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School to Watch: Mount Washington Middle earns prestigious honor

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By Alex Wimsatt

    MOUNT WASHINGTON – Only a hand full of Kentucky’s institutions of learning can call themselves Schools to Watch and they’re part of a select group of nationally recognized institutions all over the country.

    Four schools were named Kentucky Schools to Watch for 2010, and one of the them is in Bullitt County.

    After months of preparation, going through an extensive application and review process, and competing with 20 schools from across the commonwealth, Mount Washington Middle School was named a Kentucky School to Watch last Friday.

    Kentucky Schools to Watch is an initiative launched by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform.

    The program is designed to honor schools in the United States that meet the Forum’s criteria for high performance.

    Since 1999 when the initiative began,180 schools in the US have been designated Schools to Watch.

    “It’s quite an elite honor,” said Kentucky Schools to Watch steering committee member, David Puckett.

    A review team of administrators and teachers from various Kentucky educational institutions visited MWMS in January to gauge whether it met the criteria to be a School to Watch.

    “The team was absolutely blown away with the positive culture and climate of the school,” Puckett said.

    “Rarely have we seen the excellence and  commitment to the community that the team saw at Mount Washington Middle. They saw a true community school.”

    MWMS principal Denise Allen said earning the distinction was no easy task, but because of the hard work and dedication put forth by students,

parents, personnel and the community everything came together.

    “If it weren’t for all the people who helped out we couldn’t have done this,” Allen said. “Everyone who participated in the process should be `proud.”

    The process began in August when the faculty and administration started assembling a 38 page application.

    Allen said every teacher at MWMS was involved with putting the application together, adding that Robin Miller, Michelle Chitwood, Billie Lee, Bob Korwatch, Josh Meredith and Gretchen Nation were especially instrumental in putting it together.

    “The staff deserves a lot of credit. They put a lot of work into it,” Allen said.

    Students, parents and others in the community were involved in the application process as well, providing support and letters of recommendation.

    Mount Washington attorney Chester Porter, Phil Barnhouse of PBI Bank, parent David Echsner and student Cassidy Grom all wrote letters supporting the schools effort.

    Grom’s letter was selected after competing with three other students for the honor of representing the student body in the application.

    Grom said she wrote the letter because she loved MWMS.

    “I thought, ‘my school is awesome,’ so I wrote the letter,” Grom said. “I’m really glad to be a part of this school.”

    The steering committee that selected the Schools to Watch combed through 20 applications before selecting MWMS and 12 other schools to be visited by site review teams.

    To prepare for the visit, Allen sought help from the community to spruce up the building and First Baptist Church of Mount Washington stepped up to the plate.

    The church’s Missions and Outreach group, which does a lot of community service, spent hours painting the interior in places that needed fresh coats of paint.

    “That community connection is awesome,” Allen said.

    Michelle Chitwood said she and roughly 50 others volunteered and they were all very enthusiastic about giving the school a touch up.

    “If we had more paint we would’ve painted the entire place,” Chitwood said.

    Executive Director of the West Kentucky Educational Cooperative at Murray State University, John Settle, was on the review team that visited MWMS.

    When he returned to Murray he wrote a letter to Allen expressing his opinion of the school.

    “I have been in many middle schools over the course of my career and I have never visited a school that was more impressive in terms of the instructional program, the compassion of teachers and staff, and the exemplary behavior of the student body,” Settle said.

    Allen said members of the review team commented that they noticed every student in every classroom was engaged.

    She said they also commented that the school was very unique in that they didn’t notice any distinctions among the students with regard to socio-economic status or scholastic aptitude. That every student was treated equally.

    “That’s what we want to hear,” Allen said. “We are serving every one of our students.”

    Puckett said MWMS was chosen because it exhibited excellence in academics, developmental responsiveness, organizational structures, and social equity.

    The 2010 School to Watch will be having an event to celebrate its victory in the spring.

    In June MWMS will have the opportunity to travel to Washington where they will gather with Schools to Watch from all over the US, and give a presentation on a special feature of the school

    “It gives the school national recognition,” Puckett said.