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News from Keri Gelenian, Head of Schools/RA Principal

Spring 2017

Spring 2017 Newsletter

Dear Rivendell Families,

“The Wizard of Oz” will be presented on May 11th, 12th, and 13th in the Rivendell Academy Gym. Times of presentation: Thursday, May 11th—6 PM, Friday and Saturday, May 12th and 13th—7 PM. This year we are offering special seating which includes reserving your seat in the first two rows, receiving a special printed ticket and a café chair. General admission will be paid at the door, with doors opening one half hour before show time.

Join us for this beloved tale, in which a Kansas farm girl travels over the rainbow to discover the magical power of home which has been entertaining audiences for generations. Dorothy Gale (Delaney Vogelien) a young girl living on a Kansas farm with her Aunt Em (Thessalie Butler) and Uncle Henry (Caleb Haehnel), dreams of escaping her mundane life (“Over The Rainbow”). The family’s mean neighbor, Miss Gulch (Moria Haehnel), threatens to impound Dorothy’s cherished dog, Toto, so Dorothy and Toto run away. They meet up with kindly Professor Marvel (Max Haehnel), who subtly convinces Dorothy to return home. Suddenly a cyclone hits, as Dorothy and Toto, seek shelter in
the house, they are transported to the Land of Oz. Join us as Dorothy travels the land of Oz with the Scarecrow (Teddy Wilkin), the Tinman (Caleb Day), and the Lion (Izzy Formica) to find the Wizard (Max Haehnel) and battle the Wicked Witch of the West (Moria Haehnel). Playing various other roles are Ariana Baumann, Cora Day, Shannon Fleming, Eadie Molesworth, Elizabeth Noyes, Sarah Parenti, Kelsey Peebles, and Adele Tilden. Featuring the Orford Ballet to include 24 munchkins, poppies, and jitterbugs! These are all students in the elementary grades! Directed by Anna Alden & Carol Sobetzer, set design and tech directed by Cami Buster, costume design by Brook Lewis with assistant Julie Ann Otis.

Tickets include special seating, $17.00/adult, $10.00/student, general admission $12.00/adult, $5.00/student.
For special seating please call Brenda Gray at 603-353-4321 ext 1225. For more information call 802-356-0363.

 

Winter 2016

Dear Rivendell Families

This fall our professional focus on critical exploration and project-based learning has started to take hold. Both approaches create greater equity and motivation among our students while also increasing rigor. Students in “right answer” classrooms tend to clam up. In contrast, a question about provocative materials like, “What do you notice?” opens the door to participation, collaboration and creative thinking. Students come to see that the ideas generated build upon one another in a way that deepens everyone’s understanding. In a similar way, carefully designed projects engage students with complex problems embedded in real experiences. Both approaches engage students in learning from one another and our larger community in a non-competitive atmosphere.

Project work and community participation this fall—Advisory Open House

We had a great night in October for families to get together for dinner and participate in advisory. We watched the student and staff videos related to our summer reading. It was great to see the students’ work. Families didn’t get to see the fun (and struggles) that students had in working together to create the videos within a tight time-line.


Encounters

Our 9th grade humanities students began the year with a new approach to exploring the English colonization of New England. Students spent several days puzzling through detailed readings of primary source documents about the Pilgrims’ departure from Plymouth, England and their landing on Cape Cod, as well as descriptions of their settlement in Plymouth, MA. Students then spent a day at Plimouth Plantation and a cold, wet, windy hour on the Mayflower. The students’ detailed knowledge, from the vantage point of the documents they explored, created a powerful experience when they arrived at Plimouth. Students constructed boxes, which explored the larger theme of Encounters, a theme also reflected in diverse materials in English class. The boxes were dis-played at an evening exhibition, where students did a great job discussing their work.


