New program should increase student success

A new program aimed at improving student performance is gaining momentum at GMU, thanks to the contributions of faculty and staff at the school and the help of a few local school districts.
The Response to Intervention (RTI) program is being overhauled, and school officials are expecting much better progress, growth and outcomes for students who need help with specific areas of their studies.
Simply put, RTI places teachers in Professional Learning Committees (PLCs) that meet regularly to discuss the individual needs of students and to refer students for specific extra help that will lead them to improve their individual skills in subject areas. So if a student is struggling to keep up in math, a group of math teachers may use the referral process to recommend a specific set of exercises to strengthen the student’s understanding of the math being taught in class.
“It’s very goal-specific,” said Acting Principal Heather Wilcox. “Before RTI, our Academic Intervention Services weren’t structured. There wasn’t a curriculum, and the success with a student was a lot less likely.”
With RTI, the last period of each school day—Monday through Thursday—will place Middle School and High School students with their core teachers who know their specific academic needs and have a plan to help them. Elementary students have RTI built into their daily schedules so that they are receiving immediate support.  On Fridays, all teachers will meet in their PLC teams to assess students’ progress and plan RTI curriculums going forward.  Students will spend the last period on Fridays working together through the district’s non-academic Mentorship program, which is expanding this year to match every student in the district as a mentor (grades 6 through 12) or a mentee (grades Pre-Kindergarten through 5).  
Unlike previous years, the revised RTI program does not rely on students to seek out teachers for help; now, the teachers find the students who need help in their subject areas and put them to work in ways that will lead to measurable improvement.
Wilcox credits administrative intern Sierra Stafford, a 7-8 math teacher in the district, with designing a data sheet that keeps track of student progress in the RTI program. “It quantifies what needs to be worked on and records what has been done and what the results are,” Stafford said. “We can compare where a student was before the extra instruction recommended through RTI, and where that student is after RTI services.”
Stafford and K-2 Special Education teacher Melissa Van Vorce gained useful tips on building a referral process from teachers in the Otselic Valley Central School District, and Stafford credits the Unadilla Valley School District with providing a model for the PLC process.
Building the RTI program brings GMU into compliance with State Education Department mandates, Wilcox said, and it’s simply the right thing to do to ensure that students are academically successful.

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