Ecker Hill Middle School has received the Schools to Watch designation under a national program designed to reform middle-grades learning through academics, whole child development and social equity. There are fewer than 500 middle schools nationally that have qualified for the designation. Ecker Hill first received it in 2013 and recently learned they’ve been named again after going through the recertification process.
The designation process involves meeting academic and developmental criteria. The certification is available for schools teaching grades six through eight. Ecker Hill interim Principal, Sam Salinas says students in this age group need personalized attention and support. He says it’s critical that kids at this age learn that they can bounce back from disappointment or failure.
“Well, right now with our standards-based-grading, you know with the idea of, hey, you know I didn't get it right the first time. But you know what, I can make these changes that I can get it done, right? And I can show success and I can show learning, right? That's one piece. You know we have a whole group of teachers that work on the power of. You know, I don’t know it yet. You know, just keeping open that door that it’s OK to fail. That's fine. That’s how we move forward.”
School wide social equity practices are required to receive the Schools to Watch designation. Kids whose parents work two or three jobs and are English language learners have a different foundation from many other families in the Park City school district.
“We are specifically working with our students that might not have all the advantages that other students have. So, we work really, really hard on creating spaces for our English language learners, for our students with disabilities. We look into models that are push in rather than pull out and not pull them away because we want to make sure that they get the full part of our education.”
Salinas says most Ecker Hill teachers are ESL endorsed and they’re given time to work individually with students. He says the learning and grading system allows teachers to teach and evaluate students more equitably.
“You know, not every learner is the same. So, we have to meet the student where they’re at so that they can get the knowledge that we want them to possess. It's been a definite journey. But we have some really awesome teachers that just love our students and bend over backwards to try and make sure that learning happens.”
Closing the achievement gap is always on Salinas’ mind. Salinas speaks Spanish and conducts regular parent meetings. He believes connecting with families is part of the solution.
“The achievement gap that we know exists. We’ve had many projects, ideas. We've been moving forward and that, but we noted that that the gap is still there, and I don't think it ever necessarily goes away but we need to whittle away at it.”
Salinas says the process to maintain the designation, which is every three years, is rigorous and the staff and students must not be complacent.
The school will celebrate the Schools to Watch designation with a special assembly on May 17 for all students and faculty.