Earlier this month the New York State Essential Elements Schools to Watch program took center stage at the Marlboro School Board meeting.
Robin Hecht, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, said the program has two main goals.
“First, to promote continuous school improvement through collaborative measures and second, to identify and recognize middle level schools and programs that are academically excellent, developmentally appropriate, socially equitable and organized to ensure continuous researched-based school improvement.”
Middle School Principal Debra Clinton said her interest in the program was piqued at a recent conference meeting in Albany. She said a team of teachers and administrators at the Middle School have met regularly for the past two years to review all of their academic, social and emotional program offerings.
“They have focused on the process of determining whether or not we meet the criteria to be an Essential Elements Schools to Watch,” she said. Clinton said the program is “data-driven,” requiring them to look critically at where they shine and where there is need for improvement. The faculty and staff also completed online surveys each year, “to rate ourselves on how well they feel that we do.”
The Essential Elements program evaluates a Middle School’s academic excellence, “to see if they challenge all students to use their minds well”; their developmental responsiveness, “to see if they are sensitive to the unique developmental challenges of early adolescence,”; they look to see if the school is socially equitable, democratic and fair to ensure that students are successful; and the see if the level of a school’s organizational structures and processes provides students with the necessary support and skills to help them, “sustain a trajectory toward excellence.”
Clinton said, “I think the most important thing that you keep hearing us say is this program is designed to help schools develop an ongoing culture of self-reflection, leading to continuous self-improvement,” in order to meet the changes and growing needs of students.
Last July the Middle School submitted a 102 page application and the state granted the school a site visit.
“We celebrated the fact that they recognized that the programs that we had in the application are worth them coming and doing a two-day site visit. A team of four trained evaluators will be coming down and spending a full day with us on November 21 and a half-day on November 22. Our ultimate goal is to hear what they have to say; they’re going to look at our programs and I think they’re going to celebrate some of our accomplishments on the things that we do and they’re going to give us some tangible suggestions, ideas and things to reflect upon.”
Clinton said the best outcome would be for the team to designate the Middle School as an ‘Essential School to Watch.’ She said no matter the outcome, “we’re going to keep moving forward and work with whatever feedback they give us because we do feel that this establishes for us a criteria of a high standard of excellence in all areas.”
Superintendent Michael Brooks commended all who were involved in this effort.
“On behalf of the district and the Board of Education, well done. To get to this level is fantastic but more importantly to have the mindset when you’re saying the works not done. It’s not about perfection [but] you never sacrifice good in pursuit of that perfection though. I’m proud of you.”
Clinton said if they are fortunate to receive the designation it is not the end of the road; they have to be re-designated every three years to show they are continually moving in the direction of excellence across the board.