From East to West, CAMLE finds 3 of the Best: Bookcliff, Corwin International, Redlands

SchoolsToWatchThree exemplary middle-grades schools across the state of Colorado have been named “Schools to Watch” as part of a recognition program developed by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform and facilitated by the Colorado Association of Middle Level Education at the state level. These schools are:

Each school was selected by state leaders 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.

Diane Lauer, State Coordinator of the Colorado Schools to Watch program stated, “We congratulate these schools for being places that created exceptional learning for adolescents. These schools demonstrate that high-performance is a result of intentional focus on individual student academic growth and achievement. These schools recognize the importance of meeting the needs of all of their students and ensuring that every child has access to a rigorous, high-quality education.”

Selection is based on a written application that required schools to show how they met criteria developed by the Forum. Schools that appeared to meet the criteria were then visited by state teams who observed classrooms, interviewed administrators, teachers, 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 must repeat the process in order to be re-designated. Of the three schools identified this year, Corwin and Redlands are first time designees and Bookcliff is a redesignation.  Each will be honored in Washington, DC at the National Schools to Watch Conference on June 27, 2013.

“We are pleased that our Schools to Watch program have shown 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. The lead state organization in Colorado is the Colorado Association of Middle Level Education (CAMLE) which is the state affiliate of the Association of Middle Level Education.  CAMLE will be hosting their annual Colorado Schools to Watch conference on November 2, 2013 where each School to Watch will share replicable practices of success.  Other schools that are demonstrating evidence-based practices will be invited to showcase their programs at this gathering.

Nineteen states are currently involved in the program and the addition of these 3 schools raises the total number of Schools to Watch to over 300 nationwide.

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.

The National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform is an alliance of 65 educators, researchers, national associations, and officers of professional organizations and foundations dedicated to improving education in the middle grades

New Colorado Trailblazer Schools to Watch

  • Corwin International Magnet School – Pueblo (Pueblo City Schools)
  • Redlands Middle School – Grand Junction (Mesa County Valley 51)

Redesignated Colorado Trailblazer Schools to Watch

  • Bookcliff Middle School – Grand Junction (Mesa County Valley 51) – 2nd Redesignation

November 30 Deadline Approaches – 2013 Colorado School to Watch Application

Is your school a School to Watch?

Every year the board members of the Colorado Association of Middle Level Education (CAMLE) reviews applications for National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform’s national School to Watch designation.  Presently, there are over 350 Schools to Watch recognized across our nation.  There are 14 actively recognized Schools to Watch in Colorado.

Applications are accepted on an annual basis.

 The deadline for the 2013 designation is November 30, 2012.

Use the Self-Rating Rubric to facilitate your school’s reflection prior to the application completion process. This self-study rubric contains the criteria of best practices required for being identified as a School to Watch. This rubric can promote staff reflection and support the continuous improvement process for any middle grades school.  If, after analyzing your school in relation to these criteria, you believe you have the evidence in place to be designated as a School to Watch, we invite you to submit an application following the procedures described below.

The Colorado Trailblazer Schools to Watch initiative has been a part of  CAMLE for the last 8 years.  CAMLE works with Colorado Trailblazer Schools to Watch to showcase their evidence-based strategies at statewide and regional conferences, workshops, and school site visits.  All of the Colorado Schools to Watch open their doors to visitors who are interested in learning replicable practices that can be implemented in any school system

CAMLE encourages you to reach out and visit any one of our extraordinary Schools to Watch!  While each of these schools exemplify strong academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, social equity and strong organizational structures – each presents a different flavor due to their diverse demographics and strategies to create powerful learning communities.  Each School to Watch is unique. Click here to learn more about our 14 Colorado Trailblazer Schools to Watch.

Smart Phones in the Band Room? Why Not!

CAMLE Annual Schools to Watch Conference

Stuart Middle School ~ Commerce City
Saturday, November 3


Over 35 Sessions!  Here is Just One Sample!

Session Presenter: Wayne Hoey, Jenkins Middle School

Session Title:  Smart Phones In The Band Room?…Why Not!

Session Description: Is your school struggling with a policy prohibiting students the use of smart phones and iPods and at the same time feeling the push to incorporate technology in your classroom? Why can’t we teach students using the mediums most comfortable to this generation? Many of today’s electronic devices have apps to make life’s chores a little less complicated and a little more fun. Learn some of the ways to incorporate technology in the orchestra, choir, band, and general music classes. You will see the value of students (and teachers) who can use iPhones, iPods, iPads, MacBooks, and other smart devices. We will discover scores of apps like metronomes and digital musical instrument tuners. Then explore the myriad of websites to aid in learning and teaching music. The future is here, let’s embrace it!

