BUFFALO, NY ( WKBW / BUSINESS FIRST ) This is a rare year for Business First's rankings of Western New York's middle schools: The previous winner still holds first place.
Transit Middle School of Williamsville remains No. 1 in the academic standings, scoring the category's first repeat victory since 2006. The top spot had rotated from Buffalo's City Honors School to Williamsville's Casey Middle School to Transit in the intervening years.
This marks the fifth time that Transit has occupied first place since Business First began ranking middle schools in 2002.
"We have a great population of kids. They work hard," says Jill Pellis, Transit's principal. "Their parents value education. They believe in us. And our teachers, well, we just hire the best and get out of their way."
Business First analyzed the academic records of 212 middle schools throughout the eight-county region. Ratings were based on four years of test scores compiled by the New York State Education Department.
Full details will be available in Business First's 2010-2011 Guide to Western New York Schools, which hits newsstands on Friday. Highlights are also available at the newspaper's website: buffalo.bizjournals.com.
This year's runner-up is Christ the King School, a private school with students from kindergarten through eighth grade. It's located within the Amherst district.
Kathleen Swiantek, the school's assistant principal, says there's a definite advantage in working with the same students from age 5 through their middle school years.
"There's good communication between the teachers as students go from year to year through the building," she says. "Familiarity makes it easier to assess abilities. We know if a student can handle advanced work or needs remedial help."
Middle schools typically encompass sixth through eighth grades, though some begin with fifth grade. A few public schools and most private schools, including Christ the King, run from kindergarten through eighth grade. They consequently are rated twice by Business First -- once as a middle school and again as an elementary school.
Third through fifth places, respectively, in this year's middle school standings belong to City Honors, Casey and St. Christopher's School of Sweet Home.
Transit is No. 1 because of its consistent strength in mathematics and English:
• It was one of three Western New York middle schools where more than 60 percent of last year's eighth graders earned superior scores on the statewide math test.
• It was among the 18 schools where at least 13 percent of last year's eighth graders received superior grades on the statewide English test.
• It was the only school to belong to both of the two groups above.
Transit ranks first among the region's middle schools in mathematics, based on Business First's analysis of four years of test scores in that field. Pellis gives credit to her math department for taking an enthusiastic approach toward the subject.
"Our math teachers think about math. They love math," she says. "They work closely to identify the areas where our students need more help, and then they address them."
Transit ranks fourth in English, as determined by Business First's study of test scores in that subject from 2006 to 2009. City Honors is the regional leader in English.
Erie County dominates the overall academic rankings. The top-rated middle school beyond Erie's borders is No. 13 St. John Lutheran School, which is located within the Niagara-Wheatfield district in Niagara County.
St. John is prospering despite the difficult economic times. It has 135 students from kindergarten through eighth grade, up from 95 three years ago. The school completed a construction project last November, adding two classrooms and a library/computer room.
"It was a mess for awhile," says Herbert Meissner, St. John's principal. "We even held classes in our gym and the sanctuary of our church. But that's behind us now. We're moving forward. We could probably handle even more students."
Thirty middle schools have qualified for this year's subject awards, indicating that they fit in the top 10 percent regionally in English or math, based on four years of test results.
Fourteen schools are especially strong in both fields, earning a subject award in each. Among these double winners are Transit, Christ the King, City Honors and the eight schools immediately behind them in the overall standings.
Also sweeping a pair of subject awards is Alden Middle School, which ranks 17th overall. Principal Adam Stoltman attributes his school's success to his faculty's sense of teamwork.
"Students have a common set of teachers, and those teams of teachers meet daily," he says. "They brainstorm ideas and discuss what they'll be teaching next. So the science teacher, for example, might reinforce what's being taught in history. It pays off."
Business First does not rank private middle schools that opt out of the state testing program, since there is no objective way to rank them. Among the prominent schools that are not rated are Elmwood Franklin School, Nichols School and Park School of Buffalo.
