Later this week, 5280‘s newest issue will hit newsstands. As happens every August, this edition features our annual schools package, a roundup of some of the issues, people, and trends that will define the coming school year. As the staffer who has handled the bulk of our education coverage for the past five years, this time I wanted to try to answer a question that’s been nagging at me for some time: What’s wrong with middle school?

It’s never been difficult to uncover local initiatives that focus on improving the scholastic prospects of elementary students, or to find stories about how high schools are preparing kids for college or the workforce. Between these two ends of the spectrum are middle schools, and anecdotally speaking, they’ve always seemed, as a group, to be left behind. In talking to sources around town, I found that most people agree that something should be done to make middle school a more vibrant and inspiring experience. It’s just that what that something is remains uncertain.

The Denver metro area does indeed have middle schools that are doing excellent work, and we highlight them in this issue. But it’s clear that middle schools still need to be elevated to the level of their high school and elementary peers. Hopefully, this year’s collection of articles can contribute to that discussion. In addition, we’ve got stories for you about new educational laws that will either be enacted or debated in the coming year; that detail how DPS is nurturing a new generation of school leaders; that ask how all the new teacher accountability measures are working so far; and that raise the question of how well charter schools—the educational trend du jour in Colorado and nationwide—are fulfilling their ambitious and unconventional missions. So give the 2012 schools issue a read and let us know how we, along with our students and educators, can always do better.

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