Simplified: Sioux Falls schools have a new way of looking at everything from how students score on math tests to setting teacher schedules. It's called the multi-tiered system of supports, or MTSS.

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Superintendent Jane Stavem said early on in her tenure that she wants to make Sioux Falls the best district in the nation.

To that end, MTSS is a way to take everything the school district does and put it into the same big system.

  • Picture an umbrella. MTSS is the umbrella, and it covers everything from academics to interactions between teachers to communication with parents.

Why it matters

  • The goal isn't to change everything school officials, teachers and students are doing day in and day out, said Kristy Feden, director of special services.
  • MTSS isn't unique to Sioux Falls, and it also isn't a new concept in education. Parts of today's framework date back to the mid-90s.
  • But the current evolution – i.e. the umbrella image – is new to the district in that it's taking all of the existing things the district does to support students and putting them into a clear, defined, shared system.
"It's how we're going to move the needle for all kids in this district," Feden said.

So, what goes into MTSS?

Sioux Falls is focusing on several key areas:

  • Shared leadership. That is to say, all students are everyone's responsibility and concern.
  • Communication, collaboration and partnerships. That's both within schools and with the broader Sioux Falls community.
  • Evidence-based practices. In other words, it means making sure the tools teachers use to help students actually work
  • Supports for all students. It's not just kids who need special attention. This takes into account everyone from those who need the most hands-on help to those who need more accelerated coursework to feel challenged.
  • Data. The district is putting in new efforts to track the results of what's being done in classrooms both to see if existing programs are working and to make sure teachers are meeting students where they're at, Feden said.

The data, in particular, will be a "game-changer," she added, especially because teachers will have the ability to pull reports and easily visualize data about how their students are doing.

What does it mean for students and parents?

It's possible, even likely, that students won't notice a difference day-to-day as the MTSS framework becomes the norm in Sioux Falls schools.

MTSS doesn't change the curriculum, the classes offered, or the extra supports for kids who need them. It just changes the lens teachers, administrators and officials use to make decisions about those things.

"It's how we're taking everything we are already doing and integrating it," Feden said. "This is how we are going to meet the needs of everyone in our district."

For parents, though, it'll mean teachers can easily pull reports on how students are performing, illustrate how any academic interventions are working, and, possibly even have the ability to send regular data and reports via email, Feden said.

What happens next?

It'll take awhile – a few years, to be more precise – for MTSS to be fully implemented district-wide.

But the work is underway now, and as it continues, prepare to hear a lot more about MTSS as an underlying structure for the things Sioux Falls schools are doing.