Hamlet Middle School, under the leadership of Principal Jim Butler, has officially been recognized as one of three North Carolina “Schools to Watch” for the 2013 year.
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, the program operates by studying highly successful middle schools around the United States and using them to create a standard rubric for success.
“The rubric isn’t a program, it just has exemplars,” Butler said. “Every school is different and will do it in different ways.”
The “Schools to Watch” initiative was launched in 1999 by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform.
Schools to Watch are schools that demonstrate academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, social equity and organizational structures and supports.
Butler explained that being a School to Watch means bringing attention to things that have worked and been successful in a school. For Hamlet Middle School, it started more than two years ago.
“We became part of the i3 grant,” Butler said, “where four schools were chosen from school systems nationwide in rural or inner city areas and were provided some support to see if they could become a ‘School to Watch.’”
He said that schools were selected from Compton, Calif., Chicago, Ill., Durham and Hamlet.
The i3 grant stands for Investing in Innovation and was established under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The grant provides funding to support local educational agencies, and nonprofit organizations in partnership with one or more schools. The purpose of the program is to provide competitive grants to applicants with a record of improving student achievement.
“Over this period,” Butler said, “we found what we would do. We’ve gone to visit other schools to see what’s worked for them, done some staff development and training, and in doing all that, we found a way to convert some of those great ideas into things that will work for Hamlet Middle School.”
According to Butler, ideas were brought to life through highly engaging lesson plans and the search for new ways to reach students.
“The big thing is raising expectations,” he said. “Our kids believe that they’re the best and they believe they can accomplish these things. We’ve made sure every student feels that they have an adult they can turn to — someone responsive to their needs. We’ve also raised the level of excitement about school and being here,” Butler said.
More than that, Butler said the difference can be spotted through the school’s overall approach to learning.
“It’s a belief — not just a program,” he said. “We have some good, supportive people that have coached us and helped us. The biggest thing is that these kids and teachers believe that, even in a low socioeconomic area and with other challenges we might face, we can accomplish this.”
Richmond County Schools Superintendent George E. Norris said Butler’s vision for excellence and his commitment to build a culture where every student is expected to succeed is a critical component of the “Schools to Watch” recognition.
“Jim has built a team with his faculty that has made a huge difference for our students,” Norris said.
Norris said that Hamlet has raised student achievement significantly “while dramatically lowering suspensions. Parents, students and faculty should be commended.”
As a result of the recognition, Hamlet Middle School has now been selected for a national case study about successful reform in rural schools. The school will be featured in Middle Ground magazine, which highlights middle level education, and will continue to serve as an example to others around the nation for its noteworthy success and growth.
“One of the big purposes of ‘Schools to Watch’ is that we now become a school that other people who are trying to make school improvements can come visit and pick our brains and see how we did it,” Butler said.
To mark the achievement, Butler said Hamlet Middle is in the planning stages of holding a large celebration to reward the students and teachers for all of their hard work.
“We’re just excited that we can now tell everyone in North Carolina and everywhere else in the United States what we already knew — that we’ve got the best teachers and the best staff anywhere around, and we’re glad we get a chance to show those things we’re already experiencing every day at Hamlet Middle.”
— Staff Writer Laura Edington can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.