BUFFALO, N.Y. ( Business First ) There wasn't much that Daniel Walh could say when he heard the news last June.
Walh, a midyear arrival as the new principal of Williamsville¹s Transit Middle School, was informed that Transit had been named Western New York's No. 1 middle school for 2011.
"I'm blessed to walk into such a great situation," he said at the time, but there was little he could add. He had been on the job for less than half a year.
It's different in 2012. Transit is once again the top-rated middle school in Business First's annual academic rankings -- its fourth straight year in first place -- and Walh now has a thorough grasp of its operations.
"I've really gotten to know the staff and community since then," he says. "We have a really focused staff, a high level of collaboration and drive on the part of our teachers. We all take great pride in the high standards that we maintain."
This is the seventh time that Transit has held first place since the middle school rankings were launched in 2002. The Williamsville school was No. 1 in 2003, 2005 and 2006 before beginning its current four-year streak in 2009.
Full details will be available in Business First's 2012-2013 Guide to Western New York Schools, which hits newsstands on Friday. Highlights are also available right now at the newspaper's website: http://www.bizjournals.com/buffalo.
Transit remains on top because of its consistent strength in math and English:
-- It's Western New York's best middle school in math, based on Business First's analysis of standardized test scores from 2008 to 2011, and it is third-best in English. (City Honors School of Buffalo is No. 1 in the latter subject.)
-- Transit is the only school in the eight-county region where more than 50 percent of seventh graders and eighth graders earned superior scores on their statewide math tests in 2011. (Superior is defined as a Level 4 score on any middle school test.)
-- It's also the only school where more than 10 percent of all students in seventh and eighth grades received superior marks on last year's statewide English tests.
Business First analyzed the academic records of 211 middle schools throughout Western New York. (Middle schools typically encompass sixth through eighth grades, though some begin with fifth grade.)
Ratings were based on four years of test scores compiled by the New York State Education Department.
This year's runner-up is City Honors School, which occupied the same position in 2011. It ranked third in 2010 and fourth in 2009.
City Honors, which extends from fifth through 12th grade, is both a middle school and a high school. Its students are confronted with an accelerated curriculum. Fifth graders, for example, are expected to work at a sixth grade level.
"It's probably the thing that our new families find most intimidating," says William Kresse, the principal of City Honors. "But our teachers are very experienced in taking new students and getting them up to speed. It can take a lot of personal attention, but we make sure they receive it."
Third through fifth places in this year's middle school standings belong to Casey Middle School, St. Peter School and St. Gregory the Great School. Casey and St. Gregory are both in Williamsville.
St. Peter, a Catholic school in the Lewiston-Porter district, has two special distinctions. It ranks first among all private middle schools, as
well as all middle schools outside of Erie County.
Enrollment at St. Peter is small, with 130 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, an average of less than 15 per grade level.
"Our small size can be a great benefit," says Denis Coakley, the principal at St. Peter. "Our teachers take great advantage of the opportunity to give individualized instruction, not only during the day, but before and after class when needed."
Thirty-five middle schools have qualified for this year¹s subject awards, indicating that they fit in the top 10 percent regionally in English or math, based on four years of test results.
Nine schools are especially strong in both fields, earning a subject award in each. Among these double winners are seven of the top 10 schools in the overall standings: Transit, City Honors, Casey, St. Gregory the Great, St. Mark's, St. Christopher¹s and Mill.
Also sweeping a pair of subject awards is East Aurora Middle School, which ranks 14th overall.
"I attribute it to our teachers and our kids," says Mark Mambretti, East Aurora's principal. "This is a crew that has risen to the challenge of doing more with less. There's a lot of buy-in and ownership here, a lot of pride in this school."
