MTSS: Fair, predictable step up at Eagle Valley

Students at Eagle Valley Middle School line up Dec. 7 to receive prizes they’ve earned for good behavior as part of the school’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports system.

Students at Eagle Valley Middle School line up Dec. 7 to receive prizes they’ve earned for good behavior as part of the school’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports system.
Photo by Jessica Garcia.

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Observing a teaming approach with staff members at Eagle Valley Middle School, dean of students Lois Linehan sat in on a history lesson with students to watch how the teachers’ approach from subject to subject applied.

“They showed (the students) a picture and they had to write questions, ‘What questions do you have about this picture?’ and there was a sheet of leveled questions, and the teacher pulled it up,” Linehan said. “(Students replied), ‘Oh, yeah, we did this in science,’ ‘We did this in English.’ (The teacher answered), ‘So you understand how to do this?’ How much time was saved just not having to explain how to use that (concept) because they’d already done that?”

Staff members of Eagle Valley, a tier two school with an enrollment of 809 in Carson City School District’s Multi-Tiered System of Support framework, have established a strong foundation with the structures they put into place to help their students.

For Linehan, providing that consistent, practical approach is one of the advantages for teachers and staff members who are working to improve disciplinary actions, helping students struggling with their mental or emotional needs or their homework and basic social skills.

Linehan said the training felt like “drinking from a firehose,” but the staff has adapted well since becoming a tier one school and has now stepped up to tier two.

“We were overwhelmed and concerned, and we were like, ‘How are we going to sell this to teachers?’” she said. “But the district did an amazing job breaking it down chunk by chunk and giving us little tasks built into tier one. Once we realized we were doing a lot of it anyway, it was more a matter of making sure our structures are consistent and predictable and making sure everyone is on the same page.”

At Eagle Valley, by promoting a system of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), Linehan said there is more buy-in from teachers with implementation.

“We still have some work to do, but at least we’re moving,” she said. “These are the steps you take in the classroom. We gave power to the teachers in the classroom and reduced the amount of times kids are kicked out of class. It kind of made it fair and predictable, and by third time I’m in trouble (as the student), there’s no surprises.”

Linehan said she and Principal Lee Conley would be creating a consequence matrix to address discipline on a more consistent basis so students will have a better picture of the actions that are taken upon first, second or third offenses.

Eagle Valley has always taught students to be “Safe, Responsible and Respectful” but has never used a behavioral flowchart until it became a tier one school.

“Any kid knows our three rules, and then we had to refine them and define them and have teachers using the same verbiage and explain specifically in positive language what that looks like to kids,” she said.

But Linehan said implementation in the past two years has revealed its challenges in general for the middle school campus. Addressing students’ mental health needs recently became a “gray area” in deciding what might be related to trauma or whether youth choose not to be accountable for their actions, she said.

“I think the more training we have and the more fully we understand what we’re looking for and the signs and different symptoms and pair (students) with resources, the more we can move forward,” Linehan said. “If we oversupport them or not hold them accountable … they’re going to get used to not going to class, not doing things, but then the real world’s going to hit them and they’re still going to be held accountable for speed limits and they’re still going to be held accountable for laws.”

Including parents in the conversation and the MTSS rollout itself also has been difficult because it’s difficult to come to events at the school or to parent-teacher conferences, which has been consistent since schools closed in 2020 due to COVID-19.

For teachers, Linehan said making small changes in their daily routines under MTSS and making the change to tier two has been a successful, if cautious, change. It likely means extra scrutinizing on conflict mediation.

“We’re constantly meeting with our MTSS team monthly now,” Linehan said. “Once we really get into tier two and have some interventions, we’ll need to meet twice a month because that second meeting is just looking at the kids in intervention and monitoring them.”

Linehan said from implementing MTSS, she has learned it’s not about “recreating the wheel.”

“You’re just putting air in the tires or you’re changing the tire,” she said. “It’s very scary at first … But once you get started and you realize you’re just refining, you see a decrease in behaviors and seeing the effects,” she said. “When a kid comes in for discipline — ‘Which rule did you break?’ ‘It’s for not being safe, Ms. Linehan’ — you can hold them accountable for that knowledge.”


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