Boyce and Fort Couch middle schools in the Upper St. Clair School District have earned the Pennsylvania Don Eichhorn Schools to Watch (STW) designation for the fifth time. Only two other Pennsylvania schools have achieved this accomplishment since the program’s inception in 1999.
STW is an initiative of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform. Boyce and Fort Couch are among 10 Pennsylvania schools to earn this honor for 2023. In total, there are 38 active STW schools in Pennsylvania, and more than 700 recognized in the nation.
“As 2023-24 Re-designated School to Watch schools, we are pleased that schools throughout our state will have an opportunity to visit Boyce and Fort Couch and experience firsthand what a high performing middle grade school is like while daily working on its trajectory toward success,” said Bruce Vosburgh, who is director of Pennsylvania Don Eichhorn Schools: Schools to Watch.
“While each of the schools we visit look very different, and address different students with different needs, they all feel very much the same. Each is a place that’s special, and a place that any of us would love for our children or grandchildren to attend.”
Schools are recognized for a three-year period. They must demonstrate progress on specific goals in order to be redesignated as a STW. The program requires schools to identify strengths, and to focus on areas for continuous improvement.
“The Schools to Watch process allows us to internally review our practices to ensure that we are constantly improving to best meet the needs of our students,” said Fort Couch Middle School Principal Erin Peterson.
The selection process is based on a written application that required Boyce and Fort Couch to show how they met criteria developed by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform. The next step in the process included a site visit by state teams in October. STW evaluators observed classrooms; interviewed administrators, teachers, students and parents; and reviewed achievement data, suspension rates, quality of lessons, and student work.
“The Schools to Watch process provides an opportunity for our staff to collaborate on strengths of our school as well as potential areas for growth,” said Boyce Middle School principal Dr. Dan O’Rourke. “Schools are evaluated on research-based best practices, so from the self-evaluation rubric, to the written application, through the site visit from the state team, our staff is encouraged to examine what we do well and plan initiatives or modifications to elevate what we offer to our students.”
During the October meeting of the Upper St. Clair Board of School Directors, Dr. John Rozzo, superintendent of schools, provided an update regarding the recent STW site visits.
“The two teams of evaluators were incredibly complimentary of the programs we have in place and the quality of students and staff that we have at Boyce and Fort Couch. This was mentioned in both buildings by two different sets of evaluators,” Rozzo said. “In particular, they noted the genuine interaction between students and staff. We are fortunate to have two outstanding middle schools in the Upper St. Clair School District.”
Peterson values the external review process and the opportunity to collaborate with other educational leaders with expertise in middle level education.
“Having an external team complete an evaluation provides the opportunity for both feedback from other middle level educators and collaboration with them moving forward. We are fortunate to be a part of the Pennsylvania Association for Middle Level Education (PAMLE), which oversees the process, and that involvement informs our knowledge of the middle level learner,” she said. “One other benefit is that we have the opportunity to highlight our incredible staff, students and community.”
O’Rourke appreciates the external review process and the feedback provided by educators who offer a different perspective.
“Team members that perform the evaluation have all attended in-depth training to gain thorough knowledge of successful middle school practices. We take their feedback, discuss it as a team, and write stretch goals for implementation,” he said. “The Schools to Watch process provides an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of the school while also identifying areas to enhance our educational practices.”
Boyce and Fort Couch first earned STW honors in 2008. They subsequently earned redesignation in 2011, 2014, 2017, 2020 and now 2023. Pennsylvania’s only other six-time honorees are DuBois Area Middle School and Pine-Richland Middle School.
In addition to being named STW, Boyce and Fort Couch are National Blue Ribbon Schools. Boyce was recognized with the 1991-92 Blue Ribbon Award. Fort Couch has earned four Blue Ribbon Awards: 1986-87, 1992-93, 2001-02 and 2012-13.
The 10 Pennsylvania STW schools for 2023 will be recognized at the PAMLE State Conference in February 2023 in King of Prussia. They will also be recognized nationally with all the other recognized STW schools across the country in June, at the National Forum’s National STW Conference in Washington, D.C.