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Model School
20 July, 201220 July, 2012
Grade Level: Secondary (6-12)
School Type: Rural
By The NumbersModel Of
430 students
61% free and reduced meals
95% attendance rate
90% reading on grade level
48% African American
48% white
10% special education
2% English language learners
Data-driven Decision Making
High Expectations
Parent Involvement
Positive behavior
Professional Development
Year: 2012

Pocomoke Middle School (Pocomoke) is located in Pocomoke City, the southernmost town on Maryland’s eastern shore. Pocomoke City\'s current population is 3,895 people. The unemployment rate is 16.50%, which accounts for the high number of students who qualify for free and reduced priced meals. The school’s diverse student population, approximately 430 students in grades four through eight, is 48% white, 48% African American, 2% Hispanic, 1% Asian, and 1% Native American Indian. Whereas only 2% of the nation\'s 4.8 million teachers are African American, 22% of Pocomoke’s 45 classroom teachers are African American. The Principal feels that diversity in the teaching force is important for many reasons, including bringing different perspectives, experiences, and skills to the classroom; and allowing collaboration between majority and minority colleagues. Teachers who may have lived the experience of being different and are involved in the neighborhoods where students live are a positive influence. Diversity in the workforce creates a positive and dynamic environment that models the valuing diversity in the world.
When visitors step inside Pocomoke they immediately sense pride, caring, and high expectations. Rocking chairs and a fish pond offer a tranquil greeting. Banners with the school’s theme and mission, and a collection of recognition plaques are proudly displayed. Comfortable chairs and tables provide space for mentors and students to talk and work, and beanbag chairs await eager readers. As you walk through the building, students are actively engaged in instruction, the classroom walls are covered with student work, and the halls are lined with inspiring quotes and pictures of students demonstrating success. Each day at Pocomoke begins with students being celebrated on live morning announcements. Each month, readers, writers, mathematicians, geographers, and scientists are highlighted on hallway bulletin boards, and a quarterly formal recognition assembly is held for each grade level.
Pocomoke’s deliberately positive climate is characterized by the notion that meaningful change will occur when all stakeholders (staff, students, parents, and business and civic partners) are empowered, encouraged to assume leadership and decision making roles, and are made to feel that their contributions, ideas, and efforts are invaluable. Year after year, Pocomoke’s stakeholders continually seek programs and services to ensure that all students, regardless of race, gender, socio-economic background, or disabilities, have the necessary tools to live successfully in the 21st century. Through researched-based programs and services, providing small class sizes to give each child more individual attention, improving teaching methods through ongoing professional development and data analysis, assisting staff and students in becoming technologically proficient, and reaching out to parents and community to form partnerships and alliances, Pocomoke reflects the school theme, Respect + Responsibility = Pocomoke Pride!
Pocomoke’s multiple awards demonstrate commitment and progress toward local and state goals and standards, and the school’s mission and beliefs (see Appendix A). Pocomoke was featured on NBC’s Today Show, during its Education Nations series, as a school that exemplifies the challenges a typical rural middle school faces, but which is implementing great innovative programs and approaches in order to overcome those challenges and achieve greater success! Pocomoke’s literacy program is currently highlighted on the U.S. Department of Education’s Doing What Works website. Pocomoke was selected to receive the 2011 John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts School of Excellence in Arts Education Award for its successful arts immersion program, and in 2009 became a National Reference Site for Scientific Learning Corporation. In 2008, Pocomoke was named one of 10 MetLife-NASSP Breakthrough Schools in the country. In addition, the school has received recognition as a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) Exemplary School, Maryland Character Education School, National Schools of Character Semi-finalist, National High Flying School, and Governor’s Green School.

Foundation Learning: Adolescent Literacy Program

Vocabulary instruction, comprehension strategies, and learning aids such as graphic organizers are a part of every content area classroom at Pocomoke Middle School. The staff has worked together to improve students\' reading skills through:

• adopting a school-wide emphasis on vocabulary instruction
• training all teachers in reading, and implementing explicit literacy instruction across all subject areas, including science, social studies, math, and the exploratory courses
• using graphic organizers across the content areas to support the development of reading comprehension
• engaging students in text discussion to promote higher levels of understanding
• supporting staff collaboration through student work review discussions
• using formative and summative assessment data to identify needs and inform instruction for struggling readers
• providing supplemental reading courses, SOAR to Success and Fast ForWord, for students reading below grade level. (The ultimate goal of Soar to Success is to increase students’ understanding of what they read through reciprocal teaching. Fast ForWord is a family of educational software intended to enhance the cognitive skills of children and is especially focused on developing phonological awareness.)

