• Jan. 13, 2017
    Private donors advance PLC initiative  
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    A $42,320 contribution from a local donor family will enable Upper St. Clair School District to host a national Professional Learning Communities at Work Institute in July 2017. The donor’s contribution underwrites the registration cost for 80 USC teachers. More than 900 educators from across the nation are expected to attend.

    “This opportunity will significantly advance one of the district’s five goals within the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan as well as a goal of the USC school board,” Dr. Sharon Suritsky, deputy/assistant superintendent, said. “The PLC Institute at Work conference is an intensive and expensive staff development experience that we would never have been able to provide at this magnitude. Training 80 USC educators at one time will have a transformational and lasting impact on our educational program.”

    Registration for the two-and-a-half-day institute is typically $689 per person plus travel expenses as other trainings are offered in Arizona, Nevada, Missouri, Texas, Georgia, Florida, California, Minnesota, Illinois, Washington, Utah and Iowa. In addition to eliminating travel expenses, Upper St. Clair receives a reduced registration fee by serving as the host site. 

    According to Solution Tree, the organization that founded and provides training in PLCs, a professional learning community is “an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively to achieve better results for the students they serve. Professional learning communities operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous job-embedded learning for educators.”

    Within a PLC, teachers meet regularly by grade level, team and/or discipline to discuss student needs, share expertise and work collaboratively to improve student learning.

    “The PLC model allows teachers – the real experts on students and their learning – intentional time to plan, collaborate and continue to refine their practices,” Mr. Mark Miller, Eisenhower Elementary principal and supervisor of elementary education, said. “The model allows us to place student learning at the center of our school’s mission and has enabled us to address the learning needs of all students.”

    In 2004, Eisenhower Elementary, under Mr. Miller’s leadership, began implementing the PLC model and has spent more than a decade employing PLC core beliefs and developing PLC best practices. 

    In 2014, the same donor family, who wishes to remain anonymous, began its partnership with Upper St. Clair – providing funding over a three-year period to refine and expand PLC practices to Baker and Streams elementary schools while continuing to grow and nurture the PLC at Eisenhower Elementary.

    “We have made tremendous progress toward meeting our K-4 PLC goals,” Dr. Suritsky said. “We have accomplished this work by training teams of teachers, PLC facilitators and elementary principals off-site for two day PLC and team building retreats.”

    By the end of the 2016-17 school year, more than 80 elementary teachers and three administrators will be educated on K-4 PLC best practices. 

    Over the past 12 years, 20 Upper St. Clair faculty and administrators have attended a national PLC Institute outside of the district. The donor family’s latest gift will increase that number to more than 100 while refining the initiative at the district’s middle schools and expanding it to the high schools. 

    During the last few years, the PLC model was implemented at the middle school level under the direction of Dr. John Rozzo, assistant superintendent, who formerly served as the district’s supervisor of middle level education and Fort Couch assistant principal. Boyce and Fort Couch middle schools, which organize their students by teams, inherently embrace PLC best practices and core beliefs.

    “This generous contribution will enable more formalized training of PLC facilitators, teachers, and administrators at each middle school grade level (5-8) in order to maximize student learning while enhancing student achievement,” Dr. Rozzo said.

    Implementing the PLC model of best practices at the high school poses unique challenges due to scheduling. During the current school year, high school administrators and teachers have been working collaboratively to pilot aspects of the model.

    “As part of the Reimagine the High School Vision Team, implementation of a PLC model in grades 9-12 was a primary goal,” Dr. Timothy Wagner, the high school’s associate principal for program planning and innovation, said. “A team of high school teacher leaders worked with K-4 staff and attended a conference during the winter of 2016 to learn about the fundamental components of a PLC framework.”

    Subsequently, Upper St. Clair High School has implemented four pilot PLC groups, each focusing on key elements of building a PLC culture within the school. 

    “The summer PLC Institute will provide a key opportunity for continued learning about PLCs and help to support our high school staff in scaling up our efforts in the 2017-2018 school year,” Dr. Wagner said.

    For information regarding Professional Learning Communities – including registration, visit www.solutiontree.com.

    Transformational initiatives funded through private support 

    The idea to host a PLC Institute emerged from a February 2016 meeting between the donor family, USC’s Director of Advancement Sheila Gorgonio and district administrators. The family expressed an interest in bringing national experts to Upper St. Clair in order to expedite the implementation of the PLC Initiative district-wide. 

    Mrs. Gorgonio works with individuals who have an interest in supporting strategic, integrated and visionary initiatives that will significantly enrich the district’s mission. Other privately funded initiatives include the Innovation Hub@USCHS, which opened in 2014 and includes a MIT-certified FAB Lab and SHOP@USC; the Innovation Hub@Boyce; and the recent renovation of the high school’s cafe321 (formerly the commons).

    “Due to a lack of federal and state funding, today’s school leaders are challenged to do more with less,” Dr. Patrick O’Toole, superintendent of schools, said. “Many of our most transformational initiatives would not have been possible without private support. We are enormously grateful for our donors’ shared vision and commitment to Upper St. Clair School District.”

    To discuss partnership opportunities that would enhance the mission and vision at USC, contact Mrs. Gorgonio at 412-833-1600 ext. 2826 or via email at sgorgonio@uscsd.k12.pa.us