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News from Keri Gelenian, Head of Schools / RA Principal

March 5, 2015

Dear Rivendell Families,

This fall I sent a lengthy letter all to all Rivendell families explaining issues related to federally required standardized testing (the SBAC) in Vermont and across the country. The time for administering the tests is approaching. I would like to update you on what the testing will look like at the Academy and update you on what we have been continuing to do in order to roll back the testing requirements.

During the week of February 9 - 13, we created a special schedule so the 7th and 8th grade students spent approximately 5 ½ hours learning how to take the new online tests and taking practice tests in English and math. They spent additional time in class working on testing strategies. The 11th grade took a half-day on March 3rd to run though the online test materials.

The time spent on familiarizing students with the test format takes away time from instruction and learning. We are trying to avoid wasting time on test prep, while doing what we need to do to familiarize students with the new computer format and the format of the questions. Since the law mandates the tests, it would not be fair to students to not give them some preparation negotiating the new types of questions and computer format. Our staff also needs to increase its knowledge about strategies of administering the tests, and we will be trying to push our computer network to the limit to determine if we can maintain full wireless access in the building as we test.

There are two components to English and math tests. In one section the questions actually increase or decrease in difficulty depending on a student's answer. The second part of the tests begins with a scripted ½ hour classroom activity that we do with students the day before they take the test. The second test (both subjects) does not level the questions. The testing will take place over 6 days.

In addition to the critical issues that were raised in my fall letter, Michael Galli's presentation on tests, letters and a visit to the Vermont Secretary of Education and other work that we have continued to do, the most frustrating issue at the moment is the significant amount of instructional time that is being spent on testing and the amount of staff and administrative time that the SBAC is costing the school and district. Here is a rough estimate of the time spent so far:

  • ¾ day meeting in October (Keri, Chris White, Eric Reichert)
  • Full-day meeting in January (Keri, Gabi Martino)
  • Student practice time described above
  • 25 hours (Nancy Murphy and Gabi Martino organizing schedules and information regarding testing requirements)
  • 7 hours (On-line certification of teachers, administrators and counselors who will potentially need to proctor the testing)
  • 25 hours (Hank Plaisted loading secure browsers and updating the network to support the testing)
  • 8 hours meetings (Keri, Jan Cole, Gail, Tammy)
  • 4 hours data input (Bridget Peters)

Between October and today we have spent roughly 141 person-hours related to administering the test. This is a conservative estimate and, in addition, we still have work and meetings planned, student data to input, and scheduling to do before we actually give the test. None of this includes the instructional time that will be missed during the testing itself.

We should not be spending so much time and money on work that, I have no doubt, will NOT help us do a better job of educating our students. I have included a memo from the secretary of education indicating her opinion of the testing. I am less optimistic about what value the test results might have. Quite often the results of educational research or data gathering is simply common sense. Also, I have not heard one national or state strategy for educational improvement linked to test results. My worst fear is that opponents to public education will use the results to further erode support for public education. This comes at a time when the US has reached an 80% national graduation rate, an all-time high. Iowa is at 88% and Vermont and Wisconsin are at 87%. (http://www.governing.com/gov-data/high-school-graduation-rates-by-state.html)

I have continued to speak out against the testing. Michael and I contacted Senator Sanders' office and discussed our concerns with one of his staffers, David Cohen. I learned that Senator Sanders is working hard on the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander to repeal the No Child Left Behind Act. This would help relieve Vermont, one of the top states in terms of student achievement, of having all of its schools become "in need of improvement" based on the NCLB Act's requirement that all states test proficient in math and English by 2014.

I encourage eeryone to contact Senator Sanders' office. Here is a copy of an email that I sent to David Cohen after our conversation.

Dear Mr. Cohen,
Thank you for taking the time to listen to our concerns about the SBAC test, AYP requirements, school improvement and all the rest. Yesterday, I mentioned that school administrators and teachers in Vermont were not engaging in a robust public debate about the education issues that we are facing today. Here is a link that will take you to a letter from another Vermont principal who has found his voice. The letter was sent to Vermont principals from the Vermont Rural Partnership. It is a thoughtful letter that reflects the challenges of teachers and principals across the state.

http://legislature.vermont.gov/assets/Documents/2016/WorkGroups/House%20Education/Vermont%20Principals'%20Association/W~Anonymous%20Vermont%20School%20Principal~Testimony~1-29-2015.pdf

I am interested in hearing if your office is getting many calls from principals, superintendents, teachers, school boards, and parents about education issues. As I indicated in our conversation yesterday, I don't hear people speaking up in statewide meetings. I agree that Vermont is in a good position compared to states that signed the waiver agreement, but I am afraid that if policies don't change at the national level, it will only be a matter of time before Vermont and others are forced to fall in line. I have attached a letter that I mailed to parents about a range of issues and policies related to testing and test results.

Thanks again for you time and your work. Please tell Senator Sanders to keep us informed of his work with the Senate Education Committee and let us know what we can do to support his work with the committee. Time and resources in education are being wasted. We need a change in policy. We need to continue to be creative and innovative.

Best,
Keri Gelenian
Principal, Rivendell Academy
Head of Schools, Rivendell Interstate School District
(603) 353-4321
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

News from Keri Gelenian, Head of Schools / RA Principal

December 2014

Dear RA families,
Going into the new year we have many student accomplishments to celebrate:

  • Girls and boys soccer teams officially recognized for exemplary conduct on the field
  • The hilarious fall theatre production of Deceiving Granny raised over $3000
  • A generous donation from the Byrne Foundation to support Rivendell Abroad
  • Mr. Reiss and the journalism class for producing many cutting edge editions of the Raptor Connection
  • Excellent tech support by Mr. Ackerman, our new Digital Project Leader
  • A new digital production lab that was put to good use by Ms. Barsamian and her digital photography students
  • Thirteen new National Honor Society inductees
  • A second ping-pong table brought to us through a grant which Ms. Moffatt applied for
  • Our first CCV early college student, Aquene Sausville
  • New ideas for advisory from our student trip to South Burlington High School
  • The library research trip to Plymouth State organized by Mr. Reichert, Mr. Reiss, and Ms. Sobetzer
  • The first Rivendell Robotics tournament organized by Bea Green with the support of Doc Browne and the team
  • The new Choose Your Own Adventure opportunity

We are working hard to publicize RA events and achievements through our Facebook page and videos posted to the link on the Academy Facebook page. 

