2017 School Recipient of the Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement.
Equity and inclusion is a priority for EQAO and, this year, the agency sought to highlight the work being done by schools to address equity-related challenges. School recipients of the 2017 Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement saw an increase in the percentage of students with special education needs meeting the standard on either the reading or writing component of provincial assessments from 2014 to 2017, and these schools clearly demonstrated that their analysis of EQAO data helped inform decisions about initiatives to support student learning better.
Student population: 205
Principal: Laurie Zahra
- Pius XII Catholic Elementary is a rural school with a higher-than-average population of students of low socio-economic status.
- About 33% of the school population, including 45% of Grade 3 students and 26% of Grade 6 students who participated in EQAO assessments in 2016–2017, have special education needs.
- The number of ESL learners is increasing, as is the number of self-identified Indigenous learners.
- Situated within the school is an EarlyON Centre (formerly the Minnow Lake Best Start Hub) and Maple Tree Preschool.
Just over 70% of Grade 3 and 6 students writing EQAO assessments in 2017 attended Pius XII Catholic Elementary for three or more years prior to 2016–2017. New students require intensive focus to meet benchmarks. Since the school has a high transiency rate, staff members work quickly to assess the needs of a newly transferred student and to put a support plan in place, one that involves both people and technology.
Intensive supports are also required for some students experiencing language delays or impairments that cause a significant learning gap. Many of these students require speech-language supports and targeted practice, and the staff works to build student confidence in oral communication.
In addition, many students have significant social, emotional and behavioural needs that are becoming more complex. A whole-school team approach using progressive discipline is required for students to have some daily success at school. Accordingly, staff members focus on ensuring that students feel a sense of belonging, contribution and safety (physically, emotionally and psychologically).
“As a school administrator, I can’t help but look into the eyes of every student and see my own child; when I look into the eyes of my staff, I see me. I want for them what I want for myself. This want is, at its core, a desire to be connected to something larger than myself; to be part of a plan that is significant, even though I sometimes feel like one small person. It is through this lens that I aim to be a leader and a model of hope. The word ‘school’ can be interchanged with ‘community,’ and it is only through community that hope can be brought alive. An isolated student may feel hopeless until he or she is united with other members of the community who say, ‘You can do this. I believe in you. You are important to me.’ Fostering a culture of hope in any school is really about the daily interactions that demonstrate care and compassion for all individuals, just as they are. At Pius XII Catholic Elementary School, the cup is always half-full, and tomorrow is always another chance to start anew, make a change and become your very best.”— Laurie Zahra, Principal
What is the profile of this school community?
Profile of Grade 3 and Grade 6 Students
Number of Students
Number of Classes
English Language Learners
Students with Special Education needs (excluding gifted)
First Language Learned at Home Was Other Than English
Born in Canada
In Canada Less Than One Year
In Canada One Year or More But Less Than Three
In Canada Three Years or More
“The initiatives we have implemented have allowed students to develop self-confidence and develop their own sense of growth mindset. Students have become comfortable with expecting accommodations and no longer perceive it as a weakness. By allowing students to use technology [and manipulatives], giving them extra time to process their thoughts . . . and allowing them to express their thoughts verbally, they feel less anxiety and frustration, allowing them to achieve at higher levels than if they were left with no support”— Amanda Schiafone, Teacher
How have the results improved?
Evidence of student learning is consistently captured through classroom observations, various data-collection methods (quantitative and qualitative) and conversations with students. These methods allow Pius XII educators to effectively monitor student growth and determine challenges. Because student learning changes all the time, EQAO data is only one type used at Pius XII. Reading levels and benchmarks for instructional and independent reading are tracked consistently throughout the year, as they affect overall achievement in all subjects. The Developmental Reading Assessment is completed more often for students who are not reaching the benchmark, and classroom formative assessments and descriptive feedback are used to target writing skills.
“My reading groups and my books at home program. I get to use the iPad and apps like Prodigy and Lexia. They help me learn words and sentences for when I read and write.”
“[The school] has allowed me to bring things that help me stay focused, like my headphones to block out noise, because I get easily distracted.”
“My teachers put me in reading groups so that I can read better, and put me in a math group so that I could practise my math facts more.”— Students
What initiatives have contributed to this improvement?
Monitoring Performance and Using Data
Over the past eight years, the staff at Pius XII have developed data collection and monitoring strategies that increase student achievement. A key document that has helped them get a deeper understanding of what students can achieve is the School Effectiveness Framework (SEF), a companion to their process of unpacking EQAO data and setting goals each school year. As a team, staff members have come to realize that the SEF guides them in establishing the best possible school and learning environment for students; it is used to assess gaps in practice and has become the basis of the school’s goals.
At the beginning of each school year, all administrators and educators at the school conduct a self-assessment using the SEF, followed by an analysis of EQAO and DRA data (from June of the previous school year), to plan instruction for students based on their achievement levels. They formulate School Improvement Plan for Student Achievement and Well Being goals that reflect gaps and student needs to set better targets. They also highlight areas of the SEF in the School Improvement Plan to focus improvement. For instance, over the past eight years, they have focused intently on indicators 4.2 and 4.5, which emphasize high levels of achievement in literacy throughout the school, differentiated instruction and assessment responses. From there, they implemented a school-wide data wall to track DRA on a 6-8 week cycle for most students who have not yet reached the benchmark.
