I just got back from Westerville, Ohio, where I spent 3 days at a Board of Trustees meeting for the National Middle School Association. I've been a member of this organization for about 20 years, and a North Region Trustee for the past three. I'm hoping to be elected to one more term this spring, and that is because I have discovered it has taken me the three years to acclimate to the role of Board member, a leader at a different "level". We talk about "bird's eye view" and "worm's eye view"; I've been guilty of using the clichés, which somehow sound more "folksy" than "global view" (or "myopic view"!). It is interesting, though, for me to think a bit about what it means to be a trustee, and what that role really demands in terms of leadership. This foray into service to a professional association influences the way I look at what I do in my career, and reminds me regularly of the need to step outside my local sphere of influence into a bigger circle of leadership
As an assistant superintendent in a district where we are taking a good hard look at secondary school reform and a committed middle level supporter, it pleases me to see that new research on what it means to reform senior high schools is so firmly grounded in seminal middle level thought. The NMSA document This We Believe, which has gone through a few iterations since its initial publication over 20 years ago, focuses on key characteristics of middle school aged students (ages 10-14, typically 5-8 graders) and then goes on to discuss what DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE middle schools provide for students. If you take a close look at this document, and Turning Points (1989), the Carnegie report on middle grades education, you'll find themes that resonate throughout the National Association of Secondary School Principals more recent publications of Breaking Ranks and Breaking Ranks in the Middle, which focus on school reform. Middle school program components like an adult advocate for every student, rigorous and relevant curriculum, community involvement, service learning, smaller learning communities----all are being implemented in an effort to improve secondary schools across the nation.
I've been lucky in the placement of my time on the Board. NMSA has moved into some new initiatives, taking its original mission of work with middle school teachers and administrators to new levels of leadership. I see the objectives of NMSA falling into a few critical areas---advocacy, resources, professional development, and program assessment. A critical publication Success in the Middle: A Policymakers Guide to Achieving Quality Middle Level Education has been delivered to every U.S. Senator and Representative as well as thousands of state and local educational leaders. Work in Washington DC is calling new attention to the needs of the "kids in the middle". NMSA Board members have personally met literally hundreds of people to share the important messages of the organization. This guide (which can be downloaded from NMSA's website at www.nmsa.org) has sparked program discussions in districts across this country, Canada, and many countries internationally. NMSA has stepped up its delivery of professional development through its national conferences (over 10,000 attendees in Minneapolis in 2004, nearly 10,500 in Nashville in 2006[[heading for Houston in fall of 2007), regional workshops (see a complete schedule at the website), publications, podcasts, free powepoint presentations, and research briefs. Another new initiative offers on-site professional development as a purchased service; one of those available services, the NMSA's School Improvement Toolkit has been used by nearly 100 schools in the last 18 months to allow for an in-depth look at a school's strengths and areas needing improvement and specific direction for school improvement and staff development. Minneapolis Public Schools is one of several large urban districts that just used this significant tool as a step in revisiting their middle school programming.
While this is sounding a bit like a paid advertisement for the National Middle School, that is not my intent. I am indeed a huge fan of the middle school concept and this organization, but its relevance here is that I am reminded while serving in this role that there ARE resources for leaders, and that we do not have to reinvent EVERY wheel.
Look for resources at www.nmsa.org