Happy Meal?

Lonedell School teacher Amanda Uhlig, center, dressed as McDonald’s french fries, reacts as students Erin York, left, dressed as a hamburger, and Gabi Lindsey, right, dressed as a Pepsi can, get ready to take a bite out of her costume Friday afternoon in front of the school gymnasium’s concession stand. Lonedell conducted a trend dance for its students after school that day as it began its Red Ribbon Week observances. Many students and some adults dressed in Halloween attire while attending the event, including these three, who donned the costumes made by Lindsey.

The news was, indeed, rewarding for the Lonedell R-XIV School District as it recently found out it is one of 15 Missouri schools that earned exemplary Professional Learning Community school status for the 2013-14 academic year.

In September, Superintendent Jen Ulrich found out that the school had been nominated for the recognition from the South Central Regional Professional Development Center. She told board of education members during their October meeting that the school had been selected.

According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the state’s PLC project, which is a state-sponsored initiative for school-improvement, began during the 2003-04 school year and evolved from the Missouri Accelerated Schools Project, which had served as a school reform project for many years.

“Professional learning communities see student learning, not teaching, as their mission,” DESE’s website states. “The policies, instruction, curriculum, programs, professional development and other functions of the school all support student learning.”

The award will be presented to Lonedell during the state’s PLC conference in January. In addition, Ulrich said she and other members of Lonedell’s leadership team will be presenting how the school has worked with the initiative to make it a success locally.

“We’re very proud,” Ulrich told The Missourian. “The framework of our school district really is centered on being a professional learning community. I couldn’t imagine being a leader of a school district without this model.”

Information states that in maintaining a constant focus on learning, four questions become paramount for PLC schools:

•What should students know and be able to do?

•How will the school determine that students have learned the essential knowledge and skills?

•How will the school respond when students do not learn?

•How will the school respond when they already know it?

“The state PLC school-improvement model focuses on increasing student achievement by building the capacity of school personnel to create and sustain the conditions that promote high levels of student and adult learning,” DESE states.

A PLC school, therefore, works toward several key components of that learning, including the daily work being driven by a common purpose, shared vision and collective commitments.

A school’s staff accepts responsibility for that student learning, and progress is monitored on a timely basis using common core curriculum and common assessments aligned with state standards. In addition, the school structure supports student learning and provides additional time and support for students who initially do not achieve intended outcomes.

There is job-embedded professional development, and staff members work corroboratively in processes that foster continuous improvement in all indicators of student achievement, DESE states.

The work utilizes the research and resources of many educational leaders with the fundamental guiding principles of these three ideas: Focus on learning, collaborative culture, and results orientation.

“Our mission is to support Missouri schools in building and sustaining professional learning communities where collaborative cultures result in high levels of learning for all and increased student achievement,” the PLC portion of DESE’s website states.

It also states that in actuality a PLC is a process and not a program.

“Professional learning communities is a process for schools to use in order to develop a comprehensive tiered level of support for students — all students,” the information states.

“I am proud of the work we do in our district, and whether we are recognized with an award or not, I am proud of what we have accomplished,” Ulrich told The Missourian after receiving the nomination. “We are a staff focused on student learning and ensuring success for our students. In the end, student success is the real reward.”

She recently added to that statement.

“Our true reward with this is what it (PLC) brings to our kids and how it keeps our focus on instruction,” she said. “I contribute our success to our staff and the PLC model. That is what has helped us to get where we are today.”

The Lonedell R-XIV School District is no stranger to being in elite educational company. During the 2012-13 academic year, it was one of only 10 school districts in the state to earn a perfect tally on the Missouri School Improvement Program’s latest district accreditation summary report.

Lonedell, a kindergarten through eighth-grade district, accumulated 80 out of a possible 80 points on that year’s MSIP 5 summary report.