School Leaders Identify Major Areas for Improvement in the First Year in MMGW

General information

Denton Middle School in Mobile, Alabama, lacked a winning formula when it joined the MMGW network in 2007-2008. All four administrators, the counselor and two-thirds of the faculty were new to the school. 

Wisely, the leadership team decided to focus on three MMGW Key Practices — high expectations, rigorous academic studies and extra help — in the first year of implementation. 

Denton leaders and teachers used a design process that started with defining the problem by using data at the beginning of the year to determine weaknesses of students, programs and policies. The next steps were to investigate the problem and develop solutions based on the research. By using this process, school leaders identified major areas of focus:

  • Involve all students in the Engaging Youth in Engineering (EYE) program, which uses a hands-on approach to teach students a scientific method of solving authentic problems. EYE is a workforce and economic development initiative to bring relevance to math and science and to prepare students to meet the growing demand for highly-qualified, technology-savvy workers in the aerospace industry, shipbuilding and other enterprises in the Mobile area.
  • Plan rigorous, standards-based instruction that results in high levels of learning for all students, thereby ensuring that students are ready for college-preparatory courses in high school. Denton Middle School is able to offer Algebra I in the current school year as a result of enrolling high-achieving seventh-graders in pre-algebra last year.
  • Emphasize reading and writing to learn in all content areas. The school purchased libraries of books divided by reading levels for all teachers in the building. It also added a staff member to teach the writing process to students in the classroom and to model writing-to-learn instruction for the faculty.
  • Support student learning with extra help and study skills classes. In addition to providing extended-day tutoring services, the school enrolled students at risk of failing math into a small-group support class.
  • Reward student effort and celebrate success. Students receive incentives to attend school and to perform well on state tests. The rewards include bicycles, t-shirts, MP3 players and digital cameras.

Denton Middle School’s MMGW participation and improved school and classroom practices are paying off: The school made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in 2007-2008 for the first time in five years. “We implemented the Power of I, and it is revolutionizing our classrooms,” Principal Joe Toomey said. “Students no longer have the option to just take a zero. This strategy, combined with an advisement period and a block schedule, is preparing our students for high school like never before.”

(Adapted from 08V26w, Middle Grades Schools Take Their Role Seriously in Preparing Students for Rigorous High School Studies)