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From Insights to Action: How Data Drives Decision-Making in Winnetka School District 36

Data, Video, Success Stories

Over the last year, Winnetka School District 36 in Illinois has taken significant steps toward improving data literacy and student assessment. By integrating a student data solution, the district has made great strides in how educators access, analyze, and utilize student data. This approach has simplified processes, making the educational environment more efficient and supportive for both teachers and students. During a recent Otus Regional Workshop, we sat down with Patrick Dawson, Director of Innovation, Teaching & Learning, to learn more about their journey toward a data-driven culture.

Three Ways Winnetka Is Driving Decisions with Data

Streamlining Data Conversations

The adoption of Otus, an integrated student data and assessment solution, has made data discussions within the district much more straightforward and productive. By bringing all the data together in one place, it has cut down on the prep time usually needed for these discussions, allowing teachers and administrators to focus more on what the data reveals about student learning and how to support their progress effectively.

A Comprehensive View of Student Success

At Winnetka, education is about looking at the whole picture of a student’s experience. Otus aligns with this philosophy by combining various types of data, like social-emotional learning, attendance, behavior, and academic performance. This holistic approach helps ensure that decisions consider all aspects of a student’s school life, supporting their overall success.

Empowering Professional Learning Communities

Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) in the district have been revitalized thanks to the integration of data into their regular meetings. This has shifted the focus of PLCs to not only include planning and instruction but also to incorporate discussions on data-driven insights. As a result, there’s a stronger culture of continuous improvement and informed decision-making, which is crucial for meeting the diverse needs of students.

The Otus student profile houses every existing data point on a child, providing a holistic view of their performance. 

Through its thoughtful implementation of Otus, Winnetka School District 36 has shown how valuable student data tools can be in enhancing educational practices. 

Interview Transcript

Kendell Hunter

Alright, so would you mind just starting off with your name, your role, school district, and anything about your background that you want to share with us today?
 

Patrick Dawson

Sure. So I’m Patrick Dawson. I’m the director of innovation teaching and learning for the Winnetka Public Schools, District 36 in Winnetka. This is my second year in the district. I actually come from being a middle school principal and then actually started my career as a band director.

Kendell Hunter

So love the middle school roots. I’ve got them, too. Soft spot for the middle school. At least it sounds like you have one, too. Patrick, can you tell me just a little bit more about Winnetka’s Otus journey and what really prompted you all to adopt an assessment and data solution like Otus?

Patrick Dawson

Yeah. So, as a district, we’ve really been focusing on becoming more data literate in how we use data within our decision-making. There are a lot of different systems and ways that different buildings and different teams approach to data and data conversations, and also just where data came into the discussion. And was it a focus? Was it a main part of the discussion, or was it a bit of an afterthought? And so part of that journey is really focusing in on what information can we gather from data, what can it inform in terms of the story of our students, and then also, then creating a system that our district can use and can be applied. In each of our buildings, we have PLCs, and we have data team meetings that happen after each benchmark. And that’s where the discussions around intervention and support happen for students. What we found, though, is that there was a lot of heavy lifting that had to happen in preparation of that meeting in order for it to be successful and efficient and effective. And so by bringing Otus in now, that’s an opportunity for us to take that weight and that responsibility off of our school psychs or our administrators and really give them the opportunity to just focus on the actual data. And what does it say? And preparing for those discussions. The other thing that I would say is, it’s been great. Now that we’ve continued to roll that out and broaden the exposure that staff within our district have to it is making data more readily available to them for their decisions and allowing them to explore some of their curiosities and wonderings about individual students or about their class or about their grade level.
 

Kendell Hunter

I love hearing how it’s kind of shifted how you approach those meetings, and it sounds like you all are a little bit more productive in what conversations you’re having, having all of your data in a single tool. Have you found that the conversations are more rich or what types of conversations do you feel have come out of the Otus adoption?

Patrick Dawson

So, within our district, we identify as part of our roots and who we are as a district is being a progressive district. And so within that we’ve identified progressive tenants of whole child meaningful and experiential learning in a collaborative community. And sometimes what can happen is when we’re having database discussions, it can feel like we’re not capturing the full students within those. So the nice thing about Otus has been that we’re able to bring in our SEL screener, our attendance data, our behavior data, in addition to academic data. So when a team is sitting down and talking about a student and what they need and making the decisions for them, it’s nice that they can have those additional data points in one place.

