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June 26, 2012 8:34 am

Southside Elementary earns national recognition

Written by Dante Geoffrey

Southside Elementary is being recognized nationally as a model for other schools that follow a Professional Learning Community (PLC) method of teaching.

A Professional Learning Community school is one that strives to create a focus on learning, forming a collaborative culture and getting results, said former Southside principal Ginger Sleep.

“We are always looking at our results and what we need to do to set goals individually with our kids,” Sleep said.

Sleep began exploring the PLC model eight years ago after she read about it in a trade magazine.

Interested in the opportunities it could provide her school, Sleep, along with five teachers, traveled to Chicago to attend a Professional Learning Community conference at Adlai E. Stevenson High School.

Southside Elementary then began to incorporate the PLC tenets, an ongoing process that requires constant refining and educational evolution.

“It’s the collaboration of teachers working in teams discussing student learning and changing learning to adapt (to)the needs of those students in a continuous process that never stops,” said Park County School District No. 1 Superintendent Kevin Mitchell.

Sleep said leading a PLC school for eight years was “a journey.”

“It’s something that we’re working at together for our kids,” she said. “We want our kids to excel at the highest level, and we thought this PLC model was the way we needed to address our student needs and continually grow together.”

Eight years after the PLC model’s inception at Southside, Sleep felt the school had reached a distinguished level of proficiency.

“We finished the application the first week of June, and we got accepted,” Sleep said.

As one of only two PLC model schools in Wyoming, and only 200 in the nation, Southside Elementary has achieved a distinguished honor.

It also faces a challenge during its transition period.

Sleep now is the new principal at Shoshone Learning Center, and former Powell Middle School vice principal Scott Schiller has succeeded her at Southside.

Schiller said he is excited to be joining a nationally recognized school, but he’s aware of the challenge ahead of him.

“Coming in as the new principal means that I have a lot of learning to do to completely understand how hard this staff worked to be recognized as a collaborative culture of learners,” he said.

Although the Powell Middle School also is a PLC school, Schiller said being in a new environment means he can’t rely solely on his experience.

“Even though I have eight years in the district, I have a lot to learn about Southside Elementary School,” Schiller said. “It will be important to get involved in the day-to-day processes and routines of the school and build relationships with students and staff.”

Mitchell said he is not concerned about Schiller’s ability to pick up right where Sleep left off.

“Mr. Schiller is well trained in PLCs. He’s gone to numerous PLC conferences and (the middle school was), at a certain level, involved,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said other schools in the district are incorporating some aspects of the PLC model into their daily routine, but none to the extent of Southside.

“They’ve committed the time and resources at a greater level than the other schools,” Mitchell said. “The other schools are working towards the same efforts.”

Sleep said the accolades are great, but the real credit belongs to the teachers and students.

“It is an honor to get nominated or to receive this recognition, but it’s because of (the staff’s) hard work and the students’ hard work to continually believe in themselves,” Sleep said. “We believe in them. We’ll do whatever it takes for kids.”

For more information on PLC schools, visit www.allthingsplc.info.

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