the superintendent said. Data-driven instruction is developed for students based on assessment test scores.
The key to the noteworthy development of the district’s PLC program is unwavering perseverance, according to Janel Keating, the superintendent of the White River School District in Buckley, Wash. Keating helped start a PLC program in her school district about 10 years ago, a program she said has significantly boosted student achievement.
Keating helped jumpstart La Grande’s PLC program in 2011-12, the first year it operated districtwide, and today serves as a consultant for the school district. She said that La Grande’s PLC program is excelling because of how dedicated its leaders are to it.
“The district is staying the course,” Keating said, noting it is not looking for the “next big thing” in education to take its place.
Keating noted that in the education field, new programs for student improvement are often being introduced, making it tempting for districts to switch when difficulties hit.
“When most districts hit bumps, they look for a new way to go,” Keating said.
This has not been the case in the La Grande School District, Keating said, something she credits to Glaze.
“(Glaze) is driving this program. That makes a huge difference,” she said.
Keating is impressed with how Glaze and the school board do not waver when requests are made periodically to use the 8 a.m. Monday hour for something other than PLC work.
“They guarantee this time (for PLC work),” she said.
Teachers have become dependent on this time to plan their data-driven instruction for the week, said Jerry Mayes, the district’s director of title programs. He said that some teachers would be very upset if they lost their PLC time.
“There would be an uprising,” he said with a smile.
Mayes is among the many La Grande educators who works with Keating on PLCs. The Washington educator spends a day at each school in La Grande every school year while working as a consultant. She spent a day at Island City Elementary last month. Keating said La Grande’s PLC program is developing rapidly and that she is impressed with how committed teachers are to the program.
“They are full of good questions and great ideas,” Keating said.
Follow Dick on Twitter @lgoMason.