National Forum Honors 2012 Schools to Watch

Though it was a warm, humid evening in our nation’s capital city, an electric atmosphere enveloped the honorees at the National Forum’s Annual School to Watch Gala Celebration Dinner held at the Marriott Crystal Gateway hotel. 103 middle grades schools were designated and recognized at the National School to Watch Conference this June, 2012.

This was an opportunity for our three new Colorado Trailblazer Schools to Watch to be nationally recognized and honored.  On Thursday evening, June 21, Basalt Middle School, Fort Morgan Middle School and Wellington Middle School were designated as first time Schools to Watch.  On Saturday, June 23, Holmes Middle School was honored for their second redesignation, which translates to a trajectory of success evidenced for 9 years.

Basalt Middle School

Traveling from Basalt, which is part of the Roaring Fork School District located in Glenwood Springs, Principal Jeremy Voss and Assistant Principal Ty Hayden presented at the conference on Carol Dweck’s work, the growth mindset and how the research has transformed practice in their school. Her book, Mindset, reveals implications for how we raise our children—specifically for how we encourage them, challenge them, and voice our praise.

These non-cognitive components of education are embedded in the National Forum’s criteria of excellence which include Academic Excellence, Developmental Responsiveness, Social Equity and strong Organizational Processes and Structures.  Since transforming their system to develop of growth mindsets in their community, Basalt Middle School has become one of Colorado’s top 8% of schools performing in high academic achievement growth.

Wellington Middle School

Wellington Middle School, part of the Poudre School District,was represented by  Assistant Principal Jennifer Bradshaw and Principal Alicia Durand  who were recently in Washington DC due to the fact that their school was also recognized by the US Department of Education as a Green Ribbon School Winner. Wellington Middle School is located in northeast Colorado and serves students within the community of Wellington, located outside of Fort Collins and up to the state of Wyoming.  Dr. Durand and Ms. Bradshaw presented at the National Schools to Watch Conference as well.  Their efforts to strengthen student directed learning has merited their community with a record of outstanding achievement and high levels of growth.  Wellington has the highest growth of all schools in their district.

Wellington Principal Alicia Durand presenting at the National Schools to Watch Conference

This has been part of a process to strengthen vertical articulation with their feeder elementary schools, incorporate goal-setting and metacognitive learning strategies into student toolkits, and conscientious application of rigor and high standards in all content areas. During their presentation they shared how they were able to create a system to maximize the learning potential within their students so that each and every child could successfully complete Algebra I in 8th grade.

Fort Morgan Middle School

Fort Morgan Middle School, located within the Morgan County School District on the eastern Front Range was also able to travel to Washington to accept their designation honor.  On hand to accept the award were Assistant Principal Rod Link, music director Cynthia Christensen, Principal Ben Bauman, Literacy teacher Shelli Langford, and Unified Arts teacher Amy Bauer.

Realizing a emerging trajectory of success in an increasingly diverse population, Fort Morgan has created a dynamic learning environment focused on positive community building and strong academic structures. Like the Basalt and Wellington, Fort Morgan is invited to present at the upcoming state Colorado Schools to Watch Conference on November 3, 2012. They have a wide range of replicable practices that can be implemented by other middle schools looking to increase student achievement that include embedded interventions, attention to academic vocabulary instruction, leadership programming for every child, positive behavior supports, and standards based education practices.

Eagle award for Redesignation II

Staff from Holmes Middle School, of Colorado Springs District 11, were unable to accept their award in Washington DC this year. First designated in 2006, again in 2009, and a third time in 2012. Holmes has been recognized as a leader in implementing Response to Intervention programming and structures. Their students consistent out-perform other students with similar demographics as evidenced by the Colorado Assessment Program. They maintain that their success is entirely replicable and other schools can takeaway their systems of high expectations, standards based education, pyramid of interventions, attention to data analysis and differentiated instructional strategies to use in their own middle schools.

Fort Morgan Honored for “School to Watch” Designation

Fort Morgan Middle School is a 2012 Colorado Trailblazer School to Watch. “Our team knew from reviewing their trajectory of student achievement that Fort Morgan had the results to qualify for a School to Watch designation.  However, it wasn’t until our school site team visited their school in person that we knew for a fact they had built a dynamic school culture, empowering students to learn at increasing rates,” explained Diane Lauer, State Coordinator for the Colorado School to Watch program.

