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Ferndale schools will have a new program this year, funded by federal COVID-19 relief dollars: Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, or MTSS.

But this program isn’t necessarily a drastic overhaul of how schools will work, according to Karli Koning and Sara Dessert -- the two Ferndale school leaders who are helping launch MTSS. It’s more of a new philosophy to help all students reach their full potential.

“We’re not completely changing our system,” said Dessert. “We’re just making our system work better for kids.”

When MTSS is fully in place, teachers will take note of what their students are struggling with, and then use a myriad of solutions to fix those problems -- from offering multiple ways for a student to complete a lesson, to encouraging extracurricular participation. And unlike some other programs, MTSS is meant to improve the school experience for every student, not just ones with failing grades or major behavioral concerns.

“It’s not just for kids who are struggling,” said Koning, an assistant principal at Ferndale High School.

“Even kids who are performing above grade level, it’s, how do we make sure we’re meeting their needs as well, so they’re not getting bored in class?” Dessert added.

And most importantly, the entire program relies on data collection to ensure the interventions are actually effective.

“When we say we’re doing something, we first have to have evidence to say why we’re doing it,” Koning said. “Then we find a way to measure it, so we know whether it’s working or not working, instead of just throwing things and hoping something sticks.”

Dessert will be the MTSS Coordinator at Custer Elementary School -- one of nine coordinators across the district, each assigned to a school. Along with running the program at Custer, Dessert will also oversee all the other coordinators. Each of their salaries are fully covered with federal COVID-19 relief funds.

However, those coordinators will only be in their positions for three years -- that’s when the federal relief ends. So their job is primarily to train teachers how to implement the MTSS system in their own classes, Dessert and Koning said.

Here’s an example of how MTSS could help a Ferndale High student: A teacher would look at multiple aspects of this student’s school experience: their grades, their attendance, behavioral concerns, extracurricular participation, and so on. If this student’s grades or attendance are down, and they’re not involved in any extracurricular activity, perhaps the school could nudge them into participating in something.

“We know if kids are involved, they’re going to want to be here,” said Koning.

For a younger student, elementary schools could place certain children in a check-in, check-out system. Those students would meet with a trusted adult (usually a school staffer) at the start of school each day, to encourage strong attendance.

Not only will this program help students, it will also likely help teachers in the long run, Koning and Dessert said. Teachers will have stronger connections with their students, and after a period of collecting evidence, it may even save them time.

“In the beginning, it’s going to be an adjustment. There will be some growing pains,” Dessert said. “But I think ultimately, teachers are going to spend more time being with kids, rather than more time planning.”

If you’d like to learn more about MTSS, here some extra resources on the topic, curated by Dessert:


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