“Students feel more confident and successful when accommodations are put in place to assist in completing the EQAO assessment. By allowing them to have scribes and a quiet space, students are able to complete the assessment without distractions or the extra stress of writing the task on their own. Teachers recognize student needs and implement IEPs to ensure student success. Working with students on developing the IEPs and providing accommodations allow students opportunities to take risks and feel confident.”— Jill Loranger, Teacher
Creating Targeted Interventions and a Growth Mindset
The educators at Pius XII use a comprehensive literacy approach that involves a mentoring relationship between teacher and students in which responsibility for learning is gradually released to the child, as literacy is ultimately demonstrated independently.
For students with IEPs, staff members identify their needs and establish targeted interventions at school and home. These targeted accommodations are employed daily and consistently. Educators also introduce assistive technology early and regularly in Grade 3, particularly for students new to the school.
Teachers use high-yield strategies such as guided reading, growth mindset strategies, iPad apps and oral rehearsal of desired responses to elicit Level 3 and 4 responses. Students learn to recognize weak areas in their work that they can improve. In addition, teachers promote the belief that all students can achieve Level 3 or 4 on the EQAO assessments. These methods—combined with models and frameworks generated with students, consistency and commitment to student achievement—help develop a growth mindset at Pius XII.
All of the above has increased the school’s ability to recognize student learning needs much more quickly than before and to set up varied learning supports that involve multiple team members, including parents. Educational assistants (EAs) have become an increasingly integral part of the team; they provide intervention and support in a myriad of ways, from social and emotional strategies to reading practice with small groups. EAs also assist students in using assistive technology more consistently each year.
“The staff at Pius XII work as a team. We take on a tiered approach to helping all of our students, particularly those who have IEPs. We meet regularly to discuss progress and next steps. Our teachers work very hard to figure out where each student is and where they need to be by the end of the year. The needs at Pius XII vary for each particular student. Attendance, mindset and behaviour challenges are some of the obstacles we have to overcome here, on top of building capacity and targeted intervention. How we deal with each student depends on their needs at that specific time. Our teachers are teaching material from a range of different grades. The intensive support facilitator will assist with number talks and work with small groups in guided math. The resource teacher will provide SRA reading intervention and guided reading. Our school EAs work individually with students to support them with daily tasks. Everything here is a team effort and, because of this, our students know that they are supported, they are safe and they can succeed.”— Sabrina Kutchaw, SERT
Building Relationships in a Safe and Caring School
The educators at Pius XII have come a long way in redefining beliefs about how to help students who have behavioural challenges. They now realize that these students need their support the most. These students need to be in the classroom more, not less—and definitely not segregated to another area of the school to “safeguard” the learning of others. Over the course of eight years, the staff developed a multi-faceted progressive discipline approach that regards support as equally important as discipline and consequences. This support is provided by the school but also includes parent and community involvement.
Staff members recognize that a student’s behaviour can indicate a need, so his or her emotional well-being must be addressed before his or her academic challenges. They believe that students with social, emotional or behavioural challenges need to be connected to their teachers even more than their peers are, as it is only possible to tap into their learning potential when they feel connected to the teacher and safe in exposing their emotions and needs.
The school established a Chill Room (a small room with beanbag chairs, posters displaying emotions, books, colouring activities, etc.) for students who become emotionally distraught and need a calm, private place to experience their emotions and talk with a supportive, caring adult. When a student becomes upset, angry or even aggressive, an EA guides the child to the Chill Room or takes him or her on a therapeutic walk to talk things out. Afterward, the student is reintegrated into the classroom and, with the EA’s assistance, catches up on the lesson. With the implementation of the Chill Room and EA support, the school is keeping kids at school and not sending them home, which is important, as they won’t get the same literacy lessons at home. By taking a holistic approach to teaching, educators at Pius XII ensure that students are at school and developing a deeper connection with the school community, as well as a sense of belonging.
The focus at Pius XII is always on developing relationships first—teachers and administrators want to learn about their students, and they want students to see the staff as real people. It is not uncommon to hear staff members talking with students about their weekend plans, their views on the environment or their opinions on what would make the school even better.
The staff at Pius XII believes strongly that students who feel safe, cared for and valued will have a greater chance of believing in themselves and putting forth their best effort at trying new things, taking risks and accepting failure—and through this, they will build resiliency and a growth mindset.
Although Pius XII has a high transiency rate, its educators believe that a student who is with them long enough will have success, because of the targeted teaching and learning strategies that come about from the relationships they build with their students and the compassion they foster.
“If a student is with us long enough, they will have success. . . . When you have the compassion piece, you don’t stop looking for solutions. . . . Their success is our success; their failure is our failure—we feel it.”— Laurie Zahra, Principal
How we analyze the data
Staff at Pius XII
- Use EQAO data in conjunction with data from other sources to consistently track reading levels throughout the year
- Use EQAO data alongside other documents, such as the School Effectiveness Framework, to gain further insights into the significance of results
How we put the data into action
- Determine learning challenges and create targeted interventions for students
- Work quickly to assess the needs of newly transferred students and to put support plans in place
- Build and foster meaningful relationships with students, resulting in resiliency and a growth mindset
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