FMS redesignated a School to Watch

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
Just before the pandemic closed schools last spring, Farnsworth Middle School Performed "Mary Poppins."

GUILDERLAND — Farnsworth Middle School in Guilderland is among 16 schools statewide that have been redesignated as a 2021 Essential Elements: Schools to Watch.

The designation is awarded to exceptional middle-level schools that meet rigorous criteria and are on a path of continuous improvement, according to the State Education Department, which makes the decision on designation in partnership with the New York State Middle School Association and the Statewide Network of Middle Level Liaisons. 

This is the third redesignation for Farnsworth.

Mary Summermatter, who retired from Guilderland in 2014, first pursued the designation after she came to Farnsworth in 2005.

“I wanted to get a clear picture of how our school operates,” she told The Enterprise in 2012. “I found the self-evaluation form the Schools to Watch program puts out, allowing middle schools to examine themselves.”

Since then, every three years — in 2015, in 2018, and now in 2021 — Principal Michael Laster has successfully pursued the designation. He could not be reached for comment; the district is on spring break.

This school year, Farnsworth was open for in-person learning in the midst of the pandemic, with the upper grade shifted to a wing in the high school to accommodate six-foot spacing as the oldest elementary students occupied part of the middle school.

The Schools to Watch program recognizes middle schools that demonstrate continuous improvement and excel in academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, social equity, and organizational structure.

In New York State, over the past three decades, middle schools, where teaching is centered on the child, have largely replaced junior high schools, where teaching was centered on the subject. Middle schools typically group students heterogeneously rather than tracking by ability, to eliminate competition and foster cooperation. Hands-on activities are stressed that help students solve problems beyond the classroom.

A policy outlined by the state’s education department in 1988 set the tone for the change to middle schools, viewing students between the ages of 10 and 14 as undergoing “profound transformations — physically, psychologically, and intellectually — that are unique in the individual’s life.”

The policy states, “Traditionally, the family, peer group, community, faith institutions, and school served as the supports for young adolescents. However, changes within the home and society have left early adolescents extremely vulnerable, without the support systems which they sorely need…

“The need exists for educators to recognize and assume responsibility not only for their students’ intellectual development but also for their students’ personal and social development.”

“These exemplary schools have implemented strategies from diversity and inclusion initiatives to project-based learning so they can best serve their students,” Board of Regents Chancellor Lester W. Young said in a statement announcing the Schools to Watch. “Their work is remarkable, and I congratulate them for their steadfast commitment to excellence.”

“These Schools to Watch work each day to achieve positive and improving outcomes for their students, constantly building on those accomplishments,” Education Commissioner Betty Rosa said. “The middle school years represent a period of personal growth and development for young adolescents. These educators are helping the children they serve to prepare for success in high school and thereafter.”

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