The Silk Road

If you were lucky enough to attend the 7/8th grade Silk Road exhibition, you would have met a friendly camel, traded goods at various markets, tasted camel’s milk, eaten sweet Indian pudding, and met a variety of challenges that might have cost you gold or valuable water or food. The Silk Road project was cleverly designed as a “choose your own adventure” simulation that fully en-gaged “travelers” in an experience on the Silk Road. Like the 9th grade project, students struggled with complex texts, and maps together. Just as the 9th grad-ers’ readings enriched their experience at Plimouth, the 7/ 8th grade projects were influenced by students’ critical explorations of challenging materials in class.


Robots

In 9th grade physical science the students were involved in a mini-robotics competition. Design teams built and programmed computers to independently maneuver through a covered maze. Students could watch their robots wind though the maze (or crash) from smart phone cameras attached to the front of each robot. The final challenge for the design teams was to create a lesson plan and a programming task for 4th graders from Sammuel Morey and West-shire. The general consensus by the 9th graders was that the 4th grade students were quick learners.


Our direction

Again, we believe that carefully designed projects provide each student with personally relevant entry points to work that requires rigorous thinking. As teachers, the work challenges us to shift how we think about learning and knowledge, structure instruction, and assess students’ performance. This is not easy work, but we are not entirely on our own. This year’s Rowland Foundation Fellowship supported the development of materials used in the humanities projects. We also have a budding relationship with High Tech High, a group of schools recognized internationally for achieving a high degree of in-novation and equity though projects. This week Kirsten Surprenant, Doc Browne, and Story Graves have completed another Rowland Fellowship appli-cation designed to help us further develop our partnership with High Tech High. http://www.hightechhigh.org


First trimester student performance

Our students’ performance this first Trimester showed a drop in the percent-age of total classes failed, from 9.28% to 8.44%. This 8% threshold has been very hard to break. A significant change was the percentage of students failing one or more classes, 19.29%.

For the past five years at least 21% of our students have failed at least one class. This number was as high as 22.86% in the first trimester of 2012.

Tri1 Percentages:

tri1 percentages


The democratic process of school governance

As principal of Rivendell Academy and Head of Schools, school board meetings are an important venue for me to hear from community members.

Our school board meetings take place on the first Tuesday of the month at 6:30 PM. The meetings rotate between the district office conference room in the West Wing (lower building) and Westshire Elementary School. December and January include special budget meetings in preparation of the Annual Re-port and presentation of the budget at the town meeting.

The development of our schools requires increased community participation. These meetings provide community members an opportunity to address con-cerns to the board, hear reports from each principal, and the superintendent. There are usually one or more special presentations to the board by students or community members.

Upcoming dates:
Board meeting 1/3 Westshire
Budget meetings 1/10 Academy, 1/17 Westshire

Sincerely,
Keri Gelenian

Fall 2016

Dear Rivendell Families

We have had a fantastic start of the year. Students seem happy, focused and engaged. After four years we now have all high school students on personal laptops and our technology has been working beautifully. Our new staff, Mr. Pilcher in 7/8 social studies, Ms. McConnell in math and Ms. Radney in Spanish are settled in and doing a great job. Our strong start is testimony to the professionalism and excellence of our teachers and staff.

Upcoming Events, which we would appreciate your input, please place on your calendar:

Rivendell Academy Advisory Open House

~Bringing Us Together in Meaningful Conversation~
Thursday, October 6, 2016
6:00pm – 7:45pm
Meet your student’s advisor
Overview of first month of school and future events
View student and teacher video projects
Meet other parents and staff


Sign-up for 3-way conferences

* Please note that 3-way conferences are November 4, 2016 not October 7, 2016
We are encouraging 100% participation at all grade levels. This is a time to come together as a school community. Each advisory is providing a baked good and coffee/tea will be available. Dinner will be provided for all soccer players.

We need Assistance in Creating an Afterschool Arts Program:

We held our first meeting with two parents, and we held an initial brainstorm meeting with parents and students on September 15th. Our second planning meeting is on September 28th from 6 - 7 PM at the academy. Our first initial project is organizing a fundraiser in December. We need your help, if interested please attend this meeting or call Brenda Gray at 353-4321 x1225.

