Sequoia Middle School
2015-2016 Model

Increased Collaboration and Focused, Specialized Training

Staff members at Sequoia Middle School believe that every child, no matter his or her socioeconomic circumstances, can succeed. That shared vision is, in part, the result of an effort to build a strong professional community at Sequoia with increased collaboration time and specialized training.

Student Population Free reduced lunch
Special Ed.
Staff / Student ratio
804 93 35 11 1/27

School Contact Info

Sequoia Middle School
4050 East Hamilton Ave
Fresno, CA 93702-4456
Grades: 7-8
(559) 457-3210
Principal: Matt Ward


Sequoia Middle School students, like most middle school students in Fresno Unified School District in California, struggled to meet standards in reading and math. Many students took remediation courses and did not have access to electives. With the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, FUSD knew teachers needed time to collaborate or students would continue to enter high school ill-prepared for the rigorous college and career curriculum.



The district redesigned 11 middle schools, including Sequoia, to create extended collaboration time for teachers within the school day as part of the Innovative Professional Development (iPD) Challenge from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). Sequoia Middle School staff redesigned their schedule to allow for one full day of teacher collaboration biweekly. Teacher professional development was held districtwide with the other redesigned middle schools. In these sessions, teachers used the Literacy Design Collaborative (ELA, history, and science) and Math Design Collaborative as frameworks for learning and creating tools. While teachers collaborated, students experienced intervention from an expert teacher called a PLUS teacher. Students were grouped by level on the PLUS day.


In year 2, Fresno Unified implemented a 6-12 scope and sequence that allowed for better alignment of collaboration across the schools. Sequoia teachers met with content teachers from across the district to analyze student work and develop lessons. Sequoia untracked students in intervention/PLUS and instead delivered support by content area: math, ELA, and English language development. Also, Sequoia used technology and blended learning in new ways to support teaching and learning. Districtwide, FUSD expanded its Innovative Professional Development (iPD) to 9th grade.


In year 3, Sequoia decided to target student literacy because 70% of students read below grade level. PLUS teachers teach digital literacy skills with a healthy dose of literacy.


The redesign has led to better student attendance, fewer office referrals, and improved student grades in core classes. Student surveys also show that students feel a greater connection to their school and report that teachers at the school care about them at higher rates than before. Teacher surveys also show greater satisfaction in areas like PD.

Sequoia Middle School students took the Smarter Balanced Assessment aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for the first time in spring 2015. Schoolwide, 19% of the students met or exceeded the standard in ELA, and 11% met or exceeded the standard in math.  On the California Standards Test, 30% were at or above proficient in science. Sequoia students underperformed district and state averages. As a result of its performance on state tests, the school was categorized as a “priority school” as part of the district’s CORE waiver. Principal Ward reports that 75% of the students read below grade level. Sequoia’s English learners do not make adequate progress in literacy and English language development.

However, early indicators show that student performance is improving as a result of the redesign. Student GPAs are higher, with 90% of the student population earning a 2.0 or higher. Just four years ago, 70% of all students had at least one D or F, and that rate is down 30%. Grades in core classes are also up. School morale has also increased among staff and students alike. According to surveys, teacher satisfaction with PD is 90%. Districtwide, student surveys report that student satisfaction has dramatically increased and students feel connected to their school. Sequoia went from the bottom half of 19 secondary schools in student satisfaction to the top four.

Key Policy Considerations


District Policies

The Fresno Collective Bargaining Agreement stipulates that middle school teachers teach five periods of a six-period day with one period for prep/planning and a 30-minute duty-free lunch. Professional development time includes two pre-service days, two buy-back days, and 54 hours of additional professional learning time to be agreed upon by the school staff. At Sequoia, teachers meet weekly in departmental Accountable Communities (PLC’s) for 1.5 hours. Class size does not exceed a 1:35 ratio.

Sequoia Middle School receives an annual allocation from fiscal services based on a school model formula created during redesign. The allocation accommodates the model for a PLUS Team to cover each of the four core subjects for one full day of professional development as a department biweekly. Sequoia is a Title 1 school and receives additional state and district funding because of the high percentage of students qualifying for free- or reduced-price lunch and the high percentage of families who receive federal assistance.


State Policies

State policy requires 400 minutes every two weeks for PE.

Key Strategies

  • Redesign schedule to create greater time for teacher collaboration and professional development
  • Provide district-led professional development in specialized skills

Curriculum and Instruction

Curriculum at Sequoia is aligned to the Fresno Unified School District scope and sequence.  Teachers use both the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) and the Math Design Collaborative (MDC) to design standards-based lessons, as well as formative assessments for their instruction.  Common assignments are also being developed for quarterly use.  Math teachers receive training from Math Solutions, which also provides curriculum.  In addition to LDC and MDC, PLUS Team teachers use tablets in the classroom every week to teach students literacy-based and technology-based skills such as Google Classroom and Google Keep.  

