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How to Move From RTI to MTSS — Lessons from District Leaders at Bastrop ISD

Jamaal Thompson
Jamaal Thompson
How to Move From RTI to MTSS — Lessons from District Leaders at Bastrop ISD



"All means all" is more than just a motto at Bastrop ISDBastrop Independent School District.

Serving 11,000 students in Texas, Bastrop ISD has made a wholesale shift to a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) over the last two years. "All means all"—the promise that each and every student will get the support they need—is in full practice in Bastrop today. The district's approach to MTSS spans the whole child, including:

  • PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports)
  • SEL (Social-emotional Learning)
  • Behavior and academic RTI (Response to Intervention)
  • Restorative practices
  • Trauma-informed practices

But the journey to a cohesive, district-wide MTSS wasn't an easy one. It involved work and coordination across professional development, meeting structures, data protocols, intervention standardization, progress monitoring, and much more at the district and school levels.

We chatted with Laura Baker, M.Ed., director of student services, and Mark Medley, behavior RTI coordinator to learn more about Bastrop ISD's MTSS model. Laura and Mark discussed what they've learned on their journey, including their top pieces of advice for district leaders embarking on MTSS. 

Can you share how Bastrop ISD arrived at a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) model?

Mark Medley: At Bastrop ISD, we used to have an academic RTI that existed in isolation. We had PBIS to some degree, but different campuses were implementing it differently. And while we didn't have SEL district wide, we did have some administrators who were on board with SEL early on or interested in restorative practices. Essentially, we recognized that we had different campuses doing different things across the district, and that these pieces that were not working in conjunction with each other. We realized that we needed to bring everything together, and shift our language to "MTSS" so that our district was talking about the whole student and meeting all of students' needs.

Laura Baker: When joined the district, I started looking at everything that we were doing and where I wanted us to go... which was to move towards PBIS, SEL, restorative practices, being trauma informed, and a whole child approach instead of just RTI. We needed to shift peoples' thinking, bring all of the pieces of the puzzle together, and educate everyone that a "whole child approach" is actually MTSS—providing a multitude of supports for all students in every tier. 

"We needed to shift peoples' thinking away from RTI and toward a whole child approach, and educate everyone that a whole child approach is actually MTSS—providing a multitude of supports for all students in every tier."

Laura Baker–Laura Baker, Director of Student Services

What has been your single biggest challenge with building a MTSS in Bastrop?

MM: Staff buy-in has been one of our biggest obstacles. Training is the most effective way we've mitigated that obstacle. We've built our MTSS training with an understanding that these are new concepts for a lot of our educators, and it can sometimes seem like we're asking quite a bit from them. We're mindful in our messaging to make sure educators know that they're not alone, and there are supports built in.

We are also constantly looking to provide meaningful and engaging training to our adult staff so that we can navigate our way through that obstacle of buy-in. If we want our teachers to build meaningful and engaging lessons plans for students, at the district level we need to make sure the training is engaging so that teachers can feel empowered to do the things we're asking them to do.

Can you talk a little more about how you've oriented Bastrop's staff training around MTSS? 

LB: We always provide training for new hires and teachers before the school year starts. In the past, our new teacher training was called the "6 Indicators to a Well Managed Classroom" and it covered things like technology, classroom management, and how to's. This coming year, we've re-envisioned our training as "MTSS for New Hires." It's going to cover a lot of different topics, but all within the MTSS model. Teachers and staff will receive training on trauma-informed practices, what PBIS looks like in our district, and the why of SEL and the SEL curriculum we use. We may also touch upon RTI, especially if people are new to the profession.

In addition, we do monthly training sessions with our assistant principals and principals, and we work with individual campuses and grade-level teams on more specific training. Most of our campuses have an RTI Lead, which is a certified teacher who helps provide in-class interventions with students and small groups.

At the district level, we've created an agenda for RTI meetings. We also created an FAQ so that teachers can look at what they need to have prepared if they're called into a RTI meeting on one of their students. We also have a resource on how to be a good RTI committee member, so that we are using our meeting time efficiently and effectively. 

We're mindful of how we are marketing the MTSS model, and mindful of ensuring that everyone is hearing the same information from the same people. It goes back to "all means all." Everyone has a role in the MTSS model. 

What are some examples of how you're responding to student needs at each tier with targeted interventions?

MM: At Tier 1, we're focused on social-emotional learning. In addition to using Panorama for SEL data, Second Step is our partner for SEL curriculum that every student receives.

When we get to Tier 2, we like to ensure that our interventions are standardized. On the academic side, we use programs like iStation and Imagine Math. On the behavior side for Tier 2, we use a standardized daily behavior report card (DBRC). We always pair DBRC with a daily "Check In and Check Out" that the student does with a campus-based mentor. Students on DBRC also receive targeted social skills instruction once a week delivered by our counseling staff on campus. At Tier 2, we also use a universal behavior screener as another data point. Teachers use the screener to rate their students in the areas of Safe, Respectful, and Responsible to let us know if students are at a high risk or a low risk for those behaviors.

Typically, we use those interventions for four to six weeks and progress monitor throughout the intervention cycle. If students stop making progress, then we start looking at interventions that are more individualized at Tier 3. 

"We've built our MTSS training with an understanding that these are new concepts for a lot of our educators, and it can sometimes seem like we're asking quite a bit from them. We're mindful in our messaging to make sure educators know that they're not alone, and there are supports built in."

mark-medley–Mark Medley, Behavior RTI Coordinator

How are you using data from Panorama to drive conversations about tiered supports?

LB: As part of our partnership with Panorama, the Panorama team came onsite and provided a full-day training for our counselors, who act as the site coordinators for our Panorama student surveys on SEL competencies, culture, and climate. Generally, we receive the data from Panorama and turn it around to our stakeholders, or Panorama comes in for direct training.

With the data, we can look at campus trends. So, maybe we notice our students are reporting that they are struggling with grit or growth mindset. Our PBIS team might take that information and implement strategies using the Panorama Playbook. We can also pull that data for grade levels. Our teacher leaders or grade-level teams look at that information to identify areas of needed growth, and come up with strategies and supports.

Our teachers have also pulled Panorama data to use in parent-teacher conferences to facilitate communication between home and school. Without going too in depth about what the child is reporting on themselves, the teachers are able to say, "This is what I'm seeing in the classroom, and it matches what the student is saying in their survey." The teachers can take that information, as well as recommended strategies from Panorama, to share with parents and families.

Lastly, what are two recommendations you'd make to your peers about bringing MTSS to life?

LB: My first recommendation is that you need buy-in from everyone. You need to convey the same message about MTSS to everyone across grade levels, across campuses, and at the district level. That even includes having the superintendent address MTSS in district goals and strategic plans. The goal is for all of us to be on the same page with the same expectations.

The second point is to remember to think big, but start small. You're going to have challenges and barriers come up with any new implementation or undertaking. Be reflective and celebrate the small wins. Think about how we approach this with students—we celebrate the small things they achieve and continue to encourage them along the way. As adults, we need to remember to do that as well. MTSS is difficult work, it takes time, and we're not going to see immediate change. Validate the work that you've already done and the work you're continuing to do.

Want to build a stronger MTSS program? Download Panorama's MTSS Self-Assessment for schools and districts.

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