BY ANDREAS YILMA
PROSPECT — Long River Middle School has, for the second time, been designated a New England League of Middle School Spotlight School.
Officials were notified at the end of June that the Region 16 middle school, which serves Beacon Falls and Prospect, was named a spotlight school for the 2023-24 academic year.
The school earned the same honor in December 2018, Long River Middle School principal Derek Muharem said.
The school was one of 12 in the state and one of 28 in the region to get the honor.
“I think it’s a testament of the work that we do here, the staff, the students, the parents, the community,” Muharem said. “I’m very proud of the work that we’re doing here. I’m excited about us moving forward this year and continue to do great work.”
Region 16 Superintendent Michael Yamin echoed those sentiments.
“It demonstrates Derek and the leadership team has really moved that middle school forward and something that’s reflective that Region 16 is a top academically performing district,” Yamin said.
Muharem said two New England League of Middle Schools officials came to the school earlier this school year for a full day. They met with school administration, parents, students and pupil services before they gave an evaluation.
“They have criteria,” Muharem said. “It’s a comprehensive look in terms of what a school demonstrates, not just from an instructional standpoint but certainly extracurricular activities, opportunities for kids, clubs and so forth.”
NELMS expects a school to maintain this high honor for three years after receiving the distinction.
As soon as Long River Middle School was eligible, they earned another spotlight school status.
Once a school is distinguished, they are expected to continue to model those pillars and present at the Northeast Regional conference in Springfield, Mass., Muharem said.
Muharem, who is going into his eighth year as the school’s principal, said he attributes the success of the school to the towns of Beacon Falls and Prospect who both have great pride in their children as well as the school’s top notch teachers.
“I think that they (teachers) work tirelessly to provide great opportunities for our kids, not only in the classroom but beyond,” Muharem said. “We have teachers who coach. We have teachers here who are advisers to clubs and other activities after school. So it gives our kids an extension of the day to really kind of do other things that really mold them into really good people.”
Muharem said the noncertified staff including the secretary and custodial staff is exceptional.
“These guys (custodial staff) are incredible. One of the things about being a NELMS spotlight school, you got to have a safe, clean environment. You walk the halls of this building, it is a safe place to be, it is clean, it is bright, it’s a vibrant place to be and I think that right away sets the tone for our kids to want to be here,” Muharem said.
“Our attendance rate is just below 100% every day. Kids want to come to school here. Kids don’t miss school, they want to be here. They do well. Parents are supportive, they come in.”
Muharem said one thing people should know is that it’s a fun place to be. He gets excited to come to school and there isn’t a big turnover in staff as current teachers are here for the long haul and enjoy being here.
“The relationships that our staff makes with our kids are amazing,” Muharem said. “One of the things that we really pride in our self on was student connectedness and making sure that every kid has an adult that they can go to. In recent surveys that we’ve had that kids alluded to the fact that, yes, they have an adult that they trust and they can talk to.”
There are about 430 students for the upcoming academic year in the fall with about 80 total certified and non-certified staff members.