Schools to Watch Background and Information

After a year of collaboration, the National Forum identified criteria to describe high-performing schools that serve students in the middle grades. Such schools are academically excellent, responsive to the developmental challenges of young adolescents, and socially equitable, with high expectations for all students. The Forum conducted a national search for four “Schools to Watch” that meet its criteria. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation awarded each school a $15,000 grant to be used to share their experiences and practices with other middle schools around the country.


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The Forum received almost 40 applications from schools around the country. Among those that applied, we visited nine and selected four as “Schools to Watch”.

The four schools that were recognized as Schools to Watch are Barren County Middle School in rural Kentucky, Jefferson Middle School in Champaign, Illinois, Freeport Intermediate School in Freeport, Texas, and Thurgood Marshall Middle School in Chicago, Illinois.

Following their selection, the four schools were inundated with phone calls and visitors from the education community interested in using the selection criteria for their own staff training and school assessments. The National Forum developed a web site that features online tours of the schools, as well as detailed information about the criteria. In 2002, to further expand the reach and impact of the Schools to Watch initiative, the Forum selected California, Georgia, and North Carolina to pilot the implementation of the program at the state level.

The state program expands yearly. Currently 11 states participate. The request for application to become a “School to Watch State” is available each fall.