Oaklawn Magnet one of eight PLC schools
The Sentinel-Record. Beth Reed. May 02, 2018.

Oaklawn Visual and Performing Arts Magnet School is among eight schools and two districts selected to serve in the Professional Learning Communities at Work project for the 2018-2019 school year.

According to a news release by the Arkansas Department of Education, this is the second cohort of schools and districts to be selected. These schools will receive up to 50 days of support and training "to build and sustain a strong culture of collaboration that will enhance student learning."

Schools were selected through a rigorous application and evaluation process, the release said, with a panel of education professionals reviewing applications.

Oaklawn Magnet is the only school in Garland County to be accepted.

"The goal of the Professional Learning Community is to put (teachers) in an environment, a common planning time, where they would be able to work together and collaborate on each subject area and determine what essential skills kids need to learn from year to year," said Jason Selig, principal.

"On grade level standards, so to speak, that kids need to know in order to progress to the next year. Within that, they develop these assessments. Teachers create these and then they look at this data and it forms their instruction for the next time. So they can reteach and be able to determine intervention that needs to be put in place for these students."

The idea for implementing collaboration at Oaklawn Magnet started with a PLC institute that the school attended in June in Atlanta, Ga.

"We went to this with our instructional coaches and that's where this opened the door for this Professional Learning Communities at Work program," he said. "Our legislators were there at that institute, as well, our ADE Commissioner Johnny Key, Tina Smith with the ADE was there, as well, and so we went to these conferences and breakout sessions on collaboration, keynote speakers, and it was something we have toyed around with for a while -- building collaboration among grade level teams."

When the school officials returned, the skills they learned were quickly implemented, Selig said, before the ADE created the PLC program.

"When we got back from the institute we implemented this on our own," he said. "We weren't selected, of course, in the first batch and we were bummed out about that, so we said we're going to implement anyway. So we went through it, and we think that speaks volumes as to why they probably selected us this time around because we put in the work beforehand."

In implementing this program, Oaklawn Magnet formed a 15-person committee to train with the appointed coaches and facilitate collaboration with the rest of the staff.

"We call it the guiding coalition because when we went to this institute, one of the first things they said to do was form this guiding coalition," Selig said. "We've got this handy-dandy guide that we've provided to that coalition of teachers, and we formed that committee of lead teachers we thought would have an impact in the building in moving this and going forward, and give knowledge about this process."

The program, he said, will consist of three years of training, "and at the end of that time our goal is to apply to become a PLC model school, which is a huge deal."

Assistant Principal Kristen Gordon said, overall, "it's all about meeting the needs of all students. That's the whole goal."

"The guiding coalition, we said we wanted the right people on the bus and these are our right people," she said. "We've got 15 on the committee and we meet twice a month. We've done our mission, our vision. We've set goals and they're kind of our forefront and they're the ones guiding the way for us."

The program, Selig said, "aligns perfectly" with the Every Student Succeeds Act.

"It's the 'all means all' mentality," he said. "We don't want to leave any kid expectation-wise out of the picture. It's that mindset and belief that all kids can learn and succeed, and show growth which is what ESSA is all about."

Selig said he hopes Oaklawn Magnet will become a model PLC school in order to help other schools in the area implement the idea of collaboration.

"(PLC) is about learning by doing," he said. "It's about learning that you're going to fail at some things. It's about improving both teacher learning and student learning together because we want to grow our teachers as well. In a nutshell, it's putting all the tools in their belt to be able to provide students everything they need to succeed."

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