File photo provided by Bernice Ayer Middle School.

Bernice Ayer Middle School honored as Model Professional Learning Community at Work

By Cathi Douglas

For Principal Nick Stever, Bernice Ayer Middle School’s recent recognition as a Model Professional Learning Community At Work is the result of diligent, sustained teamwork by teachers, students, and staff.

As one of about 200 schools and districts in the U.S. and Canada to receive the distinction from Solution Tree, the San Clemente school was praised for its successful implementation of the Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) at Work process.

PLCs are schools and districts in which educators recognize that the key to improved student success is a commitment by teachers to ongoing, job-embedded learning, which Stever believes is a major contributor to the improved achievement of BAMS students.

“For us, this is validation for all the hard work these teachers put in to get to this point,” Stever said, “including their relentless pursuit of growth during the past five years. We couldn’t be prouder of our team.”

Ultimately, Stever says, the middle school’s greatest goal is that every student leaves ready to be successful in high school.

“This is an awesome recognition for the extra effort, passion, and love our teachers put into these kids,” he said.

PLCs call upon educators to:

  1. Focus on learning
  2. Build a collaborative culture
  3. Create a results orientation

“None of this happened by accident,” Stever adds. “This honor represents purposeful, intentional work by our staff, who are committed to student success. Our teacher team is phenomenal.”

While he says his goal isn’t winning awards, Jalal Masri, a sixth-grade history teacher in the school’s dual immersion program, says the recognition is appreciated.

“When we get awards I celebrate for a second but it’s really about getting back to work,” Masri said. “Recognition confirms that you’re doing the right thing – we’re doing this to help students.”

By having extra systems in place to ensure student achievement, students meet standards and are not left behind, Masri points out.

“This honor means that we have a clear process in place to make the school function in a more scientific way,” Masri said. “We analyze data, apply it to the classroom, provide intervention, and put in the extra work needed for students to do well.”

In addition to incorporating systematic improvements to the learning process, Masri says, the middle school’s teachers and administrators work well together as genuinely supportive team members.

“Yet there is a lot more work that needs to be done,” he says. “It’s good to get recognized but we want to see how much better we can do and commit to more work to become even better.”

Christine Gibson, who teaches sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade English Language Development and Social Science, says being recognized as a Model PLC means that “our school is doing everything we can to ensure that ALL students achieve at high levels.”

“This recognition sets us apart from other schools because, at this point, the other schools have not quite gotten to the point where we are as a PLC yet,” Gibson continues. “From developing a mission statement that guides our every decision, to having time built in to collaborate with our teams, our staff pulls together to make sure we’re all doing what’s best for our students. I’d say what truly sets us apart is our positive culture.”

The BAMS team members share ideas and assessment data and compare scores instead of making excuses, she adds, and have collaborative conversations instead of competing with one another.

“There is a culture here that allows us to ‘push back’ and challenge one another,” she notes. “It is not always easy to make major (or sometimes minor) changes, but as we stick to our mission to guide our work and work with our teams, the change is easier.”

While the recognition rewards the school’s efforts, Gibson says she hopes it will inspire other schools to strive to work closely and well together.

“We don’t want to be part of an exclusive group, because we’d like what we do to be the norm, not only in our district, but statewide as well,” she said.

Bernice Ayer Middle School’s efforts as a PLC would not have been possible without the support of the Capistrano Unified School District’s leadership and the community support in San Clemente, Stever notes.

The recognition signifies that Bernice Ayer Middle School, as a collective school community, is trailblazing the way for other schools to know what is possible, says BAMS Education Specialist and Secondary Teaching Assistant Principal Janai Ederaine.

“We are illustrating for our entire district that the work of being a true Professional Learning Community is possible, and the results of that work lead to closing the achievement gap and producing an equitable learning environment for our students,” Ederaine says.

“The entire staff at BAMS deserves acknowledgement and praise for their continual pursuit of improvement which has resulted in four consecutive years of awards,” he says. In addition to being named a Model Professional Learning Community at Work this year, the school was named to the National Schools to Watch list in 2017-2018, a California Distinguished School in 2018-2019, and a Platinum PBIS in 2019-2020.

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