Middle School Dubbed 'Highly Performing'

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Rim Country Middle School has the distinction of being Gila County's only "highly performing" school for 2003, according to Principal Frank Larby.

"It all goes back to having teachers going way out of their way to make these special programs work," he said. "They want to see the students succeed. They want to see the school succeed. It takes a lot of work to become a highly performing school."

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Rim Country Middle School band instructor Mike Buskirk joined forces with his Pine-Strawberry counterpart, Daria Mason, to put on a combined performance at the Arizona State Fair in October 2003.

The efforts to continue improving RCMS occur on a variety of levels.

An improvement program implemented in 2003 was the creation of a parent community liaison position. This student

services post is filled by Blanche Oakland. She works with students, parents, teachers and the school administrators to make sure questions and concerns are addressed.

The liaison work is done through outreach in the communities surrounding Payson. Oakland, accompanied by school administrators, has gone to meet with parents in Mesa del Caballo, Whispering Pines, Star Valley, Christopher Creek and Gisela.

"This summer we worked in outlying areas," Oakland said. "We talked about attendance and how it could help grades. We were received with open arms. (The parents) were surprised the school made an effort to come to them."

Keeping families involved in the education of middle school students is handled with a variety of tools, Larby said.

"The No. 1 reason for failure (at this level) is not turning in class work," he said.

To keep parents and guardians informed RCMS instituted EdLine. Using the Internet, parents can review their students' grades as well as see detailed explanations about why the child has received a given grade. Additionally, the tool is used by the teachers for posting homework assignments, which enhances the opportunities for students to complete their work.

Another technological tool used to improve communication with parents and guardians of RCMS students is the phone messenger system.

"It's been used for years for attendance. A parent can call in and leave a message (that) their child is going to miss school or a particular class," Larby said. "Now we turn it on in the afternoon to send messages home. For instance, with the achievement tests coming up, the message will be to make sure the students are well rested, have a good breakfast and are test-ready. Parents really like it."

Soon the school also will send a newsletter to parents and interested residents.

RCMS also provides opportunities for students to improve. It has continued the Character Counts program to promote fairness, responsibility and citizenship.

There also is the "Maverick" program, which offers opportunities for students to earn points for good grades and good behavior, attendance and community

service. Larby said the youngsters are grouped through their academic assignments and compete not only as individuals, but as teams. He said the team with the most points at the end of the year will be rewarded with a day at Golfland Sun Splash in Mesa.

A community service project many of the students, teachers and volunteers have become involved in this past year has been the beautification of the RCMS grounds.

"They have done so much and more is coming," Larby said.

The school's student council has contributed $4,000 to develop the grounds between the seventh- and eighth-grade buildings.

Larby said the projects include improving walkways, xeriscaping and more.

"We want the school to look sharp and (the students to) exhibit pride in the school and community," Larby said.

Tutoring, regular make-up classes and a new alternative school are additional tools being used at RCMS to improve achievement opportunities for students.

"Failure is not acceptable," Larby said. "If a student fails a core class (language arts, math, science or social studies), they can do make-up classes after school or during the two-week breaks."

The school also has opened its computer lab and library from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to give students extra access and they also are available for parents to use.

The alternative school is something that was being planned last year, and in February 2004, it became a reality.

"It's for students, both middle school and high school, who might otherwise face long-term suspension because of behavior issues," he said. Currently, 13 students are in the alternative school.

There also is a mechanism in place to intervene before behavior problems become critical, he said. Working with the Rim Guidance Center, students have access to a two-week course in developing alternatives to bullying and harassment.

Another tool in place to further the success for students is technology.

"We're the only school with wireless technology in the district," Larby said. This enables the teaching staff to expand the resources they have available for the students and provides more flexibility.

Technological advances will continue to come to RCMS. Currently a group of four teachers and an administrator are utilizing a Maricopa Gila Technology Grant to learn to teach in new ways with changing equipment.

Outside the classroom, RCMS has excelled in sports with its seventh-grade boys and girls basketball teams going undefeated in league play this year, Larby said. Additionally several middle school wrestlers have done quite well.

Fine arts also are flourishing at the school, Larby said. Students have access to both chorus and band, and -- for next year -- musical theater.

There are 630 students enrolled at RCMS, with 33 teachers, two administrators, four student services specialists, four clerical staff and numerous special education assistants.

Larby said one of the first questions he is asked about the coming year and the planned change from a middle school to a junior high, is if the name will be changed.

"It will still be Rim Country Middle School," he said.

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