“No matter who you are, where you came from, what you know, or what special challenges you face, our school is a community helping each of us reach our full potential, personally and academically,” said seventh-grader Clara Avery as Glens Falls Middle School celebrated a prestigious accomplishment on Thursday—re-designation, yet again, as an Essential Elements School to Watch.
This is the fourth time the Middle School has gotten this highly selective recognition for academic excellence, organizational structure and commitment to enhancing the school’s program and practices.
“What exactly does Glens Falls Middle School being a School to Watch mean,” asked Clara during her remarks at the podium. “When I was gathering my thoughts on how to answer this question, I came across a quote that could answer it better than I can. Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Intelligence plus character. That is the goal of true education.’
“Here, we learn the importance of developing character, respect and responsibility… So how do I see this at work in a regular school day? I know Mr. Brechko expects my best work, and if I need help doing my best, I can see him after school. It means that Mr. Manning knows a lot about 7th graders. He understands that we are trying to figure out who we really are. When I needed help collecting data for my science fair project, Mr. Moynihan, and Coaches Kules and Crossman were there—even though they aren’t science teachers. Our goal as students is to give our best effort every day, and to have fun. We are part of something special, and middle school is short.”
“Receiving this re-designation is a huge deal for a middle school,” said Middle School Principal Chris Reed. “It’s only through excellent instruction and a student-centered climate and culture that we could achieve this recognition.”
In New York State, there are 33 official Schools to Watch and Glens Falls was the 13th to be designated (back in 2009). “In fact,” Mr. Reed continued, “we are the only small city school district in the state to earn this designation! It is the diligence, proactivity, professionalism, and student-centered instruction from every member of our building staff that earned this recognition. Please take a moment to reflect on the magnitude of this achievement.”
Accolades abounded from: Board of Regents Member, Beverly Ouderkirk; Superintendent Paul Jenkins; New York State Senator Betty Little; Mayor of the City of Glens Falls, Dan Hall; SED/NYSMSA Representative, Brian Sherman; Regional Director for Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, Stacie Dina; Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce President Michael Bittel; GFMS Teacher Representative Jason Brechko, GFHS Principal Tammy Silvernell; Incoming GFMS Principal Kristy Moore; and Vice President of the Student Senate, Clara Avery.
“You’ve made our middle school one of the best in New York State,” Superintendent Paul Jenkins said to cheers from the gathered students and staff.
David Payton from the NYS Middle School Association helped present a banner to Mr. Reed, Mr. Brechko, and Miss Avery, shortly after the Middle School’s select chorus performed. “Everyone in this community has reason to celebrate because everyone had a hand in this success,” said Dr. Payton. He elaborated that not many schools are re-designated as Schools to Watch, so this repeat recognition is all the more special.
“To achieve this level of performance, high-performing schools establish norms, structures, and organizational arrangements to support and sustain their trajectory toward excellence,” states the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform. “They have a sense of purpose that drives every facet of practice and decision-making.”
Some unique qualities of Glens Falls Middle School that contribute to the success of the educational program include:
- A grade-level team structure that allows almost daily collaboration between teachers, guidance and other student support staff for a comprehensive approach to meeting students’ educational and personal needs. The team structure also allows for highly responsive and tailored approach to individual students’ needs for academic intervention.
- A positive school climate based on modeling behaviors of respect, consideration, and friendliness that creates a culture of safety, positivity, and the sense that appropriate risk-taking is encouraged and embraced. Students are formally recognized for participation and excellent attitudes at recognition dinners and assemblies—and informally encouraged and supported through their daily involvement in supervised clubs, extra-curricular activities and service projects.
- A daily, ten-minute “Advocacy” period, in which students build life skills in character education, social responsibility, and other areas important to developing well-rounded young adults.
- An in-school suspension room that is designed to be more of a problem-solving measure than a punitive one. Students assigned to ISS must complete their daily assignments and spend time with a social worker, completing a journal entry, artwork or letter of apology to examine the behavior that caused them to be assigned to ISS, and write about how things could have turned out more positively. For the most part, students readily engage in this process and are able to talk and write about what happened in a thoughtful manner.
- A teaching staff trained in brain-based learning methods and differentiated instruction. These skills help teachers address the needs of visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners. Teachers integrate technology in daily instruction, and students use many varied approaches to demonstrate competence and mastery of skills.
Glens Falls Middle School will be honored at the National Schools to Watch Conference later this month in Washington, D.C.