Watching Sheffield

Another one down.

Sheffield is joining Youngsville and Beaty-Warren as the third middle school in the Warren County School District to be named a PA Don Eichhorn Schools: “Schools to Watch”.

“It’s a huge deal,” Sheffield Principal Amy Beers said on Thursday of the designation. “There are only 30 schools in the state.”

According to the Pennsylvania Association for Middle Level Education (PAMLE), which awards the recognition, schools receiving the designation must show academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, social equity and strong organizational structures and processes.

To be designated a “School to Watch”, applicant schools are evaluated by a state team against rigorous criteria, according to the PAMLE website. Some schools are then chosen for a further on-site visit and evaluation. Evaluators use a rubric based on national level “Schools to Watch” program criteria to score schools in four categories.

Evaluators commended Sheffield on staff quality, relationships with local elementary schools, involvement of student families and student opportunity, among other things.

The PAMLE evaluation noted Sheffield’s strengths include:

“The faculty reading activities are quality examples of effective staff development initiatives in creating a school focus.”

“There are well developed connections between the feeder (Elementary) school and the middle school that encourages a smooth transition for incoming students.”

“A program has been recently developed to welcome all families as an integral part of the school program including understanding of standardized test scores and data.”

“The school has established an excellent model for individual student goal setting and the assessment of the successful achievement of those goals.”

“The school has designed a schedule that allows teachers to effectively utilize their common planning period.”

“Every child is known personally and known well.”

“Students have a wide variety of opportunities to be involved in the school community.”

“The principal is highly respected by all members of the learning community. She is to be commended for her vision of what an exemplary middle school should be and for her ability to motivate and respect the professional staff.”

According to Beers, the designation is part of a long-term group effort by staff and students which was only possible with community support.

“We had a lot to overcome in the past few years and this was our goal at the middle level,” she said. “A few years ago, our test scores were terrible. Our scores have improved dramatically. Our whole school culture has improved dramatically. This is, sort of, confirmation that we’re on the right path.”

“To me, it’s recognition of a group of teachers who are dedicated to their students, supported by administration on a common goal,” Teacher Diane Finley said. “It’s recognition of hard work and teamwork. It feels great!”

Teacher Anna Peterson sees the award as an affirmation, “This designation confirms that our small school ranks right along with some of the best middle school programs in the state of PA. SAMHS continues to validate to the school community that small schools are equally able to succeed to the same degree of larger schools. I’m proud to work here with our students, faculty, staff and parents.”

Beers noted the award is about more than the faculty however,

“This isn’t just about me or the teachers,” she said. “This is a testament to the dedication of Warren County to the middle level. It is making a difference.”

Students at Sheffield were enthusiastic about the designation as well.

“To me, being a ‘School to Watch’ proves that our school is preparing us for just about anything,” eighth-grade student Gabrielle DuBois said.

Seventh-grade student Kolten Johnson agreed. “I feel privileged for our school because not everyone is awarded this designation,” she said. “It’s school pride.”

“I’m really impressed with this award,” seventh-grade student Issis Pratz said. “It show we meet all four categories well.”

The next step for Sheffield is implementing a three-year plan following PAMLE recommendations to become a national “Schools to Watch” designee. The recommendations include expansion of technology initiative at the school, further integrating cross-curricular studies and expanding student goal setting initiatives among other things.

Despite the hard work that went into gaining the designation, sixth-grade student Laurel Connolly said it was no surprise.

According to Connolly, “It gives us an award for what we already knew – our school is fair, we have good teachers and we all work together to do our best.”