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Finding Solutions in an Hour: A Montana High School Optimizes Early Warning System Team Meetings

By Aurora Moore | June 5, 2018

Aurora Moore
Aurora Moore has more than 15 years of experience working at the intersection of research, policy, and practice in K-12 education. At Education Northwest, she provides technical assistance that helps states, districts, and schools use data and evidence, improve schools and systems, and effectively implement policy initiatives.

Every other Tuesday, eight educators at St. Ignatius High School—a pilot site for the Montana Office of Public Instruction's early warning system (EWS)—spend their lunch actively finding ways to help students who are at risk of dropping out.

Specifically, the EWS team, which consists of Principal Shawn Hendrickson, the school counselor, four teachers, a paraeducator, and the alternative school teacher, use data to target supports for individual students.

The EWS team also invites parents or guardians to attend the meetings so that all involved parties can be part of making a plan to help students succeed.

Targeted supports range from a schedule change to organizational assistance to one-on-one support before, during, and/or after school.

These strategies dovetail with more general supports to decrease dropout rates and increase graduation rates, such as a freshman orientation, FAFSA Night for parents and guardians, and Career Day/College Transition Day for seniors.

Seeing Results

The combination of data, a structured team, collaboration, and creative problem-solving has yielded many positive outcomes at St. Ignatius.

For example, the graduation rate increased from 77 percent in 2014 to 89 percent in 2016. In addition, since implementing an EWS the percentage of students identified as at risk of dropping out has decreased significantly.

Key Takeaways

Having established protocols has allowed St. Ignatius to hold efficient, productive EWS team meetings, which has helped specific students get the support they need—and ultimately benefited the entire school.

A new video from REL Northwest details and demonstrates several protocols for running a successful one-hour EWS team meeting. In addition to these protocols, best practices include the following:

  • Have an agenda
  • Schedule meetings as far ahead of time as possible
  • Ensure all participants have the same expectations regarding how the meeting will be run and what will be discussed
  • Be organized
  • Gather all the data you need (grades, attendance, etc.)
  • Make sure all the adults who should be at the meeting are present

For districts that are thinking about implementing Montana's EWS but are not sure whether they have the time and resources to take it on, Hendrickson has two pieces of advice.

"Find another school that has done this process," he says. "Don't try to reinvent the wheel, and don't try to do something that's going to require a lot of time and energy.

"My other advice would be to do it. If you're not doing it, you're missing out on an opportunity to help your kids. It's going to change the way you work as a school; it's going to change the way you function; it's going to change the way your staff looks at and interacts with students."

As St. Ignatius High School's EWS experience shows, with thoughtful planning, adherence to protocols, and a lot of commitment, it only takes a couple hours a month to make a big difference in the lives of struggling students.

For more information about EWS from REL Northwest, check out A Practitioner's Guide to Implementing Early Warning Systems.