Rogers middle school earns Professional Learning Community honor

Posted: November 4, 2017 at 1:08 a.m.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK Mel Ahart, principal at Kirksey Middle School, stands with faculty and staff Friday as she guides a new flag recognizing the school as National Model Professional Learning Community at Work by Solution Tree at the Rogers school. The flag raising followed a surprise pep rally.

ROGERS -- Kirksey Middle School has earned national recognition for its work promoting a culture of collaboration among teachers to improve student achievement.

Staff members on Friday learned Kirksey has been named a national model school for its use of professional learning communities.

PLC key questions

Four critical questions drive the work within a professional learning community, according to Mel Ahart, principal of Kirksey Middle School:

• What do we want each student to learn?

• How do we know each student has learned it?

• How do we respond when the student has not learned?

• How do we respond when the student has learned?

Source: Staff report

Principal Mel Ahart unveiled and raised a large "PLC at Work" flag outside the school representing the honor bestowed by Solution Tree, an Indiana-based company developing professional development material to schools and districts around the world.

Kirksey Middle School is one of only two schools in Arkansas earning the national model designation. The other is Fouke Elementary School.

"It validates and appreciates the work our teachers do here at Kirksey," Ahart said. "We have some great teachers who really focus on learning for their students. To have them recognized is pretty special on a national level."

Kirksey staff celebrated the honor Friday with cake. Abuelo's, a Mexican restaurant in Rogers, provided lunch free to the staff, Ahart said.

In professional learning communities, teachers spend time during school hours collaborating and examining student academic data to improve instruction. Kirksey has focused on professional learning communities for about five years, Ahart said.

Many schools schedule time for teachers to meet in structures they call professional learning communities, but a true professional learning community involves teams of educators working interdependently to achieve a common goal, according to the late Richard DuFour.

DuFour, a longtime public school educator, was one of the architects of Professional Learning Communities at Work. He died in February. He spoke during a three-day institute at Springdale's Har-Ber High School in 2015.

In order to qualify for the national model designation, Kirksey had to submit data from a three-year period showing growth for all students. The school also had to show it's implementing all tenets of a professional learning community, Ahart said.

Karen Johnson is in her 13th year at Kirksey. She's now an academic facilitator. She previously taught English, social studies and reading.

"The PLC process has allowed us to make sure we are teaching every single student and that they are growing," Johnson said.

Staff members promote professional learning communities wherever they go. Being named a model school expands staff members' opportunities to promote the benefits of professional learning communities, Johnson said.

"This award means more people will know what Kirksey Middle School is doing and we can share that out," she said.

Rogers High School was one of 11 Arkansas schools and one school district selected earlier this year to participate in a professional learning communities pilot project. The schools and district will receive up to 50 days of training, coaching and support to build and sustain a strong culture of collaboration.

The state project will provide more intensive, focused work to improve instruction and use student academic data to drive instruction, said Virginia Abernathy, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning for the Rogers School District. Teachers and administrators also hope to see improvement in the graduation rate and to reduce absences.

NW News on 11/04/2017