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Leading the Way: District Improves Performance and Learning Using PLC Model

Solution Tree helps implement and sustain district-wide professional learning community

In 2003 when Pam Sloan was principal at Francis Howell High School in St. Charles, Mo., she began exploring different ways administrators and teachers could be more effective at delivering quality education.

"We were good, but we knew we could be better," says Sloan, now chief academic officer of the district, which supports approximately 1,200 teachers and 18,000 PK-12 students. "We were not making the progress as a school or district that we should have been making in a district of our socio-economic status."

Sloan says administrators, including her, mostly focused on efficiently managing their buildings instead of leading and modeling learning. Teachers concentrated on the input of instruction, which is what they were taught, instead of the output of student learning. Data, too, was collected but rarely used to improve student learning.

A colleague first informed Sloan about the Professional Learning Community at Work school improvement model, which calls for administrators and teachers to share the same vision for student learning and to then collaborate for continuous improvement. The model is based on the work of Richard DuFour, Robert Eaker and Rebecca DuFour.

"It's difficult to find a company that guarantees solutions to instructional and leadership issues the way that Solution Tree does."

After further research, Sloan and her colleaguues attended a national conference hosted by Solution Tree, a company in Bloomington, Ind., that offers resources and professional development opportunities to help educators build PLCs and create cultures of learning.

Sloan and district leaders became increasingly convinced of the power the PLC model held for student learning and leadership development; and in 2005 they decided to conduct a local summer leadership conference.

District leaders worked closely with Solution Tree to find just the right presenters, which resulted in a huge success. Sloan explains that Solution Tree supports a cadre of highly qualified professionals and never lets educators fend for themselves after a training event has concluded. The company provides continued support through live interactive videoconferencing, books, CDs and other training materials covering PLCs.

"Our attraction to this company was that the learning experiences we had with them focused on research-based strategies from practitioners who had done the research or who had made the achievement gains," says Sloan. "It's difficult to find a company who guarantees outcomes to the level that Solution Tree does. We knew that if it was a Solution Tree resource, it would be excellent, focused and help us with where we were on our journey toward school improvement. We never wondered if the product or services would be worth the dollars spent."

Sloan reports that positive learning trends are emerging throughout the district as a result of implementing the PLC model. One of the district's middle schools was recently named to Missouri's top 10 list of high performing middle schools in math achievement, and one of the high schools has been named to the top 10 most improved list twice. The rate of student failure has decreased, and in many schools, the discipline referral rate has been on the decline. The district has also harnessed the power of data to help drive results.

Sloan says sales people from different companies bombard her daily with educational training products. However, she believes Solution Tree is the true leader in this education arena because the company uses the services and products of professionals who have moved schools to very high levels of student learning.

Sloan does not believe her school or the district would have been able to make the gains in student learning without implementing the PLC model or the support of Solution Tree. n

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