Duncan: Middle grades ‘misunderstood, overlooked’ — ED DAILY

By Jean Gossman

Middle school education is receiving more attention as educators and policymakers examine its connection to success in high school and beyond. Stakeholders welcome the focus, given that middle school is “sometimes called the Bermuda Triangle of K-12 education, a time when students sink or swim, sail through choppy waters, and have few pedagogical stars by which to navigate their course.”

Secretary Duncan at the National Schools to Watch Conference in Washington, DC

Education Secretary Arne Duncan offered that comparison in his first major address on middle grades reform at the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform’s Schools to Watch conference last week. He expressed concern that fewer than 25 percent of middle school teachers receive special training in “misunderstood and overlooked” early adolescent education. He added that middle grades education needs more research, rather than “continual tinkering” with excessive debate on grade configuration and curriculum.

Duncan observed that early warning and intervention systems like those used by Schools to Watch are particularly needed in high-poverty schools, because “early intervention is more effective and cost-effective” in the middle grades rather than waiting until high school. Duncan cited research by Robert Balfanz, research scientist with the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University, which showed a relationship between middle school success and high school completion.

Duncan said the Schools to Watch model, which also relies on school leadership coaching and mentoring, is similar to that of Shanghai, China, which he said has the highest performing educational system in the world. Although U.S. elementary students’ achievement compares favorably with their international peers, “performance of our 15-year-olds is mediocre,” Duncan said. Accordingly, he told the educators the $6 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant awarded to Schools to Watch “was not a gift, it was an investment.”

The National Forum honored 100 exemplary middle-grades schools designated as 2011 “Schools to Watch” in the 19-state recognition program. Thirty-nine of those were recognized for maintaining or increasing their performance after applying to be redesignated as a School to Watch. Peter Murphy, past president of the National Forum, told Education Daily® that the re-designation process is “a key point of the program” that encourages continuous improvement.

Renewed focus

“It’s very encouraging that [Duncan] is stating the importance of middle grades,” Deborah Kasak, National Forum executive director, told Education Daily®. “We’ve been overlooked for so long, and we have a vital role to play in the K-12 continuum.” A former middle school counselor for 18 years in Illinois, Kasak also spoke to the connection identified in research between a student’s poor middle school experience and later dropping out of high school.

Although middle school students are unlikely to form a concrete wish or plan to leave high school, she said, middle school students start to “become disengaged and seek their self-worth [out of school].” Additionally, “they begin to feel they can’t do [the work] when they really can, but we need to do better instruction with them. They begin to see themselves as not being successful, confident, or able. We have to advocate for them,” Kasak said. She added that keeping students “engaged and connected in the school experience” and building strong relationships with them “really makes a difference” in dropout prevention.

7 Colorado Middle Schools – Nationally Recognized for High Performance


Steve Wolf (Powell MS) Julie Williams & Cindy Shane (Russell MS) at the honorary Gala Dinner.

Seven amazing Colorado Middle Schools were recognized with 93 other amazing middle schools from across the nation at the National School to Watch Conference in Washington, DC.

To earn the distinction of being a National (and State) School to Watch, a school must demonstrate three years of an academic success trajectory that includes performance on state assessments and high correlation to a set of standards created by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform. These Colorado schools achieved that standard and presented their replicable practices and programs before their peers and colleagues across the nation during two-day days of sessions including a site visit with their US Congressional Representative on Capitol Hill.

100 high performing middle schools across the nation were awarded at the National Schools to Watch Conference.

In the early 2000’s a number of educational associations and educational policy/research organizations fretted over the abundance of bad press and lack of focus on powerful learning priorities targeting young adolescents.  They became empowered, they banded together, they became the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform and set upon an effort to identify and cast a light upon amazing middle schools – those that could be a beacon to others looking to replicate success, high achievement, developmentally responsive learning, social equitable environments and strong supportive structures to carry the weight of work that their passionate staff embraces on a daily basis. Each year, state Schools to Watch are designated nationally at the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform Annual Conference in Washington, DC. This year 100 schools from across the nation were awarded.


Steve Smith & Deb Lehr (Gypsum Creek MS) and Jason Ter Horst & Rich Law (Jenkins MS) share ideas and best practices from their high performing schools

As state director, I was deeply honored to sit among our middle level friends and colleagues across the nation. Speechless really, as I thought of the countless hours and restless nights accumulated by the dedicated staff members who devote their lives to children in the hopes that their efforts make a difference, open the door of opportunities, give heart to the  hopeless, feed bodies and spirits, share love to the unloved, and the provide key to prosperity to each and every child.

Thank you National Schools to Watch, for your devotion to humanity, for your drive and sense of urgency, and for your love of the children that you give a piece of yourself to each and every day.

Thank you – we love you all,

Diane Lauer, State Coordinator and Board Member of the Colorado Association of Middle Level Education