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Middle School “three-peats” as an Essential Elements School to Watch

photo of students and staffJune 5, 2015 — New York State Regent Beverly Ouderkirk and many other dignitaries helped Glens Falls Middle School celebrate a prestigious accomplishment on Thursday—re-designation, yet again, as an Essential Elements School to Watch.

 This is the third 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. Only 17 schools in New York State currently hold the honor, which is fewer than one percent statewide.

“The bottom line for our success to date has been our commitment to the notion that students must feel safe, they must feel empowered and they must feel that it is okay to take reasonable risks if they are to grow,” said Middle School Principal Chris Reed in the Schools to Watch report. “The middle level is an intense period of intellectual and affective growth. Our staff welcomes the challenge and responsibility of creating a positive and proactive learning environment for our students.”

photo of students

During the Schools to Watch recognition ceremony, New York State Regent Beverly Ouderkirk spoke to students about widening circles of opportunity as they progress through school and life. "Opportunities will come your way that you haven’t even thought of yet," she said.

Accolades abounded from: Glens Falls Board of Education President Anna Poulos; NYSMSA Representative Brian Sherman; Dan Hall, Councilman at Large for Mayor Diamond; Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce President Peter Aust; GFMS Association Representatives Brandon Lis, Nancy Campagnone, Kristine Trevette-Jones, and Jennifer Hayes; GFMS Student Senate Vice President Samantha DiFiore; BOCES District Superintendent James Dexter, by way of a letter read by Olivia Dybas; Glens Falls PTSA President Melissa Montgomery; Board of Regents Member Beverly Ouderkirk; New York State Assemblyman Daniel Stec; and Jennifer Lunt on behalf of New York State Senator Betty Little.

“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 and student representatives Samantha DiFiore and Olivia Dybas, after the Middle School’s select chorus performed the song “Gonna Be the Best Day of My Life.” “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.