First-Time Principal Brings Growth to Milestones Reading Scores, Academics, and Behavior

Davis Elementary School #2_edited

Dade County Schools

Learning-Focused was asked to become a professional development partner by the superintendent of the Dade County Schools through conversations with the high school principal who had worked with us in their previous district and knew firsthand how we would be able to support their district goals.

The Initial Plan

In August 2019, Charity Barton was hired as principal at Davis Elementary School in Georgia. Before moving to Davis, Ms. Barton had been an Assistant Principal at the elementary and high school levels. As a first-time principal, she brought high expectations and was ready to do the necessary work. The school had been trending upwards in math but was experiencing fluctuating reading scores.

One of the first things Miss Barton did was analyze the data longitudinally. Through their Milestone scores, she could see the trajectory in different content areas and how to identify kids who needed help with reading skills. She quickly determined that the school’s goal was not only to identify kids who needed help with Reading but also to identify what particular areas of Reading. Because of a prior successful experience with Learning-Focused, Miss Barton knew she wanted to introduce the framework at the school to aid in reading improvement.


Starting a Partnership with

Learning-Focused already had a history of success in the area. The district Superintendent brought in Learning-Focused to a local high school and directly attributed a jump in learning scores to the Learning-Focused framework. Miss Barton was the Assistant Principal at the high school, so she knew the history, strategies, team, and successes. She was a full proponent of the framework and bringing it to the elementary school level.

Primarily, Miss Barton focused on the RTI process, looking at struggling learners and what could be accomplished at the Tier 1 instruction level. Strengthening Tier 1 instruction would prevent students from going to Tier 2 who didn’t need to be there and would prevent teachers from getting overwhelmed with the number of kids in RTI.


COVID’s Impact on Implementation

As every school leader experienced in March 2020, COVID disrupted their best-laid plans. During Miss Barton’s first year of principalship, schools were shut down in March and went virtual. Miss Barton prioritized attending every Learning-Focused meeting, leading meetings, having an open-door policy, and letting the teachers know she was there to support and learn with them.

Implementation also included:

  • Attending Training of Trainers workshops and sharing best practices.
  • Sharing Google docs – writing lessons collaboratively, typing in notes, highlighting, and leaving feedback.
  • Holding meetings with ELA and Math verticals to talk about implementations and garner feedback.

Challenges and Insights

The Math department was already seeing success with Distinguished Learners, so some teachers were teacher leaders, generating momentum, data, inspiration, and results. Of course, it helped that teachers who were all in early were seeing success.

Classroom strategies were utilized, such as:

  • Collaborative Pairs (Numbered Heads, Think-Pair-Share)
  • Distributed Summarizing
  • Writing to Learn

Don Marlett, with Learning-Focused, led the initial push onsite and continued to work with the team virtually and in person throughout the year. Implementation happened quickly, which speaks to the teachers’ desire to serve kids well. The school’s educators truly wanted to help students move forward and believed their kids could achieve things any other school did.


The Results

The school has seen incredible success. As of Spring 2020, the results were the following:

  • Davis’s 3rd graders were #1 in math out of 102 elementary schools
  • The 4th graders were #6 out of 102
  • The 5th graders were 9 out of 102
  • Other subjects also followed suit. Most grades were in the top 10% for Reading in every tested subgroup. In Science, the top 15%.

In November of 2022, Davis Elementary was named a Title I Distinguished School. The Title I Distinguished Schools have the highest achievement rate based on combined ELA and Math scores on the annual Georgia Milestones End of Grade Assessments. They are in the top 5% of the Title I schools in Georgia. For more information, click on the image.


Behavior Improvements on the Rise


Not only have academics improved, noted Barton, but student behavior has been on the uptick. Many students who struggled at home during virtual learning carried that into school. The PBIS team worked alongside the students to hone in on unmet emotional needs and work with students on SEL. There was a close relationship with MTSS, PBIS, and Tier 1 for school-wide positive behavior support.

Says Barton about the school’s success, “The backward design that Learning-Focused implements will never go out of style. Knowing the end game and planning from there is important for student growth and achievement. We have moved from ‘lesson planning’ to now looking at Power Standards and mapping out standards.” She continues, “My teachers have done an excellent job of social learning, which has helped our students in their academic achievement and social skills.


On working with Learning-Focused, “I learned so much thanks to Don. Particularly when we walked the school and conducted observations together. His feedback was so spot on, and I felt so validated. Having an expert in this space come in from the outside and explain what they see is invaluable.”

Charity Barton

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