At the end of the first trimester we have had some good academic news; the junior class produced some of the strongest overall PSAT scores that we've seen in years; also, the percentage of student making the honor roll hit 44.5%, and the percentage of classes failed out of all possible classes was at its lowest level in four years. See the statistics in this newsletter for exact numbers.

These accomplishments are testimony to the hard work of the Rivendell staff, parents and community members.Thank you to everyone who has contributed to a very productive and fun first trimester.

New Developments

Advisory work and thinking

We continue to improve our advisory program. The goal is to make advisory a more integral part of students' experience to develop:

  1. Character skills necessary for success—persistence, confidence, decency, leadership, etc.
  2. Thinking skills—reflection, organization, communication, perspective taking, questioning, imagination, etc.
  3. Community—service, community events and speakers in the school, learning outside the school though internships, early college and Choose Your Own Adventure days.

CCS Awards

For the past three years we have debated whether or not to hold the Character Community Scholarship awards ceremony in the spring. Selection was a difficult issue. Determining community was easy (determined by service hours), as was scholarship (determined by GPA). 

Character was another matter: What if a student had shown growth but we were divided on whether there was enough? What level of character was enough? Could one misstep in behavior eliminate a student; a misstep at what level of indiscretion? Don't we all make mistakes? What were we doing as a school to explicitly develop character among our students?

This last question was the one that tipped the scales in making the decision not to continue the CCS awards. We decided to hold ourselves responsible for taking explicit measures to develop character in all students and not wring our hands over whether or not a high performing student does or does not have character; or wring our hands over not giving awards to students who might demonstrate character, yet not have adequate grades. This is what led to more thinking about character as an explicit focus in advisory. To further our work on this issue, Advisory Leaders Mary Rizos and Jen Ellis are in the final stages of completing an application for a Rowland Fellowship that would provide planning time to lift our advisory program to the next level in terms of supporting Character, Community and Scholarship.

Students "in the middle"

I believe that the most overlooked group in any high school is the group "in the middle." I am talking about students who tend to be quiet in class but do their work, don't get deeply involved in extracurricular activities, or are a bit hesitant to stand out or do things outside their normal comfort zone. They might have a lot going on outside of school but tend to keep their out-of-school lives separate from their more public lives in school. Maybe there is a level of comfort in keeping the separation. The question that I posed to myself recently was whether or not we are doing a disservice to the "middle kids" by allowing them to stay in their comfort zones. I do not have a clear answer to this question, which pushes me to want to test out ideas that might draw (or even push) these students (and sometimes their parents) into experiences that take them slightly outside their comfort zone. To be continued; all ideas and opinions are welcome.

Middle School Next Year

In 2010, when we were planning the restructuring of the school schedule, teaching assignments, curriculum and graduation requirements, I proposed that the Academy do away with grade level distinctions between 7th and 8th grades and between 9th and 10th grades. In the school that I helped design in California, we blended 9th and 10th grades, except in math classes, and it worked beautifully. I met with resistance with the idea at the Academy at the time, and as we were already making a large number of changes at once, I let it drop.

Next year, we have only nineteen 7th grade students entering RA. Rather than break the group into travel groups of nine and ten, the middle school staff and I have discussed blending the next year's 7th grade with next year's 8th grade.

There are a number of benefits of blending:

  • We have solid evidence that age classification of students relates more to the bureaucratic structure of schools than it does the abilities and needs of kids. Some younger kids in some subjects are just as competent as most of the kids in the next grade, and some are better in every subject.
  • When the curriculum is looped and key activities are done at both grade levels, younger students learn from working beside more experienced students. For example, if students learn how to engage in a formal debate in 7th grade, the following year the incoming 7th grade takes less time to learn the process because they can follow the lead of the older students.
  • Other types of institutional knowledge are passed on more efficiently by older peers rather than adults.
  • The idea of looping also means that teachers have fewer preparations and can devote more time to focusing on the students in front of them and the curriculum for those kids compared to having to prepare lessons for two levels.
  • The same curriculum is covered; it's just organized differently. For example, this year's 7th grade is taking biology. Next year, Mr. Steckler would teach everyone physical science and flip back to biology the next year. The same would happen in humanities.
  • Math is different because concepts and skills build in a sequence, so it will still follow a sequence, but students can be placed in different math classes more strategically based on a careful assessment of their skills. This would also break up the monotony of kids being with the same peers all day.
  • The classes for the next two years would be very small, approximately 15 students.
  • Our special education teachers, Cheryl St. Pierre and Jennifer Bottum, and special education assistants would work as a team to modify curriculum and co-teach, so in many classes we would have greater flexibility in providing appropriate instruction and strategies to students within the same classroom.

We are still in the planning stages. There are scheduling details to work out, and we need to gather information about the incoming students much earlier and with more depth than we have in the past. We will also be holding a parent night to discuss the idea and plans in February or March.

The three Ps

As a school we are focusing our attention this trimester in three areas:

  1. Parents—providing more frequent and in-depth information from teachers to parents, especially in cases of students who are struggling.
  2. Planning—walking across the hall during common planning time to work collaboratively with another teacher; two heads are better than one.
  3. Projects—developing at least two projects in every class this trimester and replacing traditional testing with projects.

Projects

From its conception, has Rivendell espoused a project or problem-based approach to curriculum and instruction. It values using skills and ideas, not simply acquiring knowledge for its own sake.
Recently I asked several students if they thought it made sense to put a typical classroom test in a personal learning portfolio. They thought it was ridiculous, and they were right. It would be like asking a licensed carpenter to show a potential client a copy of her licensing examination instead of a portfolio or photographs of actual construction projects.