3-Way Conference Change

We are moving the academy 3-way conference to November 4th from 11AM-6PM, families will schedule times at the  Advisory Open House. October 7th is a scheduled day off for students.

Honor Roll Reception

We will not have an honor roll recognition night at the end of the First trimester. We will however hold one recognition night at the end of Tri II recognizing high school students who made honors Tri 1 and Tri 2.

Fall Newsletter

Summer 2016 Principal's Letter

Dear Rivendell Families and Staff,

We are embarking on an exciting year. Our seniors are a small but powerful group, and we look forward to working with them this year.

Welcome Warren, Piermont, and Waits River families-- five Warren students and five Piermont students and one Waits River student will join our 9th grade class. Also, we are excited to meet our new 7th grade students and families! In total, we have twenty-two new students who have joined us.

I hope you read the entire letter, but feel free to read only what interests you. Section 1 introduces new staff. Section 2 describes the four educational initiatives that will continue to drive our work in the district. Section 3 presents small structural changes for the school year at the Academy.
Section 1: New Staff
Paige Radney is taking over for Mary Rizos in Spanish. Paige recently graduated with an MA degree from the University of Vermont. She has a BA in Spanish with a minor in international development, also from UVM. Paige completed her student teaching at Mt. Abraham Union High School. She comes highly recommended from her mentor teacher and university professors.

Doug Pilcher is rejoining us this year. He will be working with our middle school team teaching 7/8 social studies. In 2014-15, Doug served as a student teacher under the mentorship of Ms. Surprenant. Last year Doug taught 7th and 8th grade social studies at Warren. Since 2003, he worked as a program director for the Aloha Foundation. We are thrilled that Doug has returned to RA.

This summer Kate Paxton from the Upper Valley Educators Institute started working at the Academy as a principal intern. She has a doctorate from the Arizona State University in the areas of qualitative research and philosophy. She has been a teacher and worked in a variety of other administrative positions. Kate will be with us for the year on a part-time basis.

Rachel McConnell will be teaching several math courses as a replacement for Mr. Bardos who will spend a portion of his time next year doing work related to his Rowland Fellowship. She will also be teaching some 7th and 8th grade Title I support math classes. Rachel is another returning teacher. Last fall she worked as Doc Brown’s student teacher. Rachel has her BA in physics from Dartmouth and a teaching credential through UVEI. At last year’s robotics competition she demanded that she teach at the Academy. We are very pleased that we could make that happen!

We are currently interviewing for a new 7/8 counselor to replace Ms. McLaren who left this summer to take a position much closer to home.

Dr. Sarah D. Stearns will be working in the district as a school psychologist. She earned her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences and completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Kosair Children's Hospital/Bingham Child Guidance Center in Louisville, KY. Dr. Stearns has been in practice since 2000, first at La Rabida Children's Hospital in Chicago, and then at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Psychiatric Associates in Lebanon, NH. Dr. Stearns is skilled at treating disruptive behavior disorders such as ADHD and ODD, and can provide parent behavior management and anger management training in individual, dyadic, or group formats.

Ms. Rizos, although not teaching Spanish, will be working with the district part-time to develop grants and promote the district. She will also be working with the Vermont Folk-Life Council, which could provide us with some great ideas and resources. These connections are important. http://www.vermontfolklifecenter.org


Section 2: Our Work to Support Deep Learning

In last year’s spring newsletter I outlined four areas that will focus our professional work. We are committed to the development of deep, courageous thinkers who have confidence in themselves and know how to operate successfully in our complex world. These four areas work toward those ends.
Under each area I have bulleted information related to our planning in each area.

1) Build on and improve our advisory program including morning meeting
The central purpose of Advisory at RA is to support students in exploring their personal goals and direction in school and in life. It’s a place to build interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. It’s about Rivendell’s three big goals: Character, Community, and Scholarship (See attached advisory mission statement).

