middle school

Principal: Real school transformation starts with a magical triangle

A principal shares how his data-based approach to discipline, academics, and SEL have transformed his middle school.

Every child deserves the opportunity to lead, learn, grow, and succeed. It’s only through a 360-degree approach to learning that we can provide these necessary opportunities to all children. At E.A. Cox Middle School, we are committed to a “whatever it takes” approach to success for each student entrusted to our care. In order to truly dedicate ourselves to this method, my staff and I decided two years ago to develop a three-tiered approach for our curriculum and instruction.

The model we created focuses on achieving proficiency in reading and math for our entire student body, along with proficiency in identified social-emotional skills. This model was developed out of a needs assessment that we conducted in 2015–2016, the first year I was principal at Cox Middle School.

It became very clear, very soon that we had to find a solution to combat the inordinate rate of disciplinary referrals and infractions across the school. Concurrently, it was clear from the academic data that the school was academically low-performing and that reading and math proficiency rates were far below acceptable standards. As a result, we developed a 5-Year Strategic Improvement Plan aimed at improving each of these areas.

Taking on an initiative that had far-reaching impact for all students felt intimidating at first, but we were pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming support and external encouragement we received.

Our community, we learned, was hungry for change and eager to see our school turn around. In addition, changes at the district level brought new leadership and vision at nearly the perfect time. Further, our school had recently been assigned Title I status, so funds were available to help address the areas of need.

The district and community were behind us, but Cox Middle School was still experiencing a relatively high rate of personnel turnover. Our first steps were to stabilize our staff and set teaching expectations at an appropriate level.

(Next page: Specifics of the magical triangle approach to middle school transformation)

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