If projects matter in life, then projects should matter in school. This is not to say that all students will jump up and down joyfully when a project is assigned. Several years ago, Doc Browne gave students a choice of completing a project at the end of the wave unit or taking a test. All but one student opted for the test! I have the completed project of that one student. I doubt that any students kept a copy of that exam.

Furthermore, we created a new position at the Academy last year. Here is the job description that brought us Dr. Gary Ackerman:

  • Rivendell Academy is seeking an exceptional educator to lead the Academy in developing a dynamic digital culture. Duties Work collaboratively with teachers and students in and outside the classroom to develop digital projects that target one or more of these areas: analysis, problem solving, communication, intercultural understanding, mathematical modeling, global issues, collaboration and individual responsibility.
  • Coordinate the evolution of a digital culture at the Academy including digital tools for curriculum development, storage of curriculum and media, assessment, and recommendations for hardware and software purchases.
  • Communicate the evolution of the Academy's digital culture to multiple stakeholders.
  • Support school-wide staff development (project design, web design, Google Applications, mobile devices, social media, and the development of student's electronic portfolios).

Qualifications
Candidates must have 1) Demonstrated experience and expertise in project-based learning 2) The skills and personality necessary to teach adolescents and adults 3) substantial experience in web development, video, programing, and digital photography as well as an understanding of media and culture, 4) Patience and creativity

We have made a commitment to educating students who know how to use knowledge. If knowledge is indeed powerful, it is mostly through our capacity to use it.

Have a great holiday.
Keri Gelenian

December 2014, Newsletter

 

From the Statehouse to the Classroom: Understanding the Common Core and High-Stakes Testing

 

September 17, 2014

Dear Academy Families, 
This letter contains information about the new Common Core Standards and associated high-stakes testing. It requires patience to read and understand. It discusses important issues such as student privacy, school funding, local control of education, and teacher and principal evaluation. What I have written is based on facts, but represents my interpretation of these facts given my experience as an educator. I also realize that my interpretations are open to debate. In the Academy Café on October 16th from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m., we are holding a public forum - From the Statehouse to the Classroom: Understanding the Common Core and High-Stakes Testing. This will be a semi-structured discussion of this letter as well as a discussion of other information and opinions.

In late August you received a letter from Vermont’s Secretary of Education, Rebecca Holcombe. Secretary Holcombe explained that a large majority of schools in Vermont have been designated in need of improvement because all students nationwide were required to receive “proficient” NECAP scores in math, reading, and writing by 2014; a requirement of the federal No Child Let Behind Act of 2001. (Note: Schools that agreed to pilot the new national standardized test, the SBAC, were not labeled improvement schools as were a small number of schools who have previously met AYP. A school must fail to meet AYP for two consecutive years to be designated in need of improvement.) Prior to No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the federal government funded educational programs if schools complied with particular requirements. NCLB used a different approach. Instead of offering funding for a proposed program, it threatened to remove funds if states and schools did not comply. This trend of sanctions is not only continuing; it is worsening.

As 2014 approached, the federal policy requiring 100% proficiency changed (with strings attached). States could sign a “waiver agreement.” Signing the waiver allowed all schools within the states to escape the “in need of improvement” sanctions (and the associated sanctions), in exchange for accepting to agree to other mandated federal requirements.

Vermont did not sign the waiver because of the nature of federal mandates attached to the waiver. Vermont did agree to adopt the Common Core Standards and administer the new standardized test developed by the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Schools that refused these requirements lost flexibility in how they could use their federal Title I dollars and develop improvement plans. In early September, Oklahoma joined Indiana in repealing its initial acceptance of the new standards and testing. This is an example of funding sanctions imposed on schools for not complying with federal policies. What makes matters worse is that the Title I program funds that are being sanctioned are specifically designed to provide extra support to economically disadvantaged students. States could argue that requiring acceptance of the Common Core violates the 10th Amendment: powers that are not granted to the federal government are reserved to the states. But we haven’t arrived at this point yet.

The media hype about the Common Core and testing is very confusing and important details are not reported in the media. For example, the policies and initiatives surrounding the standards also include shifts in student privacy issues reflected in Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and in teacher and principal evaluations. Also, there are important questions that don’t have clear answers. For example, it is unclear what the new criteria will be for becoming a school “in need of improvement” or, for nearly all Vermont schools, removing the “in need of improvement” designation.
There is nothing inherently bad about the Common Core Standards. The creators of the Common Core claim that these new standards will better prepare students for college and work (http://www.corestandards.org/). I would argue that there are not dramatic differences between these standards and old standards or between these standards and what good teachers and schools have always done. It is true, not all school districts have figured out how to effectively educate students, but it is also true that we have seen that 13 years of standards, testing, and sanctions have not provided a great deal of help, especially in extremely dysfunctional school systems.

It is important to recognize that the U.S. is in its third round of standards. In the early 90’s the National Councils of Teachers of English, Math, and Social Studies created content standards. These were followed by state standards, measured by the old NECAP test. Now we have the Common Core and SBAC. The in need of improvement designation itself isn’t very meaningful if there isn’t a proven plan to help schools improve. Many schools in Vermont had received this designation because they had not met their Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) targets. Most schools never subsequently improved, partly because the AYP target kept moving toward the 2014 standard of 100% proficiency for all students. The list of improvement schools kept growing until this year when all schools in Vermont made the list (except those that gave the test).

Here is Rivendell’s story: RA is a school that did remove itself from being in need of improvement in math. (We also made great improvements in science.) From 2010-2012 our math scores did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress goals, and we fell into the “in need of improvement” category. Between 2010 and 2012 we were already doing things to improve math instruction. In 2013 and 2014 our scores improved dramatically. Nonetheless, we were designated in need of improvement. The requirement of submitting plans to the state after we had already improved our scores wasn’t useful.

