SHERIDAN — A book released earlier this month details the work that made Sheridan County School District 2 a collaborative, high-performing district.
SCSD2 superintendent Craig Dougherty co-authored “Inside PLCs At Work: Your Guided Tour Through One District’s Successes, Challenges, and Celebrations.” The book was published March 15 through Solution Tree, a professional development company focusing on K-12 education.
The book focuses on how the school district incorporated concepts from professional learning communities over the past decade into its elementary schools, middle school and high school. A PLC entails a group of educators working together to find solutions that best help students. In SCSD2, that often means the teachers of a certain grade — possibly joined by a school principal, learning specialist and/or paraprofessional — meet once per week to discuss issues that arise and the best way to address them.
Dougherty said the book ideally serves as a model for other schools to incorporate.
“It’s a celebration of what we do, but also an exacting process about how we do that,” Dougherty said. “… It’s providing a journey for people around the country to look at the model that we developed.”
Dougherty co-authored the 144-page book with Casey Reason, who has published several tomes about leadership and education. According to Dougherty, Reason approached the superintendent a little more than a year ago about a potential book. Dougherty said Reason went to a few PLC workshops and was impressed with what he saw from SCSD2 teachers.
They worked together on the book, which Dougherty called “a brutal exercise in trying to talk about our story.” Dougherty said the writing process was difficult because he wanted to accurately represent the work occurring at the district’s schools.
“I wanted to make sure that it was done so well because I am so honored to have the job that I have and the colleagues that I have,” Dougherty said. “ … I think it’s one of the top-performing districts in the nation, and so that’s a heavy responsibility when you’re putting that on paper.”
At the Sheridan County legislative forum last December, Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, mentioned his impressions after observing one of the teachers’ group discussions.
“I sat in on a [SCSD]2 PLC team (meeting) and it was really just absolutely a thrill to see how the folks worked together,” Kinskey said. “It’s just an absolute game-changer for education in America and the world.”
The publication begins in 2006 with Meadowlark Elementary School, the first SCSD2 building to implement PLCs. It ends in 2018 and details the process principals and teachers went through to collaborate at five elementary schools, Sheridan Junior High School and Sheridan High School. (The book does not include Story Elementary School, The Wright Place Middle School and the John C. Schiffer Collaborative School, all three of which have different instructional processes than the other schools).
Dougherty said he felt fairly comfortable writing about efforts done in prior years, but he admitted the book couldn’t capture all of the work currently being done because PLCs entail constant evolution.
“It basically is a story, a snapshot in time of the work that our principals and teachers do every single day,” Dougherty said. “… We spend an intense amount of time on exactly what our principals and teachers are doing on a regular basis, and so it was something that was what we do every day and what I do every day, so that part was easy to illustrate … The hard part was there are so many things that they’ve transformed from even last year to this year.”
The book isn’t necessarily sharing anything new with educators who already work in SCSD2, but it could stand as an example to schools elsewhere who aren’t as familiar with PLCs.
“We think this is a great avenue for educators to say, ‘Gosh, if Sheridan can do it, then we can,’” Dougherty said. “This is a journey on how to actually do it. It’s not theoretical … It’s actually ‘How do you start that journey and make it your own?’”
With the recent book, SCSD2 provided an account of its instructional process and hopes that other school districts might follow suit.