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Oak Creek West Middle School

Grade Level
Middle School

Creating Successful Learning Environments

Positive school culture is vital to creating successful learning environments. Equally important is its role in continuous school improvement. At West Middle School in Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District, positive culture and experiences for staff and students is the foundation of their work, according to Principal Megan Arens and her team.

Teacher Gina Martinelli has been at West Middle School for eight years. She described the shift in culture as a gradual process which eventually turned teacher mindsets upside down. “We all felt like we have [sic] a voice…and a shared vision of what our kids need,” she said. This collective efficacy cultivated teachers as leaders and led to staff-driven systems change.

Student Intervention Team

The team realized that the existing intervention period at West was being underutilized and developed a data-driven process to proactively identify student needs. The Student Intervention Team (SIT) meets every week around collected attendance, academic data, and behavior data. “It’s a way to zero in and target all of our students so no student is falling through the cracks,” Martinelli said. “This process allows the team to be more proactive instead of reactive,” Associate Principal Sarah Sprangers added.

This data-driven process was an invaluable tool during the pandemic. As the school worked tirelessly to stay connected to students and families, SIT meetings provided opportunities to discuss how to meet learner needs, keep staff informed, and create better connections with families.

The team at West Middle School initiated a co-planning model which brings specialists and general education teachers together weekly, identifying changes to universal instruction to better match learner needs. “When I think of co-planning, I think of it as a concrete change we’re making in the whole system,” Martinelli said. “I’ve met with (specialists) ahead of time and I know what I need to do for the students I have. It makes me feel more confident,” she added.

Impact on student outcomes

These systemic changes have impacted student outcomes. According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s 2020-21 report card for West Middle School, the growth score in English Language Arts for Black students was 3.8. White students’ growth score was 3.7. (A score of higher than 3.0 means more growth than expected.) On the most recently released report card, Black students growth score increased to 4.5.

More students at proficient/advanced on Forward ELA

West Middle School also saw an increase in the percentage of students who score at advanced/proficient on the Forward Exam (ELA) in 2020-21. “We have a strong data-driven approach to looking at student growth and progress,” Sprangers said. “Underlying all of that is this commitment by all teachers that we really are responsible for elevating the academic, social-emotional growth of all of our students.”