Petaluma Accelerated Charter
Acceleration in Learning
You can view and download Petaluma Accelerated Charter's Model Programs and Practices Narrative as a Google Document here.
In 2014, a small group of parents and school staff underwent a design process to answer the following question: “What type of middle school could we envision for a diverse group of students motivated to take advanced courses.” The outcome was a charter application, creating the Petaluma Accelerated Charter School at McKinley.
With input from key stakeholders, our mission statement evolved into a desire to engage a diverse group of junior high school students in a dynamic, rigorous, and personalized 21st-century learning experience while preparing them to become global citizens, problem solvers, and leaders. Given that McKinley was and remains a highly diverse campus, the idea was that by lowering the barriers to entry into an accelerated program, we would begin to be able to offer access to these accelerated courses to a much more diverse group of students, something that was not the case previously in our District. By maintaining high expectations and supporting students in a more personalized way, we have found that students do rise to meet those expectations.
PACS is made up of two sevenths and two eighth-grade classrooms, taught by a team of four teachers. Students at PACS engage in STEAM-focused electives, an honors level English class integrated with an interactive history class, a competitive science program integrated with a compacted, accelerated math program, and a high school level Spanish I class. Students who successfully complete the program begin high school one year ahead of their peer group in both math and Spanish, while also having had a rich, STEAM-focused, and integrated curriculum.
Above and beyond the core curriculum, students have the opportunity to engage in several electives throughout their time at PACS. Past electives have included Board Game Design, Critical Media Literacy, Drama, Podcasting, Print and Digital Media, Robotics and Advanced Robotics, Debate, Film Making, Food Science, Leadership, Mural Making, Visual Art, Film Studies, and Sewing. PACS generally offers four electives per semester to choose from. In addition, students can choose to take Band which does not count towards electives.
In order to build culture, students participate in multiple activities to build relationships amongst themselves and with the staff and administration. Before school starts, families are invited to a summer barbecue. The first week of school is our traditional Week of Welcome, where students across seventh and eighth grade are split into groups and go through a series of team building exercises, culminating in opportunities for students and staff to take risks in a safe and supportive environment. Early on in the year, students and staff participate in an overnight field trip in the Santa Cruz mountains, both learning content standards and developing further as a community of learners.
The programmatic design of the program and the principle of shared-decision making espoused in our District ensure that if there were to be changed to the staff or administration, the school will move forward with continuous improvement.
Model Schools and Programs:
This year will continue to enable our students to achieve well above the State average dynamic, rigorous, and personalized learning experience, preparing them to become global citizens, problem solvers, and leaders.
Because PACS at McKinley students self-select to be part of a rigorous academic program, we have found it necessary to use supplemental dollars to bridge the gap for our most struggling learners through a summer math program. Students who do not meet our minimum standards on the MDTP are enrolled in a 5-week, summer math preparation class to fill in gaps before the start of the school year.
Goal 1: Access to 21s century learning environments
PACS at McKinley is an ongoing collaborative program model that unites our school community through a living vision, uses data-based decision making, systematically utilizes the inquiry process, and respects the variety of expertise and experience within our school community.
Students regularly use technology to enhance learning. PACS is a 1:1 iPad school where each student is issued an iPad to both access curriculum and create content. Each teacher has issued a MacBook and each classroom is set up with a 65” screen and an Apple TV. Our classrooms are equipped with moveable desks and chairs to allow for quick transitions between the whole group and small group work.
Students use technology throughout the day, including specialty equipment obtained through grants and donations. For example, PACS has access to a scoped and sequenced robotics program and in fact, came in first place during the last two years at the county-wide Robotics competition. PACS students have access to a 3D printer, multiple sewing machines, and a makers space.
PACS students participate in several simulated learning experiences (Interact). For example, in seventh grade, students learn about feudal Japan in an interactive Board game where shoguns battle each other for dominance of the continent. Students demonstrate competency in online safety and responsible use of technology through the Common Sense Media platform.
All students in PACS receive Spanish-language instruction through a high-school level Spanish course. Successful students enter high school at least one year ahead of their peer group in Spanish.
Goal 2: College and Career Ready
All PACS students are on an accelerated pathway in Math and Spanish, such that, if successful, students enter high school prepared for 10th-grade Math and 10th-grade Spanish. The end goal of this acceleration is to give students more pathways towards electives, AP courses, and college credit while still in high school.
At PACS, we work diligently to model a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) that is supported by our district. As a staff, we have adopted several Universal Prevention Strategies to support all of our students. These strategies include a common language for expressing concerns, weekly classroom meetings, chats with the principal, character education, and Human Interaction.
