Watertown Middle School

Schools of Distinction Profile

Watertown Middle School was recognized in 2023 as an AMLE School of Distinction. One of the goals of the program is to foster a network of schools that share promising practices positively impacting young adolescents. The below profile provides highlights a few of Watertown Middle School's exemplary practices aligned with the 18 Characteristics of Successful Middle Schools.

Connect with Watertown Middle School Leadership Team

Demographic Information

Location: Watertown, South Dakota
School Setting: Rural
Grade Configuration: 7-8
School Enrollment: 600


Todd L. Brist, Ed.D., Principal
Chad Johnson, Assistant Principal
Jason Buechler, Counselor
Olivia Taschner, Counselor
Kim Rohde, Science
Amy Howardson, English
Jennie Olson, English
Wade Taylor, Math
Chad Rohde, Industrial Technology
Katie Kruse, Interventionist
Malory Hoffmann, Special Education
Becky Zebroski, Special Education

Key Practices

  • Advisory Everyday with Staff Development Weekly and Reviewed Monthly
  • Teaming with House System (supported by physical layout of building)
  • Encore Program Including Daily/Multiple Music Options
  • Comprehensive and Targeted Academic and Behavior Interventions
  • Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals with Collective Commitments
  • Purpose Driven Scheduling
  • Job-Embedded Professional Development with Time for Interdisciplinary Teaming and PLC Every Day
  • Opportunities and Support for Students
  • Student Expectations and Behavior

Highlights of Exemplary Practices Aligned with the 18 Characteristics of Successful Middle Schools

Characteristic #1: Educators respect and value young adolescents.

Watertown Middle School is committed to the full growth and development of their students, both academically and developmentally. “What’s Best for Kids” is their overarching commitment, and this is born out in many ways. Students are hand scheduled into teams to ensure heterogenous academic groupings as well as diversity. Students are greeted at the door to the school as well as to their classrooms, and the structure and schedule of the school is tailored to the needs of middle grades students. The collaborative nature of this school provides an atmosphere where everyone is in concert on what is needed to provide a well-rounded, challenging, and supportive atmosphere for students and adults. The school is open early so students can have time to socialize with one another before their day begins. Advisory, Arrow Time, and brain breaks are just a few of the many initiatives in the school that attest to an understanding of the middle grades learner.

Characteristic #3: Every student’s academic and personal development is guided by an adult advocate.

Watertown Middle School advisors serve as the adult advocate for their students for both academic and personal development. They begin each day with an advisory period, focused on advocacy/advisement, social skills, character development/social emotional development, and academic conferencing. It is a primary focus for the staff and places a priority on learning and becoming. As part of advisory the school utilizes the Second Step advisory curriculum, which helps create learning and conversation around diversity, equity, and inclusion. It includes efforts in the development of social skills, technology, and academic growth.

Characteristic #11: Instruction fosters learning that is active, purposeful, and democratic.

Watertown Middle School hand schedules most of their students to ensure a heterogeneous and diverse representation on each team. Each grade level has two interdisciplinary teams responsible for academic instruction. The school utilizes scaffolding and differentiated instruction to make certain each student’s thinking is challenged. Advanced math is offered. There is a program for talented and gifted students, and a variety of levels of instruction for students in special education. These include small group instruction and co-teaching so that these students operate in the least restrictive environment. Arrow Time, an intervention period in the middle of the day, contains remediation, reteaching, and enrichment. Students monitor their progress on a database that tracks assignment completion. Data is used regularly to provide the basis for intervention and enrichment. All teachers provide three modalities of learning in each class period and brain breaks and other movement activities take place between each modality. Choice boards provide students with multiple approaches to mastery, and posted objectives not only guide teaching but also help students understand the relevance and importance of what they are learning in the classroom. Teachers have developed curriculum maps that outline power standards, depth of knowledge, vocabulary, teaching suggestions, and common assessment. A calendar and pacing guide support each map. In addition to team instruction in math, science, social studies, English (double period with reading and writing), students take physical education/health and a wide array of exploratory (Enclore) offerings.

Characteristic #14: Policies and practices are student-centered, unbiased, and fairly implemented.

Watertown Middle School has built their vision and implemented their policies and practices around their mantra of “What’s Best for Kids?” In team meetings, PLC’s, and all other times that staff interact with one another, their collective commitments serve as an active reminder of the behaviors adults need to exhibit to be responsive to the students in the school. They recognize and honor their accomplishments all of their accomplishments, not only in academic areas but in others as well. Their academic program is grounded in best practices for middle grades, and a robust advisory program provides adult advocacy for all students. The school has made purposeful efforts to embrace diversity in a predominately white, rural, conservative community so that students can recognize biases and gain necessary skills to work toward an unbiased view of the larger community and the world. All students in the school are provided with equal opportunities to participate in every phase of the school.

Characteristic # 17: Professional learning for all staff is relevant, long term, and job embedded.

Watertown Middle School has a comprehensive and targeted plan for professional development. This learning is job-embedded through interdisciplinary teams, PLC’s, staff meetings, and early dismissal days. It is planned, coordinated, relevant, and impactful. Faculty have had and continue to have training on best and promising practices in literacy, numeracy, instruction, and assessment. These include trainings on explicit instruction, higher order thinking skills, and 21st century learning. The faculty engaged in the Successful Middle School Assessment and based on those results, the Guiding Coalition of the school developed target areas to guide their upcoming professional development initiatives. They determined they would concentrate on one initiative from each of the three areas of the assessment. In Culture and Community, they will work on Characteristic #7 (collaborates with community and business partners). In the area of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, they prioritized the development of interdisciplinary units of study, and in the area of Leadership and Organization they will concentrate on “teams meet regularly with students and parents.”