East Ridge Middle wanted to find serious collaboration time so teachers could learn and develop lessons tied to the new Florida Standards (rigorous standards like the Common Core State Standards). Students faced more challenging exams, but with tight budgets (Lake County Schools ranks 65th out of 67 districts in funding in Florida) and rigid class-size caps (1:22 at middle school), East Ridge Middle turned to blended learning.
East Ridge explored options for creating a model for Innovative Professional Development (iPD) as part of the Lake County Schools' participation in the iPD initiative with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Principal Charles McDaniel worked with TimeWise Schools to develop a strategy to offer full-release professional development 18 times year — approximately twice a month — for the core content teachers. An essential part of the model explored was a PLUS Team, a team of six teachers who, in the first year, taught an elective course called Career Research and Decision Making while core content teachers were engaged in PD.
East Ridge planned its model in 2013-2014 and launched it the next year. Teachers met twice a month in departmental teams to design lessons, analyze student work and data, and collaborate around the new challenging Florida Standards while the PLUS Team delivered technology-rich lessons aligned to those standards. The PLUS curriculum was Career Research and Decision Making, a college and career readiness course designed to meet the district mission of “C2 Ready,” meaning college and career ready. The students received a semester grade for this course. As an AVID demonstration school, East Ridge instituted a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy that allowed students to augment the school’s technology so teachers could use blended learning strategies.
In year 2, East Ridge Middle is further piloting personalized learning (PL) to create a schoolwide PL model of teaching and learning. This natural next step in the school's evolution is further supported by the Lake County Schools' Next Generation Learning Challenge grant, a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation initiative to “expand promising technology tools and applications that help more students master 6th- through 8th-grade math and literacy competencies, which are critical to college and career readiness.” This work has improved the focus of the East Ridge Middle PLUS Team as it develops project-based learning and personalized learning plans for students and helps build the school implementation of the digital learning platform. Meanwhile, the teacher collaboration has progressed to observing model lessons and developing common assignments.
Model Variation: Windy Hill Middle School
Windy Hill Middle School in Lake County Schools designed a personalized learning model for students that provided lessons in topics like anti-bullying on computers in the media center. This allowed for core-content teachers to meet by department for a full day of collaboration each quarter.
Model Variation: Mt. Dora Middle School
Mt. Dora Middle School In Lake County Schools developed a pilot to allow 6th-grade math teachers and 8th-grade ELA teachers additional release time while students learned about areas of interest from non-load-bearing staff, including the principal.
Soft Data Points:
- 82% of teachers expressed satisfaction and support to continue with iPD for the same number of days or more (18 currently).
- Very few teachers were absent on iPD days because they had agreed on the first day of the program that attendance would be the norm.
- Referrals and suspensions were down (until April when Florida State Assessment testing had every school in an uproar). By May, all was back to normal with few referrals.
- Attendance of teachers was up.
- Attendance of students was up more than 1%, though the school was already at the top of the district at 95%.
- All ELA, social studies, and science teachers as well as administrators were trained in the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) (minus one teacher who missed all the training).
- New PLUS curriculum (project-based) was introduced the second year based on core teacher recommendations.
- New PLUS scoring and student accountability were implemented.
- As a result of iPD, the PLUS Team took the lead in researching and planning for personalized learning.
Hard Data Points:
- Civics scores (EOC) were the second highest in the district and above the state average: East Ridge 7th grade, 70% proficient; district, 63% proficient; state, 65% proficient.
- Science scores (FCAT) were the highest in the district and above the state average: East Ridge 8th grade, 59% proficient; district, 51% proficient; state, 53% proficient.