DMS ranked in Top 10 percent of Alabama middle schools

Taylor Hurt and Alexander Saliba working on the website for the Demopolis Middle School robotics team. DMS ranked 46th out of 458 Alabama middle schools in the 2015 Niche rankings.

Taylor Hurt and Alexander Saliba working on the website for the Demopolis Middle School robotics team. DMS ranked 46th out of 458 Alabama middle schools in the 2015 Niche rankings.

Demopolis Middle School received some positive news recently when Niche released its 2015 school rankings. Niche, an organization dedicated to rating schools and districts in order to help parents make informed educational choices for their children, rated DMS 46 out of 458 graded middle schools in the state of Alabama.

Niche uses a variety of factors in determining a school’s or district’s overall score.

“Our rankings are different, and for good reason. We believe that the quality of a school or district should be measured, at least in part, by the parents and students who actually go there. They should also be measured by hard data and across a number of key factors so that no one factor dominates a ranking. Most importantly, they should be measured by their results. The most unique thing about our rankings is that they incorporate student outcomes,” the Niche website reads. “We go to great lengths to ensure that our rankings represent a comprehensive assessment of each school or district. Each Survey Score used in each ranking represents a composite score of several different survey questions pertaining to that topic. Of the dozens of statistical factors that go into each ranking, no one factor accounts for a majority of the overall weight.”

Included among the ranking criteria are academics, safety, test data and diversity. DMS pulled its highest grade in the area of student diversity, an area in which the school received an A-plus grade.

The 2014-2015 Demopolis Middle School cheerleaders. Extracurricular activities and varied course offerings have helped to enrich the culture of DMS, which ranked 46th out of 458 Alabama middle schools according to the 2015 Niche rankings.

The 2014-2015 Demopolis Middle School cheerleaders. Extracurricular activities and varied course offerings have helped to enrich the culture of DMS, which ranked 46th out of 458 Alabama middle schools according to the 2015 Niche rankings.

Niche’s system looks at the most represented ethnicity among the 532 students in the school and considers a lower number of that ethnicity to be better. In other words, a lower percentage of the majority ethnicity in a school leaves more room for higher percentages of other ethnicities. For DMS, 49 percent of the school represented the majority ethnicity. Additionally, 56 percent of the student population is on free/reduced lunch.

Perhaps most encouraging in the diversity rankings for DMS is the A score it received in the area of Student Culture and Diversity. That measure seeks to determine a school’s overall culture based on feedback from students, parents and alumni.

That culture has been largely enhanced by the addition of numerous programs over the last two academic years.

“We have increased opportunities for our students to grow outside the four core classes. We now offer broadcasting, wildlife management, robotics, art and choral music as electives. That is outstanding for a middle school,” Demopolis Middle School principal Blaine Hathcock said. “Our clubs continue to excel and we have added civic organizations. We had a state Junior Beta president from our school who is serving this year. We started Tiger Ambassadors, which is a civic organization made up of teacher-selected students who serve as the ‘Face’ of DMS. We have added the BYOD initiative, which enables us to engage students in a variety of ways with technology.”

(Photo courtesy Glenda Bradley) Demopolis Middle School rated No. 1 out of 466 Alabama middle schools in terms of diversity according to the 2015 Niche rankings.

(Photo courtesy Glenda Bradley)
Demopolis Middle School rated No. 1 out of 466 Alabama middle schools in terms of diversity according to the 2015 Niche rankings.

Of the 466 middle schools in Alabama that Niche ranked in terms of diversity, Demopolis Middle School finished No. 1 overall.

The Niche rankings also look at the quality of middle school teachers. The school received a B-plus grade in academics. DMS teachers have an average annual salary of $50,949. The school only has a 26.7 percent teacher absenteeism rate and only 10 percent of its faculty are in the first or second year of their careers and a student-teacher ratio of 16:1.

Of the 452 Alabama middle schools Niche ranked, DMS placed 37th in the category of Best Middle School Teachers.

Hathcock gives a great deal of credit for the school’s ever-increasing success to its collection of teachers and its commitment to excellence.

“I believe our teachers have truly bought in to the thought of trying to be a great school,” Hathcock said. “Our organization seems to have a common, shared vision, which enables us to all work on the same level of expectation.”

In terms of overall academics, DMS ranked No. 72 out of 458 middle schools in Alabama. While that is certainly well above average, Hathcock underscored the need for continued improvement in that area.

DMS principal Blaine Hathcock shakes the hand of a student during Junior Beta Club inductions earlier this semester.

DMS principal Blaine Hathcock shakes the hand of a student during Junior Beta Club inductions earlier this semester.

“We need to continue to improve test scores as state standards are continually changing and moving,” Hathcock said.

In only his third year at the helm of DMS, Hathcock said DMS is focused on continuous improvement in all areas, even those that do not show up in things such as Niche rankings.

“I think we have improved in several areas but specifically we have improved the look of the school. This may not seem important but it is hard to ask teachers/students to take pride in their school if it looks bad. That aspect has improved,” Hathcock said. “We need to continue to improve our school from a physical structure standpoint. We need to continue to seek new and innovative ways to engage students in the classroom. Robotics needs to expand and grow. Our expectation needs to continuously be relayed to our students and modeled by our staff in the way instruction is delivered in the classroom.”

While the Niche rankings speak well of DMS and certainly are indicative of an upward trend, the DMS principal was adamant it also indicates there is plenty of room for growth.

“The thing that we have discussed in our faculty meetings is being the best middle school in the state. I think once our teachers got over the shock of that thought they really began to work with that goal in mind. You can’t be afraid to limit yourself as an organization and we truly want to be the best and I think our teachers work everyday knowing that is the expectation. Forty-sixth is not where we want to be it is just hopefully a step on the path to where we want to go. We will not let our circumstance determine how we work at DMS. The expectation will always be to be the best,” Hathcock said. “Just the fact that 46 is not where we want to be nor is it the expectation of our faculty or myself. We want to be the best and we cannot be afraid to tell people that or make that the expectation of this organization.”

A complete breakdown of the Niche scoring system is available on the Niche website, www.k12.niche.com/rankings/methodology.