Every year, the Colorado Association of Middle Level Education (CAMLE) reviews state applications for the prestigious School to Watch honor. CAMLE, a state affiliate of the national Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE), partners with the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform a consortia of foundations, research institutions, and other non-profits dedicated to optimizing educational outcomes for young adolescents.  The National Forum’s signature initiative is the National Schools to Watch program which has been identifying model middle grades schools for over a decade. Over 250 schools have been identified across the national as Schools to Watch.

The National Forum holds high expectations for schools that are named Schools to Watch.  They must demonstrate consistently implemented best practices within the four domains: Academic Excellence, Developmental Responsiveness, Social Equity and Organizational Structures and Processes. Schools interested in becoming Schools to Watch must be willing to open their doors and work with other educators sharing their replicable practices.  This is the core purpose of the Schools to Watch program, to identify and validate success, so that others can learn and grow in similar fashion.

In addition to being recognized at their own school, Schools to Watch are recognized in Washington, DC at the National Schools to Watch Conference and at the statewide Colorado Schools to Watch Conference.  Fort Morgan’s national recognition will take place center stage at a dinner gala held in their honor, along with the the other 80 schools identified this year from various states throughout our county.

CAMLE is proud to honor Fort Morgan Middle School in recognition of the exemplary practices they have in place:

Academic Excellence

  • Teachers know students as individuals, and are able to meet individual needs efficiently and effectively.
  • Highly engaged students
  • Consistent use of reading comprehension strategies across Language Arts classrooms
  • Strong facilitation of productive talk in many classrooms, use of small groups
  • Embedded vocabulary instruction integrated effectively
  • Strong teacher integration of SMART boards
  • Impressive instruction in language arts and math classrooms
  • Parent Connect program enhances communication between parents, students and the school staff regarding grades, attendance, lunch, etc.
  • Students have opportunities to revise work until they “get it”
  • Improvement in CSAP reading, writing and math over the last three years
  • Teachers meet regularly during common plan time to discuss the learning needs of their students
  • College Connections –field trip to colleges for students

Developmental Responsiveness

  • High levels of staff enthusiasm – positive culture throughout the building!
  • Kids “know” that their teachers care about them, parents concur.
  • Kids really like their teachers, parents concur.
  • Kids report that their teachers will take extra time to help them, after school, before school, at lunch in addition to in class help – parents concur.
  • Staff has strong ownership in their school – they can and do make things happen!
  • Students have a wide range of activities and electives to explore their passions.
  • A variety of leadership opportunities exist for a wide variety of students – a leadership class for all students, as well as traditional leadership opportunities like NJHS
  • Student led parent teachers conferences create student ownership and deep learning – parents report
  • Strong use of Parent Portal – grades are kept up to date and used by families and students
  • Impressive home-grown math interventions
  • Unique and varied unified arts programs available for students
  • Strong music program
  • Lots of opportunities for students to get extra help
  • Clear behavioral expectations, strong teacher visibility, and effectively implemented discipline procedures are reducing number of suspensions

Social Equity

  • Welcoming culture pervades the school building – parents concur.
  • Strong sense of school pride – students love their school and are glad to be there.
  • Kids feel respected by their teachers.
  • Haves and Have Less not easily apparent.  Students blend in well together.
  • Varied charitable and community service works done by students.
  • Strong results for Make a Wish Foundation – Great job!
  • The school is adapting to changing student needs, and is working to welcome diverse student communities, adapting curriculum, instructional strategies, and assessment strategies.
  • Students feel their ideas are listened to, i.e. bathrooms.
  • Non-structured environments are orderly and safe
  • Students and parents believe administration knows everyone
  • Discipline referrals are proportionally representative of student groups
  • A wide variety of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities are available

Organizational Support Structures – 3.7

  • Scheduling allows for individual and team planning as well as creative design to maximize learning for students
  • Time embedded for data-analysis, and tools available for conversation, analysis and planning as well as problem-solving related to student behavioral needs is available
  • The school is driven by finding answers to their challenges, they do not give up, they are positive minded and will strive to find out what to do so that every child is successful!
  • Strong, responsive leadership works effectively to communicate with all stakeholders, and provide coherence and sense to the schools plans, actions, procedures in the areas of operations and instruction.

