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March 2012

Dear Rivendell Families,

Excellence doesn’t come easy. Here are some people who deserve special recognition for what they have achieved for themselves and for Rivendell Academy:

Congratulations to senior, Dylan Pelletier, for scoring his 1000th point on the Rivendell court. Dylan’s speed, strength, jumping ability, and agility make him an outstanding three-sport athlete. Dylan’s character and work ethic in the classroom also deserve recognition. Great job, Dylan!

Marshal Ivey’s artwork received an honorable mention from the judges at the 4th Annual Best of the Upper Valley High School Art Exhibit at the AVA Gallery in Lebanon. Stephanie DeSimone, Morgan Movelle, Amber Brooks and Kelsi Nanatovich also had their work accepted. Their art will be on display from February 17th – March 9th.

Thank goes out the Mr. Galli, Mrs. Surprenant, Student Government members and the entire staff for organizing a very successful Winter Carnival. Congratulations to the 7th and 8th grade students for being full participants this year.

This year’s 11th grade students deserve to be recognized for scoring an outstanding 91% pass rate on the state NECAP test in reading.  Rivendell’s 11th graders also had the highest writing scores of any school in the Upper Valley. Thanks goes out to Mr. Reichert for the great work that he did with our 11th grade students last year and to the work he and Mr. St. James did with the 11th graders this year in the writing course.

Big thanks go out to Mr. Galli and the Ice Jamz Committee - Mrs. Alden, Mr. Bristol, Ms. Blake and Ms. Drew, for organizing Ice Jamz II. Once again, we are blending outstanding musical talent from outside the area with our own outstanding Rivendell musicians and singers.

All of the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams have been well coached and played hard all year. Both varsity teams are taking talent and tenacity into the post-season games. We wish them the best. The boys have a phenomenal record of 18-2. On the last regular game of the season the girls beat # 1 ranked Oxbow.

Ryan O’Leary attended the New Hampshire’s Governor’s Institute. Great job, Ryan!

Learning and Responsibility at Rivendell

In a recent article in the Journal Opinion about NECAP results, I stated what I believe are the deeper issues with regard to student learning: Our job in the District is to develop students’ ability to think critically and independently. Our students need to be able to read well, communicate well, understand the relationship between math and science, to write to further their learning, and use numbers to answer real questions. They need to know to how to ask good questions. They need to learn to work effectively with others. An education at Rivendell or any other school isn’t about passing standardized tests; it’s about democracy; it’s about healthy communities; it’s about economic viability; it’s about a healthy environment; it’s about moral issues; it’s about the ability of our students to live rich and rewarding lives. If we are doing our job well, we should see evidence of these goals in our students’ work and we should see our students do well on any standardized test that is thrown at them.

With these larger purposes in mind the teachers are working hard on developing curriculum and analyzing learning in classrooms:

  • Teachers at the Academy have been working to develop curriculum for integrated courses in math/ science and English/ history.
  • Integrated classes will be taught by two teachers who will share students for 130 minutes. Students will receive one grade for both classes.
  • Students are taking finals and every final includes a writing component.
  • We are working on more ongoing and varied forms of assessment that are spaced out evenly throughout each trimester.
  • The District’s Committee on Learning is leading staff development, which is focused on having teachers analyze video of their teaching to identify the degree to which students are engaged in rigorous intellectual conversation.
  • We will be partnering with Boston Latin High School in piloting a new 9th grade physical science curriculum.
  • We implemented a mandatory academic support period for all students with a grade below 74%.
  • We will again hold a mandatory summer school for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students with poor grades. Students who do not make satisfactory progress will repeat the grade.

There are several general trends that I hope our work will address. First, I would like to see a stronger correlation between the grades of our top students and their scores on the SAT exam. My fear is that we are not asking our students to think deeply enough. Related to this, I feel that our students need to develop greater persistence, especially with multi-step problems in math and science that demand strong problem-solving skills. We also need to improve the quality of student discussions and writing when topics or questions demand synthesizing information and original thinking. We’re doing too much leading and feeding. Finally, I feel that we need to have honest discussions about accountability and responsibility. There are times when I feel that teachers and parents are working much harder than some students. The bottom line is that high school can be completed in 3 years, 4 years or 5 years. It’s a choice.

Mandatory Academic Support

Several weeks ago we implemented a mandatory academic support (30 minutes) for all students with a grade below 74%. We had a very large number of failing grades at the midterm report (177 compared to 91 failing grades at the end of the first marking period). The reason for the change was to discover if a more targeted approach to improve grades had an effect. We had done something similar during the first trimester with chemistry students and found that a significant number of grades improved.

There are two controversial issues with the mandatory academic support. First, the assigned students could only be with the teacher with whom they were assigned. Second, students with passing grades could not get help during academic support from teachers who were supervising assigned students. The reasons for these rules were to keep attendance and management issues tight (no going to get help then hanging out with friends with poor grades).

