Join us for our next live demo on Thursday, March 7th to get a closer look at the Otus platform

Login

Harnessing Tech for Enhanced Student Support: Strategies from Maureen Joy Charter School

Success Stories, Video

A Conversation with Jessica Conn

In our recent conversation with Jessica Conn, the MTSS Coordinator at Maureen Joy Charter School, we explored the school’s incredible use of educational technology to support students. With her extensive experience across various educational roles, Jessica shared how the platform has been instrumental in enhancing student support and educational strategies at Maureen Joy Charter School. This conversation sheds light on practical ways technology can be leveraged to meet diverse student needs in a K-12 setting.

Three Ways Maureen Joy Charter School Leverages Technology to Enhance Student Support and Learning

Comprehensive Data Integration for Student Support

Educators at Maureen Joy Charter School faced significant challenges in managing and interpreting the vast amount of student data scattered across multiple systems. The school’s struggle to consolidate and effectively utilize this information for the benefit of its students was a clear indicator of the need for a more streamlined approach. 

Integrating various types of student data, including academic performance, attendance, and intervention plans, into a single platform like Otus significantly enhanced the support provided to students. This approach allowed for a more holistic understanding of each student’s needs, facilitating targeted interventions and support strategies. It also enabled educators to have more informed discussions with parents and stakeholders, leading to better outcomes for students. As Jessica shared, their approach to conversations with families has evolved, now focusing on illustrating the precise impact of missed school days through their child’s data – a change that has transformed how they approach critical attendance discussions.

Effective Intervention and Progress Monitoring

Maureen Joy Charter School was grappling with the challenge of efficiently tracking and monitoring the diverse academic needs of its students. With educators handling large caseloads, it became increasingly difficult to maintain detailed, individualized records for each student, especially for those requiring targeted interventions.

Utilizing technology for tracking and monitoring student interventions, especially in academic areas, is crucial for a successful Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS). Platforms like Otus can be used to set, track, and monitor individual student goals, allowing educators to tailor interventions effectively. This approach bridges the gap between intervention efforts and classroom performance, ensuring that each student receives the support they need to succeed.

With Otus, Maureen Joy Charter School was able to consolidate and manage student data more effectively. This shift not only streamlined the process of tracking academic progress and interventions but also empowered educators with the tools to make data-driven decisions, significantly enhancing the support and outcomes for their students.

Plans with Third-Party Data (1)
Otus Plans enable Maureen Joy Charter School to track every student’s goals and progress in a single place, eliminating the sheets and sheets of data they previously sifted through to support students. 

Customization of Technology to School Needs

The adaptability of educational technology platforms to a school’s specific needs is vital for their effective implementation. It’s important to select a platform that not only offers the necessary features but also allows for customization to align with the school’s unique goals and processes. 

Maureen Joy Charter School faced challenges in finding a technology platform that could be tailored to their specific needs. During their search in the 2020-2021 school year, they encountered platforms that were rigid and lacked the flexibility necessary for their unique goals, highlighting the importance of a customizable and responsive solution.

Ultimately, Maureen Joy Charter School’s collaboration with Otus turned out to be highly productive. As Jessica shared, partnering with a technology provider who embraces ongoing dialogue and customization was pivotal. This approach not only facilitated the effective implementation of school-wide initiatives like MTSS but also significantly enhanced their capacity to meet educational objectives.

 

Interview Transcript

Kendell Hunter

All right, well, thank you so much for being here with me today. Jessica, would you mind just starting us off with a quick introduction, share more about you, your role, and the school that you support?

Jessica Conn

Yeah, so thank you so much for having me. My name is Jessica Conn, and I am the MTSS coordinator at Maureen Joy Charter School in Durham, North Carolina. It is a K-8 school and is independent of any other charters. I’ve been in education for 19 years. I’ve taught kindergarten, first grade, fourth grade, fifth grade, and sixth grade in Mississippi, Arkansas, and now North Carolina. I’ve been at my current school for eleven years and in my current role for four.

Kendell Hunter

Wow, you certainly have a wide range of experience there. That’s awesome. Primarily sounds like Southeast. That’s a great landscape to be working in. Jessica, can you just share a little bit more about Maureen Joy’s specific journey with Otus? Kind of what brought us here together today. Knowing that you all adopted the platform, I’m just kind of curious what needs were present within your school that brought you all to bring on a tech tool like Otus?

