Huntsville Elementary School serves Kindergarten through fourth grade students from the City of Huntsville, Texas, the county seat of Walker County. The population of Huntsville was 45,941 as of the 2020 census. It is the center of the Huntsville micropolitan area and is in the East Texas Piney Woods on Interstate 45, which runs between Houston and Dallas.
- 68% Free and reduced lunch
- 28% English learners
- 16% Special education
Huntsville Elementary School's CHALLENGE
The journey began at Huntsville Elementary School more than four years ago. The campus had experienced five different principals in six years, an 80% staff turnover rate, no systems for planning, interventions or behavior, and an “improvement required” rating from the state. Huntsville Elementary was in critical need of serious change.
Leadership tackled these challenges by first surveying staff needs for personal and professional development, establishing a new master schedule, creating mandatory Wednesday collaborative team meetings focused on the PLC process, and prioritizing the creation of a positive school climate. At the end of the year, even though campus data had improved, Huntsville was still rated an “improvement required” campus, and they were now looking at a Year 2 critical situation.
Due to accountability and the severity of being an “improvement required” Year 2 campus, a large focus fell on third- and fourth-grade data tracking in an effort to capture all students and improve upon STAAR results. The school worked hard to establish a stable climate and culture focused on the PLC process. They were able to retain 90% of the staff in the second year of this work and gain academic coaches for reading and mathematics, as well as finalize their school improvement effort with their Regional Service Center. In addition, the district now had new leadership, and this leadership announced the beginning of a partnership with Solution Tree.
“Once you start going to a school where people are happy and supportive, it just changes everything. Kids are intuitive to that. If we expect students to be successful, we need to have a positive culture.”
Huntsville Elementary School engaged in Priority Schools in a PLC at WorkⓇ processes and practices with Solution Tree coaches Robin Noble and Karen Power. When they first completed a campus needs assessment, staff were excited to discover that the majority of the areas assessed fell in the realm of “practicing” category with only a few areas still in “attempting.” This meant that they were well on their way to embracing school improvement practices that would help leverage student learning and achievement. It was during this year that the campus began to identify essential standards and develop proficiency maps that would allow teachers to focus their efforts.
Teachers started collaborating around the essentials and monitoring data frequently to guarantee that the standards were being met. It was during this year that they established an intense system of interventions shared by all grade levels. Several staff members attended an RTI at Work™ Institute and returned ready to share with their teams what they had learned.
Through the use of the RTI pyramid, teams began to work collaboratively with students through interventions. These interventions focused on specific skills within the essentials. Teachers were now able to track student progress across all grade levels.
Then, just when staff were getting really comfortable with the processes, COVID-19 developed and everything shifted to remote learning. There was no state assessment that year, but Huntsville educators were able to track steady improvements across the grade levels up to the in-person learning dismissal for COVID-19.
Huntsville teachers strive to build strong, positive relationships with their students.
Over the last four years, Huntsville Elementary has gone from a campus of turmoil and survival to one where student achievement is the primary focus. As they have learned and tightened up the PLC process, the culture has positively shifted and school staff understand the importance of facing the facts with current reality and continually adjusting to do what is best for “our students.” As instructional coach Heather Bell puts it, “We are looking at data and creating an action plan. We face our current reality and identify what we need to do better.”
At present, Huntsville has retained 98% of staff, and solid systems are in place. They continue to tighten up current practices and work with the guiding coalition to become more learning focused rather than task focused. A great deal of work centers on intervention across all grade levels while at the same time maintaining staff and student safety protocols during these challenging times. All grade levels continue to track data, paying close attention to deficits that have been caused by constant educational disruptions from COVID-19.
Over the past three (3) years, state achievement data has shown an 11% increase in reading, a 15% increase in mathematics (earning two distinctions for growth from the Texas Education Agency), and a 21% increase in writing.
“We are quite pleased that we have now established vertical teams that are planning across all grade levels and setting baselines for required skills,” says principal Christy Cross. “As a campus, we also have been able to shift to all online assessments. Even though our state has granted a reprieve from accountability this year, we are still holding ourselves accountable for the data we receive and plan to continue to tighten up our efforts around what is truly essential.”
Percentage of students in grades 3 and 4 combined at the approaches level and above for each STAAR assessment
Why Priority Schools in a PLC at Work?
As an educator, you are an integral part of students’ lives. Your time with each child will impact their future, no matter what school or district you serve. Schools labeled as low-performing or high-priority struggle with many challenges, but we can help your staff work together to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of student success.