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Teaching and Learning are Personal and Collaborative at Jones Elementary

At Jones Elementary School in Springdale, Ark., the number of students reading on grade level has almost tripled — from 26 to 73 percent — in eight years. “Our students succeed because we have teachers who expect them to succeed,” explains Principal Melissa Fink about this and other achievements of the schools’ nearly 600 students, 99 percent of whom live in poverty. In addition to believing in each student’s potential, she and the Jones Elementary faculty work to strategically remove obstacles to learning, make teacher teamwork a top priority, and effectively use data to improve teaching and learning.

In the latest video of ED’s Partners in Progress, The View from Jones Elementary, 4th-grade teacher Jennifer Mills explains the difference teamwork has made. “I used to think about just my classroom. Now, I care about the collective whole of 4th grade.” With support from a 2013 Race to the Top-District (RTT-D) grant to Springdale Public Schools, Mills and her colleagues at Jones Elementary are also prioritizing personalized learning, a central component of the RTT-D program out of the Office of Innovation and Improvement.

The nearly $26 million, multi-year grant is helping the Springdale district accelerate academic achievement for its 21,000 students, most of whom are from low-income families. The district is moving to a competency-based learning model and using its RTT-D grant to implement a set of interwoven strategies that include a Personalized Learning Plan (PLP) for each student, combined with a 1:1 technology initiative that allows teachers to differentiate lessons and monitor student progress. A district-wide student advisory system helps students with their PLPs and prepares them to lead conferences with their parents and teachers, during which their progress is discussed and new goals set for continued growth.

At Jones Elementary, Jennifer Mills and the 4th-grade team use student-assessment data strategically to group students according to their gaps in understanding and then align the groups with teacher team members who are best prepared to help the groups achieve proficiency. In addition, the 4th-grade team leverages the district’s math instructional facilitator to help them develop techniques to better teach assessment content. In her recent blog Purpose Driven Data and Collaboration, Mills describes how this approach is a “win-win” for students and teachers: “Each student receives an education that is personalized for them, while the teachers are receiving valuable techniques and strategies to perfect their own craft.”

Principal Melissa Fink and the teachers at Jones elementary School are committed to helping their students succeed, and do so by thinking outside the box and focusing on strategies like personalized learning, strategic use of assessments, teacher collaboration, and technology-supported teaching and learning. ED’s Partners in Progress regularly spotlights teacher-driven innovations like this and others that are supported by RTT-D and other ED grant programs and initiatives. Find out more here.

Doug Herbert is a special assistant in the Office of Innovation and Improvement.