After showing consistent improved academic performance among its students for the past five years, Surprise Lake Middle School has won the 2016 School of Distinction Award from the Center for Educational Effectiveness.
Now in its 10th year, the School of Distinction awards were created to honor the highest improving schools in Washington State and to recognize and celebrate school staff, students and leaders who improve performance of all students.
The Center for Educational Effectiveness (CEE) partners with the Association of Educational Service Districts (AESD), the Association of Washington School Principals (AWSP), Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA), Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA) and the Washington State Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (WSASCD) to recognize 94 schools in our state this year that are in the top 5 percent of improvement for their levels.
Elementary and middle schools are recognized for sustained improvement in English and math achievement, which SLMS has accomplished under the leadership of principal Jim Snider, who came on as SLMS principal five years ago.
“That’s been my tenure. I started here in 2011 so for me it’s a pretty cool deal,” he said of the award.
As the School of Distinction Award is for improvement every year in math and English over the course of five consecutive years, SLMS navigated two significant student tests in that period: the Measurement of Student Progress (MSP), which Snider said students did really well on, and the Smarter Balance Assessment (SBA), the Common Core aligned national test on which SLMS students continued to improve the results.
For SLMS, this award goes beyond high scores on tests, however. While succeeding in testing is undeniably important, there is more going on at the middle school to help bring students to new heights of excellence socially and emotionally as well. In fact, Snider said that disciplinary actions have reduced by 90 percent during his time at SLMS. How? By getting to know each and every student on a personal level or, how Snider puts it, “…being immersed in making decisions based on what’s best for kids first, no exceptions.” This, according to Snider, plays a huge role in students’ overall success in school and life.
“We focus on the social and emotional health of our kids and honestly that’s probably one of the biggest factors in this whole thing – we know our kids socially and emotionally. We track that very specifically on how much our kids grow at Surprise Lake academically and socially. We also get to know our families and we try to be embedded in the community. It’s a partnership. You have to surround the kids with supportive people around them.”
There are various ways that the school has incorporated teaching social skills into its academic curriculum, such as an advisory period called “Saber Time” where teachers run social and emotional lessons to teach students to be good citizens, how to be positive and combat negativity, how to combat stress, bullying and how to empower themselves.
“We’ve had not even a handful of suspensions for bullying in five years because we address not just the bully but the kid being bullied, showing them how to empower themselves,” Snider said. He also praised the SLMS counseling department, which works with families as well to positively influence the family dynamic.
“We have a counseling department that is second to none. It’s a real counseling department and our counselor knows dang near every kid in this school.”
The School of Distinction Award is a product of that because the students can focus on academics rather than be distracted by other things that cause their studies to suffer.
SLMS teachers are valued and supported as well. “We call our teachers ‘practitioners’ because that means they are experts in their craft and that’s what we try to attain on an instructional level as well. This is not a job – it’s a science and an art. With that culture starting six years ago, I think it’s taken off. And we’ve hired some incredible people. This is the best staff we’ve had in six years.”
This is Snider ’s 16th year working in Fife Schools. He taught at Fife High School for six years starting out then his first Dean of Students job was at SLMS in 2007 for one year. He then went to Columbia Junior High for three years as assistant principal before taking the helm as principal at SLMS. “I hope to be here for as long as I can,” he said.
Snider’s wife Julie Snider is also part of the Fife Schools family as math teacher at Fife High School. Their three daughters – ages 3, 5 and 8 – will be going through Fife Schools as well.
“You’re not going to find a better school where people care about you than this place. Every classroom has someone in it who really cares about children and changing their lives,” Snider said. “That’s our culture and it works, in my opinion. That’s why I’m bringing my kids here – it’s about relationships and taking care of each other.”