Upson-Lee Middle School

Schools of Distinction Profile

Upson-Lee Middle School was recognized as an inaugural AMLE School of Distinction in 2022. 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 of a few of Sample Middle’s Schools exemplary practices aligned with the 18 Characteristics of Successful Middle Schools.

Connect with Upson-Lee Leadership Team

Demographic Information

Location: Thomaston, Georgia
School Setting: Rural
Grade Configuration: 6-8
School Enrollment: 950


Rhonda Gulley, Principal
Jeff Wheeless, Asst. Principal
Machelle Graddick, Asst. Principal
Josh Akins, Asst. Principal

Key Practices

  • School Community built around “This We Believe”
    • Welcoming environment
    • After hour events
    • PBIS
    • Support of Community
  • Daily Extended Learning Time (ELT)
    • Advisement using Second Step
    • Academic ELT based on RIT scores on NWEA MAP Assessments
    • Built in Club rotations twice a month
  • Student Support
    • 1 counselor per grade that moves each year with the students
    • MTSS (Multi-Tier Support System) Coordinator
    • All staff Mindset trained
    • Key staff members trained in Youth Mental Health First Aide
    • Second Step
  • Building Teacher Leaders
    • Team Leaders
    • Instructional Coaches
    • Peer Mentors
  • Common Planning (90 minutes) per grade level
    • Unit planning
    • Standard based Common Assessments through Mastery Connect
    • Built in Professional Learning
    • Data analyzation
    • Student meetings

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

Characteristic #2: The school environment is welcoming, inclusive, and affirming for all

“I am capable; I am important, and I influence what happens to me” is the Upson-Lee Middle School creed that is declared daily by the students and faculty. Students are aware of the high expectations at our school, and the creed serves as a daily reminder of student responsibility to reach those high expectations. The climate and culture of Upson- Lee Middle School is grounded in positive relationships with students, staff and stakeholders. We offer Family Reading Night, STEM Night and Family Pancake Breakfast’s along with concerts and sports activities to bring our stakeholders into our buildings during fun, enjoyable events. As a Title 1 school, it is essential to meet the needs of every member of our school family.

Every teacher uses Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (P.B.I.S.) and a school-wide discipline plan; individual teams set classroom procedures. Every student is known at ULMS. Our Knightly Behavior program recognizes positive student behavior by setting high expectations of everyone. It is expected that all who enter the building are to be respected and appreciated. For example, students may be given Knight Bucks if they greet people in the hallway appropriately, use good manners in the restroom, open a door for an adult who has his hands full, volunteer to help a peer, or clean their area in the lunchroom or classroom. This program also encourages staff members to speak positively to and about students. Our community partners have helped us to recognize our positive student behavior and staff members who help contribute.

Morning announcements are made each morning on Facebook Live in order to bring all parents “into the school” building to see what is going on daily in our school.

Characteristic #8: Educators are specifically prepared to teach young adolescents and possess a depth of understanding in the content areas they teach
Characteristic #9: Curriculum is challenging, exploratory, integrative, and diverse
Characteristic #17: Professional learning for all staff is relevant, long term, and job embedded.
Characteristic #18: Organizational structures foster purposeful learning and meaningful relationships.

Our master schedule is set so that grade levels have 90 -minute common planning blocks each day. Grade level content teams meet on Monday, Wednesday and Friday to look at common assessment data and to plan common units that fosters a middle school learning environment that is challenging, participatory and motivating for all students. Two Instructional Coaches work with the teachers to ensure that units are challenging and diverse. Common formative and summative assessments are created through Mastery Connect and imbedded within the Units. A common performance task is also imbedded in All units are aligned to high academic standards. These standards provide a roadmap for our students to understand what they are expected to know and how they are going to get there. Once students understand the academic expectations, they also learn how what they are learning is applicable to real-life.

Common planning on Tuesday is focused on the students. The teams meet to discuss behaviors, grades, attendance, and any issues students may be having. The grade level administrator, grade level counselor and MTSS coordinator also attend these meetings.

Thursday is our Professional Learning Day. These PL days are spent in Professional Learning Communities. Recently our staff has used this PL time for a book study over This We Believe, training of software that is being used school wide for ELT, Mindset Communication Training and Building Staff Capacity with our District Parent Engagement Coordinator.

Characteristic #5: Comprehensive counseling and support services meet the needs of young adolescents
Characteristic #10: Health, wellness, and social-emotional competencies are supported in curricula, school-wide programs, and related policies.

ULMS has three full-time school counselors who move with the students while they are in middle school. These counselors provide individual and group counseling for their students. They are also responsible for events like Red Ribbon and Bully prevention weeks, Career Fairs, and transitions to and from the middle school.

In order to better address the social- emotion well-being of our students, all staff has been trained in Mindset Communication. “Second Step” social-emotional learning curriculum taught in weekly during Extended Learning Time and reinforced throughout the week in all classes. All administrators, counselors and MTSS Coordinator trained in Youth Mental Health First Aide

Weekly meetings are held by the team of teachers to look at student data to ensue attendance, grades and behavior are analyzed. The grade level AP and counselor attend these meetings along with the MTSS coordinator. If needed, a more specific meetings are held with students and/or parents. Teams create plans in order to help the student become more successful.

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

Data from NWEA MAP assessments are analyzed after each testing. Students are placed in small groups based on their RIT bands. Students work specifically on ELA and Math skills on their ability level. Teachers were given a stipend this summer to create lessons for each RIT band.