Sonoma County Office of Education

Learning Bulletin

This page features stories of school districts or SCOE teams engaged in deep, ongoing work to improve school systems and outcomes for students..


Rooster Fellowship looks at ways to improve student achievement

Date: 11/20/2019
Author: Sheldon J. Reber

Checking assumptions about students, reflecting on classroom situations and using data to inform decisions is a focus of the Rooster Fellowship, a group of nine school teams from Sonoma County schools. School teams met in Healdsburg on Nov. 15 to share observations and discuss new ways to engage students.

The Rooster Fellowship, a SCOE initiative, looks at ways to increase student achievement through data and proven practices such as student empathy interviews. The teams, usually four or five educators, are made up of district administrators, principals, teachers, and classified employees. Participants reported that many times one small change in instruction, introduced at a Rooster Fellowship meeting, can have a large impact on student achievement.

Lindsay Misakian, a sixth grade teacher at Miwok Valley Elementary Charter School in the Old Adobe Union School District, uses Rooster Fellowship practices to change the way she teaches math.

“We conducted student empathy interviews,” said Misakian. “The students mostly said they were excited and engaged during science but less interested in math. To me that seemed like a pretty fair response that I had observed myself.”

“Our curriculum is very focused on teamwork and students are expected to be a part of a four-person team,” noted Misakian. “They cared about choice so we decided to give them a choice of groups when they worked on a lesson.”

Misakian continued “The first day felt a little chaotic to me with students choosing their own groups. Some students chose to work alone, some students chose to work in pairs, and some students chose to work in teams. I saw students who needed help congregate together and I could get to them more quickly. The students who had a high level of ability in math felt happier because they were able to go at their own pace, finish early and get started on their homework.”

Mikasian remarked that the feelings around math have really shifted in her classroom which she credits to the strategies learned from the Rooster Fellowship. “I’m seeing a lot of positive shifts among my students across all demographics and ability levels in math thanks to this process.”


EL Shadowing for Equity

Date: 11/13/2019
Author: Jamie Hansen

A new initiative to improve equitable outcomes for English learners centers on the idea that when educators understand the educational experiences of English learners they are better equipped to make informed choices about the intentional changes needed to meet their needs.

RISE Collaborative

This new initiative, organized by SCOE, is called the RISE Collaborative or Reimagining Instructional Shifts for English Learners. It includes carefully built teams from four elementary schools: La Tercera, James Monroe, Binkley, and Mark West. Each team consists of representatives from across the school system, including: school administrators, district administrators, teachers, coaches, and more. The four teams are each supported by a SCOE coach leading the work, Jenn Guerrero, EL program coordinator, Kelly Matteri, coordinator for ELA/HSS/UDL, and Aracely Romo-Flores, director for continuous improvement.

The initiative is focused on elementary schools because these strategies, when applied early, can help stop the creation of long-term English learners. 

In October, each team member spent time “shadowing” an English learner within their school to gain insight into how students were engaging and what teaching strategies might help them become more engaged. They began by looking at the student’s profile, including how long they’ve been at the school site, how long they’ve been in the United States, their ELPAC and CAASPP scores, grades, and more. Then, they spent two hours closely observing the student in class. Neither the student nor teacher knew who was being observed so as to not affect their behavior.Binkley English Learner Coordinator Lauren Ridgway said the effort is “all about opening up the classroom so that we can learn from each other. When we focus on what students are actually doing and experiencing, we can shift our instruction to better serve them.”

Often, it’s found that English learners spend the majority of their school day listening to language, rather than producing language, said Guerrero. The goal of shadowing is to see what the student is experiencing day in and day out, and to then take action to disrupt the silence. Shadowing in itself can be very powerful and can create urgency, but without deliberate next steps the observations may not lead to change.

The teams are engaging in a continuous improvement process based on their observations throughout the course of the year. They have selected a strategy and created a plan-do-study-act approach to implementing the strategy at their school site. At the next meeting, they will look at data and make changes based on what has worked and what hasn’t.

“Each team is crafting intentional shifts in their instructional practice in an effort to increase student engagement. At Binkley Elementary in Rincon Valley Union School District, the team’s goal is to increase English learner engagement. In the process, they hope that their students will also begin using more oral, academic English during the school day.

“The evidence we gained from the shadowing was that students were not getting enough opportunities to practice their spoken English skills,” said Binkley Elementary Principal Hilary Kjaer. “Based on that, we are looking at how we can each go back and make a shift in our own practices to provide students with more opportunities.”

Rachel Valenzuela, assistant superintendent of educational services at Mark West Union School District, said that the first round of EL Shadowing was very motivating for their team.

“I felt the urgency behind needing to address the needs of our EL students,” said Valenzuela. “We know that there is still a wide achievement gap for these students, and the RISE Collaborative is helping us see what we can do to turn things around.”