The Jackson County School System has earned state-wide honors for its work to ensure success for all learners. The Star Award for Promising Practices will be presented in January by the Student Support Team Association for Georgia Educators, or SSTAGE, which works to match effective solutions to student needs where behavior issues are a factor in academic success.
The annual Star Award for Promising Practices is given to one Georgia school district identified as implementing a comprehensive set of multi-tiered systems of support, or MTSS, practices. Members of the association work to engage parents and students in the problem-solving process, implementing MTSS and the response to intervention, or RTI, process. The organization, formed in 2007, has presented Star Awards for promising practices since 2009.
JCSS has just completed its third year of district-wide MTSS and RTI, “continuously refining” its processes and procedures, according to Dr. Kristin Mobbs, a nationally-certified school psychologist who coordinates those efforts for the school system.
MTSS is aimed at addressing the needs of all learners — struggling through advanced — by providing a continuum of support and intervention, Mobbs said. This school improvement initiative is designed to support better educational outcomes — increasing graduation rates and ensuring that students are college- and career-ready.
Approximately 13 percent of the 7,700 students in the Jackson County School System are identified as having disabilities, 6 percent do not speak English as their first language, and 49 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, a program that is frequently used as a measure of poverty.
Two SSTAGE board members, Dr. Amanda Sailors and Courtney Rogers, and Wallace Blackstock, SSTAGE executive director, attended a March 13 meeting at the Gordon Street Center in Jefferson to review the school system’s nomination for the award. In addition to Central Office staff, MTSS leaders from West Jackson Middle School, and East Jackson Elementary, Middle and Comprehensive High School presented highlights of program implementation in JCSS, and the SSTAGE team also visited those schools, observing classes and interviewing school MTSS leaders and teams.
SSTAGE, in partnership with the Georgia Department of Education and the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders, provides leadership and professional development around data-driven problem-solving practices, effective solutions matched to students’ academic and behavioral needs, advocacy, and other best practices to ensure student success, Mobbs said.
The JCSS MTSS team was asked to present at two state conferences this year, the 11th Annual Promising Practices Conference in Athens and the second annual Georgia RTI/MTSS Summit in Macon. In addition to Mobbs, the MTSS team includes Troy Johnson, director of school improvement, and Debbie Williamson, a school psychologist. The system-level Star Award will present another opportunity for the team to share its promising practices with education leaders from across the state.
“One major change enacted over the past few years was assembling teams at each school that included experts in both academic and behavior needs,” Mobbs said recently. “Instead of relying on one person in the school to own the process, the new MTSS district standard is for teams to meet to look at school-wide data with members including an administrator, regular education teacher, special education teacher, interventionist, school psychologist, and counselor.
“Collaboration among all stakeholders is key, given the joint influence of academic, social, and behavioral functioning on educational performance,” she said. “The goal is to ensure the district has practices and resources in place to be proactive and promptly respond to behavior and academic needs at the first indication of need.”
As with all instructional practices, MTSS is most effective when implemented with high fidelity, Mobbs said.
“East Jackson Elementary School was highlighted during the SSTAGE visit for its comprehensive and responsive MTSS framework. The school was recently recognized as a Beating the Odds and a Title 1 Rewards School, placing it among the highest 5 percent for performance of the Title 1 schools in the state,” she said.
“Our district has worked hard over the past few years to build our MTSS process so that we have a systematic approach to identifying needs, providing interventions, and focusing on the whole child. We have developed a comprehensive set of resources for our schools to use and adapt to fit their student population and needs.”
Mobbs said JCSS is focused on intervention but has a stronger goal of prevention and that is the foundation of MTSS.
“We have tried to take away the red tape when it comes to some of the criticisms of RTI in the past and just do what is best for the child,” she said. “Some of our district non-negotiables include monitoring ABC data, fidelity, providing professional development, and continuing to build capacity at the district and school levels.”
Blackstock highlighted those efforts in announcing the award.
“The Jackson County School System’s implementation of these components has brought you to the forefront of RTI/MTSS in Georgia,” he said. Specific commendation was listed for district leadership, professional learning, and the data-driven, school-level MTSS team structure supported by professional learning, written processes, defined data protocols, and protected meeting times.
“A shared vision for meeting the needs of the whole child permeates the district,” the team pointed out, with the district providing “the structure, resources and professional learning to implement the district vision for MTSS while allowing schools to have autonomy and tailor the implementation for each school’s culture and climate.”
Flexibility “seems to be a key concept in the JCSS when it comes to addressing students’ academic and behavior needs,” Blackstock said. “Providing remediation, support and/or interventions in a timely manner provides the best opportunity for keeping students on track.”
Blackstock also cited JCSS’s “enthusiasm, team collaboration, dedication, and understanding of MTSS” as an “inspiration to educational leaders and teachers across the state of Georgia.”