Thursday, March 11, 2010

Decatur Middle School Wins New Designation

Ran across this article in the IndyStar - it appears some commenters on an earlier post were referring to it. It is an article by Gretchen Becker entitled "Decatur Middle School's engaging approach puts it on a select list".

Seventh-grade math students at Decatur Middle School recently spread out in the classroom and hallways to create a blueprint for a rain forest area at a zoo.

"We're learning about volume, depth, cylinders and cubes," said Tayaba Nadeem, 12.

She and group members Emily Siegman, 12, and Molly Cooper, 13, researched mammals, fish, amphibians, birds and reptiles in the real-life application for math.

"It's a different way to do stuff without using the textbook," Emily said.

That's exactly the point, said Principal Mark Anderson. Getting kids who are used to talking, texting and watching videos engaged in their schoolwork should lead to better test scores, he said.

Decatur Middle School teachers and administrators hope their approach to education will help influence other schools throughout the state.

In honor of their efforts, the Southwestside school has been named one of the state's first three "Schools to Watch."

The program, which was launched in 2002 by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform, recognizes successful schools so that their efforts can be duplicated elsewhere. Every three years, schools must reapply to keep the distinction.

The title doesn't mean the school has soaring test scores. In fact, ISTEP scores at Decatur Middle School are flat, with about 60 percent of students passing each year, Anderson said.

"It's not about test scores," he said. "It's about what you're doing to help the kids."

Decatur Middle School started changing the way it teaches three years ago, including more project-based learning in anticipation that Indiana would become a Schools to Watch state, Anderson said.

Schools don't compete against each other in the program, stressed Debbie Sullivan, a Decatur Township associate superintendent and Indiana Middle Level Education Association group assessor.

Schools first apply on paper and then are evaluated by an association team that visits the school before awarding the honor. Five schools applied in the first round.

"We're working real intentionally with middle schools and looking at exemplary schools," said Sullivan, who did not evaluate Decatur. "It's a process of school improvement, school reform." A redesign team led by teachers revamped
the school's approach to education with a renewed focus on family advocacy, intervention and enrichment, student transitions, 21st-century preparation and
the creation of common procedures throughout the school. Grants also paid for travel to other schools to get ideas.Changes included a dress code, the training of student ambassadors and creation of a parent welcome center, Anderson said.

One period per day, students also began taking enrichment or intervention
classes to help boost academic skills. The enrichment courses include such topics as Japanese language basics or line dancing.

In its STAR program, which stands for Students, Teachers and Relationships, Decatur Middle School offers a homeroom-like setting where teachers meet with students twice daily to help them with their work and keep them on track to graduate.

Many teachers also are employing project-based learning, where students do projects tied into the curriculum instead of just using a textbook. That includes some who are creating magazines to share what they've learned in a social-studies class about sub-Saharan countries.

The school's next goal is to develop community partnerships, Anderson said. Leaders also will share their secrets of success with visiting educators and have been invited to present their program at a national conference in April.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So what's so earth-shattering?'s like a renaissance that ignores the concurrent dark ages.