Sergeant Bluff-Luton High School

A Deeper Look at School Climate and Initiatives

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Our mission is to challenge all students to reach their highest learning potential through diverse curriculum, differentiated instruction, and authentic assessments. We will foster a strong work ethic, academic integrity, and a plan to become productive members in a global society.


We believe that any success begins with students who trust us and take ownership of their learning, with teachers who constantly strive to improve instruction and to impact students, with staff who work to create the positive environment of support, and with administrators who create the opportunity and tools to do all of the above.

We are sharing with you not only some of the initiatives that we believe have had impact here for a long time but also some newer initiatives that are works-in-progress for us. But, first, we would like to share five beliefs that lead our efforts:

1) No initiative gets off the ground without buy-in and effort, no climate changes occur without building relationships at ground level, and few real changes happen without community support. We have several teachers, administrators, and support staff who invest in the classroom, attend extra-curricular activites, join in the events and culture of our school, and participate alongside the community.

2) We also believe that much of our students' success in their standardized assessments, their classes, and their post-secondary efforts is because our climate is one of expectation. Simply, our parents and our staff create a culture where we expect students CAN do it, and where we need to better ourselves to help them with that success.

3) This leads to our third belief: We always have things to improve. We know that we should model growth mindset and lifelong learning for our students. Our biggest goals currently are...

  • growing our students who are already proficient,
  • increasing college and career readiness skills,
  • improving conceptual understanding and literacy across all disciplines.

4) Our adminstrator encourages teachers to play an integral part in activating change, in professional learning, and in the direction for our school improvement at SBL HS. We are striving to build that professional trust and collective teacher efficacy - that together we can effect positive change while still maintaining the things that already work!

5) Although we are sharing school-wide initiatives in this newsletter, we want to first recognize that many individual teachers and departments and other staff members are leading many of their own new initiatives, pilot programs, and strategies in classrooms and beyond. Our hope is that these people feel empowered to take risks and try new things forever as long as they are moving us forward with student learning and school improvement.

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We have a few longstanding (9 or more years) initiatives

in place that we feel have greatly contributed

to the rigor and relevance opportunities in our classrooms

or to community-building in our school.

They have become an integral part of our thinking and our culture.


In 1993, we switched to a modified block schedule, which consists of alternating 4 A-day 90-min classes and 4 more B-day 90-min classes.

The benefits are...

  • significant time to work through the more in-depth work of inquiry-based learning, etc.
  • time allowance for deeper extended-response assessments
  • fewer passing periods during a day (less opportunity for hallway issues)
  • fewer reviews and closures breaking up learning and eating up learning time
  • can offer more sections of popular courses and more variety of classes in a small school (8 periods instead of 6)
  • longer time periods for labs, project-based learning, deeper inquiry learning, real world experiences, collaborative learning
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Some considerations, pitfalls, and modifications we faced with block scheduling are...

  • some special needs students require more concentrated help with organization of coursework and schedule mastery as they enter high school
  • some course content is better served through daily exposure ( band and choir now meet daily in shorter periods opporsite a shorter study hall). This also allows our musically inclined students to participate in both band and choir and only use one period in their schedule to do so.

Modified block serves many of our educational needs and is a way of life for us now.


Within our collaborative communities of professionals (PLC’s) where we work to improve our pedagogy, it is our belief that successfully implementing and embedding the Authentic Intellectual Work Framework (AIW) into our teaching and learning over the last nine years has had a broadly positive impact on student achievement. One initiative leader and his team of teachers lead AIW.

Our current focus is on improvement of three standards:

  • Conceptual Understanding
  • High Order Thinking (and questioning)
  • Substantive Conversations.

AIW is helping many of us to transform our approaches to planning/instruction/collaboration and helping students to change their perspective from rote memorization to deeper learning and application.

AIW is based on strong improvement research. It centers around teacher collaboration to score tasks, student performances, or instruction; then teachers offer each other suggestions to improve those standards for better learning and assessment for students.