We are going to evaluate the results at the end of the second trimester and make adjustments accordingly. We hope the number of failed classes decreases, that more students begin to take responsibility for their work, and that we can once again allow all students to receive help during academic support. Other possible improvements would be to put two teachers in a classroom and have student tutors help other students.

New Three-Way Conference Format

I have received complaints about the structure of the conferences, and the turn out for them has traditionally been fairly low for the Academy. To address these issues, we have decided to hold conferences that would allow family members and students to meet with some or all of the student’s teachers. Conferences will be held on Monday, March 19th from 1:00 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. No appointments are necessary. Teachers will have student work on display and family members and students can meet to discuss students’ work.

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.

September 22, 2011

Dear Rivendell Families,
Mr. Galli and I had the pleasure of participating in a simulation created by Mrs. Surprenant and her student teacher Mr. Allen-Fahlander for their National Issues course. Acting as members of the President’s cabinet, students were given the task of cutting funding for programs that would be reallocated to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Students had several minutes to present their proposed cuts to the President and Vice President before fielding questions about their recommendations.

It was apparent that the students had taken their task seriously. They had thoroughly researched the budgets of programs within their agencies and came up with well-reasoned arguments justifying cuts. They sounded professional when making their presentations to the President and Vice-President. They did great thinking on their feet when we pressed them with questions about programs, funding, and their rationale for the cuts they proposed. They also found that sometimes the political agenda of the President trumped their arguments.

The next day Mrs. Surprenant, Mr. Galli, and I met with students to debrief the simulation. They told us that they liked listening to the ideas of their classmates. They said that they listened carefully to one another. Although I didn’t ask them directly I had the sense that they were proud of themselves and respected the work and ideas of one another. This aspect of their experience struck a cord with me, because it is not always the case that students at Rivendell see themselves as serious thinkers, when in fact they are. Sometimes in class I hear them minimizing their own ideas or the ideas of others. We are working hard to eliminate this negativity and replace it with the sort of self-respect and pride in the good thinking that the National Issues students demonstrated.

Other News:

  • Homecoming events take place Thursday through Saturday, September 22nd – 24th.
  • Our first Family Meeting for the year is on Monday, September 26th at the Vershire Community Center.
  • Also on September 26th, we will be welcoming Nancy Hall as our new School Counselor.
  • We welcome Carol Sobetzer as our new Yearbook Teacher and Fall Drama Coach. Ms. Sobetzer is also providing extra support for students.
  • Our transition to new courses and the new schedule has gone smoothly. This year we are working on achieving our district goal of providing integrated, team taught curriculum in grades 7-8 and 9-10.
  • Several students will be going with Doc Browne to an alternative energy conference in Burlington on October 11th. (http://www.revermont.org/main/).
  • October is full of testing dates – NECAPs and PSATs;
  • FAMILY MEETINGS:  All meetings will begin at 6:00 p.m:
    • Monday, September 26th Vershire Community Center
    • Thursday, October 27th West Fairlee Library
    • Tuesday, November 29th Vershire Community Center

August 31, 2011

Dear Rivendell Students and Families:

Nature’s power can be quite humbling. Irene has left many people without power, driveways, roads, and bridges. Other areas of Vermont, New Hampshire, and the country have suffered greater losses than ours. We can be thankful that the winds never materialized. Thanks go out to Gary Collins for driving the back roads of the district Monday morning and Superintendent Needham for staying in touch from a McDonalds with wi-fi and power.

We started the school year with a focus on building community through themes from The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. We watched a short clip of a new documentary, One Day in Africa. Rivendell Academy is hosting a complete showing of the video at 6:30 on Wednesday August 31st in the gym. The director, Brook Silva-Braga, has agreed to a Skype conversation with us if he is in the country.

On Tuesday September 6th William Kamkwamba, the author of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind will come to Rivendell for the afternoon to discuss his work and life since writing the book. We will also host presentations by three community members with related interests. Carl Bietenburg is an inventor who has worked for years in West Africa developing and deploying appropriate technology in rural areas. He is also working on an electrification project for New Hampshire that uses his steam engine technology. John Karol is a local documentary filmmaker who, as a young lawyer, worked in Malawi at the time of independence as a constitutional law expert. Sam Rossier is a senior at Sharon Academy with an interest in wind turbines. He also accompanied Carl Bietenburg to West Africa last spring. THE COMMUNITY IS INVITED TO THIS EVENT. We start at 12:50 in the gym.

Our summer program was a huge success this year thanks to the hard work of Tammy McQueen, Bridget Fariel, Sarah Rose, Carol Sobetzer and many others. This was the District’s largest summer program ever. Our experiments with new programs were largely successful and we will build on what we learned into next year’s summer program.

