A Source Chat with Principal Millie Beall of Central Middle School
We sat down with Central Middle School Principal Millie Beall to talk about the changes at the school over the past year and her outlook on the future of the school. Beall said this last school year was one that brought a lot of examination—inside and out—of the curriculum, the placement of students and the role parents will play in future changes.
As the 2011-2012 school year began, Beall made a change in the way students were grouped. Called either “homogenous grouping” or “leveling,” the idea was to put students of all ability levels together in one classroom and have a teacher use differentiated instruction (teaching three levels simultaneously) to engage every student in the room.
The outcry from parents was swift and fierce. Beall said that despite the rocky start, things ended on a positive note with parents. She said that some of the parents who were most vocal sat on an advisory board and participated in meetings that will help define the direction the school takes moving forward.
“I never had my feet in cement over this [homogenous grouping]. I took the hits and I am glad about it. I see us as a better school because of it,” Beall said.
She said that the change opened a dialogue at the school and made everyone—from teachers and parents to administration and specialists from Central Office—come together to talk about what was being taught and how it was being taught.
With all of that scrutiny, Beall said, “we validated that we were on the right track.”
Central Middle has about 1100 students divided pretty evenly through grades six, seven and eight. Beall said that she saw a change this year in the sixth grade students who came to the school, noting that many were very mature and more active socially than in years’ past.
She said the the grouping issue may have been responsible for reducing disciplinary actions, which were markedly down for the year. On test scores however, the results were mixed, with benchmark scores pretty even with the preceding year.
But that social component, she said, was something new.
“They didn’t stay sixth graders for long.”
She said that the way things work is that sixth graders come in are a little shy the first year. By seventh grade, which Beall said is the hardest year for students, there are all kinds of changes—emotional, social, cognitive—and a lot of distractions (Girls! Boys!). Sometimes the academic piece isn’t as important as it was in elementary school or sixth grade. Many students get their first B during that time. By eighth grade, the social aspect is settling down and the students with the strong academics are thinking more like high school students.
Beall said this year that expectation for seventh and eighth graders stayed the same, but the sixth graders were not like those that had come before them. They needed a little more rigor. She said that when parents brought that to her attention, she really wanted to know if it was true.
She brought in people from Central Office to look at the curriculum. She had Dr. Maureen McMahan come in with seminars for teachers. She also implemented components of advanced learning with some of her “high flyers.”
“Those parents made us look at what we are doing here, and what we are asking the kids to do,” she said. “And that allowed kids to have more choices. More rigor with their reading choices, more flexibile learning with kids rotating among the teachers. I am very pleased with what we found out.”
She said that throughout the school year, changes were made as the year went along. She said that they now have everything in place to have an exceptional amount of growth over the next few years.
For the 2012-2013 school year, Beall said she may look at delivering more to advanced students, maybe the top 10 percent of the class. She said that she’d like to see what the students are doing when they first come into the school.
She said that one of the things she would really like to focus on is bullying. They have some initiatives in place, but that parents need to report bullying when it is happening. Beall said she is sad to see some of the comments about bullying on the GreatSchools.org website and she wishes that the parents would have come to her and talked about their concerns instead of writing about it in an open forum.
“I can’t do anything about it once the school year is over and I read it on a website like that,” she said. “This is middle school. Students make mistakes. They will make social blunders, they will say stupid things. But we can’t correct that if we don’t know about it.”
Beall said that she has an open door policy, and an open mind to go along with it. She enjoys when parents participate in the process and feels that for all of the pushback from parents, she found out some pretty good things about her school.
When the doors reopen in August, students will notice a few differences. Beall walked me through new classroom enclosures—changing the open space by making permanent walls that go all the way to the ceiling. Each classroom will also have the latest educational technology, like SmartBoards and document cameras.
For a short time, seventh graders will be in temporary buildings outside, but that by the time the winter break is over, everyone will be moving back indoors and the construction will be complete.