Course Taking

Students in 7th and 8th grade at Sequoia Middle School take English, math, history, science, PE, an elective, and PLUS. PLUS class in 2013-14 and 2014-15 consisted of mini-tasks tied to skills in the Common Core State Standards. Teachers grouped students in 2014-15 during PLUS days based on identified needs in math and ELA.  In 2015-16, Principal Ward hired PLUS teachers with expertise in literacy as well. The PLUS class focuses on computer literacy and reading.


Fresno Unified School District assesses middle school students using the Degrees of Reading Power (DRP) annually. The district also uses interim assessments (aligned with the Smarter Balanced Assessment) tied to the FUSD scope and sequence (pacing guide) twice annually. Common assignments are also part of the formative assessment process.

FUSD middle school students participate in Smarter Balanced Assessment testing in the spring and one final year of the CST (California Standards Tests) in science. English language learners take the CELDT (California English Language Devleopment Test) annually to assess language proficiency.


Teachers teach five classes in grade-level teams at Sequoia in a six-period schedule. Students take four core classes (English, math, science, and social studies), PE, and one elective. Part of the redesign involved replacing remediation courses with electives and embedding interventions into the rotating PLUS classes. Professional development is organized in departments and an expert team of teachers (including a coach) — called a PLUS Team — teaches students while teachers collaborate. Core content teachers collaborate in Innovative Professional Development (iPD) for a full day once every two weeks. The PLUS curriculum includes several different subjects, all designed to meet specific student needs, including math support, English Language Development (ELD), literacy, technology, and college- and career-awareness courses. During FLEX weeks, the weeks without all-day iPD, PLUS teachers push into the classroom to assist in support and differentiation.

Of the 11 middle schools, Sequoia Middle School perhaps has the greatest challenge within the initiative, considering 100% of students qualify for free- and reduced-priced lunches, and 80% of the families in the Sequoia service area receive some sort of public assistance.

Schedule Basics


2015-2016 Schedule Overview

Key Strategies
  • Redesigned grades 7 and 8 in 11 schools at one time, scaled from beginning
  • Designed for efficiency in use of staff and time, redeploying savings for iPD
  • Designed for departmental, single-period flexibility, student interventions, and support through PLUS
  • Designed for sustainability, minimized need for extra allocation, and room to adjust if budget is cut
  • Designed for continuous improvement, with annual audit and scenario processes hardwired in
  • Teachers have more opportunities for professional development while students have greater support and personalized learning



Teacher View

  • The schedule was designed with departments as the organizer, and teachers have common prep by department.
  • The team structure allows teachers to adjust grouping and class size to fit instruction and student needs, but time is fixed by single period.
  • This schedule occurs every week except for 16 iPD weeks.
  • The iPD team is used to co-teach, coach, and work with students to provide intensive supports.



Professional Development

Fresno’s teacher contract includes two pre-service days for professional development, three buy-back days for professional development during the year, and 54 hours of additional contract time for professional learning in Accountable Communities (FUSD’s version of PLC). Additionally, as part of the redesign, Sequoia core team teachers meet once every other week to engage in teacher-led professional development by department. As part of the district’s participation in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Innovative Professional Development (iPD) program, teachers experience district-led PD in Literacy Design Collaborative, Math Design Collaborative, and lesson study. During this time, the PLUS Team instructs groups of students, depending on the day and which core teacher is out for the day. On the fifth day of the week, PLUS Team teachers have their own professional development. Additionally, Sequoia Middle School has identified literacy as a key need for professional learning, given the number of students reading below grade level.

Student Community

Sequoia Middle School has strong anti-bullying campaigns and Principal Ward personally creates videos to share anecdotes and vignettes to drive home the message. He also shares the growth mindset research with his student body through his principal message videos.

Professional Community

Fresno Unified’s participation in PD demonstrates a commitment to “professionalizing the profesion” of teaching by investing in serious time for teacher professional development. Additionally, all district staff have 54 hours of Accountable Community (FUSD’s term for PLC) time. Sequioa uses this time to learn more about teaching students to read, using the work of Kathleen Beers. Principal Ward sets a tone of continuous learning among his teachers. As a result, teachers bring ideas and improvement strategies to him that he readily implements. The school has been at the forefront of leveraging technology as a learning tool.

Family Engagement

Of the 11 middle schools, Sequoia Middle School perhaps has the greatest challenge within the initiative, considering 100% of the students qualify for free- and reduced-priced lunch, and 80% of the families in the Sequoia service area receive some sort of public assistance. However, Principal Ward knows families are committed to supporting their students.