Marion Visual & Performing Arts Magnet is one of only 14 schools in Arkansas selected to participate in the sixth cohort of the state’s Professional Learning Communities at Work program.

Through this project, VPA will be matched with a certified PLC at Work associate from Solution Tree, a national professional development provider. Staff will receive intensive on-site support as they implement and sustain the PLC at Work program over the next three years. This involves creating an action plan focused on increasing student achievement through aligned curriculum, formative assessment practices, and proven instructional strategies. The PLC at Work program is coordinated through the Arkansas Department of Education’s Division of Elementary and Secondary Education.

VPA will be in the sixth cohort of PLC schools, joining 51 other schools that have been in the program since it was introduced in 2017. For VPA Principal Betsy Laughter, the PLC program will be a way to take the school to the next level.

“The staff at VPA is second to none,” Laughter said. “They have worked hard this year to figure out what our kids need and respond to that need. The pandemic has had a greater impact on student learning and student achievement than anyone could have imagined. We hope that through this program, we can create structures and systems that will allow students to gain access to the instruction they need so that all students can live out our school’s vision of ‘Learning. Growing. Achieving. Setting the Stage for Success!’”

Laughter said the selection process began in January. It was rigorous and required administrators to be extremely evaluative and reflective on current practices, she noted.

“After submitting an application of interest, we began working on our final application in February,” she said. “The finished product totaled 24 pages and was the sum of about six weeks of work. We submitted our application right before Spring Break and were invited to interview with a panel from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in early April. We received news of our acceptance on April 29. We are grateful for this opportunity to learn from the experts and grow as professionals.” 

Sandra Halley, director of curriculum, instruction, and professional development for the Marion School District, said VPA’s acceptance into the PLC at Work is a major step forward for the district.

“Under the leadership of Mrs. Laughter, VPA is already doing great things,” Halley said. “Adding the coaching, mentoring, and leadership provided by Solution Tree will only enhance the great work being done. As VPA uses this opportunity to grow and improve, we hope to eventually add the other schools in the district to future cohorts and provide these same opportunities for them.”

A panel of education professionals reviewed applications, and DESE selected the following schools to participate in the program this year:

  • Berryville School District
  • Cabot Freshman Academy, Cabot School District
  • Carlisle School District
  • Chicot Elementary School, Little Rock School District
  • Fairview Elementary School, Texarkana School District
  • Greenwood High School and Freshman Center, Greenwood School District
  • Hamburg Middle School, Hamburg School District
  • Hot Springs World Class High School, Hot Springs School District
  • Lakeside Junior High School, Springdale School District
  • Marion Visual and Performing Arts Magnet, Marion School District
  • Marked Tree School District
  • Mountainburg Public Schools
  • Oakland Heights Elementary School, Russellville School District
  • Sonora Middle School, Springdale School District
  • Smackover-Norphlet School District

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the implementation of the PLC at Work program has been one of the highlights of the state’s education efforts over the last several years.

“Not only have we seen an increase in student learning, but teacher collaboration has improved at schools and districts that have implemented the PLC process,” Hutchinson said. “This naturally results in an improved culture that promotes learning. Congratulations to this year’s new additions to the program. The rewards of the hard work ahead will greatly benefit all involved.”

“I am excited and pleased to welcome the latest schools and districts to Arkansas’ PLC program,” ADE Secretary Johnny Key said. “I congratulate them for their commitment to education and thank these educators for embracing this critical work. I am confident that their students will benefit from the collaboration and deep learning this process fosters.”

To evaluate the success, researchers at Education Northwest reviewed Arkansas’ program and found four key findings after three years of implementation.

  • Students showed improved academic achievement and higher levels of engagement.
  • All PLC at Work schools reported positive changes in instructional practices, which led to improved learning opportunities for students. 
  • Educators in PLC at Work schools improved their culture of collaboration and collective responsibility for ensuring all students learn at high levels.
  • All PLC at Work schools received significant, high-quality support from school leaders and Solution Tree associates and were able to fully implement the program. 

In the first year of the program, selected schools receive intensive job-embedded training, observation, and coaching. Schools create action plans that focus on increasing student achievement through the aligned curriculum, formative assessments, and proven instructional strategies. During the second year, schools deepen their understanding and focus on implementing a multi-tiered system of supports, followed by strengthening their systems and sustaining the process in year three.

For more information, please visit the DESE website at https://bit.ly/3KdXJv6 or view the 2021 documentary “A Child’s Best Hope: The Arkansas PLC Story” on the Solution Tree website at https://bit.ly/3vJFDvQ.

The Marion School District is an innovative and growing district committed to helping every student find their unique path to success in school and in life. With more than 150 years of experience serving families in Crittenden County, the district offers a high school, a junior high, and three award-winning magnet schools. For enrollment information, including information on school choice, visit https://www.msd3.org/ or call 870-739-5100.