Early Adopter of RtI: Holmes Earns School to Watch Designation for the 3rd Time

Sustaining high levels of student growth and academic achievement over time, Holmes Middle School has earned the distinction of being designated a Colorado Trailblazer “School to Watch” for the 3rd time.

“I first visited Holmes Middle School in 2006.  I was deeply impressed with the organizational structures they had in place to ensure that each and every child found success.  It was several years later that I discovered what they were doing had a name: Response to Intervention,” remarked Diane Lauer, State Coordinator of the Colorado School to Watch program.

Ms. Lauer led the initial site visit team in 2006 which led to Holmes’ first School to Watch designation. Since that initial designation, Holmes Middle School has hosted the annual conference of the Colorado Association of Middle Level Education (CAMLE), a statewide conference for middle level educators organized by the sponsors of the Colorado School to Watch program, earned a second designation as a Colorado Trailblazer School to Watch, and graciously welcomed hundreds of visitors desiring to learn more about creating an environment that secures excellence in the middle grades.

The empowering structures and educational design at Holmes has also been recognized by the International Center for Leadership in Education which named Holmes a Model School of Excellence. Additionally, the RTI Action Network commended Holmes for their pioneering efforts to incorporate Response to Instruction and Intervention strategies systemically within their school.

“Holmes Middle School is our second Colorado  ‘School to Watch’ that has earned the designation three times,” added State Coordinator, Diane Lauer, “it is incredibly difficult to sustain excellence through leadership transitions, internal programatic change, and external pressures of statewide reform.  Holmes is to be commended for their ability to hold true to their mission of providing a high quality education for their students and ensuring that each child increases his/her skills during their time at Holmes.”

Principal, Rob Utter

Accepting the 2012 Colorado Trailblazer School to Watch banner was Principal Rob Utter on Tuesday, April 17. The entire staff gathered for the celebration that validated their passion and efforts to create high quality learning experiences for young adolescents. After accepting their honor, the staff used the collaborative time to continue their reflections on student progress as uncovered by reviewing behavior data, and connect their current work to their next year instructional goals.

On June 23, Holmes Middle School will be honored at the closing ceremony during the National School to Watch Conference in Washington, DC for their three-time redesignation distinction. The National School to Watch program is organized by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform. The National Forum has been identifying Schools to Watch across our nation since 2002.  Holmes Middle School will be accompanied by 50 other middle schools in Washington, DC that will be recognized for their excellence and commitment to success in educating young adolescents during the conference.

Below are some of the positive practices that have resulted in a strong trajectory of success for students and staff at Holmes Middle School:

  • Many teachers are learning and practicing the use of parallel assessment.  This allows kids to retake tests and learn at their own pace.
  • Teachers, students, and parents seem very aware of assessment data in the building.  They all take great pride in scores that their school receives.
  • Unified School Improvement Plan is collaborately created among the administration and teachers.
  • Students have many support opportunities.
  • There are tutorial/intervention classes, and teachers are available at lunch, before and after school for students to get the extra support they need.
  • The school schedule allows teachers to collaborate and plan as both cores and horizontal content teams.  Teachers really appreciate this time and consider it a valuable part of their day.
  • High levels of staff enthusiasm-positive culture throughout the building.
  • Very strong exploratory classes that students and parents value. Differentiation strategies are employed routinely in these classrooms.
  • The teachers feel a great deal of support from administration and feel respected enough to try new ideas and techniques in their classes.
  • The school collects, analyzes, and uses data to make decisions.  This is especially evident when creating the master schedule, and with interventions within the building.
  • The staff see barriers as challenges, not problems.  In all the teacher groups there was a positive attitude about change and making the best learning environment for their students.

Educators interested in learning more about Holmes Middle School may contact Principal Rob Utter at 719-328-3800.

Basalt Celebrates School to Watch Designation!

