Frequently Asked Questions about Schools to Watch


What is Schools to Watch? Schools to Watch is a partnership between the South Carolina association for Middle Level Education and the SC Middle Grades Initiate.   As an affiliate of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform’s National Schools to Watch program, SC seeks to help schools on a trajectory toward excellence through providing strong criteria for being a high performing school. 

What is the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform?
The “National Forum” is an alliance of over 60 educators, national associations, and officers of professional associations and foundations committed to promoting the academic performance and healthy development of young adolescents. The National Forum, which developed the original Schools to Watch criteria, serves Pennsylvania as a source of inspiration and expertise. The National Forum convenes the annual national Schools to Watch conference (June, Washington D.C.). This conference is open to both Schools to Watch and those that aspire to become Schools to Watch. In addition, the National Forum is a recipient of a 2010 Federal i3 grant of $6,000,000.00 for middle grades school improvement.

What does it mean to be a School to Watch School? Schools to Watch seeks to recognize a diverse, high-performing, growth-oriented middle grades schools to demonstrate what all middle grades schools are capable of achieving. 

Schools to Watch Schools are schools that demonstrate:

  • Academic Excellence. High-performing schools with middle grades are academically excellent.  They challenge all students to use their minds well.
  • Developmental Responsiveness.  High-performing schools with middle grades are sensitive to the unique developmental challenges of early adolescence.
  • Social Equity.  High-performance schools with middle grades are socially equitable, democratic and fair.  They provide every student with high-quality teachers, resources, learning opportunities, and supports.  They keep positive options open for all students. 
  • Organizational Structures and Processes.  High-performing schools with middle grades are learning organizations that establish norms, structures, and organizational arrangements to support and sustain their trajectory toward excellence.
  • A School to Watch School is a school that is conscientiously moving to meet fully the nationally endorsed criteria for high-performing middle schools, one that has made marked progress in meeting all of the criteria, including measurable gains in the academic achievement of all students over time.

How is Schools to Watch different than other recognition programs? Designations are earned based on achievement across the domains of academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, social equity and school organization. Schools are recognized and celebrated for their growth and development. 

When are Applications due?Applications are usually due in September. 

Why should our school apply to be a School to Watch?The foundation of the Schools to Watch Program (and application process) is the self-study tool containing the National Forum Schools to Watch criteria. The National Forum believe that youth in the middle grades are capable of learning and achieving at high levels. We share a sense of urgency that high-performing middle grades schools become the norm, not the exception. To that end, the National Forum identified a set of selection criteria to describe high-performing schools that serve students in the middle grades. South Carolina adopted these criteria in the form of the self-rating rubric. To begin the application process, a school must convene a school learning community to investigate their achievement in the areas of academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, social equity and school organization. The insights revealed through the use of this rubric are powerful and rewarding.

What if we begin the application process and realize we are not ready to be a School to Watch? Should we submit our application?
Yes! From the moment you begin working with the self-rating rubric, you are increasing your school’s capacity for self-improvement. Even if you are not ready to be designated a School to Watch you can receive valuable feedback on your school’s application and join the Schools to Watch Network. In the event your application is of great interest to the readers, you may receive a site visit from middle grades experts that will provide you with additional feedback. Even schools that receive the designation begin a process of continual school improvement with the support of the South Carolina Schools to Watch team. 

What process is used to determine if a school is designated a School to Watch school??The National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform crafted a vision that describes the characteristics of high-performing middle grades schools. With this vision as a basis, National Forum members then developed a set of rigorous criteria that could be used to identify such high-performing schools. These became known as the Schools to Watch criteria.

The STW criteria themselves are important, since they represent a set of rigorous, research-based indicators against which schools can measure their own performance and set improvement benchmarks. In addition, they serve as the basis for identifying exemplars at the state level.

Using a rubric fashioned upon the national STW criteria, Schools to Watch State Team members evaluate applications for “potential” schools to serve as designees. It is important to note that schools do not compete with each other for designations, but rather they compete with the rigorous criteria used to identify high-performing schools. If your application is of great interest to the readers, you will be selected for site visitation. A group from the larger Schools to Watch State Team will spend at least one day  in your school further evaluating your application and your potential to serve as a high-performing, growth-oriented middle grades school that will demonstrate what all middle grades schools are capable of achieving.

 State Team members currently include diverse, talented, experienced professionals working in the area of middle school improvement. Members work in various capacities, i.e. middle school teachers and counselors, middle school administrators, district administrators, college and university professors and administrators, etc.

What if we apply and are not designated as a School to Watch?

There are many ways you can participate in Schools to Watch regardless of whether or not you receive the designation. You may participate in the Schools to Watch program by

  • Joining the Schools to Watch Network – a benefit of SCAMLE
  • Attending Schools to Watch information and/or professional development session
  • Participating in the National Schools to Watch Conference
  • Visiting School to Watch schools
  • Receiving feedback and support from the Schools to Watch Team.

IF NOT SELECTED, SCHOOLS TO WATCH STRONGLY ENCOURAGES YOU TO REAPPLY THE FOLLOWING YEAR. Nation-wide, it is not unusual for a School to Watch to have applied to the program more than once before receiving the designation. Several schools have applied more than one time before being recognized. Currently, there are more than 450 Schools to Watch in the nation. Schools to Watch is both a recognition and capacity building program. Our hope is that you continue to find the self-study/application process and overall programming instructional and inspiring.

If we are designated as a School to Watch, what is our role in middle grades reform? What are our responsibilities?If you are designated as a School to Watch, you agree to participate in all aspects of the program including, but not limited to, recognition celebrations, induction and orientation, professional development and school improvement consultations, visits from others who seek to improve their schools, STW Network/SCAMLE member, and documentation of Schools to Watch practices. A designee recognizes that being a School to Watch demands increased attention to high, dynamic and sustained performance. A designee welcomes the opportunity to share knowledge and experience with others and works as a mentor to accelerate middle grades reform in South Carolina.

What benefits are associated with being designated a School to Watch?While being selected as a School to Watch  provides others with a representative model of how effective middle grades schools work, it also provides the receiving school an opportunity for new reflection, professional development and consultation, and Schools to Watch community involvement via the state and national network of Schools to Watch. As there are currently more than 450 Schools to Watch in the nation, a South Carolina School to Watch is recognized as a forward thinking, achievement and equity-driven organization committed to the development of both young adolescents and adult learners.

Can a School to Watch reaffirm their designation in consecutive years?A school receives a designation for  three consecutive years. To reaffirm status, the school must annually review its programs and keep the state School to Watch Leadership Team apprised of their continuous improvement. The redesignation process is completed every three years. It includes an extensive application, site visit, and interviews. 

What if I still have questions?
Please direct all questions to a member of the Schools to Watch State Leadership Team.

Tina Jamison, Co-Director:  TJamison@ed.sc.gov
David McDonald, Co-Director, dmcdonald@greenville.k12.sc.us
stw@scamle.org


South Carolina 
Association for Middle Level Education

225 Gardenwalk Drive West Columbia, SC 29170

Phone +1.803.261.6117 (call or text)

E-mail: tina.jamison@scamle.org

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