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Posted September 30, 2014

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APS Works Diligently to Improve Middle Schools

Second Middle School Community Conversation a Success

A committed group of community members, teachers, principals, parents, and even Interim Superintendent Brad Winter, joined together last week at Truman Middle School to have an honest, open dialogue about what it means to be a middle school student in 2014, and how APS can provide a stronger infrastructure to facilitate a more successful experience for all students.

“We are working diligently to improve the middle school experience throughout the district,” said Katarina Sandoval, associate superintendent for middle schools. “We know that parents want options for their middle schoolers, and we are committed to meeting their needs.”

The agenda for the middle school community forum was created in collaboration between APS and Learning Alliance New Mexico, a non-profit dedicated to facilitating a stronger education reform culture and infrastructure.

“Our goal is to paint a true portrait of the challenges that our middle schoolers face on a daily basis,” said Ian Esquibel, executive director of Learning Alliance New Mexico.

Participants were divided into small groups for meaningful discussion, and provided a series of prompts related to middle school to discuss. To create meaningful conversations about middle school, participants were encouraged to engage in the conversations as if they were middle school aged students themselves.

“We have found that asking participants to approach our workshop with the mindset that they are actually in middle school enables them to much more quickly identify the root challenges that we are seeking to improve in our schools,” said Sandoval. “Middle school is a critical time in a student’s growth and development; when we remember what it was like ourselves, we start to identify first-hand where opportunities lie for us to improve the experience.”

Answers ranged from ‘awkward’ and 'fashionably-questionable,’ to ‘I did not enjoy middle school at all,’ to those of more positive experiences like that of Paul Roney, Grant Middle School principal, who recalled meeting his wife in junior high. “It’s crazy to think back that far,” said Roney, “but I met my wife in junior high – and we’ve been together ever since.”

Participants found common ground in everything from what electives they enjoyed the most – or the least, to reminiscing to ‘that one teacher’ who changed everything. Other commonalities surfaced including the importance of relationship building, and learning strong communication skills.

Once the small groups finished their discussion prompts, they came back together as a large group and one participant from each group presented the findings to the rest of the participants.

Learning Alliance New Mexico is compiling a report of all of the feedback and suggestions identified, and will present the final report back to the district.

“The next step is review the reports from these initial two forums, and then to provide the feedback to our middle school principals,” said Sandoval. “We will then determine next steps, including scheduling more community forums, with the final goal of coming together to identify immediate takeaways that we can implement in our middle schools quickly.”

The next middle school forum is scheduled to take place in November at an APS middle school in the North Valley region.

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