Students and staff came together on Thursday, April 12 at Basalt Middle School to celebrate and signify their 2012 Colorado Trailblazer School to Watch designation.

Mary Jones, Western Slope Regional Representative of the Colorado Association of Middle Level Education (CAMLE) presented the banner on behalf of the Colorado School to Watch program“We knew from reviewing their student achievement scores that Basalt had the results to back up their success, but it was not until the school site visit that our team was convinced that Basalt Middle School was indeed a School to Watch,” reported Diane Lauer, State Coordinator of the Colorado Schools to Watch program. Mary Jones led the school site application review team which included David Russell, principal of 2011 School to Watch Gypsum Creek Middle School; Terrie Requa principal of Mount Garfield Middle School, JB Phillips, assistant principal of 2008 School to Watch Bookcliff Middle School;  and Yogi Cherp, assistant principal from East Middle School in Grand Junction.

The CAMLE site review team, which spent a day at Basalt Middle School late February, found an entire school engineered to ensure success for each and student. “Basalt’s approach of embedding the work of Carol Dweck’s growth mindset philosophy has created a school culture like the Little Engine that Could – every student ‘knows they can’ achieve – it’s pretty incredible,” explained Mary Jones.  CAMLE President Joe Cushing added, “this school effectively implements a number of replicable practices that other educators can come, watch, and take back to their own schools.  We are looking forward their presentation at our annual conference on November 3 at Altona Middle School in Longmont, CO. Educators across the state will be able to learn from their example.”

Accepting the banner on behalf of the Basalt community was principal Jeremy Voss along with his staff and student community. Basalt Middle School serves 409 students in the 5th-8th grades.  Basalt Middle School is part of the Roaring Fork District, located north of Aspen and south of Glenwood Springs.  Their student population is 57% Hispanic, 42% White, 45% qualify for free/reduced school lunches, and 16% are English language learners.

The Colorado Department of Education also recognized Basalt Middle School this year for demonstrating high levels of student achievement growth. Designated as a Governor’s Distinguished Improvement Award Winner, Basalt’s students perform in the top 8% of schools across the state in the area of academic growth.

Basalt Middle School will be nationally recognized at the National School to Watch Conference during a gala celebration in Washington, DC on June 21, 2012.  There, nearly 500 attendees, mostly representatives from Schools to Watch across the country, will present their replicable practices, learn from one another, and advocate on Capitol Hill for strong programs that support the young adolescent.

Below are some of the positive practices that have resulted in a strong trajectory of success for students and staff at Basalt Middle School:

  • Basalt’s school culture is extremely positive and focused on possibilities rather than barriers.
  • Teachers build great relationships with students so that the focus of classes in almost entirely on learning.
  • Teachers set daily learning goals for students based on the standards.
  • Rubrics are provided to students before learning.  These rubrics are posted on a district Wiki on the internet.
  • Each essential learning objective (ELO) is unpacked so that students are aware of what they need to know and do to demonstrate proficiency.  Essential vocabulary is also tied to each ELO.
  • Students are grouped by their academic level, not their age, and must show proficiency to move on.  Multiple opportunities to demonstrate proficiency are provided.
  • Students track their own proficiency through the standards.
  • In grade 5, 6, and 7 teachers teach across two disciplines, allowing for connections across the content areas.  For example, 5th grade teachers have a two-hour literacy and social studies block called integrated literacy.
  • Building literacy skills is emphasized across disciplines.  Students read and write in a variety of classes throughout the day.
  • Learning is language and literacy rich, integration of cooperative grouping and using questioning strategies are compelling
  • Science classes are very hands-on; students are frequently in lab situations.
  • Teachers are grouped into teams. 5th grade pod and 6th grade pods cluster; within those teams, teachers have classes meeting the needs of a variety of learning levels.
  • All students take at least two quarters of art.
  • 40% of Basalt  students are enrolled in band.
  • Teachers frequently use technology to support learning and foster student engagement; students use clickers, an array of internet resources, and hands on materials to increase student engagement.
  • Basalt uses the theme HOT – Honor, Ownership, and Tolerance.  Tolerance is directly taught to all members of the Basalt learning community.
  • Because Basalt is largely bi-cultural, Latino and Anglo, they have a Latino parent liaison and provide an array of bilingual resources for parents and students.
  • Teachers utilize materials that honor a variety of cultures in their classrooms.