Jessica Conn

Yeah, so two paths converged here. So the program that we were using as our gradebook said that they were no longer going to provide gradebook support. So we had an immediate need in that area in that we needed something that functioned as a gradebook. And I had also been pushing for about a year prior that we really needed a data system that was different than what PowerSchool would provide, a way to look at students more holistically and being able to look at their data and their past data. And so really it was born out of, oh, we need this gradebook. And so the assistant principal at the time, she set up a meeting with Otus and she asked me to join. And as they were sharing more about the platform, I was like oh, this crosses off the things that I am looking for as the MTSS coordinator. Because since we are an independent charter, we don’t have a school district making decisions and telling us hey, you have to use this program. But that also means we have to do all the research as administrators in the building. But this was an opportunity that provided both things that we needed in relation to data.

Kendell Hunter

So it sounds like you were kind of just checking boxes as you were going down a list there. And for many schools, it kind of starts with that narrow focus. Like you said, we need this now. But having that long-term vision, I personally think can help you to be a little bit stickier in tools rather than the usual churn. Having been a former educator, things come and go. It’s just the nature of all technology, even in our own app-downloading life. But big picture for your students and kind of owning that gives you a little bit more autonomy to make those decisions. How many years ago was this when you were evaluating Otus?

Jessica Conn

So it was either the summer between the 2019 and 2020 school year and the 2020 2021 or between 2021 and 21 22. Honestly, for most, that time is probably a blur. It’s kind of a blur. I don’t remember what school year. I think this is our second year really implementing Otus.

Kendell Hunter

Okay, so thinking about that initial entry of the gradebook, I’m assuming that’s where you all started. Have you all kind of jumped on and started using the data right away? Or is that more of a long-term vision?

Jessica Conn

So I’ll be honest, I don’t use the gradebook. That’s not something that, with my lens, is super important to me. So I have been very much pushing to use the data. What I spent a lot of last year doing is just figuring out how Otus could be harnessed to get our data together, because, as Jess says, who works at Otus, I just had spreadsheets upon spreadsheets upon spreadsheets. And so I was trying to figure out how to get all that information we had about students, but get it into one place so teachers could see like, a clear picture that wasn’t just a gradebook. So I would say I’ve really worked on trying to get Otus to the point that it has a lot of information in it. I would say in terms of implementing staff use, looking at that bigger picture data, that is something that we’re still working on. I’m really trying to get it to be the tool we want it to be.

Kendell Hunter

Sure, that’s totally fair. And to your point in your role, being in the gradebook day to day just doesn’t make sense. Whereas somebody else might be like, this is where I live, I’ll look at the data as I can, so that makes sense. And I think that’s sometimes a good thing about a platform is when you can wear a different hat and still use the same tool, but kind of be looking at the same types of things that are important to your role or focused on that. So as a data person, I did take a little sneak peek into your Otus account. I hope that’s okay. And I did see you have a lot of data in there, so you’ve definitely made sure that everything is available. But one thing that stood out to me is that you all are looking at what it appears to be like academic data. So you’ve got your i-Ready, or you’re reading in math, but have some non-academic data like attendance. Can you just kind of talk me through what you were hoping to accomplish there, how that might be used to drive decisions?

Jessica Conn

So we have a really robust attendance intervention team. It’s no secret that attendance has become even more of an issue across the nation for educators as we’ve returned from online learning. I thought it was really important to get the attendance in there.

So the attendance team also is looking at the whole picture of a student. So it’s not just about, hey, your child needs to be in school, but, hey, your child needs to be in school. These are their grades as a result of them not being in school. These are the services they’re missing out on as a result of not being in school. And here’s their diagnostic data as a result of them not being in school. So the hope was really to provide a bigger picture for everybody.

Kendell Hunter

Wow, what a powerful way to present that information to the team. Just kind of the information is all there. As you said, you were the spreadsheets upon spreadsheets, but when you connect the dots like that, I imagine that really changes the conversation. Look at how the dominoes have fallen for this student because of this.

Jessica Conn

Yes. And unfortunately, we do have especially a lot of middle school students who over the course of their educational career, have had a very high amount of absences. And it shows when you’re in eight grade, and you still need phonics intervention.

Kendell Hunter

Yeah. Is your team, as a result of seeing all this data, have you found that the team is focused a bit more on, like, okay, what’s next? What are some positive ways we can reinforce attendance or things like that? Any conversations happening as a result?

