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Monticello Middle School Wins Momentum Award
Apr. 24, 2024 --  When Monticello Middle School principal Dr. Jeff Johnston was asked how he accounts for his school winning a Momentum Award from the Ohio Department of Education, he did not hesitate: “The overwhelming reason is the hard work of our staff.”

“The commitment they have to really try and provide engaging instruction and a supportive work environment for our kids is the number one thing,” he added. 

Momentum Awards are given to schools each year who improve by more than three points on the performance index from one year to the next, while also earning a value-added progress rating of at least four stars. Both Monticello and Boulevard were recently recognized for their improvements from the 2021-22 state report card to the 2022-23 state report card.

Dr. Johnston also credits a change in how academic periods are structured. Following the return to school after Covid, Monticello staff opted to lengthen core academic periods from 42 minutes to 84 minutes, every other day. This allows for teachers to follow an instructional concept called “gradual release: I do, we do, you do.” Teachers first introduce a new concept, students and teachers work on it together, then students practice and develop proficiency to do it independently.

“Longer class times allow the staff to use the three parts of instruction more efficiently,” said Dr. Johnston, as well as providing opportunities for enrichment or intervention. The Unified Arts classes (or “specials,” such as music, art, AVID, Project Lead the Way and physical education) are all still 42 minutes long.

Monticello is no different from schools all across the country that are still feeling the educational and behavioral impacts of the long pandemic shutdowns. But “the kids are rebounding,” said Dr. Johnston. With attendance at over 90%, the building is still trying to hit its goal of 92.5%. Assistant Principal Brigette Pronty, attendance secretary Qaaron Murdoch and social worker Megan Osbourne have all tied attendance into their Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) efforts.

“We try to balance rewarding good attendance with not punishing kids for factors that are beyond their control,” said Dr. Johnston, recognizing that middle school children’s attendance is often dependent on their parents. 

Since Covid, the building has also focused on strengthening counseling and services addressing the social-emotional health of students. And Dr. Johnston and his staff recognize that it all comes down to relationships. “The biggest thing when it comes to behavior is the staff’s rapport and relationships with students. They really love the kids and want them to succeed,” he said, noting the particularly positive impact of his Dean of Student Desi Stewart. “He is fabulous and works really, really well with the kids.”

Data also plays a role in the school’s recent successes. “We’ve really embraced the district’s benchmark testing,” that provide data almost immediately, allowing teachers to adjust their strategies or address gaps in learning. “The teachers have gotten much more efficient in using data in real time,” said Dr. Johnston. 

The building has instituted a “Move One Step” goal that recognizes any student who improves even one point on their Ohio State Tests from one year to the next. “It’s not a comparison to their peers,” said Dr. Johnston, or to some standard set by the state. “But just how they do compared to themselves.” 

The staff of Monticello Middle School appreciates the statewide recognition that their efforts have received with this Momentum Award. “It’s nice to have positive news,” said their principal.