Educators interested in connecting or visiting Basalt Middle School should contact, Jeremy Voss, principal at 970.384.5900.

Banner Celebration at Wellington Middle School

The faculty at Wellington Middle School held an open house celebration to signify their 2012 Colorado Trailblazer School to Watch designation. Students present and past, family and community members, as well as district administration participated in the festivities.

Diane Lauer, state coordinator of  the Colorado School to Watch program, presented the banner on behalf of the Colorado Association of Middle Level Education (CAMLE). “We were impressed with Wellington Middle as soon as we read through your application. However, upon spending a day visiting your school, we knew that something extraordinarily amazing was happening in your learning community.”

The CAMLE site review team, which spent a day at Wellington Middle School mid-February, found a deep, actionable commitment to student success – within the staff, throughout the community, and voiced by the students themselves.  “Wellington’s positive can-do spirit is a tangible quality you can feel from being inside the building and talking to folks here,” explained Earl Thomas, site visit team member and CAMLE Board Southeast Representative.  CAMLE President Joe Cushing revealed that, “this talented staff effectively implements a number of best practices that foster the unique development of young adolescents. These are the kinds of replicable practices that other educators can come, watch, and take back to their own schools.”

Superintendent Jerry Wilson celebrates Wellington Middle School’s success with Principal Alicia Durand (right) and staff.

Accepting the banner on behalf of the Wellington community was principal Alicia Durand.  A seasoned leader, Durand has enjoyed the principalship at Wellington Middle School for ten years. Prior to that, she was a teacher at the school herself!  This kind of dedication and passion runs through the Wellington community, a school that serves 364 students in the 6th-8th grades.  Wellington Middle School is part of the Poudre School District, located just north of Fort Collins near Interstate 25.  Their student population is 74% White, 20% Hispanic, 44% qualify for free/reduced school lunches, and 10% are English language learners.

The Colorado Department of Education recognized Wellington Middle School this year for demonstrating high levels of student achievement growth.  Wellington Middle School was recently designated as a Green Ribbon School, denoting their excellence in environmental education efforts.

Wellington Middle School will be nationally recognized at the National School to Watch Conference during a gala celebration in Washington, DC on June 21, 2012.  There, nearly 500 attendees, mostly representatives from Schools to Watch across the country, will present their replicable practices, learn from one another, and advocate on Capitol Hill for strong programs that support the young adolescent.

Below are some of the positive practices that have resulted in a strong trajectory of success for students and staff at Wellington Middle School:

  • Welcoming culture pervades the school building
  • Curriculum integration, as well as curriculum mastery is intentionally planned for in advance, students appreciate and remember these integrated units of study long after they leave Wellington Middle School
  • Standards-based grading program helps teacher align learning targets with assessments
  • Student learning targets are shared and understood. They are not just wall art!
  • Rubric system systematized – very visible in classrooms, students very articulate in this buildingwide instructional language and expectations
  • Wellington is closing the gap between groups of students and reducing the predictability of performance by ethnic or socio-economic status
  • Staff is thoughtful, passionate, and dedicated to their profession and their students
  • Data is used widely in multiple formats by teachers to visually reinforce student learning growth
  • Strong literacy elements observed, especially in the area of writing, writing across the content areas noted in many classes
  • Some very strong integration of a wide range of instructional strategies – including differentiation, constructivist/investigatory, data-driven, and elements of critical thinking, note-taking, problem-solving, goal setting and student self-assessment
  • Technology is well integrated and focused on student use: information access and production

2012 Colorado Trailblazer Schools to Watch Revealed


Basalt Middle School, Fort Morgan Middle School, and Wellington Middle School were designated as a 2012 Colorado Trailblazer “School to Watch” as part of a recognition program developed by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform.  Holmes Middle School was redesignated for the third time, the second school in the state of Colorado to achieve a third designation.

State leaders from the Colorado Association of Middle Level Educators (CAMLE) use the criteria of academic excellence, school responsiveness to the needs and interests of young adolescents, strong leadership, teachers who work together to improve curriculum and instruction, and a collective commitment to assessment and accountability to bring about continuous improvement.

