Pine-Richland Middle School earns accolades

Deborah Deasy
| Monday, May 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Educators could learn lessons from Pine-Richland Middle School.

Its academics, fairness, organization and responsiveness to adolescents' needs make it a “School to Watch,” according to the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform.

Pine-Richland Middle School is one of only two Pennsylvania schools to earn the recognition — for a third time. The other school is DuBois Area Middle School in Clearfield County.

“They are at the top,” said Bruce Vosburgh, director of the Don Eichhorn Schools: Schools to Watch program of the Pennsylvania Association for Middle Level Education.

The late Don Eichhorn, former assistant superintendent of Upper St. Clair School District, established the first U.S. middle schools: Fort Couch Middle School and Boyce Middle School, both in Upper St. Clair.

Bursts of ear-busting applause and cheers filled the gym on April 30 when Vosburgh visited Pine-Richland Middle School to present a 5-foot, beige banner proclaiming the school's re-designation as a “school to watch.”

Pine-Richland Middle School also earned the designation — valid for three years — in 2007 and 2010.

The school's teachers are tops, according to Abby Hinson, 14, president of the school's eighth-grade class.

“Every day, it's really visible that they care about their job,” Abby said. “They always go the extra mile to make sure everyone fully understands, and they they'll answer any question. They'll even give up their lunch periods to do extra help.”

Classmate Hunter Baxter, 14, praised the cooperation between students and teachers at Pine-Richland Middle School.

“Our teachers help the students and our students help the teachers, whenever we can,” he said. “We try to do the best we can every day. We try to get better and learn from our mistakes. So that makes us the best school that we can be.”

Eighth-grader Rita Lakhssassi, 13, talked about the “good” environment at Pine-Richland Middle School.

“Everyone has such good friends here,” Rita said.

Classmate Isabella Sanz, 13, praised the school's comfort level.

“It's just fun,” she said. “We have a lot of fun.”

Principal David Kristofic echoed the students' views.

“I'm fortunate to work here,” he said. “It's a great place.”

Kristofic annually welcomes outside educators interested in Pine-Richland Middle School's teaching methods.

“They come here to see how we do things,” Kristofic said.

Kristofic cited ‘teaming,' for example, as a teaching method that draws visits from outside educators.

At Pine-Richland Middle School, for example, separate teams of four and five teachers instruct assigned groups of about 120 seventh- and eighth-graders — rather than all 380 students in either grade. That allows each teacher to better know and help his or her students, according to Kristofic.

Schools can apply for a School to Watch designation through the Pennsylvania Association of Middle Level Education.

Examiners from a state team of 85 educators then visit selected schools to assess the schools' ongoing improvement in academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, social equity, and organizational structures and processes.

The Don Eichhorn Schools: Schools to Watch program “seeks to recognize a small number of diverse, high performing, growth-oriented middle grades schools to demonstrate what all middle grades schools are capable of achieving,” according to the online site of the Pennsylvania Association for Middle Level Education (PAMLE).

Pine-Richland Middle School is a one of 33 currently designated “schools to watch” in Pennsylvania. It also is one of 334 such schools in 19 states, said Vosburgh.

“The schools challenge all students to use their minds well,” Vosburgh said. “They are schools that are democratic and fair.”

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or

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