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HMS Receives "Schools to Watch" Designation & Award


Highlands School District is proud to announce that Highlands Middle School, the district’s Grades 6,7 and 8 building, is now a recognized Pennsylvania Don Eichhorn "Schools to Watch" Program school. This prestigious recognition only includes 35 other schools in Pennsylvania and only 400 nationwide in the Schools to Watch program, an initiative of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform.

Highlands Middle School celebrated the recognition on Wednesday, May 25 with guest speakers Dr. Melvin Steals (educational consultant), Mr. Bruce Vosburgh (Don Eichhorn Schools to Watch program), and with presentations from student speakers and the HMS Chorus and Band. The banner and presentation were sponsored by Horace Mann Insurance and Veralife.  Read more about the presentation in this Valley News Dispatch article.

As a School to Watch, it will be a model school that schools throughout the state will visit to experience firsthand what a high performing middle grade school is like while working on its trajectory towards success. Each school selected to be a Schools to Watch school is unique in appearance, population and technique, but according to Bruce Vosburgh, the Director of the PA program, "Each is a place that's special, and a place that any of us would LOVE for our children or grandchildren to attend!"

Highlands Middle School principals Mr. Charlie Mort and Ms. Deb Beucker worked diligently with Superintendent Dr. Michael Bjalobok, the School Board of Directors, faculty, staff, parents and students during this three-year process in transitioning the Middle School to a true middle grades program.

"The schools to watch recognition is the culmination of a three year improvement initiative. We are extremely pleased that our programs and practices that are aligned with the PA middle level association have positioned Highlands Middle School students for a successful future," said Dr. Bjalobok. "The Schools to Watch initiative has set a path for a bright future for Highlands Middle School."
PA Don Eichhorn Schools: “Schools to Watch” (PA STW) is part of a recognition program developed by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform. In partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Pennsylvania Association for Middle Level Education, Duquesne University, Edinboro University, Shippensburg University, Horace Mann Service Corporation, and Vibra Life, the Pennsylvania “Schools to Watch” team announced that Highlands Middle School has met the strict STW criteria, joining 28 other Pennsylvania middle-grades schools recognized previously.  The six newest schools as well as the six re-designated schools were recognized at the Pennsylvania Association for Middle Level Education State Conference at the Penn Stater Conference Center in State College on February 28.

State leaders selected each school for its academic excellence, its responsiveness to the needs and interests of young adolescents, and its commitment to helping all students achieve at high levels.  In addition each school has strong leadership, teachers who work together to improve curriculum and instruction, and a commitment to assessment and accountability to bring about continuous improvement.  Dr. Irv Howard, Past President of the National Forum stated, “We congratulate these schools for being places that do great things for all of their students.  These schools demonstrate that high-performing middle grades schools are places that focus on academic growth and achievement.  They are also places that recognize the importance of meeting the needs of all of their students and ensure that every child has access to a rigorous, high-quality education.”

Linda Hopping, Chair, as well as other members of the National Forum Schools to Watch Oversight Committee, explain that selection was based on a written application that required schools to show how they met criteria developed by the National Forum.  Schools that appeared to meet the criteria were then visited by state teams, which observed classrooms, interviewed administrators, teachers, students, and parents, and looked at achievement data, suspension rates, quality of lessons, and student work.  Schools are recognized for a three-year period, and at the end of three years, they must demonstrate progress on specific goals in order to be re-designated.  Unlike the Blue Ribbon recognition program, “Schools to Watch” requires schools to not just identify strengths, but to also focus on areas for continuous improvement; thus the three year re-designation.

“We are pleased that our Schools to Watch program has shown that schools can meet high academic expectations while preserving a commitment of healthy development and equity for all students,” said Ericka Uskali, National Forum Executive Director.  “These Schools to Watch are indeed special; they make education so exciting that students and teachers don’t want to miss a day.  These schools have proven that it is possible to overcome barriers to achieving excellence, and any middle-level school in any state can truly learn from their examples,” Uskali said. 

Launched in 1999, Schools to Watch began as a national program to identify middle-grades schools across the country that were meeting or exceeding 37 researched based criteria developed by the National Forum.  The Forum developed a web site that features online tours of schools, as well as detailed information about the selection criteria used in the recognition program.  There are now 17 states across the country, which have trained Schools to Watch State Teams, with more than 4000 schools recognized across the country.

The National Forum sponsors the Schools to Watch program along with the Association for Middle Level Education, the National Association for Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, Learning Forward, ASCD, and State Schools to Watch affiliates.