To make matters worse, last fall I was told by our state “improvement coach” that we were out of compliance with our plan because we completed our improvement plan early! We were required to work on the plan for three years. Our coach made the necessary modifications, but rather than doing meaningful work, we were playing bureaucratic games. Certainly, meaningful change takes time and is incredibly complex, but, 1) we did not focus on NECAP tests or Vermont Standards when we made the changes that (have possibly) caused the improved test scores and 2) the state-sanctioned improvement process was not a factor in our decision-making. These facts lead me to believe that in order to be more useful the state requirements for improvement need to improve. How the requirements should change is an interesting question in itself.

Federal and state policies are moving to connect the Common Core and SBAC to teacher and principal evaluations. States that signed the waiver agreement are required to use SBAC test results as part of the evaluation process. It is unclear what Vermont will do. The federal logic does seem clear. No Child Left Behind didn’t greatly improve schools. Punishing schools didn’t work; thus, we need to hold teachers and principals accountable. Sounds logical, but….

Using the Common Core and SBAC scores for teacher evaluation has been called into question. Research has recently shown that the correlation between teachers’ instructional alignment to the Common Core standards and student achievement was weak. Even worse, there was no association between student achievement and instruction when students’ tests results were combined with other measures of teacher effectiveness.1 The Gates Foundation commissioned this research (Instructional Alignment as a Measure of Teaching Quality), and Gates has been one of the major forces in creating the Common Core. And the logic continues to unravel; the research also used measures of teacher effectiveness based on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Measures of Effective Teaching” study. Evidently, the cart was put before the horse. After the instructional alignment research was released, the Gates Foundation published a public letter indicating that teachers need more time to adjust to the Common Core before the test results are tied to teacher evaluation (http://www.scribd.com/doc/229025040/A-Letter-to-Our-Partners-Let-27s-Give-Students-and-Teachers-Time-2). It might also be that the idea of evaluating teachers on standardized test scores is flawed.

Privacy is another area of concern. Identifiable data about individual students will now be collected as part of the SBAC testing. The National Education Data Model (http://nces.ed.gov/forum/datamodel/) contains over 400 data points that are likely to be used to gather information on individual students (http://nces.ed.gov/forum/datamodel/eiebrowser/techview.aspx?instance=studentElementarySecondary). Rebecca Holcombe has signed a letter to Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, indicating that Vermont will not share personally identifiable information with any federal agencies. But the letter is not a guarantee that this decision will always be the case. Vermont
received nearly 5 million dollars to create the Vermont Automated Data System so it can share some information to meet federal requirements. On page 9, The Vermont proposal for that federal grant to build that data system states: “Using CEDS as the basis for this repository also positions Vermont well should they wish to initiate interstate data sharing in the future.”
(http://education.vermont.gov/documents/EDU-SLDS_VADR_Abstract_and_Project_Proposal.pdf)

Interstate data sharing could include information tied directly to individual Vermont students. There is a difference between a letter and legislation that will not allow such data to be shared.
Other Federal agencies are constructing similar databases. For example, the US Labor Department has a Workforce Data Quality Initiative (WDQI). Their materials state: “The long-term WDQI and SLDS goals for States is to use their longitudinal data systems to follow individuals through school and into and though their work life.” Additionally, the document states, “WDQI supports the development of, or enhancement to, longitudinal administrative databases that will integrate workforce data and create linkages to educational data” (http://www.doleta.gov/performance/wrokforcedatagrant09.cfm). Vermont is not listed as one of the grantees for creating this database.

The current policies were built on a set of mechanistic assumptions. First, if we have one set of national standards and one common test given to all students, we will have information that policymakers can use to improve education. Second, a standardized test is a reliable and valid means to track students’ intellectual growth. Third, if individual students can be linked to individual teachers, it will be possible to evaluate teachers based partially on how much each student improves on the test from one year to another. At the school level, state officials can use the information to evaluate principals. Fourth, if a large amount of individual student information can be gathered and shared across state lines and different government agencies, policy-makers can make better decisions. And finally, there is the assumption that policy-makers and legislators—people distant from the daily work in schools—can make helpful decisions about education and educational spending based on four or five hours of standardized testing. Can the information be helpful to educators? I believe so, but only if other very complex factors are addressed.

Where do we stand as a unified District? Do we believe the Common Core Standards and SBAC will ultimately benefit our students and their learning? If so, are there changes that need to be made going forward or do we fully support it as it currently stands? If not, do we join Oklahoma and Indiana and have we fully researched all potential ramifications of such a decision that might negatively impact our students and their learning? And, what can we put into place to avoid such negative consequences? Please join us for a discussion to determine where our District stands; and to identify if there are any next steps and/or action that we should be taking.

Sincerely,
Keri Gelenian
Head of Schools/RA Principal

Click here to download Keri Gelenians letter.

 

News from Keri Gelenian

Dear Rivendell Families,
We have had a very, very good first week of school. The seventh graders seem excited by the change to a new building and teachers. During our first all-school assembly, several seventh graders rushed onto the gym floor to take the microphone to give their opinions on a question that I had posed. We think that combining the 6th grade class at Samuel Morey last year helped make the transition much smoother for many of the students.

Responsibility
We are working to create self-directed individuals who know how to solve problems, set personally valuable goals and achieve those goals. As the trimester unfolds, the pressures of school will increase. We are coaching students to ask for help when life at schools starts to feel difficult. Advisors are students' advocates. Students can bring up issues directly with their advisors, teachers, or in the office. Learning to raise issues, analyze the problem and work productively toward a solution might be the most important skills students will learn at Rivendell.

 During the first weeks of school, we have had excellent conversations with students who approached us with problems or with alternatives to deal with situations that they didn't like. The issues related to how they feel they learn best, future career paths, or how to get on track to graduate. If your RA student is facing a problem, please
help them bring the problem to us. We will work with them to figure out a solution. In the process, they learn how to advocate for themselves.

