Principals in Orleans form new group with middle school focus

Provided photos: Seventh-graders from four of the five Orleans County school districts met last month so the student leaders could develop a network in the county. Pictured, back row, from left: Madalyn Baker, Elizabeth Whipple (Lyndonville), Megan Gates, Louis Conte, Noah Clark, (Kendall), Roosevelt Mitchell (Medina), Gary Falls, Larenzo Zaragoza, Jasmine Apicella and Caitlin Dobri (Holley). Front row: Hannah Brundage (Kendall), Sawyer Kingsbury, Isabella Gray and Camryn Eick (Medina), and Daniel Barry (Lyndonville).

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 17 December 2018 at 1:48 pm

ALBION – The five principals who work with middle school students in Orleans County have formed a new group to discuss strategies, successes and challenges with students who tend to be ages 10 to 14, depending on the school district.

The new group also brings together student leaders from the districts so they can build a network and promote leadership among students before they reach high school.

Students do some team-building games during the Nov. 14 leadership program at Hoag Library in Albion.

“Students in the middle school experience more growth and changes from 10 to 14 than anytime other than birth,” said Kevin Watson, the middle level principal for Kendall. “We want to meet their intellectual and social needs.”

The five districts all have different approaches to middle school. In Albion, the students are in their own building for grades 6 through 8. Medina has them in a middle school building for grades 4 to 7.

In Lyndonville, the students are in a 7-12 building, which is the same setup in Kendall and Holley. Kendall, however, has created a middle level principal position. Watson is in his second year in the role with a focus on students in grades 5 through 8. He spends his school days working out of the elementary schools (grades K through 6) and the junior-senior high (grades 7-12).

Watson pushed to create a group for middle school leaders in Orleans County. The principals met for the first time this summer. Watson wanted a way for the county middle school leaders to get together. Orleans is split by BOCES organizations. Holley and Kendall are in the Monroe 2-Orleans BOCES, which is based in Spencerport. Albion, Lyndonville and Medina are in the Orleans-Niagara BOCES.

Watson has been part of a group of middle school principals in the Monroe 2-Orleans BOCES. That BOCES includes member school districts that are much larger and wealthier than in Holley and Kendall.

The group of five districts in Orleans have similar demographics as rural districts.

“There are a lot of good practices going on,” Watson said about the local districts. “It’s a dream to come together with other leaders and focus on kids who are 10- to 14-year-olds. We want to make middle school be a special time. I want kids to love it.”

Watson is an Albion graduate. He worked as an English teacher, athletic director and assistant principal at Kendall before Kendall created the middle level principal position last school year.

He reached out to the other districts in the county about having a new Orleans County Middle School Principals group. They were all receptive.

Dr. Aaron Slack, the junior-senior high school principal at Lyndonville, said districts are trying to put more focus on middle school students. Some districts with junior-senior high schools have reconfigured the buildings so middle schoolers have a distinct space.

“The needs of kids at that level are so unique,” Slack said. “We’re going to collaborate and share our best practices.”

The principals get together monthly. They also are going to have student leaders meet quarterly. There were four seventh-graders from four of the districts that met Nov. 14 at the Hoag Library in Albion, the beginning of a student leadership summit.

Middle schoolers from four school districts get to know each other on Nov. 14.

Slack said the principals took the idea from Leadership Orleans. They want to build a network of student leaders across the county in the middle school. They are working with students to have a larger student leadership event for seventh graders later in the school year.

“We’re going to have team-building exercises for kids,” Watson said. “The whole goal is celebrating being a middle schooler and not just have middle school be a phase to blow through.”

Middle schoolers are unique and they tend to have a lot of passion.

“We need to harness that energy,” Watson said. “We need to stop treating them like elementary or high school kids.”

The principals will share what works for boosting academics, attendance rates and student engagement among the middle schoolers.

Watson credited the other principals for their enthusiasm with serving the middle school population.

“It’s a dream come true to come together with other leaders and focus on kids who are 10 to 14 years old,” he said. “These are kids going through a lot of changes.”

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