WMS Nationally Recognized as School to Watch

Wantagh Middle School Nationally Recognized as School to Watch

High academic achievement, a positive school climate and a commitment to growth are a few of the reasons why Wantagh Middle School was recently named an Essential Elements School to Watch, an initiative of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform. Following an extensive application process and a two-day site visit by experienced educators, the school was granted the prestigious designation.

Principal Anthony Ciuffo said the process began two years ago. He closely analyzed the requirements and believed that Wantagh Middle School was a perfect fit, with many of the best practices for middle-level education already in place such as teaming and block scheduling for core classes. The school’s extensive elective program, commitment to inclusivity and out-of-the-box ideas also made it a strong candidate.  

Mr. Ciuffo and then-Assistant Principal Dr. Stephanie Scolieri, now the district’s director of human resources, got the entire staff involved in the process. In a survey and committee meetings, everyone contributed their thoughts on Wantagh Middle School’s strengths and potential areas for growth. Out of that, came a new mission statement and new goals.

“It was a very rewarding process,” said Assistant Principal Rachel Quattrocchi, who joined the team in August and is helping implement this year’s goals. She added that the push to achieve these objectives is enthusiastically supported by the faculty, whose input was extremely valuable in crafting the goals. 

Superintendent John McNamara noted that Wantagh is one of only 13 middle schools on Long Island to earn the Schools to Watch designation since the program’s inception in 2006. Schools are evaluated in four areas: academic excellence, development responsiveness, organizational support and social equity. 

“This is an outstanding accomplishment, and the middle school faculty and staff should be proud of their efforts and of the supports they provide our students daily,” Mr. McNamara said. “They went through a lengthy process to receive this designation and I thank them for their dedicated efforts to reach this goal. I would also like to recognize Mr. Ciuffo, Ms. Quattrocchi and Dr. Scolieri for enthusiastically embracing this goal and for their leadership throughout the process.”

The application was to earn a site visit, so evaluators could see the programs and initiatives in action. Wantagh Middle School was granted a two-day site visit, which happened in early March by former principals of Schools to Watch-designated buildings. The distinguished visitors experienced a typical day at the school as they watched morning arrival, toured the building, visited classes, met with focus groups of students and parents, and saw afterschool activities. They also met with the administrative team to give feedback and suggestions. 

One area that Mr. Ciuffo and Ms. Quattrocchi were proud to showcase was the new recess game room. They noted that research shows that recess is important for middle school students to give them down time within a very structured day as well as for socialization. This unique initiative, they said, is one of those out-of-the-box ideas that benefits students. 

Another aspect that impressed the Schools to Watch evaluators was the caring nature of the Wantagh Middle School faculty and staff, not only about the academic success of their students, but also of their social and emotional well-being. Mr. Ciuffo said that this was one aspect that students emphasized during their focus group, a validation that these efforts do not go unnoticed. 

“It was crystal clear what we value the most – caring for students,” he said, adding that this mantra is summed up succinctly in the school’s #WarriorsCare branding. 

Wantagh Middle School will keep the Schools to Watch designation for three years, then will have to apply again. Mr. Ciuffo said that the educators will look to see that the school is working to implement suggestions for improvement from the previous site visit.

“You don’t get the award and forget about it,” Mr. Ciuffo said. “This is about continuous improvement. We will keep working to better ourselves. After the process that we just went through, we have such a good handle on what we’re good at and where we need to get better.”

Wantagh Middle School and all new Schools to Watch designees will be recognized at a national recognition ceremony in Washington, D.C. on June 22.