  • I sent a letter in July in response to student petitioners who were concerned about the changes of some advisors.
  •  We will be working on making small improvements to our advisory curriculum.
  • We are exploring partners and grant funding to provide more support for deepening our advisory work.
  • We re-established our Student Advisory Council.
  • The summer reading work is largely organized through advisories.
  • Jen Ellis will have time in her day to lead advisory improvements and work with the Student Advisory Council.

2) Deepen our expertise using Critical Exploration as an approach to learning www.criticalexplorers.org

Critical Exploration is an approach to learning that supports students in developing deep insights into their own thinking about concepts and ideas that are central to the subjects we teach. The process of Critical Exploration is inclusive to all learners—all ideas count. Judgments good or bad are left out of the conversation. We expect that ideas will change and develop, as some ideas become fodder for new ideas. The materials are rich, provocative, and complex. Teachers focus on understanding students’ ideas and push for the development of those ideas in unorthodox ways: not evaluating the ideas or leading students to an idea the teacher has in mind, giving students time to wrestle with their confusion instead of giving them the answer, and most importantly, devising on the spot questions that allow the student to think deeper by probing their thinking. This simultaneously gives the teacher more insight into the student’s thinking. Critical Exploration is based on the truth that teaching toward one set of pre-proscribed set of ideas severely limits the contribution of ideas and thoughts of students in a classroom, especially those ideas that go well beyond the “right answer given by fast thinking students.”

  • This year Rivendell principals and ten district teachers will attend three days of work with the Critical Explorers staff at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
  • Rachel Sanders and Laszlo Bardos will begin working with teachers at Watertown, MA Middle School and the Critical Explorers staff. We hope other teachers can go to Watertown to work with their staff. Rachel and Laszlo will also begin working with teachers to develop high quality materials for Rivendell classrooms. The Rowland Foundation is supporting this work.
  • The District’s Committee on Learning will continue to support district professional development focused on Critical Exploration.
  • I am in the process of writing a chapter in a book on Critical Exploration. The chapter presents some new insights into the work.
  • We need to decide when and how to be more explicit with students about Critical Exploration, so they develop a deeper awareness of their own learning process.
  • We hope to have the Critical Explorers staff come to Rivendell to help support professional development.

3) Develop projects leading to public exhibitions
http://www.hightechhigh.org
Project-based learning was a founding principal of our district. All classes at the Academy utilize project work as part of the curriculum. The scope of projects varies. When Eric Reichert teaches Writer’s Café, the project culminates in a book of meticulously revised student writing. Students this summer produced five videos of interviews with people with visible and invisible differences. Doc Brown’s flashlight project has been a staple of a unit in 9th grade physical science.

There are many important purposes for project work:

  1.  Projects ask students to put knowledge and skills to work in complex ways.
  2. Most people remember and value school activates that required them to make something, perform, or be active in the community.
  3. People learn from working together and learning to work productively with others is a valuable skill.
  4. Projects offer people opportunities to assume different roles.
  5. Audience is important. The reaction of an audience, good or bad, has more meaning than a grade.
  6. Projects ask teachers to assume different roles and relationships with students—one more like mentors and coaches.
  • Last spring Kirsten Surprenant and Story Graves spent two days in San Diego at High Tech High.
  • My friend, Rob Riroden, is the co-founder of the school. He will be coming to Rivendell on September 2nd to work with all district staff. We will watch and discuss an award-winning documentary about High Tech High, Most Likely to Achieve.
    http://www.mltsfilm.org
    September 2nd is a day off for students, but we want to include students. I will be asking different teachers to provide extra-credit incentives or community service hours for students who attend and participate in the day’s work.
  • We will be looking for funding to further our relationship with High Tech High.
  • Summer Academy students completed five video interview projects. These will be used as part of our summer reading curriculum in the fall for a real audience.
  • Kirsten Surprenant and Story Graves are designing a project for advisories to complete this fall. The projects will culminate in an evening Video Café at the Academy on October 6th from 6:00-7:30 PM. We expect parents and community members to attend this event (All staff are also completing the same project.)
  • 9th grade humanities students will work on a project leading to an exhibition first Trimester. The 7th and 8th graders will also work on project leading to an exhibition the first trimester. Project work will rotate to other teacher partners 2nd and 3rd trimester.

