MTSS Tier Three: ‘Organized disorganization’ earns Fritsch distinction for implementation

Fritsch Elementary School math interventionist Sohyla Fontaine teaches a second-grade class.

Fritsch Elementary School math interventionist Sohyla Fontaine teaches a second-grade class.
Photo by Jessica Garcia.

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The holidays might have just passed, but Fritsch Elementary School instructional coach Lacey Carey’s wish list for her school stays active year-round.

Her requests come in the form of grant writing to keep her school’s systems functioning at their best, especially now that it’s a tier three school in Carson City School District’s Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) framework.

“If we have a student who’s struggling academically, if we have kids who are struggling with concerns of dyslexia or are struggling with math, we have students who struggle in reading … we have those systems so that we can send those students in those directions to get the support they need,” Carey said.

Some days, that might mean acquiring funds focusing on social-emotional learning resources and positive reinforcement strategies for students. At other times, it might mean pursuing science, technology, engineering and math dollars to advance Fritsch as a Governor’s Designated STEM school.

But for Carey, she hopes any incoming revenue will accelerate and reinforce student achievement and behavior through the school’s Multi-Tiered System of Support at its tier three level. But the biggest needs that have been met in the past three years for Fritsch through the work of the teachers — the social worker, the reading and math tutors and others — have been the biggest foundation to reaching the site’s goals in standards for fluency, phonics, reading and other skill sets kids need at an earlier age.

Carey once started out teaching fifth graders before shifting to social studies at the middle school level and returning to Fritsch as an instructional coach. The possibility that she could serve students and teachers in her current role speaking “both languages” at the elementary and secondary levels was exciting for her.

“I know what it’s like to have seven periods but also know what it’s like to have kids with you all day,” she said.

Ultimately, the experience would serve a far greater purpose to her school and to the Carson City School District, which is seeing more of its schools adapt to the Multi-Tiered System of Support, a data-informed framework set up to help with progress monitoring, interventions and supports to help students at the academic, behavioral, social and emotional levels. Teachers who need extra supports for students struggling can direct them to specific core instruction or assessments depending on the outcomes and work with interventionists, such as counselors, social workers, special education representatives, psychologists or others who can best determine the practices or guidance needed. Tier three provides the most intense support for students in need of one-on-one instruction and that requires a focus on individualized education plans.

“You start with tier one and they really focus on behavior,” Carey said. “Most schools understand tier one academics, but with behaviors, how do you build discipline and what kinds of conversations do you have with kids? How do you make sure it’s equitable? How do you track the data?

“Tier two is that differentiated instruction, with some kids who need reinforcement,” she said. “They need some small groups to reteach those behaviors. Then you have tier three for kids who need one-on-one time. There are very few kids who end up at the tier three level. Every school has those kids.”

While Carey said schools tend not to want many students at the tier three level because it can be a challenge to write good behavior plans that make a difference for them, some still are placed at the level because they might need more breaks from their classroom or a teacher might need to track more data for that student.

Fritsch was ready to jump in with tier one as soon as CCSD began its rollout as one of the first sites, with staff members quickly learning where certain changes were needed to academic or behavioral practices for data-tracking pieces as they were training, she said.

“A lot of the things we knew about MTSS, we knew we were already doing,” Carey said. “We had organized disorganization. We were doing those tiers; we just weren’t calling it that. We now are in year three of implementation. Some schools are in year two. Everybody’s in a different place. I feel like we are more successful because we had more of those systems in place.”

But Fritsch, like other schools in the lower tiers, has its challenges, such as tracking data. Most teachers in the classroom, for example, have difficulty observing students throughout the day to truly determine the root cause of a student’s learning disorder or behavior, which is where it’s been beneficial to have an interventionist who might be dedicated to enter a classroom, spend an hour and watch potential actions or symptoms that trigger individual student behaviors, Carey said. Carey said district coordinator Stephanie Keating has been offering strategies to improve Fritsch’s monitoring and ease a teacher’s decisions in the classroom in these scenarios.

“One of my goals is that we track data really well because data with students is hard to track,” she said. “We’re trying to find easier ways for students to do that. … (The teacher) is making a thousand decisions every minute and you have 20 other kids in the classroom and you don’t have the ability to stare at the kid and watch what they’re doing. You’re in it … and we can’t send them all to the office. I wish that was a solution.”

For its excellence as a tier three school, Carson City School District recently announced Fritsch was awarded the Platinum Award level for MTSS implementation by the Nevada Association of Positive Behavior Support Network (APBS), a panel of statewide MTSS experts. The organization first was established between 2010 and 2012 with the purpose of increasing positive behavior support in the state and enhancing quality of life of Nevadans with disabilities and challenging behavior through “directed, evidence-based instruction, consultation and systematic change.”

Schools that are recognized can earn a bronze, silver, platinum or diamond level award from the APBS, Carey said.

Fritsch’s recognition was based on several criteria, including an expectation matrix for School-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (SW-PBIS) with lesson plans; an acknowledgment system; a discipline flowchart; a Big 5 data report; a tiered fidelity inventory (TFI) at 70% or higher; a data narrative; and a letter of recommendation from the Carson City School District.

Carey told the Appeal Fritsch had submitted a series of essays about what staff members had done to fully implement MTSS and had been scored by a third-party representative who visited the campus to interview staff members and students who were not a part of its MTSS team to ask about practices.

“They ask, ‘What’s your matrix?’ and ‘Did you get Bark bucks?’ They ask do they know about these things that should be in place and you get an implementation score, and you had to have had a certain implementation score and they decide who gets these awards,” Carey said. “We were really excited.”

School representatives from Fritsch will be honored for the award during a banquet at an upcoming APBS Network conference Feb. 12 in Reno.

Carey said she was proud to see the school’s behavior plan and its tracking performing acknowledged and has learned from its work at the tier two and three levels. It’s also taken time to readapt and normalize with social behaviors for its student population after the pandemic, she said, but overall, the work continues on a more positive and consistent basis because staff members and families have greater support than they did before COVID-19.

“The last few years, we’ve had more tier three kids than we wanted but we also weren’t doing things as intensely as we should have, so we learned from that,” she said. “Now when I look at what we should be doing for a behavior plan for a student and all things we should be tracking and the data and involving the parents, it’s a learning process. You don’t want a lot of kids there.

“We had a lot of kindergarteners who had never been outside their apartment,” she said. “We had parents who self-reported. They had never left so when you don’t have those socializing moments as a kid, yeah, you’re going to need more teaching.”


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