ULMS has been named one of two exemplary middle-grades schools in Georgia, an honor which recognizes the school for academic excellence, responsiveness to the needs and interests of students, and a commitment to helping all students achieve at high levels.
Upson-Lee Middle School, along with River Trail Middle School in Fulton County, was awarded the recognition as a Georgia "Lighthouse School to Watch".
To be named a Lighthouse School to Watch, ULMS had to demonstrate strong leadership, teachers who work together to improve curriculum and instruction, and a commitment to assessment and accountability in order to bring about continuous improvement.
School selection was based on a written application showing how the school met various criteria developed by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform, the sponsoring organization. The required criteria included student performance.
Finalists were visited by a state team who observed classrooms, interviewed administrators, teachers, parents and students, and looked at sample lessons and student work.
ULMS won praise for its leader, Principal Patsy Dean, who was described as "a gem - a highly competent professional," by John Lounsbury, co-chair of the Georgia Lighthouse program.
Following the evaluation team's on-site visit to ULMS in October, Lounsbury said the school, though serving more than 1,200 students, had the atmosphere of a "close-knit family."
He added "it was gratifying to see so much of the middle school concept being practiced so effectively by so many just plain good teachers."
"Being named a Lighthouse School to Watch is a tremendous honor that validates all of the hard work and time that we put into serving our students and community," said Principal Dean. "Once again, our teachers, staff and students have risen to the challenge.
"We committed to becoming a model school long before we even knew about this program," Dean said. "We work very hard to encourage and teach our students on a daily basis, and it is gratifying to receive this honor."
Another Lighthouse team evaluator, Jim Allen, an assistant principal at East Coweta Middle School, said of the ULMS leadership and staff: "Your hard work and dedication for all these years is evident at every turn."
Specific aspects cited by evaluators as exemplary at ULMS included the instructional coaching initiative utilizes three master teachers to strengthen curriculum, support teachers, conduct research and ensure implementation of the school improvement plan.
Alice Smith, Middle School Coordinator with the Georgia Department of Education said, "ULMS' use of instructional coaches should be modeled by all middle schools."
In addition, evaluators described ULMS' instructional technology as "light years beyond most middle schools."
Principal Dean was described as the "driving force" in implementing the effective ULMS school improvement plan, and the staff was described as "committed to student development - culturally, socially, and academically.
"The entire staff is dedicated and involved in implementing cutting edge instructional strategies to ensure all students receive the same educational opportunities regardless of student ability," she said.
One of the strongest characteristics of ULMS, according to a member of the site evaluation team, is the "positive school climate."
The evaluator wrote: "Everyone knows the expectations as they enter the building - students, staff, parents, community, and school board members. What the principal, staff, parents, students, and the community have accomplished at this school is commendable. The results/accomplishments that we learned of during our visit did not happen overnight - it has taken nine years of unending effort and dedication by the principal and the staff. This dedication deserves to be rewarded."
"The Georgia Lighthouse Schools to Watch program has recognized those outstanding schools that promote academic excellence for all students, while responding to the unique developmental needs of young adolescents,"said Lounsbury.
Linda Hopping, co-chair with Lounsbury, elaborated. "We are eager to share with other schools around our state and around the nation the work of these schools and the excellent and equitable programs and practices they have instituted that are uniquely suited to middle level students," she said.
Upson-Lee will be featured in a video that will be distributed and used by both the National Forum and the Georgia Middle School Association, will be on the websites of both of those organizations, as well as the State Department of Education website, and will serve as a mentor for other schools aspiring to this status.
"We are so pleased that our Schools to Watch program has shown others that we can meet high academic expectations while preserving our commitment to healthy development and equity for all students," said Deborah Kasak, National Forum executive director. "Upson-Lee Middle School is indeed special; they make education so exciting that students and teachers don't want to miss a day. This middle grades school has proven that it is possible to overcome barriers to achieving excellence, to become a place of learning that adults and children truly want to be a part of."
That National Forum sponsors the Schools to Watch state program with the support of members, the National Association for Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Middle School Association, and the National Staff Development Council.