Technology
Currently, all 9th and 10th grade students have school laptops. Gary Ackerman, our new Digital Project Leader, is moving RA to a digital platform for curriculum documents and instructional materials used in our classrooms. This means that students will only need to go to one place to access assignments and materials for their classes. We will also continue to use Google Docs as an instructional tool. The educational environment at RA will soon mirror what nearly all our students will experience when they are in college or technical schools.

We have also created a sixteen-station media lab with eight PC computers and eight Macs. Students and staff will now have more powerful tools to create their own media. The graphic design and digital photography classes will now have up-to-date equipment and the work from these classes will support the yearbook. Raptor Connections, our newspaper, will benefit, as will The Asterisk, our literary magazine produced by Visions.

Web Presence
We need your help. These days, people considering relocating to the area often use the information about local schools found on real estate websites to inform their decisions. Unfortunately, Rivendell Academy is not listed on many of these sites. This is a problem. Zillow, one of the largest real estate advertising sites, has a partnership with the school-rating site GreatSchools (www.greatschools.org) which is one of the biggest school rating sites in the country. It would be a great help if students and families went on the GreatSchools site and rated the Academy and submitted comments. Once you are on the GreatSchools site, type in "Rivendell Academy" and you will be directed to a page that allows you to rate the school. We are, however, listed on the US News and World Report site: http://www.usnews.com/education/best-highschools/vermont/rankings?int=9bcc082

Choose Your Own Adventure
Last year we used grant money to organize a day called Choose Your Own Adventure. We invited twelve people with interesting career paths to discuss their experiences and decisions that led them to their current careers. Small groups of eleven to twelve students rotated to hear four different speakers. This was not a "career fair." We wanted students to hear that even people who are very accomplished in their careers had to face many challenges and decisions as they worked their way though life. We also wanted students to hear how these people went about making their decisions. For example, one of our speakers originally wanted to be a teacher, but as he had different experiences, he discovered that teaching wasn't a good option for him. One speaker completed an undergraduate degree in engineering, but learned that he hated sitting behind a desk. His experience as a guardsman showed him that law enforcement was a perfect fit for him.

Our work with this theme extended into our summer reading. Each student chose his or her own biography to read and explored the obstacles and opportunities of the subject of the biography.
Now we have decided to weave the theme of Choose Your Own Adventure into the fabric of our curriculum by encour-aging students to spend a day away from school to explore an area of personal interest. For example, a student inter-ested in forestry could arrange to spend a day with a forester to learn more about the profession. Students are respon-sible for submitting a short digital reflection on their experience that will be posted on the school web site.

The process begins with a student approaching his or her advisor with an idea and using a protocol to brainstorm ideas for a Choose Your Own Adventure Day Proposal. Once the advisor accepts the proposal, it will go to parents or guardi-ans and the office for signatures. We are currently looking for grant money to help support travel.

A Great Start
The start of the school year has been terrific. Students seem happy to be back and are focused. They seem ready to continue the process of making RA their school. Our message has been that responsibility begets greater freedom and choice. We are committed to jointly creating a school that maximizes students' ability to set and achieve goals that are meaningful to them.

Sincerely,
Keri Gelenian

News from Keri Gelenian

August 6, 2016

Dear Rivendell Families, 

I hope everyone has been enjoying the great weather and has time to squeeze in a few more fun weekends. The staff returns to school on August 19th. Monday, August 25th is the first day back for students. We have twelve new students entering RA this fall, some from local districts and some new families from out of the area. We will also have one exchange student. We will do all we can to make our new students feel welcome at RA.

Academic Success and Career Readiness:
Last year at this time I noted that if our science NECAP scores were strong, we would have accomplished our goal of achieving strong 11th grade scores in all subject areas: math, science, reading and writing. Those science scores did come in strong. We are hoping for a repeat performance.

For the past four years we have been closely tracking the performance of students who fail one or more classes. We have analyzed the causes for the failures and experimented with a variety of ways to support the success of these students.

A new pattern is emerging. For three years, the number of failed classes increased dramatically at the end of the second trimester. At the end of the year we would see a slight dip in the number of failed classes. This year that changed. For the first time, the number of failed classes dropped at the end of the second trimester (from 107 failed classes to 67 failed classes). At the end of the third trimester, we saw a slight increase (to 76 failed classes). Thus, the number of failing grades is shrinking. We are seeing more students with GPAs in the 75-85 % range. And, students with higher GPAs are more or less holding their own. Our goal is to maintain and improve this upward momentum.

Student Support:
For the first time in four years, we will be starting the school year with a support team. And, strategies for individual students are in place at the start of the school year. Carol Sobetzer has time in her schedule to work with individuals or small groups of students who might need extra support. Regina Ritscher will return at the start of the school year as our Title I tutor, working mostly with students in grades 7-10. Cindy McLaren, our 7th and 8th grade School Counselor, will have time in her schedule for short check-in sessions with students. Robert Bryant will be here on Thursday's for short meetings with students in grades 9-12. Visions will offer afterschool academic support for students. We will continue the model that we used last year – students were spread out around the school to work with teachers in small groups. Mr. Reichert will keep the library open after school Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. We hope to continue to have National Honor Society students available as tutors. Coach Thatcher will start soccer practice with 45 minutes of homework time.

Early College:
We are continuing to see more students enroll in college classes. Vermont's early college initiative will cover the cost of Vermont college and community college classes. See http://www.rivendellschool.org/schools/rivendell-academy/guidance/academic-opportunites for more information. To get a tuition voucher, go to http://www.vtdualenrollment.org.
Last year we had several students take classes at CCV in Norwich. The classes count for both high school and college credit. NH students can take college class credit through E-Start for $150.00. Through the Running Start program, all students taking physics or calculus at RA can earn college credit. We continue to encourage students to take courses at Dartmouth College.

