Highlights of Exemplary Practices Aligned with the 18 Characteristics of Successful Middle Schools
Characteristic #9: Curriculum is challenging, exploratory, integrative, and diverse.
South Orangetown Middle School has interdisciplinary teams that are central to instruction for all students. Students are placed into appropriate learning environments where they can succeed and grow both academically as well as socially and emotionally. Data determines the interventions that need to be in place for each student to access grade level curriculum, and special education is both resource and self-contained. In addition, each grade level has gifted and talented clusters within various academic subjects. Challenge Lab is a student-centered, designed-infused technology curriculum experienced through classroom projects in a MakerSpace setting. High school credits are available in Earth Science, Algebra, French, Italian, Spanish, Studio Art, and Design, Drawing, and Production. South Orangetown currently is working to infuse STEAM disciplines across all curriculums while providing students with skills for the 21st Century.
Characteristic #11: Instruction fosters learning that is active, purposeful, and democratic.
South Orangetown Middle School has identified core competencies they want students to develop, such as listening and speaking skills through conversations, discussions, debates, and public speaking. Teachers differentiate instruction to ensure all students have an access point to engage in grade level content. Google classrooms enables students to work within appropriate learning styles. All students have Chromebooks, which enables teachers to increase engagement and active learning through technology. Strategies used in academic classes are centered around direct instruction, cooperative learning, and problem-based/project-based learning. The school partners with organizations and associations such as Innovative Designs in Education and Tri-States Consortium that focus on empowering students to take ownership in their learning and for staff to create student-led lessons and projects.
Characteristic #12: Varied and ongoing assessments advance learning as well as measure it.
South Orangetown Middle School uses formative assessments to inform instruction and measure student progress frequently throughout units of study. Teachers meet by content areas to assess curriculum pacing and student performance. Summative assessments help ensure mastery of subject matter. Benchmark and standardized testing are other methods employed. The RTI program uses standardized data, teacher recommendations, and placement testing to ensure all students receive the interventions they need to access the grade level curriculum. A building level data inquiry team analyzes data by sub-group based on student demographics. This allows the school to identify the level of representation/access to extracurricular activities, special education services, academic intervention services, and accelerated classes for students of all demographics, including race, ethnicity, economically disadvantaged, and English language learners.
Characteristic #17: Professional learning for all staff is relevant, long term, and job embedded.
South Orangetown Middle School has a blended model of professional development that includes outside expertise in specific content areas coupled with in-district administrators, instructional coaches, and teachers who help plan, facilitate, and differentiate professional development offerings. This comprehensive, long-term approach to professional development is based on data that reflects current needs in the school. An example is an initiative that partnered the school with the Community Awareness Network for a Drug-free Life and Environment to offer staff ongoing professional learning to improve the health and climate of the school. This program provided prevention education and resistance strategies to youth and their adult allies. Another effort was aimed at providing staff with the knowledge and skills necessary to promote inclusion. All teachers receive extensive professional development in their subject areas, and each subject area has a leadership team that meets district-wide for their subject. South Orangetown participated in the Successful Middle School Assessment instrument and has used those results to determine professional development goals going forward.
Characteristic #18: Organizational structures foster purposeful learning and meaningful relationships.
Students at South Orangetown Middle School are on interdisciplinary teams that offer their basic subject curriculum. A multi-tiered system of support for all students helps determine the need for additional support in certain subjects as well as access to special education and gifted services. In additional to interdisciplinary teams that meet daily to discuss curriculum, plan lessons collaboratively, or problem solve ways to address classroom concerns, the school has developed a strong and diverse system designed to target specific areas and responsibilities within the school. These include a School Leadership Team, an Extended Leadership Team, a School Safety Team, Child Study Team, School Support Team, RTI Team, and a Subject Area Leadership Team.