Kendell Hunter

Absolutely. I heard you say PLCs. So you all are meeting in professional learning communities, which I know many of our k twelve educators and administrators are definitely invested in using that time. Can you just talk us through a little bit more about the cadence, like, what do your PLCs look like? How are they structured? Who runs them? Anything on ownership? I know there’s just so many administrators who are really trying to wrap their head around how often we can reasonably do this. What do we focus on? Who plans for it? So I’d love to just hear how one ECA approaches their PLCs.

Patrick Dawson

Yeah. So obviously, our PLCs are centered around the four PLC questions. As I said, we’re building that data literacy culture. So our PLCs, I think, have begun to grow out of the data team discussions that we have after each of our benchmarks. So those conversations around data are starting to continue into PLCs and using Otus, whereas maybe it would have just been focused on maybe the planning and what are we going to be teaching? And now it’s starting to shift where Otus is a tool that might be pulled up and a part of the discussion.

Kendell Hunter

So it’s like you’re almost projecting something from Otus onto the screen, knowing that all of your data is in Otus. Now, where do you see the implementation going next? So you kind of are looking at the whole child. You’re looking at those pillars. Where do you envision Otus supporting your team and the work that you’re doing for students as you all grow and move through the school year?

Patrick Dawson

Yeah. So our main goal for this year, as I said, was to really focus on making the MTSS tiered intervention discussions more efficient and effective. The plan for next year is really twofold. One is we’re looking to introduce plans into our approach and what that can do in terms of, again, having a central location where information is located for a student, increasing the awareness of different people that come in contact with that student and what’s going on and how they can also support the student. But then the other side of that is on the parent side. So our data literacy as a district, but that also fans out to the data literacy of our parents and understanding where their student is at. So we’ve moved from mailing assessments out, and next year the plan is for those access for parents to be provided, and so then they can log in and they can see what data their student has. So those are really the two main goals for next year. Is the plan side of starting to dig more deeply into how we’re tracking in progress information on students, where they’re at and how we’re intervening, and then also the parent side of just having access to it and being a more equal partner at the table?

Kendell Hunter

Absolutely. I think that parent education piece is just huge. I know we all, by the time the paper report comes in the mail, sometimes the moment has passed. So having that real time access, I assume, is going to really help those conversations at both the classroom level, but also at home. In the plans module, the progress monitoring, you can now involve families, so I’m sure you’ll learn about that later this afternoon. But you can view and edit so they can really see what’s going on in that plan. And if they want to add an update with a student, I think that piece is just perfect. It’s that continuum, right? The support. We want to wrap support around our students. So that’s an exciting vision for sure. And just to, I may have missed, are you all one year? Is this your first year with Otus or second year?

Patrick Dawson

Yeah, technically, I guess we’re coming into the year and a half mark. We added Otus at the end of last year, really in the spring as an opportunity for us to upload some data so that we would have the summer to interact with it and then have pieces in place in the fall for training and the rollout. So technically, it’s still our first year of implementation, but we’ve had it a little bit longer to just give us some time and space to learn it and upload data and see how it’s working.
 

Kendell Hunter

I think that’s actually a really wise plan, and I’ll ask a follow up question on that. Regarding your implementation, how would you describe or suggest somebody else roll out Otus? Do you think that was a good idea to kind of get in ahead of the new school year. How did you feel your onboarding process has gone to really get you all to where you are now?