Technology:
Last spring every 9th grade student had the opportunity to receive a laptop. We will continue our 1:1 initiative by offering a laptop to incoming 9th grade students. We are at a point in our instruction where computers in 9th and 10th grade are a common part of instruction. Before the start of the school year we will hold a 1:1 laptop orientation meeting for parents and students entering 9th grade.
By the start of the school year we will have a new media lab in the room behind the library in the lower East Wing hall. The lab will have a combination of Macs and PCs. We will also have a large format color printer in place. The machines will face forward to make the space more functional for instruction. The room will be used for Mrs. Barsamian's new graphic design/yearbook class, digital photography, and Mr. Bristol's digital video class. In addition, we will use it to publish our newspaper, Raptor Connection and Asterisk, our literary magazine. The lab will greatly enhance our use of the digital equipment we already have and the special technology skills of staff.

New Staff:
We have hired Gary Ackerman as our Digital Project Leader. Gary will work with staff and students in developing new technology skills. Gary comes to RA with a very strong background as a teacher and a technology leader in northern New England. We are very excited to have him on our staff.
In addition to Gary, we have one other new staff member joining us. Last year we lost Meredith Hyder to a move out of the area. Kolin Kepler is her replacement in 7th and 8th grade humanities. Kolin comes to RA via Alaska and, most recently, Hanover. Kolin grew up in Anika, Alaska, a tiny remote village of 250 inhabitants. He attended the Universities of Alaska Fairbanks and Anchorage where he earned degrees in Journalism (minor in Arctic Skills), History, and Secondary Social Studies. He taught three years in Bethel, Alaska before moving to Hanover, where he has spent the last year working as a Special Education Assistant at Hanover High School. We are very pleased to welcome Kolin to our community.

RA Activities:
At the end of last year, we gave students a list of RA extracurricular activities. In Advisory, every student listed the activities that were of interest to him or her. We found that a solid majority of students were interested in at least one extracurricular opportunity. I have included the list in this mailing so that RA families can see what is available to students. Our goal is to get every student involved in at least one activity this year. Please call if you have any questions about the offerings.

Advisory- Respect, Responsibility, and Choice:
Our Advisory program took a big step forward last year. The main purpose of Advisory is to build a common culture of respect, responsibility, and choice. We want students in Advisory to work together as a team, despite individual differences, likes and dislikes. We want them to learn to be helpful contributors to the Advisory group and the entire RA community. This isn't easy work. We want students to take responsibility for their actions and interactions with their peers and teachers, especially when they mess up. All mistakes are acceptable as long as people see mistakes as opportunities for improvement. We want students and teachers to work toward academic success, independence, and a productive future life. We want them to make productive choices. For example, this year every student in the school had a choice in selecting a summer reading book. The question is whether or not students chose a biography that was about a person they really admired or whether they chose a book because it was short and they had seen the movie. We need to constantly reinforce the message that if students don't take control of their lives, others will be glad to tell them what to do. Making a choice to challenge oneself, think critically, problem-solve rather than complain, and be helpful to others and self will all open doors in the students' lives – NOW and in the future.

We are going to continue to push our students and ourselves to build a school that offers a very unique, high quality educational experience for students inside and outside the classroom. Every gain that we have made is testimony to the hard work of the teachers and staff in the district. We have come a long way and the journey continues.

Click here to download

 

Best,
Keri J. Gelenian

News From Keri Gelenian

Dear Rivendell Families,

Choose Your Own Adventure

On May 23rd we had our Choose Your Own Adventure day, where 15 interesting people shared stories about their life's journey that could inspire students to think about options for their futures. We asked speakers to talk about how they attended to the twists and turns of life: unexpected setbacks, "lucky" breaks, and side trails. Choose Your Own Adventure was not a career day. It was one step in our effort to help students begin to think about their future pathways and the characteristics of people who have managed to arrive at some interesting places in their lives. Throughout the day, students had opportunities to discuss and write about their personal goals, strengths, and aspirations. Much of the
work on these activities will continue in advisories next year.

Choose Your Own Adventure was really about the living biographies of our presenters. The summer reading extends this theme of "life's journey" as students read biographies that they have chosen in advisory. We have ordered approximately 100 different biographies of the students' choice. Thank you to Tracy Page and Lazlo Bardos for helping with the ordering of books. A big thanks goes out to Mary Rizos, Jen Ellis, and Nancy Hall for grant writing and planning this event.

New Faculty

Several weeks ago we receive the sad news that Meredith Hyder would be moving to Massachusetts. We will all miss her humor, energy, and dedication to students. We knew that it would take a unique person to replace Ms. Hyder, and we found him.

Kolin Kepler rose to the top of a very strong pool of candidates. Students gave his demonstration lesson excellent reviews, and the interview committee felt that he would be an excellent fit at RA. Kolin grew up in a remote location in Alaska, accessible only by plane. His family lived largely off the land and he spent summers panning for gold. Kolin's elementary and secondary education was all done at home through correspondence flown between home and his teachers in the next town, who pushed his thinking with their responses to his work and taught him how to become his own teacher.

We have also hired Dr. Gary Akerman for a new position in the district as the Digital Project Leader at RA. We have increased our commitment to preparing students for the digital world by beginning a 1 to 1 computer initiative with this year's 9th grade class. Next year's 9th grade class will also receive laptops. Gary will lead the Academy in developing a dynamic digital culture by:

  • Working collaboratively with teachers and students in and out of the classroom to develop digital projects that target one or more of these areas: analysis, problem solving, communication, intercultural understanding, mathematical modeling, global issues, collaboration and individual responsibility.
  • Coordinating the evolution of a digital culture at the Academy including digital tools for curriculum development, storage of curriculum and media, assessment, and recommendations for hardware and software purchases.
  • Communicating the evolution of the Academy's digital culture to multiple stakeholders.
  • Supporting school-wide staff development (project design, web design, Google Applications, mobile devices, social media, and the development of students' electronic portfolios).

Gary's teaching background is in math and science. He has years of experiences as teaching technology to both students and staff. RA is very luck to have hired someone with Gary's knowledge and depth of experience.