We also try to tie other professional learning opportunities to these same standards and to add teacher choice into the sessions. We have periodically mixed things up with cross-curricular teams, departmentalized teams, and currently with grade-levels teams at the high school level.

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We initiated advisories ( like "homeroom" time plus more) over 20 years ago. We have continued to tweak and revamp our purpose, duration, and activities for advisory over the years.

Each advisory of approximately 20 students, which is led by one advisor/teacher, serves as a homebase for students, and gives us a time for relationship-building activities, college career readiness sessions, and other special activities. Another initiative leader and his team of teachers lead the advisory planning for the year.

Advisory: Uses and Activities
  • Self-awareness activities such as multiple intelligences, learning styles, and personality colors.
  • College Career Readiness (led by Guidance) such as Application Day, Alumni College Fair, Decision Day
  • Standardized assessments in advisory format, including incentives for individual improvement in areas and advisory team improvement. We feel the small group setting, team climate, accommodations, one-test a day, and incentives all contribute to students' demonstrating what they truly know and can do on those tests.
  • Students leading parent-student-advisor conferences in the Spring where student addresses review of the year, successes, concerns, goals, next year's courses, and action plan.
  • In May, we take a portion of one conference night for the next year's freshmen and their parents to a attend 8th Grade Orientation that takes them, alongside advisors, through a rotation to every department. Presenting teachers use activities, technology, quiz shows, upperclassmen, or videos to familiarize incoming students with high school content and faces.
  • On the first day of school, freshmen and new-to-district students move alongside their advisors through a rotation of six stations in the morning (without upperclassmen around) to orient themselves with thehigh school building, expectations, procedures, and resources.
  • Academic Challenge moves advisories through different content-based challenges such as engineering a tower, math bee, poetry writing, mental puzzles, and much more. This culminates in a championship quiz bowl final round.
  • Athletic Challenge moves advisories through a bracket with various team games such a pickleball, soccer basketball, and more. This culminates in a championship battle as well.
Guest speakers, homecoming decorating, graduation celebrations, etc. complete our advisory year that serves many purposes. It is an ongoing process to keep it viable and relevant.
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We have a few more recent initiatives (1 to 5 years)

that we feel are still growing and morphing,

and are starting to show positive impact

on student achievement, teacher efficacy, and school climate.


Warrior P.O.W.E.R. stands for Positive - Ownership - Well-prepared - Engaged - Respect.

Our 20-year student recognition program was called Renaissance. We liked how it combined attendance, academics, and discipline expectations to award Gold, Orange, and Black cards. With those cards came recognition, some privileges or prizes, and a semester-end school-wide activity for card holders.

Our PBIS lead team, led by another one of our initiative leaders, was able to combine the best of Renaissance with our new (4-years so far) behaviors-based program called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), which rewards positive behaviors and adds tiersof interventions and supports for chronic concerning behaviors. This combination of programs better meets the needs and expectations of our academic climate.

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A few of the things we currently have in place within PBIS ...

  • Staff members write up weekly "Shout Out's" for positive student behaviors/actions. A small gift comes with this shout-out.
  • Weekly themes around the P.O.W.E.R. traits include morning announcments of encouraging thoughts or reteaching lessons if our student body needs a refresher.
  • Students can earn one of three levels of cards with matching levels of privileges to the media center lounge and other incentives.
  • Celebrating students from all departments at quarters and the student body activities at semester
  • Personally scheduling conferences with parents of students at-risk.
  • Using Tier 2 team to help monitor at-risk list, to track staff positive interactions to support those students, and to initiate various supports for executive functions and behaviors.
  • Tier 3 is a work-in-progress

Attendance is clearly an essential first step to success with learning, so we have maintained a long-time incentive program where students can earn the privilege to opt out of a final exam in a given class if they have missed only 3 or fewer periods in that class, etc.

We recently added an additional an incentive and policy regarding attendance in study hall because we view it as a valuable part of the school day.

