Newton-Conover Middle School, a STEM magnet middle school in Conover, North Carolina, has received a national designation from the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform: the prestigious National School to Watch award.
Schools who are considered for the National School to Watch designation embark on a long process of evaluation by the National Forum, beginning with an extended application. The application asks its nominees to examine and reflect on their school’s performance against four traits: academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, social equity, and organizational structures and processes.
“For the award, you have to collect a lot of data. In the application, we had to show how our School Improvement Plan aligns with each of the four traits for the designation. The National team went to every classroom,” said Jessica Schouweiler, N-CMS STEM Coordinator and Assistant Principal.
Since moving to its Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) focus as a school, N-CMS has been busy reaching out into the community to connect student learning to community needs.
N-CMS’ STEM Connection Nights bring local businesses, STEM-focused industries and manufacturers, and academic programs from the local community college together to meet students and their families.
Mrs. Ashley Pack, Assistant Principal and PBIS Coordinator for N-CMS, believes that the strength of the school has a lot to do with the staff and students’ willingness to collaborate with the community to meet one another’s needs.
“It’s really not just a school recognition, it’s a community recognition. Our teachers had to change their mindset in order to incorporate PBIS and STEM,” said Pack.
Dr. Rosanna Whisnant, N-CMS Principal, also believes that the school and community should be first to thank for the incredible growth of the school that has merited this honor for the school.
“I think we’re in an amazing community. Our kids are outstanding and work really, really hard. Teachers have really worked hard on diving deeper into their standards to ensure that students are learning at a deeper level. Together, we capitalize on our diversity and encourage our students to use their strengths and passions in order to guide their learning,” Whisnant said.
While many teachers at N-CMS were involved in the application process for the honor, all staff have worked tirelessly to embody the STEM focus and the four tenets of the Schools to Watch award. According to Mrs. Jessica Schouweiler, “the teachers are the carriers of the vision.”
“Going through the Schools to Watch process allowed us, as a staff, to reflect on our practices as a school, not just our classrooms. We were able to celebrate our successes and find solutions for our weaknesses. NCMS embodies the spirit of this award through our improvements of our school culture, focus on curriculum, and refinement of best practices,” said N-CMS Teacher Kelly Cannon.
Sheridan Summer, another N-CMS Teacher, shared her reflections on how the staff feel about being part of N-CMS’ School to Watch journey.
“Becoming a School to Watch is an honor and is something that reflects the hard work and dedication of our staff and students. We are very excited and proud of this honor,” said Summer.
Parents in the school believe that the strong leadership at N-CMS has also helped to develop a culture of continuous improvement that can also be seen through teachers who work together to improve teaching and learning, and a commitment to accountability that facilitates a growth-oriented culture.
“I view the contagious positivity and high ambition among the leadership and the ownership atmosphere that has been created for students are key factors in making N-CMS a school to watch. Having consulted with schools throughout the country, I believe these are rare and valuable qualities, certainly components of excellence,” Leonard Geddes, N-CMS parent and volunteer, said.
N-CMS parent Susan Stallings, who served on the parent interview committee for the award, shared her feelings of regarding their receipt of the award.
“Newton-Conover Middle School is very deserving of the Schools to Watch award. This is evident to see through the wonderful students and staff at this school. They make up a wonderful team who work together to make the community and school system a better place,” Stallings said.
One of only three middle schools in the state of North Carolina to receive the designation this school year, Newton-Conover Middle School was selected for its excellence in teaching and learning, fostering its culture of embracing the needs and aspirations of the whole child, and its commitment to increasing achievement at all levels.
N-CMS and the N-CCS district are currently planning a School to Watch celebration to open the next school year, recognizing the school for its incredible achievement. N-CMS has also been honored by the North Carolina Association for Middle Level Education (NCMLE) at their conference, and will be attending the national conference in Washington, D.C. to be recognized on the national level later this year.
ABOUT THE NATIONAL FORUM TO ACCELERATE MIDDLE GRADES REFORM
The National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform is an alliance of over 60 educators, researchers, national associations, and officers of professional organizations and foundations committed to promoting the academic performance and healthy development of young adolescents.
Through its Schools to Watch® (STW) program, the Forum has developed criteria for identifying high-performing middle-grades schools, created tools to help schools use the criteria, expanded the program to 18 states, and selected and honored over 350 successful schools across the country during the Annual STW Conference.