The conclusion of a six-year project by the state led to one Mesa school becoming a role model for other schools to follow.
The technical term is a lighthouse school, and the designation belongs to the Mesa Arts Academy, which became the sole school in the state to receive the designation from the Arizona Department of Education.
School Administrator Sue Douglas said the designation process actually started approximately six years ago, when Mesa Arts Academy was one of about 20 picked to receive state grant funding for the six-year stretch. Mesa Arts Academy and the others used the funding to pay for teacher and staff training through development coaching and hours upon hours of training.
Douglas said the schools were allowed to pick the methods they wanted to employ, and the one Mesa Arts Academy used is a multi-tiered system called RTI, or Response to Intervention. Essentially, the system works in a series of waves that uses various assessments to track student achievement.
Tier one, she said, is a general assessment of students to figure out if they understand the material presented to them. Students who need additional aid move to the second tier that includes between 20 to 30 minutes of research-based intervention in math, reading or both during the school week. Somewhere between 70 and 75 percent of students remain in the first tier, while 20 to 25 percent need the tier II assistance, Douglas said.
That leaves about 5 percent who fall into tier III, which has students taking the 20 to 30 minute intervention sessions and pushing them to four days a week and in smaller groups or even one-on-one with a teacher. Douglas said the school can use the third tier to diagnose students with special needs as well.
Each tier lasts for about six to eight weeks, and she said students bounce between tiers whenever they need the additional attention.
“It’s a seamless process,” she said.
Throughout the process, Douglas said she’ll visit classrooms to track the progress made by students, although the focus for her observations is not targeted at the person standing in front of the whiteboard.
“I don’t look at my teachers; all I look at are the students,” she said.
Douglas said the teaching staff has embraced the process over the last six years, but she said it wasn’t necessarily the case with everyone to start. It’s one of the reason why she said the school went after younger teachers or those who are willing to adapt to the system: as she phrased it, “the only bad teacher is the one who stops learning.”
“It’s much easier to ground a flying bird than [raise] a dinosaur,” she added.
As a result of the six years of work, Mesa Arts Academy was the only one of the original entrance that earned the ADE’s “Lighthouse School” designation during a ceremony on Sept. 27, which means the school will now act as a training site for other schools and school districts across the state. Douglas said the designation also entails creating a guidebook of sorts for schools to follow.
Douglas called the designation an honor, and said the potential tours by teachers and administrators can benefit to Mesa Arts Academy’s staff by ensuring the teachers remain diligent.
“My teachers will continue to teach and do what they do,” she said.
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