Harter Middle School among ‘Schools to Watch’

By on March 22, 2014

KANELAND—Kaneland Harter Middle School was among 115 exemplary middle-grades schools in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Virginia to recently be named “Schools to Watch” as part of a recognition program developed by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform (www.schoolstowatch.org).

The National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform is an alliance of 50 educators, researchers, national associations, and officers of professional organizations and foundations dedicated to improving education in the middle grades.

Harter Middle 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. Among other criteria, HMS was awarded the designation due to the school’s strong leadership, teachers who work together to improve curriculum and instruction, and a commitment to assessment and accountability to bring about continuous improvement.

HMS Principal Bryan Zwemke credits teachers and staff for being “student-centered” in their decision-making, increasing the likelihood of student success.

“They make student needs a priority. Our teachers have the ability to meet students where they’re at and help them academically and socially throughout their middle school years,” he said.

Zwemke said the strong sense of teaming throughout the school creates a network of adults who advocate for students.

John Viano, director of Association of Illinois Middle Schools, led the school visit along with two other members of the AIMS Network. Viano was impressed with the manner in which Harter Middle School creates a well-rounded educational process with attention to academics and social emotional needs.

“The visitation team unanimously endorses the designation of Kaneland Harter Middle School as an Illinois Horizon School to Watch,” he said.

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, students, and parents, and looked at achievement data, suspension rates, quality of lessons and student work. On Jan. 17, education professionals from the Association of Middle Schools visited Harter Middle School to observe and offer feedback to the leadership team.

“It’s important for us to network with a group of people who can acknowledge our strengths and let us know areas where we can improve,” Zwemke said. “I am proud of our school for receiving this designation. The opportunity to continue to further enrich the middle school experience for our students is exciting.”

The motivation for designated schools to continue on their path to excellence is built into the “Schools to Watch” requirements, as 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.

Sixty-nine schools of the 115 recognized have maintained or increased their levels of excellence and are being re-designated. The schools vary in size from several hundred to several thousand students, and represent urban, suburban and rural communities.

The award demonstrates the exceptional qualities of Harter Middle School while providing a framework for ongoing improvement “The recognition validates what we’re doing well, but it is an ongoing process of bettering ourselves,” Zwemke said. “I want us to become a premier middle school, because that’s what our students deserve.”