Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 30, 2013

Eyes on Boyd excellence

By MIKE JAMES
The Independent

SUMMIT — Teachers at Boyd County Middle School don’t claim their team approach is unique or pioneering, only that they are dedicated to it.

They don’t argue that incorporating multiple subjects in one lesson is their own invention, just that teamwork and teaching across the curriculum, as the practice is known, are in the DNA of their school.

These among others are the qualities an evaluation team from the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform recognized earlier this year when it recommended Boyd County as a School to Watch for the third two-year cycle.

Schools to Watch is an initiative launched in 1999 to foster and recognize high-performing middle schools.

The award recognizes academic excellence, responsiveness to the unique developmental needs of adolescents, and social equitability, which translates to providing all students with good teachers, classes, programs and materials.

Principal Bill Boblett believes the school’s positive culture is its biggest asset. What he is talking about is a constant effort to understand, affirm and work with the unique needs of adolescents — no longer little kids but not quite teenagers either.

“They come in as babies and leave as miniature adults,” Boblett said. That requires faculty to develop a deep understanding of adolescent psychology — and a thick skin, because middle-school kids can be hard to reach.

When they do reach students, the kids get recognition, some on the school wall of fame, some during the “March of the Lions Pride” processions for high-performing students during football halftime ceremonies.

Through good years and difficult budget times alike, Boyd has retained and built up its humanities programs, with art, band, computer, drama, life skills and other classes.

Those classes often are the key to reaching kids who might otherwise lose interest in school, Boblett said.

Each team of teachers includes some in the basic academic areas and some in the related arts disciplines; because teams plan and consult together they can develop lessons that, for instance, use music to illustrate math concepts.

“Quarter notes — that’s math. And we talk about musical phrasing and how it relates to writing,” said band director Annie Johnson. Art and music are so bound up with world history that any topic can yield connections. The study of opera, for instance, leads to the myths of antiquity many are based on.

“We’re not isolated in what we teach,” said math teacher Connie Burns. While she is teaching graphing in math class, for instance, science teachers are incorporating similar concepts in their classes.

The team approach also leads to a small-school intimacy in a building that houses about 700 kids.

That is because each team of teachers deals with a specific group and that leads to more familiarity. Teachers know names, faces, and families. They become familiar with individual academic needs and family issues.

Since its first Schools to Watch designation in 2006, Boyd has continued to improve, which was important in earning the continued designation, Boblett said. He credited the evaluation process with showing the way: “It causes you to take a good hard look at what you’re doing in your building,” he said.

In other words, by the time the evaluation team came, he and faculty had already done a self-assessment.

The school is planning a celebration of the achievement sometime in mid-April.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.