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November 2011

Dear Rivendell Families,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.]