For students who struggle socially, academically, or with attendance, we have developed a number of Targeted Intervention strategies and the work begins with one core guiding principal - case management. For each student identified with a barrier to success, whether academic, behavioral or attendance goals, we assign a staff member to eliminate that barrier. Our most challenging case management work is done by our on-site, mental health professional. Targeted Interventions are done one student at a time, such that our response can be tailored to that individual child. Several targeted strategies that we have used with success during the last several years include:
- Parent/Teacher/Student conferences
- Administrator/Teacher/Parent/Student conferences
- Student Study Teams
- Restorative Justice Circles
- Classroom meetings
- Assemblies to address a specific issue or behavior pattern
- Mental health counseling
- Nurse/Health Services
- School Attendance Review Team
If we are still not able to support the student and do not see positive results, we team with district services for intensive approaches. These approaches can include special education support, Student Attendance Review Board (SARB), and transfer to an alternative setting in order to meet the student need. We make every effort to ensure that no student “falls through the cracks” and gets access to the supports and services that are needed.
Goal 3: Parent involvement/Shared decision-making model
Parent involvement was and continues to be critical in the development of the PACS program. The school was founded with a core set of stakeholders (parents, students, staff, and site leadership), who created a Vision, Mission Statement, and Core Values for the school. However, the work did not stop there because even with a successful program, it is critical to always reassess and innovate, while still maintaining the vision and core beliefs of the program. This year, PACS is participating in a “Living Vision” process and all stakeholders will be able to use this Living Vision to guide our strategic plan, school and cultural events, and instructional plans. Through a well-designed, shared Living Vision, all stakeholders will be able to clearly articulate the core values of the PACS student experience.
Communication is very important at PACS and we have several ways that information is sent home and several ways that information can be sent to school. For example, staff send home weekly e-newsletters, a weekly phone blast is sent out, and all PACS teachers communicate to parents through Google classroom. Parents can email, call, and message to communicate back with the school. Given the diverse community at PACS, all communication is sent home in English and Spanish.
This year, we have developed a communication committee in partnership with a very involved PTA, with a goal of reaching 100% of our families. All communications go out in a side-by-side, English-Spanish model to demonstrate our commitment to diversity and celebrate the blending of our English-speaking and Spanish-speaking communities. Through our communications, we have been able to increase parent participation and create a diverse PTA, ELAC and PIQUE at our site.
We pride ourselves in monthly family enrichment nights. For example, before school starts, we host a potluck-style meet-your-teacher event. Towards the beginning of the year, we host a salsa festival, where all families are invited to come to campus and vote for the classroom who made that year’s best salsa. In the Winter, we host an Art in the Garden event and a Winter Festival. Other events include Band performances, Drama performances, Make and Takes, Back to School Night, Open House, Author Visits, Star Parties, Movie Nights, and Intercultural Events. Events are well-attended and are all geared at bringing our diverse community together, building community, and fortifying the home-school bond.
The most recent Dashboard results (December, 2018) show that PACS students have maintained / increased achievement in several areas, including:
- English Language Arts achievement was maintained (+1.7 points) at the blue performance level for all students
- Mathematics achievement increased (+21.4 points) within the blue performance level for all students
- Chronic Absenteeism declined (-2.9%) at the green performance level for all students
- Suspension Rate declined (-1%) within the blue performance level
PACS subgroups also maintained / increased achievement in several areas, including:
- English Language Arts English Learners increased (+8.1 points) to the green performance level
- Hispanic students maintained (+2.4 points) at the blue performance level
- Socio-Economically Disadvantaged students increased (+51.1 points) to the blue performance level
- English learners increased (+23.6 points) to the blue performance level
- Chronic Absenteeism:
- Hispanic students declined (-1.5%) at the blue performance level
- Suspension Rate:
- Socio-Economically Disadvantaged students declined by (-3.1%) to the blue performance level
The most important outcome is that maintaining high expectations in a supportive environment has shown to be successful with a diverse group of learners. The model can endure through leadership transitions and staffing changes. Having a clear vision with systems in place has allowed this program to thrive. PACS has given new opportunities to our diverse community.
The three main outcomes identified by the PACS program are the following:
- All members of the school community share a vision for the school and work toward a common set of goals designed to benefit all students.
- Every member of the school community is empowered to participate in a shared decision-making process, share the responsibility of implementing these decisions, and are held accountable for the outcomes of these decisions.
- The school community recognizes and utilizes the knowledge, talents, and resources of every member of the school community.