Diane Lauer, State Coordinator of the Colorado Trailblazer “Schools to Watch” program stated, “We congratulate these schools for creating an outstanding learning environment where students thrive. This school clearly recognizes the importance of meeting the needs of all of their students and ensuring that every child has access to a rigorous, high-quality education.”   At the end of this month, these schools will take their place as four of fourteen Colorado and 279 middle schools nationwide to have earned this designation.

Each of these schools will be honored during a gala celebration in Washington, D.C on June 21, 2012 along with the otherdesignated “Schools to Watch” from across the nation. They will have the opportunity to meet with their U.S. Representatives on Capitol Hill and join the national conversation related to accelerating educational reform.  Furthermore, each will be asked to present at various national, regional and state conferences to share their stories of success.

Selection is based on a written application that required schools to show how they met criteria developed by the Forum.  Finalists are chosen and visited by state teams who observe classrooms, interview administrators, teachers, and parents, and look at student 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 must repeat the process in order to be re-designated.

“We are pleased that our national Schools to Watch program demonstrates that schools can meet high academic expectations while preserving a commitment to healthy development and equity for all students,” said Dr. Deborah Kasak, 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,” Kasak 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 criteria developed by the 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.

In 2002, the Forum began working with states to replicate the Schools to Watch program as a way to introduce the Forum’s criteria for high-performance and identify middle grades schools that meet or exceed that criteria. Different education organizations have taken the lead in each state, but all have received training and support from the Forum to implement their Schools to Watch programs. All are planning in-state recognition ceremonies.

The National Forum sponsors the Schools to Watch state program with the support of members, the National Association for Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the Association of Middle Level Education, Learning Forward, and the State Schools to Watch programs.

School to Watch Directors Plan Summer Conference in DC!

Last week the State Directors of the National School to Watch program, met in Dallas to finalize the plans for the upcoming  National Schools to Watch Conference on June 21-23 in Washington, DC.  This will be the 8th Annual conference and it is shaping up to be an incredible event that centers on best practice sharing between some of the most highly effective middle grades schools in the nation. These schools have all demonstrated an evidence-based, quantitative positive-trend trajectory of student achievement and qualitative criteria-based achievement in the four domains of academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, social equity and organizational structures.

Last year six 2011 Colorado Schools to Watch were recognized for their excellence in middle grades education:

  • Altona Middle School
  • Gypsum Creek Middle School
  • Hotchkiss K-8
  • Jenkins Middle School
  • Russell Middle School
  • Steamboat Springs Middle School

This year the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform expects to showcase presentations from a wide spectrum of its 300+ Schools to Watch from across the country.  Prior to the conference, these schools will Converge on Capitol Hill to meet with their U.S. Representative from their district to share their stories of success in creating outstanding learning communities that are academically excellent, developmentally responsive, socially equitable and strong organizationally. During the conference they will receive their award of distinction at the National Forum’s Gala Evening.

Any school can attend the National Schools to Watch Conference in Washington, DC.  While 65% of the schools in attendance are currently designated as Schools to Watch, 35% of the attendees represent schools desiring to learn the best practices from the Schools to Watch.  Registration information can be found on the Schools to Watch website.

On March 15, 2012 Colorado will announce its 2012 Trailblazer Schools to Watch.  Our Colorado Association of Middle Level Education members are currently visiting the 2012 school finalists. Keep tuned in for future announcements!

Headed to Hotchkiss!

Learn from Leaders

Hotchkiss K8 received the distinction of becoming a Colorado Trailblazers Middle School-to-Watch in 2011.  After presenting at the National and State Middle Schools-to-Watch Conferences, they are hosting a site visit for other schools to learn about their replicable practices on Monday, February 6.

Are you interested in registering for this visit?

If so, registration information is available at  

Hotchkiss Pride

“BE PROUD OF WHO YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU DO” permeates their building and throughout the Hotchkiss community.  High expectations and strong relationships build the strong foundation for learning and success.  They instill in their students the fact that they must be proud of all they do everyday. Hotchkiss teachers are standards-based, have created strongly aligned curriculum, and focus on reading and writing across the curriculum.  They employ rich and varied strategies to provide academic and social interventions.  Parents are actively engaged in all aspects of learning in this school. This school uses their resources wisely, they think outside the box, and never, and they never, ever give up on a child.

