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John S. Wash Elementary School 2009 NBR School

Sanger Unified School District
Fresno, California

Five years ago, John Wash Elementary School was struggling to accommodate a rapidly growing, increasingly diverse student population. Today, it is a California Distinguished School and a 2009 U.S. Department of Education National Blue Ribbon School, driven by high expectations, shared accountability, and a focus on learning outcomes. “We realized that hoping to do better was not a strategy. To be successful with the students we had now, we had to change,” said Superintendent Marc Johnson. The strategy entailed Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), Pyramids of Intervention, Explicit Direct Instruction (EDI), and support for English Language Learners.

Wesley Sever, John Wash principal during this transformation, was charged with designing, defining, and implementing the structures for improvement. School leaders, faculty, parents, and students rose to share responsibility for learning. Teachers received time to work in grade-level PLCs to analyze student achievement data, plan EDI lessons, and monitor whole-class and individual student progress against rigorous learning standards. The school leadership team of administrators, PLC leaders, and resource specialists meets monthly to analyze and discuss SMART goals, intervention strategies, professional development, and progress toward improvement benchmarks.

John Wash uses a three-tiered intervention pyramid to identify and respond to student needs early. Teachers differentiate strategies for whole group instruction and test for understanding and mastery in guided and independent practice. The master schedule allows daily small-group time for students performing below grade level, English learners who need focused language instruction, and students achieving above grade level who are ready for academic enrichment. During this time, all classroom and resource teachers instruct student groups drawn from different classrooms and grade levels, with precise monitoring and fluid movement among groups.

NBRS program staff created three videos about John S. Wash Elementary: Defining Moments of School Change, featuring Superintendent Marc Johnson on transformational change, Professional Learning Communities Powered By Data, on using weekly formative data as well as summative data to resolve instructional challenges, and Focus on Professional Development, on accelerating professional learning.