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Southmoreland Middle School vies for national honor

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Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, 1:21 a.m.

Southmoreland Middle School is in the running for national recognition.

Assistant Superintendent Tim Scott informed the school board this week of the school's application for the Breakthrough Schools Award, through the National Association of Secondary School Principals, in conjunction with MetLife.

The goal of the project is to identify, recognize and showcase middle and high schools that serve large numbers of students living in poverty and are high-achieving or dramatically improving student achievement. It's the sixth year of the project.

“They recognize 10 schools nationally each year that have significantly improved student achievement,” Scott informed the board. “At the present stage, Southmoreland Middle School is a national semifinalist for the award.”

The announcement was met with applause.

Representatives from the principals group visited the school on Sept. 27 for an evaluation. There were 154 schools across the country that applied for the award.

“It's competitive,” said Scott after the meeting. “You have to have over 40 percent economically disadvantaged (students), and you have to show either dramatic improvement or sustained high achievement. They pick the top 10 schools across the nation each year. We hope to be one of those 10.”

The association is a national organization of and voice for middle and high school principals, assistant principals and aspiring school leaders from across the United States and more than 45 countries around the world. The organization serves more than 27,000 members.

Middle school principal Vincent Mascia said he enjoyed meeting with the representatives of the principals organization.

“I believe wholeheartedly that the experience was a very good experience for everyone involved,” Mascia told the board. “The students in my building really responded well to the fact that these individuals were here. They actually commented to their teachers that they were very proud to be a part of this process.”

Mascia said the association's representatives had free rein of the school, going into classrooms, visiting with team leaders, attending department meetings and talking with administrators and teachers.

“They sat down with a number of our students and had discussions with them,” Mascia said. “I brought in members of the community to visit with them also. It was quite a comprehensive situation where they not only evaluated what's actually taking place in the classroom, but they got input from our community members and our students.”

As part of the application process, a great deal of written material had to be submitted.

“They told me everything we submitted, everything we indicated that we have done in our schools, they saw the actual application multiple times taking place in our school,” Mascia said. “They were very, very complimentary of what we're doing in our schools.”

Mascia said the finalists are expected to be announced sometime in November.

One Pennsylvania school has previously received the honor: Franklin Towne Charter High School in Philadelphia in 2010.

There are several rewards that go with being one of the 10 schools selected.

These include a $5,000 grant, the school being profiled in the association's national magazine, the chance to attend the national conference in Washington and be recognized, and the chance to work with the organization and other middle schools to improve student achievement by displaying what is done at Southmoreland Middle School.

“We feel really good about being a national semifinalist,” Scott said. “But I know we'd feel a lot, lot better if we are an award winner.”

Paul Paterra is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-887-6101 or

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