VIDEO: Embraced across state, MTSS framework supported by OCDE ensures students are ready to learn

Every morning, Principal Dr. Claudette Onumah makes sure she is the first person to greet students as they arrive at Palm Vista Elementary School because she wants each child to know that they are important. 

When Dr. Onumah became the principal of the school in 2020, she made it a priority to transform the school by embracing the “whole child” approach to meet the needs of her students, staff and the surrounding community in Twentynine Palms. This aspiration required time, support and funding, so she turned to the Orange County Department of Education.

In 2016, the California Department of Education selected OCDE to be the lead agency on an initiative to scale up the state’s Multi-Tiered System of Support Framework, which aligns new and existing strategies to meet each student’s academic, behavioral and social-emotional needs. 

Palm Vista Elementary School principal
Principal Dr. Claudette Onumah hugged a student as he walked onto campus.

Dr. Onumah has worked with the department’s learning supports administrator, Rhonda Marriott Spencer, for the past three years to coach her faculty as they participate in the CA MTSS Pathway Certification for Schools course. 

“We’re excited that Palm Vista is the first school to have the majority of their staff engage in the professional learning course and become California MTSS certified educators,” Marriot Spencer said. 

MTSS realigns numerous state, regional, county, local and family resources to provide all students challenging and motivating coursework, along with the opportunity to learn in the most inclusive and equitable learning environments possible. 

The majority of the Palm Vista team completed the course within 18 months through collaboration, both in-person and as part of weekly Zoom meetings, allowing them to engage in discussions around the content, analyze data and create and utilize tools. 

Palm Vista Elementary student hugs teacher
A student asked his teacher for a hug before class began.

“You have to have everybody involved. As a school leader, I know that our culture has changed from the front office to our custodial workers, to our teachers to our students,” Dr. Onumah said. 

The principal motivated her teachers to complete the training on non-student days, holiday breaks and time away from work with stipends from the CA MTSS grant funding to compensate for their time. The dedication and effort that the staff poured into the program are reflective in the internal assessments and student outcome data compiled by the school.

“The MTSS training really helped us bond,” kindergarten teacher Jaymee Candelaria said. “It showed us that we have the same goal. It’s helping the students.” 

Candelaria has taught in Arizona and California and has noticed a difference in the way teachers at Palm Vista educate their students.

“The training leads you to notice things about the students,” the teacher said. “If the students are sad or aren’t happy, they are not ready to learn. Once you address it, they’re ready to learn.” 

For additional information about California’s MTSS Framework, visit