Highlighting Inclusionary Practices at North Pines Middle School

Ashley Barker, Inclusionary Projects Director, AWSP
Jan 17, 2024

an image of north pines middle school with a sign, flag pole, and building with grass in the foreground

North Pines Middle School is a beautiful, state-of-the-art building located in the heart of Spokane Valley. When you enter the facilities, it seems like any middle school in Washington State. It is abuzz with students and typical boisterous middle school activity - staff greeting students at the door, students greeting one another, and staff urging students to get to class. Then, the bell and quiet set in, and the learning starts. There are so many layers to the work happening in our schools across the state to set the learning conditions for our students. North Pines is one of the most diverse schools in the Central Valley School district, and they have taken their job to provide equitable, rigorous learning opportunities for their students seriously.  

Two North Pines students doing a STEM activity.

As busy, involved school leaders, it's essential to have models and examples of what works for our students. In my experience, articles and research also have a role in this work. Still, once the school year has started, it is a mad dash to keep existing goals and initiatives going, so if I am going to add anything to the school’s plate, it has to be something that can be done tomorrow with little or no training or funding needed to implement. Not knowing your context's capacity, I will highlight North Pines's inclusion journey and let you decide what you can take and utilize. Knowing inclusion benefits everyone, we must keep taking steps forward to ensure all our students have access and opportunities to the high-level learning experiences our teachers have planned.

Working backward from where they are now, on this day, the admin team is conducting walkthroughs in their co-taught ELA and math classes. They had some footwork to do to get to where they are today. In preparation for co-taught classes, they had to set the stage for inclusion at their August staff days. They enlisted their local ESD inclusionary practices coordinator to lead some professional development to support their entire staff “where they were”. Those topics included Co-teaching/planning, Standards-based IEP Goal Writing, and Inclusion for All.

North Pines students showing off their design.

The teachers they expected to attend did, and surprisingly, the session open to all teachers about universal supports was standing-room only!

The administrative teams enlisted support from the Building Learning Team (BLT) to set up the August training. These are teachers typically identified as department leads; however, this year, their role was redefined to support the school’s focus on PLC work and lead their content areas. To get everyone in a learning mindset, the BLT revisited the current co-teaching model and “rumbled” (a reference to Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead coaching series) and how students with language needs accessed the co-teaching classes and universal intervention time. This leads the leadership team to suggest an additional professional learning opportunity on “Teacher Tuesdays” (an organic, optional time for teachers to gather to address specific learning topics and learn together) utilizing experts on Universal Design and Language instruction from their local ESD.

In the spring, the team worked together to redesign their schedule to accommodate for time and support in the school day, along with aligning ELA and math teachers' planning and teaching time to ensure they could co-plan and co-teach. Additionally, the administration requested to “pilot” a classroom behavior tracker application to replace a system that was too expensive for the district to continue to support. Since the implementation of the app, the administration reports they have been able to cut their office discipline intervention in half, leaving students in their classrooms to learn alongside their peers. 

More North Pines students.

To set the stage for an inclusive teaching and leading mindset, the team took advantage of the AWSP Shelley Moore series, first as an admin team and then as a teacher/admin team. After completing these trainings together, it was easy to see the teachers had a readiness to benefit and were ready to implement co-planning and co-teaching for the following year with the support of their ESD partner and their Multilingual Education partner provided by OSSI (Office of System and School Improvement).

Getting Started

A recurring theme is this work is too difficult to do alone. A first step may be to do an inventory, much like a grocer does to stock the shelves. Start by asking:

  • What are we already doing?
  • What resources within the school do we already have? (i.e., curriculum, MTSS supports, universal design strategies, etc.)
  • What resources within our district do we already have?
  • What resources do we have within our region, associations, ESDs, etc?

Then, ask where we want to be in our inclusion journey and what we need to get there. When your team (administrators and teacher leaders) knows what that is, enlist those partners.  

Practical evidence you are making progress toward your goals are:

  • Your bell schedule
  • Your course timetable
  • Your “big rocks” or year-long initiatives tied to your district plan
  • Your professional learning opportunities- before and during the school year
  • Understanding the student experience, i.e., student shadows, classroom walkthroughs, and data collection - both qualitative and quantitative

One of the most notable observations from my walkthrough at North Pines was that (1) in all the co-taught classrooms, there were little or no class interruptions, (2) you couldn’t tell who was receiving IEP support and who wasn’t, and (3) the overwhelming request from co-teachers was for feedback to improve their practice. Though North Pines is beginning its journey, it has set the conditions to continue building equitable systems for its students. 

Thoughts from Principal Jeremy Vincent

Jeremy has been in education for 20 years, 11 as a teacher and the past nine in administration. His professional philosophy, adapted from a long-time administrator and mentor, goes likes this: Students and families have a lot of issues in their lives; don’t make school one of them.

I asked Jeremy a few questions about North Pines' inclusion journey. Here's what he shared with me. 

What has surprised you with this work?
How much I enjoy the “weeds” of the education system! I discovered that I enjoy finding out how different elements of the education system work. This has led me to better understand how to utilize these systems fully.
What’s next for your school and Inclusion?
Increasing our co-teaching classrooms so that 100% of our students with an IEP are in a general education math and ELA class. Currently, our 8th graders and Extended Resource students with IEPs are in a traditional Resource Room rather than in a general education Math or ELA classroom. Next year, we will add two more co-taught classrooms, one in 8th grade ELA and the other in 8th grade Math. This will also allow us to include more ER students in general education. 95% of our students with IEPs will be in a general education ELA and Math class. In addition, English Language Development (ELD) has elements of inclusion. Still, we want to examine our practices to ensure we provide what’s best for these students and what areas we need to improve to support inclusion better (20% of our population).
May other principals contact you as a resource?
Absolutely! Just send me an email.

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