Holmes ‘three-peats’ as School to Watch recipient

       In an educational world that regularly gives awards to itself, some schools can be tempted to pursue as many trophies as possible, becoming known to their peers as “Christmas tree schools.”
       That's the last kind of reputation Principal Rob Utter wants for Holmes Middle School, but there's no way he'll turn down a third consecutive Colorado Schools to Watch honor.
       Announced in late March, the redesignation puts Holmes with just one other state middle school (Prairie View in Aurora) that's gained a “three-peat.”
       The National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform created the program in 1999 to honor high-performing middle schools, as well as to present them as models for those that are seeking to improve.
       Schools can only be chosen every three years. The Holmes years have been 2006, 2009 and 2012.
       “We don't believe we need to go after every award we can,” Utter said in an interview. “This is one that definitely recognizes hard work over a period of time. We can see the fruits of our efforts - someone from a national organization looking in from the outside and saying, 'You do have an exceptional school.'”
       What makes a Schools to Watch designation particularly desirable “is because it is so comprehensive,” Utter elaborated. “It looks at things on every level.”
       The way the program works, schools send in applications. If they are chosen as finalists, they are visited by a state delegation, whose efforts include observing classrooms; perusing student work, lesson quality and achievement data; and interviewing staff, parents and students.
       According to Utter, the Schools to Watch focus is not just on academic achievement (where Holmes has traditionally been among the tops in the region), but also the following:
  • Developmental responsiveness (staff's ability to relate to the unique transitional adolescene of grade 6-8 and help struggling students grow).
  • Social equity (affirmation that no students are given more opportunities to succeed than others - Utter quoted a Schools to Watch maxim: “All students fly first class.”)
  • Organizational structure and processes - Holmes got points for its “collaborative approach to education, the teamwork going on with teachers and administrators, and the way we're always seeking improvement,” Utter said. “We do set high standards for ourselves.”
           Across Colorado, since 1999, only 14 schools have earned Schools to Watch designations. One benefit of the selection is being given a banner. Utter said Schools to Watch officials plan to personally deliver the new one to Holmes April 17.
           After previous designations, the school has hung the banners outside for the world to see, only to find that they fade quickly in the weather. So this time the Schools to Watch banner will be hung inside, Utter said.
           But (it could be conjectured) he shouldn't be too concerned. With any luck, Holmes will only need the banner to last until the next redesignation opportunity, three years from now.

    Westside Pioneer article