Peer to Peer Learning

If teachers learn best from other teachers, then schools must learn best from other schools…  

With this core belief in mind, the Colorado Association of Middle Level Education (CAMLE) organized a Peer to Peer Learning Experience to bring interested middle level educators to the 2011 Colorado School to Watch designees Russell, Jenkins and Altona Middle School where they could learn replicable practices that could set their own school on a trajectory of success – just like the schools they visited.  The School to Watch school site visits were held on Tuesday November 15 and Thursday November 17.  Over fifty Colorado educators traveled nearly 1500 miles to visit these Colorado Schools to Watch in located in Colorado Springs (District 11) and Longmont (St. Vrain Valley Schools).

The School to Watch visitors began their day learning about the rich, research based practices that have propelled student learning through strong organizational practices, best first instruction, and sustained focus on continuous improvement.  Guests at Russell Middle gleaned knowledge related to their exemplary implementation of Response to Intervention (RtI) programming that included Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBiS) and Character Education strategies.  While visiting Jenkins Middle School, guests interacted with students who spoke first hand regarding the engaging instructional strategies implemented by the whole staff professional study. Finally, visitors to Altona Middle School were immersed in the school’s culture of excellence, focus and precision in execution.

Here is what the attendees had to say about their peer to peer learning experience:

“I had the privilege to attend the Altona Middle School site visit and I was blown away. For over ten years I have thought it is all about teacher: my lessons, my units – and in one day I learned that what it really takes is a strong system. I looked at their lessons and units, and they are basically the same.  But, our school doesn’t operate systemically and strategically like Altona. Thank you for allowing me to visit this amazing school!”

“I learned more in one day about RtI by visiting Russell Middle School than I did in over two years training in my own district. I really appreciated understanding their systemic approach to providing interventions. I came away with a lot of ideas for supporting students who need additional help.”

“My favorite part was hearing the Altona mantra, “Every year we do ONE thing and we do ONE thing really well.  It seems like the staff has the focus and the time to devote to excellence, and it shows.”

“We saw high level instructional practices and systemwide supports throughout the Jenkins Middle School.  The students could explain exactly how the teachers are working to enhance their instructional practices.  We saw a whole school learning community in action. It’s not surprising this is a Schools to Watch. Our team now has new ideas we can implement when we get back to school tomorrow.”

If you are interested in learning more about Russell, Jenkins, and Altona Middle Schools or the Schools to Watch program follow the hyperlinks embedded in this post to contact each school and set up your visit.  These are Colorado’s Schools to Watch!

Field Trip! Visit Our Newest Schools to Watch

What is better than a field trip with your closest colleagues? 

Over the last several years, CAMLE has sponsored Schools to Watch Site Visits in order to promote collegial networking and experiential learning in our high performing middle schools across the state.  Anyone can attend a School to Watch Site Visit.  We are excited to announce that registration is open for Fall Visits to the following schools:

Tuesday, November 15
Russell Middle School & Jenkins Middle School in Colorado Springs (District 11)

  • AM visit Russell Middle School
  • Lunch Provided onsite
  • PM visit Jenkins Middle School
  • Highlights – Best First Instruction focusing on Total Participation Student Engagement Strategies; Job-embedded professional development strategies; whole school professional development study framework, exemplary Response to Intervention (RtI) implementation; exemplary Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBiS) implementation, award-winning Character Education programming

Thursday, November 17
Altona Middle School in Longmont (St. Vrain)

  • AM/PM visit Altona Middle School
  • Lunch Provided onsite
  • Highlights – Systemic grading policies; systemic parent communication policies; Best First Instruction focusing on Teach Like a Champion Strategies; strong formative assessment strategies; aligned curriculum using Understanding by Design mapping, exemplary whole school vision, mission and values; exemplary use of Professional Study Teams to promote instructional alignment.
Registration Costs $50 per person
Lunch is provided
All attendees earn 7 CDE recertification hours