Troy Howard Middle School has been getting lots of attention on the state and national level these days, and Principal Kim Buckheit credits the school's staff and students for their continued hard work and their willingness to share what they know with others.

The latest honor for the Belfast middle school puts the district in the national spotlight, as last month the administration announced the school's selection as a 2014 MetLife Foundation National Association of Secondary School Principals Breakthrough School.

The honor comes with a $5,000 grant from the MetLife Foundation, which Buckheit said would go toward covering the cost of basic supplies the school was unable to purchase due to budget cuts.

"We'll go on a shopping trip, and when the teachers come back after the new year they'll have fresh markers, pencils and colored pencils," said Buckheit.

In addition to the monetary award, the staff and students will be recognized with an article in the May 2014 edition of Principal Leadership Magazine that will cover a typical school day, with interactions between students, teachers and administrators. The article will also highlight the programs and activities that make them the most proud, according to the press release on the award issued Nov. 19.

As part of the honor, Buckheit has been invited to attend the NASSP annual conference in Dallas, Texas in February 2014, a trip she says she's looking forward to for many reasons.

For Buckheit, these kinds of trips not only give her the opportunity to network with other school principals from across the country, but also the chance to initiate positive change in the way the state and federal governments approach public education.

Buckheit got a taste of what that experience was like last June, when she visited Washington D.C. as part of her selection as the 2013 Maine Principals' Association middle-level principal of the year. While there, she met with members of the NASSP, as well as Maine's national representatives including Sen. Susan Collins, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree.

"It gave us the chance to talk about the state of affairs in education in Maine, in Belfast," said Buckheit.

Buckheit said bending the ears of our national representatives on topics such as the need for education reform and funding allocations for public schools is the first step to making a good education attainable for all children.

While in the nation's capital Buckheit said she learned about the MetLife NASSP Breakthrough School award, and that she had to move fast if THMS was to be considered for the 2014 honor. Buckheit learned of the call for selection applications on a Tuesday, and the applications were due on the Friday of the same week.

"I flew home Thursday night, put all the information together and faxed it in," she said.

In September, the MetLife Foundation notified Buckheit that her school had been chosen as a finalist. After that, the school hosted a site visit, during which two representatives of the foundation visited the school for a day, met with staff members and spoke with students.

One thing Buckheit said the school staff wanted to highlight most during the October site visit was the use of three different academies, in which seventh- and eighth-graders are placed based on their learning styles. According to the academy descriptions posted on the THMS website, students are working in one of three academies: the innovation academy takes a hands-on approach for students who thrive in that way; the international academy links students' classroom studies to what is happening on a worldwide level; the ecology academy offers students experience-based learning with lessons about ecological sustainability woven into the mix.

"They really got to see how our academy system works, in terms of youngers and olders working together," said Buckheit of the site visit.

In addition to the school visit, Buckheit said the MetLife representatives were also treated to a field hockey game and a lobster dinner at Swan Lake, during which time THMS staff talked more in-depth about their work.

"We really tried to give them the whole Maine experience," said Buckheit.

Three weeks later, Buckheit said, the effort paid off.

"That's when we got the official notice that we won," she said.

THMS is one of 10 schools to take the honor across the nation, and the only school in New England to earn the recognition.

Aside from the $5,000 grant, Buckheit said these recent honors for THMS has helped get the word out about the way the staff there approaches education, and in turn, has afforded the school a new way to generate revenue.

"Schools all over the state pay to come spend time here and learn with us," said Buckheit.

Last year, THMS staff hosted a group of educators from an Ohio middle school, and with this latest honor, Buckheit hopes to attract more schools out-of-state. Buckheit said the school has generated about $40,000 in income by doing so, an amount she said is significant in this era of tight school budgets and dwindling state and federal education dollars. Much of that money, she said, has been spent on books and other materials to promote literacy.

Having others come and offer the staff positive feedback on the work they've been doing at THMS, said Buckheit, has been a great boost for the school, too.

"Those are always great things for our teachers to hear," she said.

It has also been nice for Buckheit to hear similar feedback from her fellow principals from other states.

"I'll have a principal from Arizona, or a principal from South Dakota, quizzing me on the things we're doing here," she said. "We're really at a point in time in our cycle as a school when we can impact kids all over the country."