Pocomoke’s reading program includes a daily 90-minute integrated language arts period of instruction in comprehension, vocabulary, and language for all students, and an additional 45 to 90 minutes in intervention courses for struggling readers. Reading is also taught in the other content areas, as all teachers are trained in reading instructional strategies, including summarizing, clarifying, predicting, and questioning. Practicing these strategies is often scaffolded by using graphic organizers before, during, or after reading. All teachers also engage students in text discussion to help them become more independent in applying these strategies to increase comprehension.
Vocabulary has been a major focus at Pocomoke. In the past, when staff analyzed data and learned of significant vocabulary gaps, they focused on ways to improve instruction school-wide in this area. Teachers across content areas use graphic organizers and visualization to teach vocabulary more explicitly and foster motivation in students to seek and use new words. Each classroom houses a content-specific interactive word wall to address key words throughout the year. To increase motivation, students participate in a $100 word activity, in which they submit vocabulary entries to be selected and read daily on the morning announcements.
Reading achievement at Pocomoke has been significantly impacted by the implementation of the Adolescence Literacy Program, as indicated in the following chart.

Percent of students reading at proficient or advanced levels
Subgroup 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 8 year gain
All Students 55.5 60.6 69.4 72.3 75.7 81.1 84.5 83.3 89.7 +34.2
White 78.1 76.8 84.9 88.7 90.1 91.1 92.9 92.9 96.3 +18.2
African American 34.2 47.9 52.0 54.7 60.1 70.5 73.8 72.5 81.4 +47.2
FARMS 36.2 46.2 53.8 58.1 65.1 74.2 77.8 77.9 86.1 +49.9

Students living in poverty, as measured by FARMS, have increased their reading scores from 36.2% at proficient/advanced to 86.1% at proficient/advanced. African American students have increased their scores from 34.2% at proficient/advanced to 81.4%. The minority achievement gap, though not closed, has decreased significantly from 43.9% to 14.9%.
All of Pocomoke’s sample materials for their Adolescence Literacy Program can be found at the U.S. Department of Education\'s Doing What Works website at In addition, interviews with two teachers, the Curriculum Planner, and the Principal regarding Pocomoke’s program can also be found on the website.

Learner Engagement: Personalization is the Key

The most important key to Pocomoke Middle School’s success in raising student achievement is personalization. The staff believe that a middle school without support services for adolescents, especially those at-risk (we call them at-promise students) would be like a hospital without a trauma center!
For each student not performing on grade level, teachers develop a Plan for Success that indicates the student’s district benchmark and state assessment scores, support services provided, parent and teacher concerns, and intervention strategies and actions provided by the classroom teachers. The reading support class SOAR and the Fast ForWord computer lab are offered to students reading below grade level. Students receive math assistance in the SuccessMaker and Study Island computer labs. Eleven years ago, the after school Pocomoke Pride Academies began, thanks to grants and district funding. Each year the program has grown through the support of students, parents, staff, and community members. Currently, 86% of Pocomoke’s students participate in the two-hour after school program, where teachers and support staff offer opportunities in academic enrichment and acceleration, intervention, homework assistance, the arts, technology, recreation, and clubs.
Pocomoke’s oldest mentoring program was developed to pair students and staff members. Staff mentors are asked to spend time each week with their mentee on academic and behavior goals. Seven years ago, a pool of motivated, caring African American high school students was added as mentors. After a training period, these high performing students are matched one-on-one with struggling middle school students. The pairs meet at least once a week, usually for an hour. In addition, the local health department coordinates a wellness program on site for students dealing with emotional issues.
The Family Connections Facilitator and Pupil Services Worker assigned to the three schools in Pocomoke City assist families of children who are experiencing emotional and/or behavioral difficulties that impact their learning. Issues impacting learning may be related to family dysfunction, lack of basic needs such as heat and health care, social problems, self-esteem, or anger management. These staff members’ duties include:

• providing family support, building trust, and opening a positive line of communication between the family and the school
• making and coordinating referrals for school and community services
• discussing home learning activities suggested by the school with parents
• greeting and sitting with parents who come for appointments and meetings at the school
• coordinating monthly parent education events with guest speakers.