Patrick Dawson

Yeah, I’ve really appreciated the way that we’ve approached it because I think that to make something like this implementation effective, I think it takes a lot of time to think about what are the expectations and how we’re intending for people to interact with it and use it. Sure. So it’s not so much just getting it up and running, but really having the next thought of the intention behind it and how that’s going to play into discussions and even for myself and for other leaders wanting to make sure that they’re equipped on, how can they guide those discussions with their teachers. So we really have started with district and building administration and our school psychs, the people that really are in data the most, especially the bigger data, and helping them to feel comfortable and equipped with it. And then we’ve gradually rolled that down to teachers and interventionists. And so I think that scaled plan of rolling it out is helpful because I think it allows us to be intentional with that. It also doesn’t feel for people that it’s being rushed. And so that can be difficult for anybody to be willing to take a step towards something if they feel like it’s being shoved down their throat. So this has really been a slow, methodical process. And what it’s also done is it’s allowed people to feel comfortable, to explore some of their curiosities because we’re not expecting the world in the first year.

Kendell Hunter

I think that’s really wise, that intentional rollout, so that if you want to go a little bit further, you can. But just kind of having those milestones. Let’s look at one child, let’s look at one class. Let’s kind of really iteratively grow on what we’re learning. We do always like to give our support team a shout out, but I’ll let you tell us, how has the support been from Otus thus far, from getting the data into Otus to trainings workshops? Anything to share on your experience thus far with our team?
 

Patrick Dawson

Yeah, I think that it can be a daunting task to bring on a whole new system and to try and implement that within a district. And we’re not a really large district, but it’s still. We have 300 teachers, we have 1700 students. So to know that we’ve had the support of Zach and the rest of the team, that if there are questions, I joke regularly that Zach and I just have a standing two week meeting because he’s so helpful and so patient and willing to help. So that’s been great to know that I have a resource to go to whenever we have questions. And then from the data side, we’re creating new systems internally of how do we upload data? How often do we upload data, how do we do that, and who’s doing that. So the patients within the team of uploading that data, making sure that it’s clean and correct and walking us through that process has been helpful as well. And then I’ve my introduction to plans even. We’ve had Zach and Kelly out to do some PD on site with our teachers, which has been really great, and they’ve helped with our administrators and our sykes and that onboarding, but then the knowledge base, too. I was able to watch a video and then build out a sample plan based off of that and then present it to interventionists and get their feedback. So it really has been great to have different ways that I can get support. And some of that is live in person, some of that’s over Zoom, and then others are just when I’m looking up a question and able to watch a video.

Kendell Hunter

Well, that’s good to know because we certainly want to be accessible to all different avenues. Everyone has their own comfort level, so I appreciate you walking me through that. Just, I think two more questions for you here. I did want to ask, is there a tool in Otus that you find is really helpful to your team or just to you when having those data conversations or kind of building up the data capacity of educators?
 

Patrick Dawson

Yeah, I’d say there’s really two. One, we’ve found a lot of value in building queries to help us with our criteria of just creating what’s our starting list of students that need to be part of the discussion for intervention. So that’s been helpful because, again, that was other people having to look through the data and pull students out. And so it’s been great to be able to apply our criteria in those rules with the query and then going back to just our focus on wanting to make sure that we’re encompassing as much of who the student is into the discussion as possible. Being able to click on a student’s page and see all of their data in one place makes those conversations so much more effective because we’re not having to look in a bunch of different systems or different websites and what’s my login and all that sort of stuff.

Kendell Hunter

My daily challenge. That’s my favorite tool as well, the student profile. If I had that when I was a teacher, I’d be projecting it and we’d be going through one by one looking at everything. I think that’s just such a powerful tool. So I’m glad that resonates with you as well. One last question for you here. If an administrator that you meet today or elsewhere was looking for advice or considering Otus, what would you tell them? Any suggestions?

Patrick Dawson

Yeah, I really think that one of the strengths of our approach to it has been sitting down with our leadership team and our principals with that decision of what do we want this to look like? And having multiple voices in helping to develop the plan and our goals and outcomes for that. And then that tiered approach to training and gradually rolling that out, I think has been well received and appreciated. And it’s given people time and space for their own speed to their learning and comfort with it. Others have been quick to jump in and some need a little bit more time to digest it and understand how it can be incorporated into their teaching or their planning. So I think that tier approach and giving people time and space has been really appreciated.

Kendell Hunter

Fabulous. Well, thank you so much for sharing more about your Otus journey, what you all are working on in Winnetka. And yeah, it was just a pleasure chatting with you. We really appreciate your partnership.
 

Patrick Dawson

Thank you.