Rowan County Middle School is one of a small handful of middle schools in the Commonwealth of Kentucky that can claim the distinction and honor of being named a School to Watch®. Less than 10 middle schools across the state have been able to earn the title, an honor that was earned through the hard work and dedication of the teachers, the staff, the administration, and the students.
Seeking to push Rowan County Middle School into becoming a high-performing middle school, RCMS principal Jay Padula and then assistant principal Paula Stafford began searching for grant opportunities and programs that would assist in achieving their goal. After attending a Schools to Watch® conference and looking through the STW rubric that outlined the pathway the faculty, staff and students would have to follow, it was decided to begin the 4-year process of applying to become a School to Watch®.
In 1999, the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform launched an initiative titled Schools to Watch®. This initiative, which is part of the National Middle School Association, sought to identify middle schools across the nation that met the criteria set by the Forum for high-performing schools. Each school honored by the Forum must meet the following criteria from the Schools to Watch® rubric:
- Academically excellent – (Examples: all students are expected to meet high standards; the curriculum and instruction are aligned with high standards; teachers use a variety of methods to assess students; teachers and staff members are provided with the time and opportunities to work with their colleagues to improve instruction, etc.)
- Developmentally responsive – (Examples: teachers foster curiosity, creativity, and the development of social skills in a structured and supportive environment; students are provided many opportunities to explore a topics and interests that will help them to develop their identity, learn about their strengths, and plan for their future; school staff members develop relationships with families to enhance and support the well-being of the student; etc.)
- Socially equitable – (Examples: giving all students equal access to knowledge in both their classes and their activities; designing a reward system that values and fosters diversity, civility, service, and citizenship; welcoming the family and making them an integral part of the education process, etc.)
- Organizational structures – (Examples: having a shared vision of what is means to be a high-performing school; developing partnership with area colleges and universities; holding itself accountable for student success, etc.)
“When we first made the decision to become a Schools to Watch® school, we knew that we would have to get everyone on board, from the custodians and food service staff to the teachers and instructional aides,” said Jay Padula. “We also knew that our parents and other community members needed to be involved in this process.”
At a leadership retreat, RCMS administrative staff and teachers met with community business leaders, parents, doctors, and representatives from various local organizations to get their ideas on what the staff at Rowan County Middle School needed to do to help “build” a successful and eventually employable student. Taking the ideas gained at the leadership retreat, Jay Padula and his staff began making changes.
“We changed the curriculum, we changed our organizational structure, we changed almost everything, even the mood of the school,” said Padula. “We created a student leadership team here at the school. We asked them for suggestions, what they liked, what they wanted to see changed. This allowed us to find creative ways to connect with our students. We all became part of a team.”
He pointed out his flannel shirt and the many flannel shirts being worn by students and staff throughout the building, remarking that the idea for Flannel Thursdays came from one of the building custodians.
To become a School to Watch®, the RCMS leadership team, along with fellow faculty and staff members at Rowan County Middle School, first had to complete a self-evaluation, assessing themselves using the STW criteria and charting their growth throughout the 4 years. (The members of the RCMS leadership team were Principal Jay Padula, then Assistant Principal Paula Stafford, current Assistant Principal Joe Harris, teachers Allison Slone, Dora Carnevali, Larry Robinson, and James Hood, Youth Service Center Director Kay Roe, and Rowan County School District liaison Glen Teager.)
“This self-assessment process became our guide to improvement in the areas of academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, social equity, and our organizational structures,” said Joe Harris, assistant principal. “We compiled a notebook that was filled with evidence that demonstrated how our faculty, staff and students were all working together toward the goal of being a high-performing school and creating students who excel.”
“We created a student leadership team here at the school,” said Padula. “We asked them for suggestions, what they liked, what they wanted to see changed. This allowed us to find creative ways to connect with our students.”
On January 30-31, 2017, members of the Kentucky Schools to Watch® team as well as educators from Garrard County Middle School and Boyd County Middle School visited Rowan County School. They were first taken on a tour of the school with several students as their tour guides. Once the tour was completed, the visiting team members examined the notebook filled with application evidence and conducted interviews with parents, teachers, staff members and students. At the conclusion of the visit, the visiting team announced that Rowan County Middle School had achieved its goal – it was officially designated as a School to Watch®.
In June 2017, representatives from Rowan County Middle School will travel to Washington, D.C. to attend the National Middle School Association Conference. It is at that conference that Rowan County Middle School will be nationally recognized as a School to Watch® and the RCMS representatives will be presented with both a plaque and a banner.
“What we did to achieve the Schools to Watch® designation over the past 4 years is not something that will end when we receive our plaque and banner in Washington, D.C. this summer. We’ve created a new mindset here, a mindset of pride, setting goals, helping our students to succeed. We became a team.”