Stretch Learning

All students receive career planning each year at Pocomoke. Fourth and 5th grade students gain knowledge of the school’s Graduate Profile (see Appendix B), complete a profile of interests, and participate in Maryland Day at the University of Maryland, College Park. Sixth grade students attend a College Bound Pep Rally in the summer, play a career game, participate in a career fair at a local hospital, visit the local community college, and attend a college planning seminar with their parents. Seventh and 8th grade students complete a five-year plan that outlines activities during the four years of high school and the year after graduation, complete CollegeEd lessons, listen to speakers who came from tough backgrounds but still graduated from college and became successful, participate in a career day at school, visit the district’s technical high school, and visit local universities. In addition, all 7th grade students take Pre-algebra or Algebra I, and all 8th grade students take Algebra I or Algebra II.

Personal Skill Development

Students have to be in the classrooms to learn. Pocomoke’s student office referrals dropped from 941 in 2000 to 593 in 2005. This trend has continued, with 380 referrals in 2011, a 60% reduction since 2000 and the implementation of the PBIS program. PBIS is a systemic approach to proactive, school-wide behavior that applies primary, secondary, and tertiary level strategies to increase academic performance, improve safety, decrease problem behavior, and promote a positive school culture.

High quality Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment

Pocomoke Middle School’s rigorous curriculum is aligned with the Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum, which defines what students should know and be able to do at each grade level in the various content areas. Staff at Pocomoke believe that high quality curriculum offers students the opportunity to explore the relevance between content ideas and their own lives and experiences. The skills and attitudes essential to producing quality work are supported. Staff believe that students can only become powerful learners if what they are invited to learn is powerful.
High quality instruction originates in high quality professional development. At Pocomoke, the primary focus of professional development is to improve instruction, specifically teachers’ content literacy, pedagogy, and communication skills in inclusive classrooms; skill in differentiating instruction for individual students; and skill in working, communicating, and forming positive relationships with students from various cultural backgrounds. Teachers receive professional development at the district and school level during pull-out sessions, after school, on professional days, and in the summer. At the school level, the National Staff Development Council’s (NSDC) back mapping model is used for professional learning. This model stresses that the role of professional learning is deeply connected to the work teachers do each day in their classrooms, driven by the needs of their students, and measured in terms of results for students. During each school year, the majority of bi-weekly after-school professional development sessions are planned by Pocomoke’s implementation teams, vertical teams, and grade level teams. Besides utilizing the bi-weekly sessions and other opportunities, professional development is provided on an ongoing basis by the curriculum planner, resource teacher, and the technology coach.
Pocomoke’s school wide improvement planning has expanded to include classroom improvement planning. Grade level and vertical teams are using Maryland’s Classroom-focused Improvement Process (CFIP), a six-step process for increasing student achievement. The flow of the model responds to the overall questions: What do we know from available data about current levels of student performance and how will we respond to these data? In the six steps, team members identify the following:

• relevant assessments
• questions the data should answer
• patterns of students’ strengths and needs
• instructional factors that might have contributed to the pattern of student weaknesses and the steps that team members will take to address these patterns
• students who excelled and those who still need assistance, and the in-class enrichments and interventions that will be put in place for these students
• one or two improvements in future instruction that they will implement

All of the pre-conditions for the successful implementation of the Classroom-focused Improvement Process are in place at Pocomoke:

• collaborative grade-level and vertical teams which share a common summative state assessment
• time for planning
• a principal who is comfortable with the concept of shared leadership
• use of formative assessments
• norms to guide the process of collaborative data analysis
• autonomy for teachers to adjust teaching practices and interventions based on data from assessments of their students\' learning
• on-going professional development to enhance teachers’ capacity to continually adjust their teaching practice in response to student performance data

A district-wide assessment data management system provides a vehicle for administrators and teachers to track individual student performance on state standards through state assessments and district benchmarks. Utilizing the management system and data collected from weekly teacher-developed formative assessments, Pocomoke’s processes have continued to improve and include establishing a clear vision for school-wide data use, making data a part of an ongoing cycle of instructional improvement, providing professional development that fosters a data-driven culture, and teaching students to examine their own work and set learning goals. In promoting parent involvement, parents of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students are able to check their child’s academic progress and attendance information daily using PowerGrade, an Internet-based student information system.

