MTSS: System helps build Empire of consistency

Cherie Loorz, reading interventionist at Empire Elementary School, helps a first-grade student with reading skills.

Cherie Loorz, reading interventionist at Empire Elementary School, helps a first-grade student with reading skills.
Photo by Jessica Garcia.

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Success at Empire Elementary School is all about reinforcing a positive behavior instead of emphasizing to a student what they did wrong, Vice Principal Nathan Brigham said.

Brigham added reinforcing a positive behavior is sticking well – literally.

“We had one poster that had every behavior for every location in the school on it, and we’d say, ‘Here’s what we want in the classroom, in the hallway, in the cafeteria, and it was all on this big poster,’” Brigham said. “And the idea is if the kid’s in the hallway and they’re not meeting an expectation, the (poster) would say, ‘Your expectation is to walk calmly or to be quiet or whatever.’ But it was on this massive poster, and we want it everywhere, but as we went through the training, one of the things, a phrase, we’ve used, is ‘Clear is kind.’”

Empire, a tier one school among Carson City’s sites that have been rolling out the Multi-Tiered System of Support. The school is now working to put certain services or supports in place before it moves to the second tier, a task that takes a deep dive into best practices for a school’s own students.

“We stole a lot, just to be honest, of what (Washoe County) was doing, because that’s what good teachers do … and the nice thing is we put a ton of stuff in place last year that was our understanding of tier one, because we weren’t officially trained on it,” Brigham said.

Brigham praised Carson City School District for allowing Empire and other schools the choice to opt into the framework and to move at their own pace. The process is a three-year training, with Empire entering its first step at the end of 2022 and planning its official rollout at the start of the school year.

“One of the things I think our district did really well — they were really smart with the district rollout because it is really tough to get a school fully trained on it and to have it fully implemented,” Brigham said.

He especially was pleased to learn where the implementations have been making a difference for his staff, most of which have been to provide a consistent, “kid-friendly” expectation that provokes better outcomes. It also helps students focus on their skills across all grade levels. Teachers and professionals are data tracking and can reward students for acting on positive behaviors at any time with Empire’s Mustang bucks, a form of currency with the school’s logo.

“It says, ‘Safe, Respectful, Responsible,’ and so … the kid saves up for a lunch day with a teacher, a pajama day, extra recess, and they are working really well,” Brigham said.

Brigham said the campus will go digital and have a QR code on the back of their badge to be scanned when a staff member sees them committing a positive behavior or being safe in the hallway, for example.

“Those are the consistency pieces so the kids aren’t constantly learning a new routine,” he said.

He said parents have become more aware and supportive and it’s helped them to reinforce what goes on in the home with their children and are helping with behavior issues.

“We can’t fix the behavior on our own,” he said. “We need the parents’ support. Of almost every behavior plan, we have almost seen immediate success. We’re going in the right direction. We are drastically reducing behavior plans. It’s about 420 or 430 for our student population, and we have 15 on (individualized education plans). That’s about 3% or so. That’s pretty solid.

“With MTSS, it’s nice because it’s very clear this is what we do at tier one, and this is what happens at tier two,” he said. “This is the program and this is the length of time and this is how we track data on it, and if (the students) are not successful here, this is what happens at tier one, so it’s very, very structured, and this is what took the biggest part of our time (adjusting) last year.”

Even making sure a school is ready to take a framework on in the first place takes a commitment and Brigham said Empire’s staff wanted to take its time before going through the training, learning from Washoe County schools and determining what might work for its own students and teachers.

“Why start from scratch when other people have been doing it for a long time?” he said. “The nice thing is we put a ton of stuff in place last year that was our understanding of tier one because we weren’t officially trained on it, but doing our own research, we found we need to tweak this a little bit or we missed the mark a little bit.”

For Empire, one of its most effective practices became skill streaming, Brigham said, where the staff introduces a new skill to students and it’s posted everywhere in the school and they practice it with positive reinforcement.

Site-based supports at the district level, from an attendance specialist to additional paraprofessionals and a District Intervention Assistance Team, and extra resources were put into place for Carson City’s schools to use for coaching, consultations and assistance. Students considered academically deficient can get assistance now with Web-based programming, and Empire has access thanks to Carson City’s contracts with support services such as Care Solace or Paper.

Brigham said being able to offer its interventionists who can identify students challenged with dyslexia, as an example, and can screen for recommendations immediately helps get a student to the right place right away.

“I am very happy with where this school is as an MTSS school,” he said. “You can see it in our teachers, you can see it in our students. Now, you will hear, ‘Safe, Respectful, Responsible.’… Our kids know that is what we’re working on here.”

Brigham said he’s been very satisfied seeing the rollout of the system because it provides a consistency that most children thrive off of as they learn. The program has helped create a change in attitude.

Brigham said Principal Jon “Shelby” Tuttle prefers to keep any lessons on the positive side for students as much as possible.

“I wish we would have had this sooner,” he said. “Yes, that first year coming back from COVID was very, very rough. … You’re asking a 6-year-old to remember what behavior’s OK and what’s not here. There needs to be a set standard and the big thing with Mr. Tuttle and I, we are all about the positive.”

Brigham said in other areas, the system has shown to help reduce some of the site’s major problem areas. Chronic absenteeism has gone down from about 17% two years ago to 11% this year.

Empire also has brought back school assemblies in its post-COVID era and has missed zero minutes of instructional time, and Brigham said staff has made parents aware through announcements.

“We are seeing a decrease in behavioral issues, and a decrease in struggling with reading,” he said. “We have some kids at tier three in reading. … So it’s working across the board.”


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