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Monday, April 23, 2018

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News From Keri Gelenian

November/December 2013

Dear Rivendell Families,

It continues to be a busy and engaging year at the Academy. The 28 students visiting from Saverne, France arrived on October 15th. The host parents and Ms. Keefer deserve applause for all the work that they put into this very special Rivendell program. Our exchange program benefits greatly from Ms. Keefer's commitment to building long-term relationships between the kids, families, and teachers. In less than two years, the students spend approximately four weeks with each other. Ms. Rizos is busy with fundraising for the spring trip to Peru. She was recently awarded a large staff-development scholarship from Dartmouth which she intends to use to do a preliminary visit to Peru over the February break. The international experiences of the Academy faculty add a unique and important dimension to our school.

Our soccer and cross-country athletes had great seasons. Both boys and girls teams were competitive through the quarter and semi-finals. Liam Fleming placed 8th in Division III. Rivendell also had five students on Oxbow football teams. The Athletic Leadership Council ran a successful Red Cross Blood Drive in October. A big thanks to our coaches, parents,and Athletic Director, Bob Thatcher, for keeping everything running smoothly during the fall sports season.

Student government officers, Josh Marshal and Megan Perkins, presented a plan to address the Thursday lunch-time traffic jam caused by a combined all-school lunch. By working with Mr. Galli and talking to teachers, they presented a very slight change to the faculty that extends the lunch by shaving two minutes off several blocks. Their plan was simple, well-researched, and maintained all the important elements of our current schedule. It received a unanimous vote of approval from faculty.

Our three-way conferences ran smoothly. As we continue to develop our electronic portfolios, the conferences will become more valuable as a place for students, advisors and parents to discuss students' accomplishments and goals for the future.

This trimester we changed the format of the academic concern notices by mailing out the grade reports from teachers' electronic gradebooks. All parents of students with failing grades received reports showing grades and missing assignments, and these reports have also been extremely useful to me in working with individual students. We will send these out twice next trimester.

Congratulations to Doc Browne and the robotics team for receiving a $15,000 grant from the Byrne Foundation. The team has set up the "field" in the new "workshop" space in the west wing. Their first tournament is November 23 inConway, NH.

Each year, I have been tracking the number of failing grades and number of students with failing grades at the midpoint and end of each trimester. I have also converted the raw numbers into percentages to account for changes in enrollment. The chart below shows that the number of students with F's, which is particularly disappointing at midtrimester this year:

nov-dec newsletter2013

To better understand the high numbers, I went through 50% of the grade book reports of students who receive one or more F's. From looking at the reports, the primary cause of low grades was a lack of follow-though on assignments and opportunities given by teachers to improve grades. There were very, very few students with a failing grade that had done all assignments, had taken opportunities to do extra credit assignments, or had retaken tests. In other words, students were not failing because they couldn't do the work. On the contrary, these students had high grades on the work that they had turned in. Some students are not good test takers; this was clear from examining the grades of several students. Yet, the pattern for this particular sub-group was that they had not done test preparation work that counted as extra-credit or allowed them to retake a test if they did poorly on it. (The idea with the test prep approach is that students who try to prepare for a test but do poorly deserve a second chance.) My general conclusion is that too many students are not following through on enough of their work. If they did all their work and took advantage of opportunities to retake tests, their grades could easily be in the 80's in all classes.

There were 147 students who did not receive a failing grade. I did not look at their grades. My hunch would be that the major difference between most of these students and those that receive F's would be that they did nearly all the assignments and their test scores were slightly higher (as a result of doing all their assignments).

Teachers and parents can't do the work for students. Students have to find their own reasons for success. I asked one senior who had struggled with grades in 9th grade why he had so dramatically improved his performance in school in 10th grade. His answer was simple: "I wanted to get good grades so I could go to a good college." The point here isn't that he wanted to go to college. The point is that he made up his own mind to improve, and he did. Academic support, Visions homework help, working in the library with Mr. Reichert after school—none of these supports has really made an impact in reducing failures. Change starts with a decision to see the future and take a step, however small, to make it so.

Parents and guardians that receive report cards with failed classes should assume that the pattern of not doing work will persist during the second trimester. If you want more contact with teachers, call or email and use the grade portal. I will ask teachers to send out emails or call more frequently, but they cannot be burdened with the task of monitoring daily work for every student.

Sincerely,
Keri Gelenian