There is still a reticence among some students for engaging in serious discussion and a propensity to complain about reading. Reading, discussing, building, writing, creating, THINKING are non-negotiable elements of any school. I invite all students to argue how and why any of these activities work against their future success in life. All adults in the school will also listen closely to students’ and family members ideas about how to strengthen these essential elements of our work at RA.

Our whole-school assembly on Friday, August 26th, was an historic moment at Rivendell. I learned that our students and faculty are an optimistic group of individuals. They feel that despite the adversities of life, the world is a place filled with opportunities and reasons to be hopeful for a better tomorrow. I also found out that a large number of students feel that Rivendell Academy can improve. The combination of these two sentiments means that many individuals possess the spirit, ideas and drive to move Rivendell from good to excellent. Our motto for the year should be, Remember August 26th!
Best—
Keri Gelenian

Other News and Events

  • Math: Mr. Dan Newsted is our new Math teacher. Dan recently graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in math and minor in sociology. He then spent a year student teaching and completing his credential courses at Michigan State. Dan is also serving as a 9th grade advisor.
  • Counseling Position: Our counselor, Tiffany Russo, left Rivendell for a counseling positing in Connecticut and we will miss her. She did a great job working with students and building programs while she was here. We find ourselves in the enviable position of having Nancy Hall, Ms. Russo’s predecessor, returning to us as counselor for grades 10-12.
  • Exchange Students: Bem Vindos Felipe, Jessica and Rayssa, our three exchange students from Brazil. Thanks go out to Michelle Pierson for again coordinating and acting as one of the hosts for our exchange students.
  • Yearbook: We are in the process of hiring a teacher to run Yearbook. The class will be offered after school; starting at 3:10 p.m. Students can take Yearbook as an independent study. We are encouraging 7th and 8th grade students to also work on the yearbook. Come to the office to sign up for the course; it will start soon.
  • Tutoring: We are in the process of hiring a tutor for part of the year. Funding cutbacks will not allow for the same level of support as we were able to provide last spring. As such, we hope that we can create opportunities for juniors and seniors to also serve as peer tutors. Students can receive community service for serving as tutors.
  • Drama: Our fall Drama program will run afterschool this year. We will start as soon as we have hired a director.
  • Music Lessons: Ms. Alden is offering students the opportunity to sign up for music instruction (instrumental and voice), which will occur once a week. Students will need to miss 30 minutes of class. Students who sign up must have a 75% or better in all classes.
  • Soccer: Soccer practice is underway. See schedules in this newsletter. The boys looked good in their scrimmage against Woodsville last week. Good luck to all RA teams!
  • Electronic Devices: Students now have access to the Rivendell Academy wireless system. Forms to register devices with the technology department came home the first day of school. The same Acceptable Use Policy that applies to school hardware also applies to personal computers, IPads, etc. Students who violate the policy will lose their access.

POLICY CHANGES

  • Co-curricular Eligibility (not only sports): In a given school year a student may only fail ONE class and remain eligible for sports, other co-curricular activities, and driver’s education. If a student fails two or more classes within a single school year they regain eligibility for the FOLLOWING YEAR in one of two ways: 1) complete the year with a trimester with no grades below a 70 or complete a summer school program at the student’s expense to clear all failed courses.
  • CO-CURRICULAR ELIGIBILITY: (Includes athletics, Odyssey of the Mind, Drama, Chorus, etc.) At Rivendell Academy, students in good academic and behavioral standing are given the opportunity to participate in many activities beyond the academic program. Our expectation is that the skills, goals, and objectives of the academic program remain most important and those of the co-curricular activity be complementary.
The co-curricular academic eligibility criterion for all activities is as follows:
  1. A student may fail only one course per year and still be able to participate in a co-curricular activity. This standard also applies to Drivers Education.
  2. A student with two or more failing grades in a school year will not be permitted to participate in a co- curricular activity the following year until one of the two following conditions are met:
    *a. Student completes a summer school program to clear all failed classes, or;
    b. Student passes all courses in a trimester while maintaining the conditions set forth in (1).
*Please be advised that parent/guardian/student may have to seek out and pay for summer courses if those summer coursers are not offered by Rivendell Academy.
Note: The co-curricular eligibility outlined above is pending board second reading of this policy change.
  • Excused/ Unexcused Absences: When you call that your student will be absent from school or that he or she needs to leave early, you must give a reason. We are obligated by the state to document the reason. If you do not wish to give a reason, your student’s absence will be counted as an unexcused absence. Be honest and be respectful.

[Handbook Language: parent/guardians must state the reason for their child’s absence. This information is used to determine whether the absence is to be recorded as excused, or unexcused. Under RISD Policy F29: Truancy: Orange County Policy and RISD Policy F32: Student Attendance, excused absences are defined as: illness, medical appointment, observance of a religious holiday, family emergency, a death in the family, or other circumstances which cause reasonable concern to parent/guardian regarding the health or safety of the student.]