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The Teacher Leader Compensation (TLC) program has provided us the opportunity to even better utilize our teacher leaders in roles as instructional coach, initiative leaders, and mentors. Our building leadership team (BLT) is also made up of these teachers. They use anecdotal, observed, and statistical data from several sources to to hone in on our direction. The district goals laid out in our TLC plan guide their roles and decision-making. School leadership at Sergeant Bluff-Luton High School is centered around working more in collegial collaboration and focusing on improvement of student learning.

This leadership actually takes many forms: Building Leadership Team (BLT), new Teacher Leader positions (TLC). It also includes teachers working in teams such as Initiative Lead teams , Professional Learning Communities, and Professional Working Communities (departments) as well as formal professional development sessions facilitated mostly by teachers. These things all happen under the belief that the structure of school leadership must have vision, encourage a sense of ownership and empowerment for staff, create opportunity for action steps and progress, and maintain accountability for movement toward our goals to occur. We consider our school to be perpetually in an improvement cycle with all of areas of leadership. But, the TLC program has helped us to continue moving forward.

The TLC positions in our building include...

Full-Time Instructional Coach (1)

A teacher who is now a full-time coach to facilitate Student-Centered Coaching Cycles with individual colleagues; to facilitate portions of our professional development under the HS target areas; to collaborate, research, co-teach, and brainstorm with individual colleagues with student achievement in mind.

Initiative Leaders (4)

Full-time teachers who also train for, research, organize, and lead our various school initiatives and associated professional development. They also serve as demonstration teachers for their initiative area and other instructional strategies as needed.

These five teachers also serve on the building leadership team along with the two high school administrators.

Mentor Teachers (varies based on need)

Full-time teachers who also mentor first and second-year teachers and attend Area Education Agency Mentoring sessions alongside them.

3. 21st Century Skills in Grade-Level Teams

This is our most recent initiative. It was born out of experienced teachers using observational data and the failing list data to identify the things that were deterring student achievement. We realized that these deterrents were often not about content issues as much as about the missing executive functions and life-long skills. We realized that we were expecting students to apply skills that many of them did not yet possess such organization, conflict resolution, collaboration, asking deep questions, self-assessment, academic ethics, and more.

Next, we took a deeper look at the 21st Century Employability Skills in the Iowa Core Curriculum and realized that our own list of skill concerns aligned to the list of skills identified for employability in the future. We blended the lists and divided them into levels:

  • 9th-10th at a level for introduction/relevance with direct practice
  • 11th-12th for more focus on independent, deeper application with occasional reteaching.

This endeavor is led by another one of our initiative leader teachers. We are currently working in grade-level teacher teams to infuse lessons, modeling, intentional practice, and independent application opportunities into our existing lessons and projects. We feel hopeful that we will see the benefit of this incorporation of 21st century skills to improve students' academic goals, social interactions, and career goals.



As with most programs in education, a school counselor's roles and responsibilities to each student have grown into a multi-faceted endeavor to address so many aspects of the individual from social-emotional to academic, from scheduling now to planning futures, from immediate needs to career readiness and more. Our school counselors have embraced these challenges with creativity and resourcefulness. Here are some of the initiatives they have in place or in progress:

College and Career Readiness

  • My Academic Planner (MAPS)
  • Counselor-led classroom units at all four grade levels
  • All school activities: Application Day, Alumni College Fair, Decision Day, and other Career and college readiness activities
  • College, Military, and Job representative visits
  • Job shadows
  • Coordination local scholarship opportunities
  • SBL School Counseling social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • ICAN resources and parent/student meetings about college planning and FAFSA

Academic Supports

  • Coordinating dual enrollment through WITCC
  • Credit checks
  • HS class planning
  • AP testing
  • Pre-ACT
  • CPT
  • 504 case management

Personal/Social Supports and Programs

  • One-to-one work on executive functioning, organization, time management, goal setting, emotional regulation
  • TeamMates - mentors (from the community) program
  • New students luncheon
  • Siouxland Mental Health Therapist
  • Referrals for parents/families
  • Iowa Youth Survey
  • Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) - mental health-behavioral questionnaire
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