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Monday, April 23, 2018

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November 2011

Dear Rivendell Families,

Most people would say that a school is doing well if it had high test scores, a large number of students on the honor roll, high attendance, a low dropout rate, minimal disciplinary issues, etc. I would agree. Outcomes like these are important, but they are not enough.

A great school embodies qualities that most people would welcome in their homes, communities, and workplaces. In a great school, I would expect students, staff, and family members to make some or even all of the following statements about the school:

  • People treat each other like equals.
  • People are inspired, involved and caring.
  • People respect themselves and others and consider the consequences of their actions.
  • People think for themselves intelligently and express themselves with confidence.
  • People have high expectations and support one another in improving their performance.

Since the beginning of last year we have been making both programmatic changes and qualitative changes that shift people’s deeper thoughts and feelings about the culture of RA. The more we can link both types of changes, the better our school will become.

Some of the programmatic changes include building a tighter 7/8 program, moving the 7/8 students out of the downstairs hallway, changing the graduation requirements, changing the curriculum, adding classes, offering more after school options, giving 9/10 teachers common prep times, moving English/history and math/science teachers to adjacent rooms, encouraging more field trips, trying to engage the community with the school, bringing in tutors to help students who have fallen behind, hiring new teachers (eleven of us have been here less than two years), creating the parent portal, opening the computer network to students, pushing for student email, and developing a clearer set of student learning expectations.

Changes that address deeper cultural issues include the students’ initiative to move the Raptor, modifying the TIPS program based on students’ ideas, using Socratic seminars to get a better understanding of classroom dynamics, the Small Change Projects, reinvigorating student government, discussing students’ legacy statements with the entire school, establishing a professional development program that gave teachers voice and choice, working together to establish the new schedule, asking students to think about the effects of their actions when dealing with discipline issues, and asking students to make reparations for their actions.

During our professional development, we are working on programmatic changes that also support the deeper changes in the culture of the school. In grades 7-10, teachers in science and math and English and history are each creating integrated courses that connect content and skills through instruction and common projects.

We have talented teachers whose teamwork will lead them to new ideas. Integrating content asks students to think more deeply and creatively. The teamwork of teachers working collaboratively demonstrates directly an important value within our school. Examining ideas through the lenses of two disciplines will lead to more dynamic discussions, deeper thinking, and more sophisticated writing.

We are doing complex and exciting work this year. Designing the changes will lead to a year of implementation and adjustment. We will know that we have made significant progress when people commonly describe their experiences at Rivendell in some of the ways I have described.