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posted: 3/5/2014 7:24 PM

Kaneland Harter School named among 'Schools to Watch'

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Submitted by Kaneland Unit District 302

Kaneland Harter Middle School in Sugar Grove was selected by state leaders for its academic excellence, its responsiveness to the needs and interests of young adolescents, and its commitment to helping all students achieve at high levels.

Among other criteria, it was awarded this designation due to the school's strong leadership, teachers who work together to improve curriculum and instruction, and a commitment to assessment and accountability to bring about continuous improvement. Principal Bryan Zwemke credits teachers and staff for being "student-centered" in their decision-making, increasing the likelihood of student success.

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"They make student needs a priority. Our teachers have the ability to meet students where they're at and help them academically and socially throughout their middle school years," Zwemke said.

Additionally, the strong sense of teaming throughout the school, he notes, creates a network of adults who advocate for students.

John Viano, Director of Association of Illinois Middle Schools, led the school visit along with two other members of the AIMS Network. Viano was impressed with the manner which Kaneland Harter Middle School creates a well-rounded educational process with attention to academics and social emotional needs.

"The visitation team unanimously endorses the designation of Kaneland Harter Middle School as an Illinois Horizon School to Watch," Viano stated. More information about the AIMS Network can be found by visiting aimsnetwork.org.

Selection is based on a written application that required schools to show how they met criteria developed by the Forum. Schools that appeared to meet the criteria were then visited by state teams who observed classrooms, interviewed administrators, teachers, students, and parents, and looked at achievement data, suspension rates, quality of lessons, and student work. On Jan. 17, 2014, education professionals from the Association of Middle Schools visited Kaneland Harter Middle School to observe and offer feedback to the leadership team.

"It's important for us to network with a group of people who can acknowledge our strengths and let us know areas where we can improve," said Zwemke. "I am proud of our school for receiving this designation. The opportunity to continue to further enrich the middle school experience for our students is exciting."

The motivation for designated schools to continue on their path to excellence is built in to the "Schools to Watch" requirements: schools are recognized for a three-year period, and at the end of three years, schools must repeat the process in order to be redesignated.

Sixty-nine schools of the 115 recognized have maintained or increased their levels of excellence and are being redesignated. The schools vary in size from several hundred to several thousand students and represent urban, suburban, and rural communities.

This award demonstrates the exceptional qualities of Kaneland Harter Middle School, while providing a framework for ongoing improvement "The recognition validates what we're doing well, but it is an ongoing process of bettering ourselves. I want us to become a premier middle school because that's what our students deserve," concluded Zwemke.

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