New Castle News

Closer Look

March 1, 2013

Neshannock Junior High honored as a ‘school to watch’

NEW CASTLE — Neshannock Junior High has received a special designation.

It was one of four schools in the state to be named Don Eichhorn Schools: “Schools to Watch” as part of a recognition program developed by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform.

Neshannock and the three other schools were recognized at the Pennsylvania Association for Middle Level Education Conference on Feb. 24.

Dr. Tracy McCalla, Neshannock’s junior high principal, is very pleased with the designation for grades seven and eight, which she said focuses on school improvement and reform.

The school will carry that distinction for three more years. At that time, it will be re-evaluated for redesignation.

Neshannock is now among 30 schools in the state be known as A School to Watch and among 300 nationally to receive the designation.

It started with an application process.

Next, a committee from the state level visited the school in November interviewing parents, students and teachers to determine if Neshannock met certain criteria.

“They are very thorough,” McCalla acknowledged.

The domains scrutinized include academic excellence, largely based on PSSA scores; developmental responsiveness, which basically applies to safety issues; social equity, which is exposure to diversity and various cultures; and organizational structures.

Upon learning the news that Neshannock had received high marks, McCalla said, “I’m very proud. Our teachers have worked hard.

“We’re not a true middle school but we make the middle school philosophy fit our junior high kids. This designation means we’ll be a model for other schools.”

That makes the designation even more sweet, McCalla said, because not only is Neshannock the only school in Lawrence County to have such a distinction, it is the only junior high among the 30 named as a School to Watch.

Each school was selected by state leaders for its academic excellence, responsiveness to the needs and interests of young adolescents, and commitment to helping all students achieve at high levels.

Schools to Watch looks at where schools were, where they are and where they’re going, McCalla said.

“We needed to incorporate more diversity in culture in lessons and we keep giving kids a voice. They have input in social activities such as a dance and class surveys. Where we are means we have made improvements in the use of technology.”

The final part of that “where” trifecta is getting all teachers to be more comfortable with technology, she continued, adding the school board has purchased additional laptops and Smart Boards.

McCalla said she applied because, “We can never be complacent. We must always be improving and doing what is right for students.”

“These Schools to Watch are indeed special,” said Dr. Deborah Kasak, National Forum executive director. “They make education so exciting that students and teachers don’t want to miss a day.”

(Email: lhudson@ncnewsonline.com.)

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