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Dorseyville named school to watch by national forum

| Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
The Herald
Dorseyville MIddle School Principal Matt Harris in March 2013 shows the new 'Schools To Watch' award given by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform. Jan Pakler | for The Herald

Dorseyville Middle School is one of the best in Pennsylvania, according to an honor earned this month from the “Schools to Watch” program.

The Fox Chapel Area school is one of only six to earn the designation — and it is the second time in three years that the staff, led by Principal Matt Harris, has earned the award.

“It's an absolute thrill,” Harris said. “It is an intense process going through the application.”

Developed by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform, the initiative was launched in 1999 by a group of more than 60 educators, researchers and foundations with the aim to promote the healthy development of teens.

“It is the most unique learning group,” Harris said.

“They are undergoing a phase of development when their brains are changing so rapidly.

“They don't want to be near adults, but they need their guidance.”

Harris credited the Dorseyville staff for responding to the specific needs of middle school students.

He said teachers, support staff and the community have succeeded in structuring an entire program to help students “find themselves.”

“They address their needs, give them the opportunities to express individuality and guide them,” Harris said.

In short, the school's culture meets the goals set by “Schools to Watch,” in that it prepares students to be lifelong learners, ready for college, career and citizenship.

“The program seeks to make every middle grades school academically excellent, responsive to the developmental needs and interests of young adolescents and socially equitable,” said John Harrison, past president of the National Forum, who congratulated Dorseyville and all the winners for being places that do great things for all of their students.

The process of becoming a “Schools to Watch” involves a self-evaluation by school personnel and a visit by state education leaders to assess not only academics but responsiveness to the needs and interests of students.

Representatives visited the middle school in November to observe classrooms, interview staff, and review achievement data and the quality of curriculum lessons.

Harris said the staff is judged on its leadership and ability to work together, along with its willingness to change.

“We are dedicated to continual growth. We are really open to new ideas,” he said. “This honor is very validating.”

Harris attended the Pennsylvania Middle School Association Education Conference last week in State College to receive a plaque; the school will also be recognized in June as part of the National Schools to Watch Conference in Washington, D.C.

Students will share in the achievement during a school celebration April 25.

Fox Chapel Area School District Superintendent Anne Stephens said the recognition for the middle school speaks to an exceptional school community.

“Sustaining that level of excellence reaffirms the commitment that is evident by the entire staff,” she said.

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or at tpanizzi@tribweb.com.

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