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. City Honors School (Buffalo)
3. Casey MS (Williamsville)
4. St. Peter School (Lewiston-Porter)
5. St. Gregory the Great School (Williamsville)
6. St. Mark's School (Buffalo)
7. Heim MS (Williamsville)
8. St. Christopher's School (Sweet Home)
9. Kadimah School of Buffalo (Amherst)
10. Mill MS (Williamsville)
11. Christ the King School (Amherst)
12. Amherst MS (Amherst)
13. Stella Niagara Education Park (Lewiston-Porter)
14. East Aurora MS (East Aurora)
15. St. John Vianney School (Orchard Park)
16. Christian Central Academy (Williamsville)
17. St. John the Baptist School (Alden)
18. Clarence MS (Clarence)
19. Nardin Academy ES (Buffalo)
20. St. John the Baptist School (Kenmore-Tonawanda)
21. Queen of Heaven School (West Seneca)
22. Orchard Park MS (Orchard Park)
23. St. Mary's School (Williamsville)
24. St. John Lutheran School (Niagara-Wheatfield)
25. St. Mary's of the Lake School (Frontier)
26. Holland MS (Holland)
27. Alden MS (Alden)
28. St. Mary's ES (Lancaster)
29. Veronica E. Connor MS (Grand Island)
30. Iroquois MS (Iroquois)
31. St. Leo the Great School (Sweet Home)
32. St. Stephen School (Grand Island)
33. Frontier MS (Frontier)
34. Immaculate Conception School (East Aurora)
35. Chautauqua Lake Secondary School (Chautauqua Lake)
36. East MS (West Seneca)
37. Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament School (Lancaster)
38. St. Peter & Paul School (Hamburg)
39. St. Aloysius Regional School (Springville-Griffith Institute)
40. St. Joseph School (Batavia)
41. Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary School (Clarence)
42. Holy Ghost Lutheran School (Niagara-Wheatfield)
43. St. Peter & Paul School (Williamsville)
44. Hamburg MS (Hamburg)
45. Southern Tier Catholic School (Olean)
46. DeSales Catholic ES (Lockport)
47. St. Francis of Assisi School (Tonawanda)
48. Maple Grove JSHS (Bemus Point)
49. Lancaster MS (Lancaster)
50. Southwestern MS (Southwestern)
51. Our Lady of Pompeii School (Lancaster)
52. Catholic Academy of the Holy Family (Jamestown)
53. Wyoming Central School (Wyoming)
54. Akron MS (Akron)
55. Lewiston-Porter MS (Lewiston-Porter)
56. Alfred-Almond JSHS (Alfred-Almond)
57. Starpoint MS (Starpoint)
58. Griffith Institute MS (Springville-Griffith Institute)
59. St. Benedict's School (Amherst)
60. Barker MHS (Barker)
61. Immaculate Conception School (Wellsville)
62. West MS (West Seneca)
63. Tonawanda MHS (Tonawanda)
64. St. Amelia School (Kenmore-Tonawanda)
65. Cuba-Rushford MS (Cuba-Rushford)
66. Lake Shore Central MS (Evans-Brant)
67. Our Lady of Victory School (Lackawanna)
68. Sherman MHS (Sherman)
69. Edward Town MS (Niagara-Wheatfield)
70. St. Bernadette School (Orchard Park)
71. Kenmore MS (Kenmore-Tonawanda)
72. Newfane MS (Newfane)
73. St. Dominic Savio MS (Niagara Falls)
74. Herbert Hoover MS (Kenmore-Tonawanda)
75. Pembroke JSHS (Pembroke)
76. Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary School (Iroquois)
77. St. Andrew's Country Day School (Kenmore-Tonawanda)
78. Ellicottville MHS (Ellicottville)
79. Nativity of Our Lord School (Orchard Park)
80. Fillmore Central School (Fillmore)
81. North Collins JSHS (North Collins)
82. Clymer Central School (Clymer)
83. Cleveland Hill MS (Cleveland Hill)
84. L.A. Webber MHS (Lyndonville)
85. Carl I. Bergerson MS (Albion)
86. Sweet Home MS (Sweet Home)
87. Holy Family School (LeRoy)
88. Southtowns Catholic School (Frontier)
89. Fourteen Holy Helpers School (West Seneca)
90. Pine Valley Central JSHS (Pine Valley)
91. Westfield MS (Westfield)
92. Depew MS (Depew)
93. Byron-Bergen MS (Byron-Bergen)
94. Allegany-Limestone MS (Allegany-Limestone)
95. Maryvale MS (Cheektowaga-Maryvale)
96. Elba JSHS (Elba)
97. West Valley Central School (West Valley)
98. Alexander MHS (Alexander)
99. Oakfield-Alabama MHS (Oakfield-Alabama)
100. Whitesville Central School (Whitesville)
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