Back to the 80's

The cast of the spring musical, Back to the 80's, performed to a full house for three shows. The band rocked the house and the players brought everyone into the magic with their singing, dancing and humor. Michael Galli was a real crowd pleaser. (The consensus is that he should keep the new hair.) The cast choreographed the entire show, and the singing and dancing were non-stop. Thanks go out especially to Ms. Alden and Ms. Sobetzer for the hours of work they contrib-uted, as well as to the parents who provided many meals and miles in the car picking up students from late night perfor-mances. Most of all—thank you to all the performers who invested so much time and energy into a fantastic show.

Prom

As usual, our prom kicked off what always feels like a Formula I race to the end of the school year. After a rainy morning, the afternoon turned warm and clear for the dance. It was a beautiful night with good music, food, and a lot of dancing. The fog machine was a big hit with the Fairlee Fire Department. Thank you, thank you to the junior class, Mr. Newstead, Mr. Bardos, and Ms. Barsamian for all their hard work. Miranda Garrow took the lead as prom committee chair. She did a fantastic job. Also, we send our thanks to the Lake Morey Resort for providing the venue.

Senior Trip

The seniors took their tip to Boston May 21 to 23. Mr. Reichert, Ms. Sanders, Ms. MacMurtury, Ms. Alden, and Ms. So-betzer have done a great job with the many senior advisor duties this year. The trip included sightseeing in Boston, an excursion to the beach, the aquarium, a Red Sox game and more.

ra news june2014

Please see the calendar for a complete list of the many important dates for the rest of the school year.

Sincerely,
Keri Gelenian

May/June 2014 Newsletter

News From Keri Gelenian

March 19, 2014

Dear Rivendell Families,

In advisory at the beginning of the year, students wrote responses to four questions:

  • What is community?
  • What is great, unique or special about Rivendell?
  • How do you contribute?
  • What holds you back?


Mary Rizos and Jenny Ellis took every response and fed them into a computer program that prints out the information in a unique pattern and increases the size of responses based on frequency. Frequent responses are bigger and bolder than less frequent responses. The information from this activity has been hanging in the café on four, 5' x 3' banners since the second week of school.

The day after the posters appeared in the café, students crowded around looking for their particular answers to each question. Now, we all walk by the posters without giving them a second thought.

I decided to devote some time to reflect upon what students had to say about the questions. People working together is printed in big bold letters on the poster about community. Other significant words were help out, support and advice, friends and neighbors, accepting, understanding, everyone contributes ideas, and care about each other.

Small and freedom stand out on the poster about the "What is great about Rivendell?" question. The other frequent words were voice, creativity, innovation, sports and activities and academics.

By far the largest response to the question about contributing was By helping others. This was followed by community service, being positive, listening to others, I don't know and I don't. Any way I can and giving everyone's ideas a chance were great individual responses on this poster.

The students' responses to the question about what holds them back mostly opposed their answers to the other three questions. The top responses were People followed by Nothing. Many of the less frequent responses specified how "People" held them back. The issues with other people were negative people, mean people, people who judge, getting judged, people who don't contribute and people who don't listen. The poster also identified issues more internal to the individual who was responding: not knowing if I am right, not speaking my feelings, laziness, and lack of motivation. The responses to this question reflect what still seems to be on our "to do list."

Reading these posters again so carefully has made me realize that the students predicted what we have all experienced so far this year—people working together, helping out, being positive and receiving support and advice. I would also concur that the levels of creativity, voice and freedom are higher than ever. As a group we are demonstrating higher levels of responsibility, respectfulness and trustworthiness than I have seen in my previous three years at RA.

In looking at the questions and responses again, I believe that students were thinking more about the social atmosphere at RA than the academic atmosphere. But because student learning is the number one purpose of RA, I started to think about what it would mean to maximize freedom and voice in the learning process. I wondered how students would respond to four slightly different questions:

  • What is a community of exciting learning?
  • What is great, special or unique about teaching and learning at Rivendell?
  • How do I contribute to the develo p.m.ent of a rich and exciting learning environment?
  • What diminishes my ideas and creativity?


I believe that the students' excellent perceptions about community strength, uniqueness, contribution and hesitation would be equally keen if we focused their attention on the process of teaching and learning.

Sincerely,
Keri Gelenian

March/April 2014

 

News From Keri Gelenian

February 25, 2014

 

Dear Parents and Guardians: 
March 12th - 14th will be final exams days for the second trimester for 9th -12th graders. These exams will count for 15% of the students' trimester grade. All 9th - 12th grade students are required to take exams unless medically excused. Seventh and 8th graders will not be taking final exams, but their daily schedules over these dates will be affected by the exam schedule. A rough outline of the schedule follows and a more detailed breakdown of the schedule is included in this packet.

 

  • Wednesday, March 12th
    • 9th – 12th Grade:
    • Block 1 Exams in the morning from 8:00 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.
    • Block 4 Exams in the afternoon from 12:00 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.
    • *River Bend students will follow their regular schedule, except that the afternoon students will leave RA at 10:50 a.m.
    • 7th & 8th Grade will follow a modified Wednesday schedule.
    • All students will be dismissed at the regular scheduled time: 2:50 p.m.
  •  Thursday, March 13th
    • 9th – 12th Grade:
    • Block 2 Exams in the morning from 8:00 a.m. – 10:40 a.m. Block 5 Exams in the afternoon from 11:45 a.m. – 1:45 p.m.
    • *River Bend students: morning group follows their regular schedule; the afternoon group will be excused from the program to take exams.
    • 7th & 8th Grade will follow a modified Thursday Schedule.
    • All students will be dismissed at the regular scheduled time: 1:45 p.m.
  • Friday, March 14th
    • 9th – 12th Grade:
    • Block 3 Exams in the morning from 8:00 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.
    • Make-up exams in the afternoon from 12:00 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.
    • (Make-up exams for medically excused students must confirmed by the student with individual teachers.)
    • *River Bend students are excused from their program to take exams.
    • 7th & 8th Grade will meet Block 1, 2, 3, & 5, followed by lunch at 11:55 a.m.