Jessica Conn

I definitely wouldn’t say that we have great answers. We still have quite a few students who are struggling with coming to school for various reasons. But I am able, as I am also the person who coordinates all of the intervention that happens outside of students who have IEPs. I’m also able to look and see, what does this attendance look like, what does their progress and intervention look like? And I think, as I mentioned earlier, just being able to have much more specific conversations with parents, rather than just saying, you need to come to school, your kid needs to come to school, they need to be on time, they need to be on time. And really trying to get parents to understand the impact of students not being in school, I would say that’s really been our biggest push. Our school has about 600 students, and we have a lot of families who are, you’d almost call it generational. So their oldest child went here, and maybe they’re 25 years old, and then their little cousins go here, or their little sibling goes here. So we also really do try and build on the relationships we’ve established as well.

Kendell Hunter

Yeah, I mean, having that information and being able to present it that way makes perfect sense. I feel like that’s really the first step, right, to getting that buy-in of like, hey, this is what we’re seeing, but look at this for yourself. And that’s got to be so powerful for those conversations rather than kind of dancing around it. Yes, we all know they need to be in school, but here’s why, and here’s the impact on your child. I know that you are the MTSS coordinator. Sounds like you’re spearheading a lot of great work. Can you talk more, just really what does MTSS mean to Maureen Joy school and then just share a little bit more from an implementation standpoint, what that looks like?

Jessica Conn

So I would really say the key thing whenever anyone asks me this question is about

removing as many barriers as we can for students in their path to learning. And those barriers are going to look different for every student, maybe one student. There aren’t really any extra barriers. They make progress with what instruction they get in core teaching. But then we have students who have multiple barriers and those might be related to basic needs, food, hygiene, housing, but it can also be academic related, behavioral related, social, emotional related. So we’re really just trying to work with families to remove as many barriers for students so they can be successful in school.

Kendell Hunter

Absolutely. Well said. When we think about how technology can support a framework like that, where every students have so many different needs going from one class to the next, what their supports look like might be totally different. How have you found technology to be able to help streamline that process? Or has it helped at all as far as the tracking and implementation of just making sure students are not slipping through the cracks?

Jessica Conn

So one thing that I kind of piloted last year was using the plans in Otus, and I would say this works really well for the academic tracking. And this year I’ve taken it to my entire intervention team. So all of the academic progress monitoring in terms of the mastery monitoring is put into their plans in Otus. So then teachers can then go in and see what the goals are that students are working on specifically in intervention. Because when you have a caseload of 25 or 30 kids, you can’t necessarily sit down with every teacher to discuss every goal a student has. So they’re able to see their goals, they’re also able to see the progress towards their goals as well. Another way that I have kind of harnessed the power of those plans, another area that I kind of spearhead is student retention. It’s a very touchy subject because some people believe strongly in retaining students, some people don’t believe in retaining students. And what I saw as a big issue for our school specifically was a lot of the times the decisions weren’t made based in data. And I felt like it was really important to think about retention that way because in my mind and in the mind of our principal, we’re really thinking about students who are true outliers, not just a little bit behind their cohort, but truly outliers. So we also used those plans to progress monitor goals for students who were on our potential retention list as well.

Kendell Hunter

I imagine that created quite a bit of visibility just around how many students were in that group and what the breadth and depth of what they needed looked like for the whole team.

Jessica Conn

Yes, and I think it just gave a good sense of also looking at it from an administrator’s perspective. Teachers set the goals for their classes, so it really helped us figure out where were these gaps or how big were the gaps for students. Because when I’m working with a student in an intervention group, I have fourth graders who still have goals around being able to accurately tell you all the letter sounds, but that’s not what a teacher is going to write a goal about. Most likely it’s going to be on more grade level content. So it was a little easier to see exactly how far the gap was in between what we were doing in intervention and then where they are in class.

Kendell Hunter

Absolutely. I know I heard you say that you created a lot of different plans for this mastery tracking. I just had a curiosity, where did all this live before? Because it sounds like you all are doing a ton of personalized learning and making sure everyone’s needs are met. And I know I’m a former special ed teacher, so I lived in Google Sheets. I was just curious, were you all paper-based? What were you all doing before?

Jessica Conn

So we were never paper-based. We started in Google Docs, and then we moved to Google Sheets as there was more push in 2020, there was a change in the law in North Carolina, and so we no longer use the discrepancy model when looking at a student and considering whether they might qualify under a specific learning disability. So that really brought in more need to have graphing and charting as well. So I switched to Google Sheets and then I probably midway through the year

last year, decided to take my tracking to Otus to see how it went and was really excited to see that it’ll provide a graph of all those points in the plans as well. And so then the whole team now is using Otus to track that data.

We have to do other progress monitoring through Dibbles, and we use the Amplify system for that because it doesn’t really totally fit. And Amplify will do a lot of things that if we were in a referral situation, the school psychologist would need to see.