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TOP 100 MIDDLE SCHOOLS IN BUSINESS FIRST'S RANKINGS
(EACH SCHOOL IS FOLLOWED BY THE DISTRICT IN WHICH IT'S LOCATED; SEE BOTTOM OF PAGE FOR ABBREVIATIONS)
1. Transit MS (Williamsville)
2. Christ the King School (Amherst)
3. City Honors School (Buffalo)
4. Casey MS (Williamsville)
5. St. Christopher's School (Sweet Home)
6. Amherst MS (Amherst)
7. Heim MS (Williamsville)
8. Mill MS (Williamsville)
9. St. Gregory the Great School (Williamsville)
10. St. Mark's School (Buffalo)
11. Immaculate Conception School (East Aurora)
12. St. Mary's School (Williamsville)
13. St. John Lutheran School (Niagara-Wheatfield)
14. Christian Central Academy (Williamsville)
15. Kadimah School of Buffalo (Amherst)
16. St. Leo the Great School (Sweet Home)
17. Alden MS (Alden)
18. Clarence MS (Clarence)
19. Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary School (Clarence)
20. St. Peter & Paul School (Hamburg)
21. East Aurora MS (East Aurora)
22. Nardin Academy ES (Buffalo)
23. St. Peter & Paul School (Williamsville)
24. Nativity of Our Lord School (Orchard Park)
25. St. Andrew's Country Day School (Kenmore-Tonawanda)
26. Stella Niagara Education Park (Lewiston-Porter)
27. Orchard Park MS (Orchard Park)
28. Wyoming Central School (Wyoming)
29. St. John the Baptist School (Kenmore-Tonawanda)
30. Iroquois MS (Iroquois)
31. Akron MS (Akron)
32. St. John Vianney School (Orchard Park)
33. Chautauqua Lake Secondary School (Chautauqua Lake)
34. Catholic Academy of the Holy Family (Jamestown)
35. Alfred-Almond JSHS (Alfred-Almond)
36. Immaculate Conception School (Wellsville)
37. Veronica E. Connor MS (Grand Island)
38. Lancaster MS (Lancaster)
39. West MS (West Seneca)
40. Hamburg MS (Hamburg)
41. Maple Grove JSHS (Bemus Point)
42. St. Bernadette School (Orchard Park)
43. East MS (West Seneca)
44. Holland MS (Holland)
45. Queen of Heaven School (West Seneca)
46. DeSales Catholic ES (Lockport)
47. Frontier MS (Frontier)
48. Holy Ghost Lutheran School (Niagara-Wheatfield)
49. St. Stephen School (Grand Island)
50. Herbert Hoover MS (Kenmore-Tonawanda)
51. Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary School (Iroquois)
52. Sweet Home MS (Sweet Home)
53. Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School (West Seneca)
54. Lewiston-Porter MS (Lewiston-Porter)
55. St. Francis of Assisi School (Tonawanda)
56. Lake Shore Central MS (Evans-Brant)
57. West Valley Central School (West Valley)
58. Kenmore MS (Kenmore-Tonawanda)
59. Barker MS (Barker)
60. North Collins JSHS (North Collins)
61. Clymer Central School (Clymer)
62. Starpoint MS (Starpoint)
63. St. Dominic Savio MS (Niagara Falls)
64. Tapestry CS (Buffalo)
65. St. Aloysius Regional School (Springville-Griffith Institute)
66. Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament School (Lancaster)
67. Tonawanda MS (Tonawanda)
68. Newfane MS (Newfane)
69. St. Amelia School (Kenmore-Tonawanda)
70. St. Mary's of the Lake School (Frontier)
71. Southwestern MS (Southwestern)
72. St. Benedict's School (Amherst)
73. St. Peter School (Lewiston-Porter)
74. St. Joseph School (Batavia)
75. St. Matthew Lutheran School (North Tonawanda)
76. St. Peter's Lutheran School (Niagara-Wheatfield)
77. Griffith Institute MS (Springville-Griffith Institute)
78. Cleveland Hill MS (Cleveland Hill)
79. Letchworth MS (Letchworth)
80. Maryvale MS (Cheektowaga-Maryvale)
81. Royalton-Hartland MS (Royalton-Hartland)
82. Sherman HS (Sherman)
83. Edward Town MS (Niagara-Wheatfield)
84. Whitesville Central School (Whitesville)
85. Depew MS (Depew)
86. Fourteen Holy Helpers School (West Seneca)
87. St. Vincent DePaul School (Iroquois)
88. Wilson HS (Wilson)
89. Southern Tier Catholic School (Olean)
90. Ben Franklin MS (Kenmore-Tonawanda)
91. Our Lady of Pompeii School (Lancaster)
92. P.S. 56 Frederick Law Olmsted (Buffalo)
93. North Tonawanda Catholic School (North Tonawanda)
94. Pembroke JSHS (Pembroke)
95. Eden JSHS (Eden)
96. St. Paul's School (Kenmore-Tonawanda)
97. Allegany-Limestone MS (Allegany-Limestone)
98. Pine Valley Central JSHS (Pine Valley)
99. St. Mary's ES (Lancaster)
100. Holy Family School (LeRoy)
ABBREVIATIONS: CS-Charter School, EMS-Elementary-Middle School, ES-Elementary School, HS-High School, IS-Intermediate School, JHS-Junior High School, JSHS-Junior-Senior High School, MHS-Middle-High School, MS-Middle School, PS-Primary School, SHS-Senior High School, VHS-Vocational High School.