Leading a Model School: How One Middle School Principal Defined Success and Then Built the Infrastructure, Community, and Staff to Sustain High Performance

Leading A Model School How One Middle School Principal Defined Success Thumb

Wondering what makes successful schools and districts tick? In this new series, "Leading a Model School," we ask principals and superintendents from across the country to share the secrets behind the recent gains and successes in their schools and districts. Read about the inspiring path to success at Port Clinton Middle School.

You cannot achieve success until you define it. Success at Port Clinton Middle School is defined as: Meeting the individual needs of every student and helping every student achieve more than he or she ever thought possible.

The 540 days of middle school are awkward, challenging, exciting, and scary. Each spring, I meet with the parents of our incoming 6th graders and I use the phrase “We have 540 days to turn your 5th grader into a freshman, are you with me?”

At Port Clinton Middle School we are blessed to have 6th, 7th and 8th graders fill our building with wonder, excitement, curiosity and enthusiasm. Each one of those grade levels has unique needs and the students WITHIN those grade levels have individual needs they are counting on us to meet.

Our Responsive Infrastructure

We proudly boast a unique Master Schedule that genuinely supports the needs of all our students—at their specific developmental levels. We operate on trimesters (12-week grading periods). All students receive instruction in four core areas every day: Mathematics, Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies. All students also participate in two elective courses each day. Consideration for the significant differences in the developmental stages of middle school drives all of our decisions when it comes to providing the most impactful 21st-century education we can. Sixth graders experience their electives first thing in the morning, because we want them up and moving and engaged in lab-based activities to start the day. Seventh graders experience their electives in the middle of the day in order to have a “pause” from the rigorous core instruction. Eighth graders “take care of business first” and experience their electives at the end of the day.

The really exciting part of our schedule is that those core classes R-O-T-A-T-E each week. If a student is not a ‘morning person,’ he/she is not experiencing math first thing every day for the entire school year. If a student has to work through an ‘after lunch food coma’ on a regular basis, he/she is not in the same class each week following lunch. Additionally, we have had many students with significant health care needs. If a student requires a regular physician’s appointment, parents can schedule that appointment for 2:00 on Tuesdays and the child will not miss the same class every week.

Our Involved Community

We want our community to be proud of their schools. We want our community to be proud of their students. We want our community to genuinely understand our work and the purpose of our work with their children. Here’s how we make sure this happens:

Principal Tours These tours are conducted regularly. Community members can schedule a one-hour tour to witness our instruction in process. I am honored to lead these tours and allow our parents, community members, city leaders, county leaders and other stakeholders to see firsthand what ACTUALLY happens during a school day. STEM labs, American History debates, music rehearsals, literature circles, science experiments—it’s not a “show,” it is everyday life for their children.

Teacher Teams Our teachers have daily shared collaboration time. Our teacher teams are partners with our families. Our families’ needs are OUR needs, and our teachers are the BEST when it comes to creatively, compassionately and enthusiastically meeting those needs in order to help their students achieve success.

Port Clinton

Personal Responsibility A significant goal of our school is to nurture personal responsibility at every developmental phase of middle school. Whether it is personal organization or personal care, we are here to teach the WHOLE CHILD. Whether it is healthy relationships or healthy lifestyle choices, we want to effectively set our students on the right path towards success. One of our newest initiatives is our “Digital Citizenship” program. We are putting 21st-century devices into the hands of our students. We feel it is up to us to effectively educate both our parents and our students on safe, proper use of these incredibly powerful tools.

Our Dedicated Staff Our staff loves kids. That should not be unique in a school setting, but it is an element of pride in our school. I can say, irrevocably, that our staff L-O-V-E-S our kids. Our staff works hard each day—but no one ever simply ‘comes to work.’ From our most senior teacher to our newest custodian, the well-being of our students is EVERYONE’S top priority. Our staff creates instructional experiences that other schools marvel at. Our staff creates special events that other schools only dream of. We have a beautiful and amazing BUILDING—but our SCHOOL is made up of beautiful and amazing people, and it is their dedication to every student’s success that is the secret to our success.

And that success is evident in the 2016 Ohio DOE Value-Added report, which shows that all of our students have demonstrated “significant gains” under our watch.


Port Clinton Middle School has been honored as a 2017 Model School by the International Center for Leadership in Education. Principal Carrie Sanchez will be presenting at the 25th Annual Model Schools Conference in Nashville, TN, June 25–28.

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