Hamburg High School finishes three-year professional learning community process

Arkansas Secretary of Education Johnny Key, center, listens while Hamburg High School administrators discuss the three-year Professional Learning Community process they have just completed. (VERSHAL HOGAN/News Observer)

Hamburg High School celebrated Monday the completion of a three-year process of developing a school-wide culture of being a Professional Learning Community (PLC).

The PLC process, which was implemented in coordination with education publisher and public development provider Solution Tree, includes job-embedded training, observation and coaching. 

“The PLC Process does not replace the knowledge you have; it allows you to bring it to a larger group,” Arkansas Secretary of Education Johnny Key said Monday as he addressed those in attendance at the celebration. 

When they start, schools in the program create action plans that focus on increasing student achievement through aligning curriculum, formative assessments and instructional strategies. HHS Principal Tim Outlaw said the effort was successful because of the work put in by those involved.

“We started with a leadership team that evolved from (dealing with) housekeeping (matters) to working student-by-student to having a guiding coalition,” he said before using a football analogy to illustrate the school’s approach to the process.

“There is going to be a day when (University of Alabama Football Coach) Nick Saban does not win a national championship, but that does not mean he isn’t trying, and that is where we are.”

During the second year of the program, the schools work to deepen their understanding and focus on providing multiple support systems for students, staff and faculty; year three focuses on strengthening those systems and sustaining the process. 

HHS’s Alternative Learning Experience Director Lesley Nelms said that when she was in graduate school, PLCs were given approximately a paragraph in one textbook, and that getting HHS through the three years required, “a lot of late nights; a lot of reading.” 

In addition to assessing student needs and providing more support for both novice and master teachers, developing and sustaining lines of communication between faculty and staff, students and parents is a significant value associated with PLCs.

“If we are really looking at (things) student-by-student, skill-by-skill, our kids must know the target,” Nelms said. “They must know what they are aiming for.”

School officials especially discussed the Response to Intervention program that HHS has implemented, which helps students catch up on their education when they fall behind and even earn missed credits. Those who spoke said that the PLC effort has helped the school faculty come together to not only understand what they’re teaching and what students need to learn, but how to teach it as they approach each student on an individual, skill-by-skill level. 

The process was tough, multiple administration speakers said, and led to tears on more than one occasion.

“There have been a lot of times where we have questioned things, but every time we questioned this, all roads have led back to success,” Superintendent of Schools Tracy Streeter said. 

When Missy Walley, the Arkansas Department of Education’s director of special projects addressed the teachers, she said the state department’s goal is to lead the nation in student-focused teaching. Though the school has finished the PLC process as such, Walley said the next step would be for HHS to demonstrate three years of student achievement growth and be considered a PLC model school.

“Hamburg High School, you have got it going on,” she said. “Be the next model school.”

Key echoed Walley’s comments, saying that all of Arkansas and especially southeastern Arkansas needs to see what has been done at HHS.

“We want our students to be successful,” he said. “We will be listening and watching to see what happens in the Hamburg School District in the next few years.”

Streeter said that the support and assessment systems for teachers associated with becoming a PLC are good for teachers who have been in the classroom three months or 30 years. Student-focused learning is much more than a goal on a checklist.

“That’s not just a fad, that’s effective teaching,” Streeter said.

And that, said Jon Yost with Solution Tree, was the point of Monday’s celebration. 

“We are celebrating that more kids’ needs are being served at HHS,” he said.

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