MID-YEAR CASE STUDY: Walnut Creek Elementary School



Administrator Kathy Rackley describes Walnut Creek as a “school with complex needs.” In her perspective, the “level of excitement and optimism” that her team has found in the TrueSchool Program is reinvigorating and reenergizing: “I’ve left both Studios filled with such excitement about the work our school is doing. It is not often that we have time for the level of collaboration that we’ve experienced through this program.”
The Walnut Creek Design Team is partnering with TrueSchool to improve early literacy achievement for all students. The team is led by Principal Vonda Jenkins, who is dedicated to driving innovative school improvement efforts at Walnut Creek. In 2016-2017, 47% of Walnut Creek 3rd graders were reading at grade-level. Walnut Creek is transparent about current challenges, such as a need for growth in supporting student vocabulary development, indicating humility and a willingness to learn and grow.




The Walnut Creek Team is a model of distributed leadership, working deeply together to unpack and improve student learning experiences. For instance, on a school day that was cut short due to a power outage, the Walnut Creek design team decided to use the additional time not to go home, but to spend time analyzing stakeholder perspectives and working on their TrueSchool Portfolio. Administrator Kathy Rackley explains that this experience allowed the team to “share the various different reflections and have that conversation that led to us being able to be productive and move forward.”

During their Fieldwork, the Walnut Creek Design Team had a breakthrough when studying “positive deviants” among their students—students who were already exhibiting drive and motivation. Rackley reflects this fieldwork was pivotal for her team, as they realized they needed to give all students the “opportunity to learn in a way that they felt was fun, to do whatever they were passionate about. This could be drawing for some children, or kinesthetic learning for some children…that’s when we’re going to see that they are going to put in that extra into their academics.”

In response to this insight, the Walnut Creek Design Team has begun prototyping an initiative called “Read to Lead,” co-designed with community stakeholders to engage students and families in reading and leadership. This initiative encompasses several new learning experiences:

  • A new homework model called a “choice board” with options for student-centered, experiential learning tasks
  • After-school events for families that connect fun and community building with literacy advocacy and strategies
  • Academic mentoring from older students in homework help sessions

Teacher Naeema Holmes is seeing the early impact of the “Choice Board” prototype in her classes, as students report excitement and enthusiasm about learning, not just in the classroom, but at home as well. Holmes explains that rather than just doing “worksheets,” students might choose to “take a walk and then write about the changes that they have observed in nature. This was a fun, academic activity they could do at home with their parents, with less pressure. As a result, students are more relaxed and confident in themselves.”

In December, the Walnut Creek staff lead a Winter Wonderland-themed family night with over 30 families in attendance, spreading awareness around literacy strategies through fun games focused on reading, as well as information on the importance of nightly reading. Parent feedback for the event was extremely positive, with one parent reflecting, “this is exactly what I needed. I want to help my children, but just don’t know how. I didn’t want to come out, but I’m so glad we did.”

Principal Jenkins reflects that “The Walnut Creek team has been truly reflective, is employing new and different strategies, taking more risks and have become more unafraid of failing forward. As a principal, this is ultimately what you want to see your teachers, instructional coaches and administrators do as school leaders and fortunately for us, they make up our TrueSchool design team.”