But our mastery monitoring goes totally into Otus. But we’ve come far since our first data tracking sheet.

Kendell Hunter

It definitely sounds like you all have made a ton of progress. Just thinking about all those different teams and all these different people who are using this data and then even down to the students and families, I’m curious, do students see their plans ever? Do families ever see their plans? Or is it more just the team relaying it? How’s that communication?

Jessica Conn

We actually just had parent conferences for the end of quarter one last week, and a big part of those conferences is sharing when students have an intervention plan. We don’t share it specifically in Otus, but the goals that are in Otus are essentially put into a letter for families. We have a great deal of families who English is not their first language, and so we needed the ability to be able to communicate in these other languages to families. And so being able to provide that letter, we’re able to do that in the language that the family prefers.

Kendell Hunter

Absolutely. So it sounds like Otus is the internal communication tool, and then you all are doing what’s right by each family to make sure they get the same information in a way that’s digestible. That makes sense. Just curious, it sounds like you all have covered a lot of ground with your MTSS processes, but any big goals or plans for the rest of the school year that you hope to see come to fruition with your processes?

Jessica Conn

Yeah, it’s not necessarily related to Otus, but in North Carolina there is something called the FAM-S, and I don’t remember what it stands for, but essentially it’s analyzing your school’s implementation of your MTSS process. And one thing that we identified last year when we completed the FAM-S process was the need for essentially a school improvement team, which we didn’t have. And I’ve worked together with the executive director and the elementary assistant principal because they both came from public schools in the last two years. So we have set that up and are starting that this year as a way for teachers and staff to have a voice and teachers and staff to there’s also a program called Endistar that will you track different data there as well. But I imagine people are going to be coming to Otus looking for data.

Kendell Hunter

Sure, sure. I really appreciate how your school’s North Star is, It sounds like data. It’s like you use this to make decisions, form committees, know, keep things moving in the right direction, and reassess when it’s not pointing you where you need to be. So I just really appreciate how much great work you’re doing for your students. Definitely shows.

Jessica Conn

Thank you.

Kendell Hunter

Yeah, I just have one quick last question for you here and then I’ll let you get on with your day. I know you’re at school. Just out of curiosity, if you were to meet another administrator in North Carolina or elsewhere in your work who was looking at kind of tracking MTSS or having a central data platform, what kind of advice would you give them about Otus or what would you share with them around know now that you’re on the other side of things?

Jessica Conn

I think the advice that I would give because we looked at several platforms over the 2020, 2021 school year is make sure the platform does what you want it to. That they’re not saying, oh, this is the platform, and this is what it does, but that it also is meeting your needs and there’s some level of flexibility. One thing I really love about Otus is there is a level of flexibility. It’s not necessarily a one-size fits all. In a way that I saw that in other programs. It was like, oh, you have to use the data this way or it has to look this way. There’s room for making it what you need. And I’ll say everyone that I’ve worked with in Otus has also been very open about anytime I have an idea or feedback, they’re very open to me sharing that with them. And I feel like in more of a, I guess, big box kind of company or program, you really don’t get an opportunity to share your thoughts in a way that feels like it might be remotely impactful.

Kendell Hunter

Thank you so much for the shout-out. I appreciate that. I’ve been here for five years, but I used Otus in the classroom, so I would like chat in and share my ideas too. I appreciate that it still feels that way for you because that’s something that we really pride ourselves on, just listening. And the people who use the program are the most important people because they’re the ones working in it. So we appreciate that.

Jessica Conn

I spent a lot of time with Jess and Michelle last year talking through ideas how we can make this work if it wouldn’t, like, what could we do to come up with a way to make it work? So I will say sometimes you get a program and it’s like, okay, we’re going to do one session with you on implementation. And it’s like, okay, we still don’t really know how to implement this, but Jess was and still is incredibly responsive. I mean, there are probably hundreds of emails back and forth and weekly meetings last year on how we can really use Otus, I guess, to its full potential.

Kendell Hunter

Sure, absolutely. I mean, like you said, it’s not one size fits all, right? The tools do this, but here’s what we do. And now I want to match the tool to what we do. That’s why it’s such a powerful tool, is because you can do that and you have the thought partners, I guess, to brainstorm, hey, I want to do this, I want to figure it out. So I will definitely pass along that feedback to Jess, give her the shout-out. So thank you so much for that. And just thank you so much for your time and sharing your expertise. You clearly have a wealth of knowledge on all things MTSS, so I’m really excited to share this with other people so they can just listen and learn from you.

Jessica Conn

Well, thank you. Thank you for having me.

Kendell Hunter

Course. Thank you.