Randolph Middle School is School to Watch New Jersey 2019

Randolph Middle School is School to Watch New Jersey 2019
Image source: Randolph Reporter. Celebrating Randolph Middle School’s designation as a 2019 School to Watch are, from left, Randolph Board of Education Vice President Joseph Faranetta and President Ron Conti, Principal Dennis Copeland, and Schools Superintendent Jennifer Fano.


In March 2019, Randolph Middle School was recognized as a School to Watch by New Jersey Schools to Watch. Randolph Middle School is the tenth school in the state to receive this award and the only school in New Jersey recognized this year. We were excited to have the opportunity to connect with and congratulate Dennis Copeland, principal of Randolph Middle School.

New Jersey Schools to Watch, which began in 2007, rercognizes excellence in middle level education. High-performing schools maximize student growth, support learning for all students, and prepare students for success in high school, college, and careers. Their program’s key areas to watch relate to strong academics, respect for student needs and interests, equal access to high-quality education, and support for school improvement.

Thank you, Dennis, for taking the time to answer these questions. Congratulations as you continue your mission and motto of “Better School, Better World.”

RC: Your school motto is “Better School, Better World.” Tell me the story behind what made you want to become an educator and how does that now tie into your school goals and the mission you live by every day.

DC: In high school and college I never intended to become an educator. I was a finance and economics major with the goal of becoming a lawyer. My path to the field of education was the result of an elective during my senior year of college. I chose to take an education course, which required one hour per week of student teaching at an inner-city high school. The one hour became four to five hours of volunteer tutoring. That experience exposed me to the challenges and variety of needs that students come to school with each day. That experience taught me that school is much more than academics, it is about “educating the whole child.” The mission of Randolph Middle School is Educate the Whole Child.

RC: Having been an early adopter of Responsive Classroom for Middle School and bringing it into your school, what are the positive impacts you have seen on your teachers since they have taken the training?

DC: The positive impacts of Responsive Classroom include the following:

First, Responsive Classroom provided a framework for integrating SEL skills into the life of the school. This includes curricular lessons, co-curricular activities, and extra-curricular clubs. Specifically, the five RC practices—Classroom Organization, Small Group Learning, Active Teaching, Student Practice, and Investing Students in Rules—have been foundational blocks which influence our master schedule, our teacher observation and evaluation process, and how the adults and students interact amongst and with each other.

Second, as a result of our six-year commitment to Responsive Classroom, our teachers have had the opportunity to observe and receive feedback about students they had in prior years. The teachers hear about the activities and experiences students enjoyed. Those activities are primarily rooted in RC practices.

RC: As mentioned online, Schools to Watch are recognized for their best practices and continued journey toward excellence. What do you see as your primary focus going forward that supports this path?

DC: Schools to Watch recognized Randolph Middle School’s best practices in four areas: Academic Excellence, Developmental Responsiveness, Social Equity, and Organizational Structures and Processes. Their comprehensive evaluation of our programs and services was a validation of the multi-year work with RC practices and building a community of respect and active learning.

Our primary focus centers on teaching students the value of service learning through a think local, act global mindset. Our teachers and administrators are constantly seeking opportunities for students to learn through doing, creating, and giving.

RC: Lastly, please describe how using the Responsive Classroom approach has directly affected the lives of the children at Randolph Middle School. What stands out for you as a time you knew the approach was working?

DC: The RC approach was introduced in the 2014-15 school year. This was my second year as principal of the RMS. The goal of introducing RC was specifically to create a school community that understands and values the healthy balance between academics and social-emotional learning (A + SEL). The targeted approach on SEL has resulted in changes in teacher practice with a greater emphasis on teacher language, expanded course offerings such as Mindfulness, and the development of schoolwide expectations (see below) that focus on desired behaviors acceptable for RMS and life after middle school.

RMS Student Expectations
(Developed Winter/Spring 2019 by students, parents, teachers, and administration)

Be Respectful to Yourself, Others, and Learning Environment
• Treat others the way you want to be treated (Golden Rule)
• Be mindful of what you say and do
• Take care of personal property and school environment
• Take pride in yourself and all you do
• Socialize at the right time

Be Inclusive and Accepting
• Accept and promote differences
• Demonstrate collaboration and teamwork
• Show empathy
• Show compassion
• Speak positively of others

Be Accountable and Show Integrity
• Be on time and prepared for class
• Make good choices inside and outside of the classroom
• Persevere and work to full potential
• Take chances – learn from mistakes
• Be an active listener and participant

“Members of the RMS community help and support each other.”