Hundreds of students gathered together on Wednesday as Hamlet Middle School received its official designation as a North Carolina School to Watch for the 2013 year. A sea of black and red swarmed the gymnasium bleachers while the Richmond Senior High School Jazz Ensemble performed a few numbers to entertain the crowd.
“We’ve been waiting four years for this,” said Principal Jim Butler, as he addressed an audience of students and community members.
The middle school was notified that it would receive the honor only a few short weeks ago, and Butler and his staff have been planning the celebration ever since.
The state-wide “Schools to Watch” initiative is part of a national recognition program developed to showcase high performing middle schools. Only 200 schools across the nation have been recognized as a “School to Watch.” North Carolina currently has 33 recognized schools.
According to Butler, Hamlet Middle School has been working toward the honor for about three years.
“Over the last few years, we’ve done nothing but set goals and do everything we can do to make our school better,” he said on Wednesday, “and that includes setting higher expectations.”
The best part, he said, was that the school was selected based on the excellence it works toward on a daily basis.
“(The judges) got to see what we do every single day, and that’s what makes us a School to Watch,” he said.
Superintendent George E. Norris spoke next, noting that three things had been achieved since Butler’s arrival at the middle school.
“The school had to be transformed from a junior high to a middle school,” Norris said. “Student learning had to be raised … Finally, they had to join with the community to make Hamlet Middle School the kind of place that kids and faculty wanted to come to. I think today we can celebrate all three of these things.”
Norris added that the school has excelled not only in academics, but in athletics, the Fine Arts, and all of the other components involved in the success of all students.
“We’ve got a lot to be proud of here at Hamlet Middle School,” he said.
Following the opening remarks, students and community members watched a video created in part by student Veronica Griffin. The video highlighted many of the students, staff and school wide initiatives that can be found at Hamlet Middle School.
Richmond County Sheriff James Clemmons Jr. also attended the celebration, where he drew the names of six lucky students who received bikes donated by the Sheriff’s Office, in addition to four Kindle Fires awarded to students who were selected through an incentive-based award program.
“The purpose of this is not to give away gifts,” Clemmons said. “This is my way of challenging you. Because of where you are today, you are a School to Watch — not just in Richmond County, but for the state and schools around the country. You are the eyes and ears of the future. You are leaders of today and tomorrow.”
The sheriff also commended the teachers and staff at the school, adding that they have worked endlessly to push students to make the very best of who they are.
John Harrison, Executive Director of the North Carolina Middle School Association, praised the school for its diligent path to success.
“We didn’t call this the Best School award,” Harrison said. “We didn’t call this the Perfect School award. As much as we celebrate your success, what we want is for you to be a model for what middle school is like all around the country.”
Harrison added that, because Hamlet Middle is now a School to Watch, it will model four different components of education: academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, social equity and strong organizational support.
The school also received praise via video recordings from former Hamlet Rams Dannell Ellerbe and Melvin Ingram.
Teachers Whitney Smith and Julie Roscoe performed a modified version of a popular song, altering lyrics to sing “This School Is On Fire.”
Just before the closing remarks were made, teachers and administrators took students by surprise as they spontaneously burst into dance during Hamlet Middle School’s very first flash mob.
On Wednesday afternoon, a special reception was also held for Hamlet Middle School staff members in recognition of their hard work in becoming a nationally recognized School to Watch.