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Castaic Middle School re-named a ‘School to Watch’

FILE PHOTO: Castaic Middle School students cheer during the annual Turkey Bowl Pep Rally at Castaic Middle School on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017. Christina Cox/The Signal

Castaic Middle School is one of 46 schools named as a high-performing “Schools to Watch” by California’s Department of Education this year.

Announced by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson on  Wednesday, the Schools to Watch program identifies middle schools that are academically excellent, developmentally responsive, socially equitable and structured for success

“These schools are outstanding examples of how educational innovations can keep students engaged and learning throughout a transitional time in their lives,” Torlakson said.

This marks the fifth time Castaic Middle School received the Schools to Watch designation.  It was first selected for the honor when the program began in 2003.

It was then re-designated as Schools to Watch for its continued progress in 2006, 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2018.

“It’s a recognition that confirms that we’re on the right path toward excellence and that we’re on the right path to helping kids,” Castaic Middle School Principal Bob Brauneisen said.  “It seems like it’s an adult recognition, but honestly it’s 100 percent based on school culture, climate and what’s best for kids and that’s what is great about it.”

Sponsored by the California Department of Education, California League of Middle Schools (CLMS) and the California Middle Grades Alliance, the Schools to Watch program aims to identify high-performing middle schools, create research-based definitions of characteristics shared by these schools and share real-world strategies with educators throughout the state.

To earn this designation, schools must complete an application that is reviewed by experts.

Then, to retain the Schools to Watch designation, middle schools must be re-evaluated every three years and demonstrate how staff members created supportive, engaging communities that served the academic and social-emotional needs of all learners.

“If you’re not following through with what you said you would do then you lose your re-designation,” Brauneisen said.  “What’s really nice about it is it gives you time to evaluate, re-look at your practices and focus on best practices.”

To evaluate its practices, Castaic Middle School sends a self-reflection study to all of its teachers and classified staff and receives feedback from teachers on its practices.

“We do a self-study rubric and send it out to the entire staff and it asks questions across the gamut about everything like culture, diversity, homework, learning… really every aspect that takes place at a school,” Brauneisen said.

This reflection allowed Castaic Middle School to fine-tune, update and improve policies to help its diverse student body.

“A lot of that is providing extra support for struggling learning and provided more depth and capacity for advanced learners,”Brauneisen said.

In its application for redesignation, the middle school also highlights its programs like the school’s classroom use of technology, Career Pathways Program, data-driven curriculum, ongoing professional development, school-wide clubs like robotics and choir, and enrichment opportunities like the CMSTV broadcast journalism program.

“It is important to recognize that it takes a village to make this happen and the teachers and support staff are dedicated to student learning,” Brauneisen said.

As a reward for being named a School to Watch, Castaic Middle School will receive professional development and networking opportunities and coaching for continued success. The middle school will also be recognized at the annual California Middle Grades Alliance luncheon in Sacramento March 1.

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On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_

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