Organizational Leadership

Pocomoke’s professional learning community works hard to implement the school’s mission by keeping its six main points in mind:

• a rural community
• a partnership of students, educators, parents, and community
• rigorous academic standards for all of students, regardless of race, socio-economic background, or learning disabilities
• promotion of lifelong learning
• opportunities for students to be of service to others
• preparation of all students, through instruction in academics, character education, and technology, so that they can fulfill their personal dreams

With guidance from Pocomoke City’s tri-school Pocomoke Strategic Planning Council and the school level Accreditation for Growth Team, all stakeholders, through membership on school implementation teams (reading, math, minority achievement, arts immersion, character education, school climate, technology, and parent involvement), grade level teams, vertical teams, and parent and community advisory committees share in decision-making on issues that affect students.
Students enhance leadership development by participating in Student Government; Kiwanis Builder’s Club; Math, Engineering, and Science Achievement (MESA); and grade level service learning projects. In addition, each school implementation team has at least one student representative. In an effort to grow their own future teachers, Pocomoke offers a Teacher Cadet Program to 8th grade students who are interested in a possible teaching career. Minority students are especially encouraged to participate in this program.

Instructional Leadership

The Curriculum Planner and the Resource Teacher teach educators how to use proven instructional methods and facilitate grade level and vertical team meetings. To be successful, these “coaches” must be skilled in a variety of roles, including public relations guru, communicator extraordinaire, master organizer, and, of course, expert educator. Pocomoke’s “coaches” analyze teachers\' needs, informally observe classes, provide modeling through demonstration classroom lessons, provide oral and written feedback to teachers, collaborate with teachers on interventions and enrichment, and provide some interventions and enrichments directly to students. In addition, district subject area coordinators work closely with staff at all district schools to continue to improve teaching and learning.

In order to encourage and monitor effective instruction and learning, the principal conducts

• walk-throughs to gain a quick snapshot of student learning
• student work reviews as an indicator of the effectiveness of instruction
• progress meetings with teachers to identify students making good progress and those causing concern, and to discuss how to meet individual student needs
• conferences with parents and students regarding academic progress
• ongoing professional development
• an annual summer data retreat to analyze the effectiveness of the school’s action plans to increase student achievement

Parent / Community Partnership

Achieving a high level of family and community involvement at Pocomoke Middle School continues to be an extremely high priority. At present, the following parent and community involvement activities are held annually: orientations for rising 4th, 6th, and 9th grade students; a Back-to-School Night; a New Family Dinner; Parent Conference Nights accompanied by family activities; Family Honors Nights; a Science Fair; a Tech Fest; a Technology Night; a Geography Bee, a Spelling Bee, an Intergenerational Reading Program; Dads, Moms, and Grandparents to Lunch Days; Ministers’ Gatherings; an Ice Cream Social; Dads and Sons Dinner and a Movie; Dads and Sons Sports Challenge; and Moms and Daughters Jewelry Jamboree. In addition, the Worcester County Health, Juvenile Service, Social Service, and Sheriff Departments, as well as the YMCA, Salvation Army, Pocomoke Police Department, and many civic organizations, continue to work cooperatively and collaboratively with Pocomoke.
The faculty of Pocomoke is committed to involving 100% of our students’ parents in their children’s education. The comprehensive school website provides a vehicle to:

• communicate the school’s mission, beliefs, and objectives to all stakeholders
• share what is happening in the school with parents and the wider community
• celebrate and exhibit the achievements of students
• strengthen the bond between school, parents, children, and the wider community

Student planners are used as a daily communication conduit. Teams send monthly newsletters home to communicate specific grade level information. By scheduling parent/teacher conferences mid-term instead of end-of-term, students and parents are encouraged to continue to strive for success. Attendance at parent/teacher conferences is boosted by providing themed activities for families. This year, parent/teacher conferences have been combined with math night, a multicultural fair, science fair, and media night. In addition, many parents are invited in individually by teams during their team planning period.
Through our school’s involvement with the Pocomoke Strategic Planning Council, PTA Executive Board, School Improvement Advisory Committee, Pocomoke Pride Academies Advisory Board, Ministers’ Gathering, Chamber of Commerce, and community service organizations (Kiwanis, Rotary, Soroptimist, and Lions), many opportunities are provided to parents and the community to understand the school’s mission, take part in plans for improvement, and celebrate accomplishments.