All 7th-12th grade students, except those requiring make-up exams, will be dismissed at 12:30 p.m. 
At 12:30 p.m., two express buses will leave Rivendell Academy:

  • One headed east on Route 25A will go all the way to Warren, dropping off students at normal stops along the way.
  • One headed west on VT Route 5, Route 244 and Route 113 stopping at Samuel Morey Elementary, Westshire Elementary, Vershire Town Center and for students with stops along that route.

In addition to the express buses, end of the day buses will run as regularly scheduled, leaving Rivendell Academy at 2:50p.m.

 

High school students will not be allowed to leave the exam room until the end of the exam period and should have something to read in case they finish their exam early.

 

High School students will be permitted to leave school after completion their last exam of the day, arrive at 12:00 p.m. on Wednesday or 10:40 a.m. on Thursday if they do not have a morning exam, or be excused from school on Friday if they have no exam, with a signed parent permission form (see last page of this packet).

 

Students who do not have any make-up exams are expected to leave Rivendell Academy by 12:30 p.m. on Friday, March 14th. This does also include 7th and 8th grade students.

 

Students are expected to make-up any missed (medically excused) exams on Friday afternoon, March 14th.

 

Sincerely,
Keri J. Gelenian

 

News From Keri Gelenian

Dear Rivendell Families,

Half the school year vanished! We started off with great student energy, and that positive feeling has continued. Students treat each other with respect and often display a sense of caring for one another. This isn't to say life is perfect at Rivendell. Negative behavior happens and we deal with it through discussion and clear expectations for positive change.

Academic Concerns and Learning Expectations

Academic concern notices will arrive soon. These are meant to be a wake-up call for students who are failing classes at this point in the trimester.

This newsletter includes a guide that clearly explains all sections of the grade book page that we are now using as our academic concern notices. This is the same format you will see in the parent portal when checking on grades. I will be sending out a document entitled "Learning Expectations, Grading and Project-Based Assessment". This paper outlines how we assess students. The biggest change, and it will now be evident in teachers' grade programs and report cards, is a Learning Expectations designation for projects that correspond to the Rivendell academic, civic and social learning expectations (LE). The RA learning expectations are:

  • Read, comprehend, analyze, and critique a variety of media.
  • Demonstrate effective problem solving skills in a variety of disciplines.
  • Communicate effectively for a variety of audiences and purposes.
  • Demonstrate cultural awareness and an understanding of national & global interconnectedness.
  • Apply mathematical analysis in a variety of situations.
  • Be a positive contributor to the community.
  • Accept individual responsibility & awareness of social context.

Whenever a teacher has a significant project assigned for a class, the students' performance is tracked in two ways. First, the teacher will assign an overall percentage grade in the grade book as he or she normally would. Second, the teacher will designate in the grade program one or more LEs reflected in the project. Teachers use rubrics developed for each learning expectation and score the students' performance in each LE. The scores range from 4 (exceeds expectations) to 1 (significant improvement needed). Projects then become part of students' E-portfolios and are the basis for discussion of students' learning at three way conferences.


Statement of Core Values and Beliefs—January 27th

The Academy started a process to develop a clear statement of our core values and beliefs. Kirsten Surprenant is leading a committee that includes Nancy Hall, Christina Robison, Michael Galli, Mary Rizos, Rachel Sanders, and Jenny Ellis. The committee has created a process that includes all Academy staff, all Academy students in advisory meetings, and Rivendell family members. On JANUARY 27th the faculty committee will lead family members and students through a process to help develop the Statement of Core Values and Beliefs. We will send out more notices about this work and the process.

Good News

The Robotics Club held an evening scrimmage with Thetford in our new Workshop space (the old stage in the West Wing). Thetford came with a big crew and the room was packed with robots, equipment, and pizza. The $15,000 grant from the Byrn Foundation has helped Doc Browne take a significant step forward with the club. We now have four robots preparing for competition.

Before Winter Recess, Ms. Hall and members of the Leo club went to Glencliff Home to wrap presents.
The student government held its annual holiday assembly before the break. Rivendell's own Staff Infection and Rivendell's chorus provided the music. Student Government piloted a unique approach to the raffle. Congratulations to Chris Gendron for winning what most would consider the grand prize. Cheryl St. Pierre and Laura Wheeler led the dancing.

Mrs. Keefer's 10th grade advisory is planning to help staff the Orford Senior Center lunches every Tuesday.

Moriah Ludwig is back from the Mountain School. Welcome back Moriah!

The indoor track team members are doing well on the Thetford team. The team includes Andréa Haehnel, Kayla Gould, Christian Parenti, Sam Emerson, and Liam Fleming.

Will Gardner, Heather Dexter, Zachary Dexter, Elias Adams, and Will Ussler are on the ice for Rivendell.

Dametres Perry spent part of the winter break in San Antonio, Texas to attend the National Underclassmen Football Combine.


THANKS

Thank you Judy Siemons for the donation of yet another beautiful quilt (her 8th!) for the senior class fundraiser. The 2014 French trip received a $1000.00 donation. Orford resident Michael Collins donated two SLR cameras and lenses. We received a $10,000 grant from the state of Vermont to develop our internship programs. Thanks to Jeff Winagle for the beautiful, handmade display in the gym for the basketball roster.

Academic Performance By the Numbers

The charts and tables below give an overall picture of how students did at the end of this first trimester compared to the first trimesters in the previous two years. The tables show the number and percentage of students' GPAs in the entire school in 5 points intervals. What this shows is that:

  1. Our students are doing better at the high end than in the previous two years: 55.45% of our students have GPAs between 100 and 85 compared to 51.19% (2012) and 52.16% (2011).
  2. The percentage of students with GPAs in the middle has shrunk: 28.71% of our students have GPAs between 84.9 and 75 compared to 34.6% (2012) and 33.96% (2011).
  3. The percentage of students with GPAs at the low end has increased: 16.84% of our students have GPAs between 74.9 and 55 compared to 14.22% (2012) and 13.68 (2011).
  4. The percentage of students with GPAs below 70% is slightly better than last year and .33% worse than 2011-12.

February/March 2014 Newsletter

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