Lee Middle School receives national ‘Lighthouse school’ honor

The faculty and staff of Lee Middle School on Jan. 5 were honored with Lee’s designation as a Lighthouse School to Watch by the National Middle School Association.  It was the only school in Georgia to receive the prestigious national designation in the 2011-2012 school year. Photo/Special.

Sharpsburg’s Lee Middle School has been recognized as the only school in Georgia for the 2011-2012 school year to be named a “Lighthouse School to Watch” by the National Middle School Association. 

Coweta County School System spokesman Den Jackson said Lighthouse Schools are considered national model middle school programs and are chosen on the basis of academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, social equity, and  highly successful  organizational structures and processes.  The designation is made by the National Middle School Association in collaboration with the National Forum to Accelerate Middle School Reform.

The Lighthouse honor comes at a time of high honors for the east Coweta middle school, Jackson said, noting that Principal Dr. Bob Heaberlin was selected as Georgia’s 2011 National Distinguished Principal from Georgia by Georgia Association of Middle School Principals (GAMSP) and Assistant Principal Dr. Cindy Bennett will represent Georgia in 2012 as the National Outstanding Assistant Principal of the Year from Georgia, also selected by GAMSP.

“Being chosen as a Lighthouse School to Watch is the highest honor you can get as a middle school in the nation.” said Heaberlin.  “It’s an honor for our whole staff, our students and our families and the total school.”

Jackson said the Georgia Lighthouse Schools to Watch program is an independent, comprehensive, and long-term middle school improvement program. Georgia began participation in the program in 2002 when the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform selected Georgia as one of the first three states to institute the Schools to Watch program.

Lighthouse schools are focused on school improvement, and they assume responsibility to be models and mentors, Jackson said. They host visitors and participate in various professional development activities and conferences in fulfilling this special outreach responsibility. Lighthouse schools are committed to their own continuous improvement and must reapply and be visited every three years to retain the designation.

The program also seeks to make all educators, parents, and citizens aware of the characteristics of high-performing middle schools and the special importance of the early adolescence years, Jackson added.

There are 288 Lighthouse Schools to Watch in 19 states according to the National Forum of Schools to Watch. Currently, there are 15 Lighthouse Schools to Watch in Georgia. Profiles of current Georgia Lighthouse Schools to Watch are available on the GMSA Web site.

The Lighthouse selection team visited Lee during early November, and was comprised of retired teachers and administrators from across the nation.
‘They were looking at our academic approach, but also our extracurricular activities, and character of the school,” said Heaberlin.  “We certainly have the academics, but we were designated ultimately because of the outstanding character of our school, the way our teachers care for each of our students, and because of the way our community and our students regard this school.”

Jackson said representatives from Lee will make a presentation as Georgia’s newest Lighthouse school in Savannah in February, and will be honored this June at the National Forum of Schools to Watch in Washington, DC. Lee Middle School will hold its own Lighthouse School to Watch celebration in the spring of 2012 after state-mandated testing.