Effective and Efficient Best Practices

The term best practice has been used to describe what works in a particular situation or environment. Pocomoke Middle School’s best practices include:

• an environment that is welcoming, safe, healthy, caring, reflective of diversity, and a showcase for student work
• curriculum alignment within and between grade levels
• professional development which supports school goals for all instructional staff
• a set of school norms for teachers in the areas of acceptance of responsibility, classroom practices, resources and materials, human relationships, planning and objectives, best practices, assessment, and promoting active student engagement
• small class size
• heterogeneous grouping with full inclusion
• student feedback that is not only timely, but descriptive, to guide students’ learning and improve their performance
• vertical and horizontal articulation at each grade level and across grade levels
• effective use of data for sub group analysis
• individual academic conferences between students and administrators
• a character education program that helps students develop good character, which includes knowing, caring about, and acting upon core ethical values such as caring, honesty, fairness, responsibility, and respect for self and others
• a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program that includes proactive strategies for defining, teaching, and supporting appropriate student behaviors to create a positive school environment
• functional behavioral assessments and accompanying checklists for red zone students
• an expansive mentoring program
• student recognition daily, monthly, and quarterly
• an intergenerational reading program offered as part of the after-school Pocomoke Pride Academies
• a college- and career-ready plan
• an extensive plan for parent and community involvement
• homework and general information hotlines
• parent access to teachers’ grade books
• immersion of the arts into core content areas
• cross-disciplinary experiences in the STEM subjects during and after school, and in the summer school program
• successful African American men and women from our community and surrounding communities speaking with students in small group settings.

The school sees its challenge as ensuring that all students stay on the graduation path— graduation from middle school, high school, and college. Pocomoke’s Report of the Visiting Team for Accreditation by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools in November 2011 states in its conclusion:

Under the leadership of a learned and dynamic leader, this school challenges itself to not just be good or better, but great. The Principal’s shared vision has made everyone in this school, staff and students alike, believe that they are excellent and can be great. The individuals who work with her and under her believe in her leadership and her ability to provide the necessary resources to lift the school to almost unimaginable heights.

The building operates in a collaborative and collegial manner under a structure of articulate committees and groups. These groups (provided with specific tasks or assignments) provide an important building block for the school’s ultimate success. Stakeholders from all interest groups are present or represented on the teams and feel that their voice is not only heard and respected but, in some cases, solicited.

Every individual associated with this school truly believes in the goodness and potential of every student who attends it. The staff lives this belief, and it is demonstrated in their daily interactions with students and colleagues. The students repeatedly refer to their teachers and building administrators as fun, loving, and caring. They respect them and trust them to always act in their best interests. The staff, as well as the building administrators, work tirelessly to acquire the types of resources their students deserve. These range from technology to varied materials used for project-based learning. They offer an after school program which is attended by 86% of their students. Their course offerings at this academy range from the arts, to academics, to athletics. The classes themselves range from one to two hours daily Monday through Thursday. Everyone, including parents, teachers, educational aides, and community members, is a teacher of these classes. The students and the staff enjoy the opportunity to interact with the children in a different venue.

The dedication to children by all staff is above reproach. The most important meaningful thing that can be said regarding this school is that the students all love attending it and fully intend to complete college. Pocomoke Middle School is truly a remarkable school, and we congratulate them for their great accomplishments.   

Appendix B


• meet or exceed the state learning standards in all content areas
• use print media and digital media to access relevant and credible information from around
the world and to effectively communicate, synthesize, and create new knowledge
• know of and appreciate the visual and performing arts
• demonstrate a foundation in a language other than English
• demonstrate knowledge of 21st century career options, especially in the STEM fields

• demonstrate consistent study skills and habits of mind
• apply thinking skills to approach complex problems
• organize information productively
• generate new ideas
• make responsible and informed decisions

• express ideas and information in a variety of modes of communication
• listen to and receive ideas from others, both from within and outside of their own cultures
• use interpersonal skills effectively

• demonstrate trustworthiness and caring of others
• demonstrate a positive attitude that is both tolerant and flexible
• fulfill productively a variety of roles within a group
• make fair decisions that balance self-interest with the interest of others

• set appropriate goals and work to achieve them
• identify and explain the components of high quality work
• assess their performance using valid criteria
• apply strategies to improve performance

• recognize the value of public service and civic responsibility through service learning activities
• demonstrate respect and responsibility for themselves and others by making ethical decisions that contribute to the development of a more peaceful and safe environment
• are informed about local and global issues
• understand the democratic process

• make healthy decisions that enhance physical, mental, and emotional well-being to thrive within a global environment
• demonstrate the ability to recognize and evaluate their personal strengths and weaknesses
• accept self-improvement and lifelong learning as an ongoing process
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School Information
Pocomoke Middle School
Author: 8 August, 2011 Schools