Students at Portola Jr Sr High School attend tutorial periods every day to focus on any areas needing attention.
PUSD schools develop framework to support student success
While the business of running a high school of nearly 300 students requires keeping a close eye on administrative details, at Portola Jr Sr High School it’s clear the priority is on student well-being and progress. The front office at PJSHS is a swirl of activity, with students coming in to talk to the administrative assistant or the registrar. Vice Principal Brian Sheridan steps out of a meeting to connect with students about a discipline issue. Student Services Coordinator Shannon Harston is mentoring, via text messages, a student going through a challenging situation, while also participating in a discussion about programs available to students. Through the open door of her office, Principal Sara Sheridan monitors the activity. She is explaining how the school’s Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) works, and how it positively impacts student success.
The MTSS initiative in California aims to provide support for the whole child by creating a framework that aligns resources for student behavior, attendance, academics, and social/emotional health. There are numerous programs in place to address different aspects of student success, and the MTSS model pulls all of them under one umbrella to create a cohesive system.
“It all starts with our triangle of student interventions,” Principal Sheridan says, laying out a sheet of paper with a diagram on it. “Here, across the bottom, we have the four areas that indicate student progress: behavior, attendance, academics, and social/emotional health. Each gets a column in the triangle. Then we divide the triangle horizontally into five sections, with the first on the bottom being programs all students participate in, and then tapering up to the fifth level for interventions relevant to only a small percentage of the student population. The triangle framework organizes all of our programs to keep us on the same page.”
If a student is having difficulties in one of the indicated areas, the next tier up on the grid shows what options are available to support that student. For example, in the case of academic performance, all students participate in tutorial periods every day. Students who are still struggling with their grades would then receive the second level of intervention which is having Principal Sheridan choose which tutorial they will attend. The third level would be pulling out of electives to focus on core subjects, followed by Saturday School. At the fifth level, students would explore alternative education and credit recovery. Some situations will require higher levels of support, but the majority of students who receive Tier II supports are able to move back down to Tier I.
Daily tutorial periods are essential to Portola High’s MTSS process. Tutorials allow teachers to check in with students, and give students time to do homework, or catch up as needed. Oftentimes problems keeping up with coursework can indicate issues in other areas. By monitoring each student’s placement on the triangle, staff is able to offer help right when difficulties start, and in the specific areas where help is needed.
All four of the areas that track student success have proven, evidence-based intervention programs in place. The triangle grid maps out the path of supports through each tier, helping students and parents clearly understand what to expect, and allowing staff to provide a consistent approach. All schools across Plumas Unified School District are using MTSS to improve student progress, and are in the process of customizing their frameworks.
“The evolution of our triangle is a collective group effort involving all staff,” says Principal Sheridan. “We’ve been refining this for about five years now, and we’re really proud of how it’s become a tool to help us engage with every student. Since implementing our student interventions, we’ve seen growth in academic achievement and overall school pride. We hold the bar high, and our students consistently show improvement.”