 

4) Develop our curriculum documents
For over a year the Academy staff has worked to develop a unique curriculum framework. The purpose of the framework is to give all teachers a common structure in which to create public documents that outline every Academy course.

We have worked on this slowly and the process has been difficult. We want our written curriculum to truly reflect our philosophy and educational values. The complexity of our work is testimony to the quality and dedication of our teachers.

  • We believe that Rachel Sanders has solved a nagging problem related to accreditation requirements that demand that we have rubrics to evaluate our “learning expectations.” Our curriculum committee will finalize these changes.
  • We will devote professional development time to writing our curriculum documents.
  • Gordon Christi-Maples has articulated the Academy curriculum work to the elementary teachers. We will add another 5/6th grade teacher to our committee to build continuity between 5th/ 6th and the middle school.

The Rationale for this work
These four professional areas put student learning in the center of what we do. Advisory is an about personal relationships, with specific purposes in mind-- becoming reflective learners able to develop a strong community and individual character. Critical Exploration puts students’ ideas at the center of the learning process. Projects and public exhibitions unify understanding and action with the purpose of having an impact in the world. Curriculum that rests on a framework of truth, choice, systems and change supports complex thinking, relevance, and impact. No amount of testing, standards, textbooks, or lectures compare to the virtues these ideas and practices can bring forth in our students.
How are Advisory, Critical Exploration and Projects and Exhibitions Connected?
There are several ways to answer this question. One way is to identify common educational values common to each area. Each of these areas of our learning culture places a high value on:
- Rich and engaging materials
- Complexity
- Personal effort based on skills that go far beyond traditional “academic” skills
- Academic skills learned in more authentic and personal ways
- Teachers as highly skilled mentors and coaches rather than “authorities” dispensing knowledge
- The multiplicity of good ideas rather than “one” right answer
- Collaboration and learning from peers and adults in the community
- Performances that reflect “real life” skills
- Autonomy and choice
- Respect for others’ skills and ideas
- Different roles and individual skills and abilities
- Revision and practice
- Low-pressure learning situations
- Creativity and imagination
- Fun
- Truth, choice, systems and change as an organizing principle for learning in all areas
We believe these common values can build an even more powerful and inclusive learning environment at Rivendell Academy and in the district.


Outcomes
Do these initiatives work in the larger educational environment that still focuses on test scores and right answers? Our SBAC and science NECAP test scores have ranked us as one of the top Vermont schools for the past 3-years. We do well despite the fact that we do not pander to the standards or the tests.

On August 24th I received our ACT scores. Last year, Academy students beat state averages in every area- college English comp (100%/86%), college algebra (100%/70), college social studies (100%/ 69%), and college bio. (80%/49%). The combined score ranking proficiency in all areas placed us at 80% compared to the state average of 49%. Unlike the SAT, the ACT tends to be taken by only the most serious students. Thus, these scores indicate that Rivendell’s best do better than the best in the rest of the state.

Overall, 83% of our students last year passed all their classes.


Section 3: Small Structural Improvements at the Academy

Study time
We responded to students’ suggestion to provide one longer block of study time, two days a week. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays remain the same as last year. The column on the right in the chart below shows the new schedule for Wednesdays and Fridays.
Monday and Tuesday (no change) 
11:29-11:59 Advisory
11:59-12:20 Lunch
12:20-12:42 Study (with advisor)

Wednesday and Friday
11:29-11:50 Lunch
11:50-12:42 Flex (students must first check in with advisor for attendance before leaving)

The “Office”
We have decided to implement mandatory academic support based on high school students’ Tri 3 grades last year. Responding to another student suggestion, we have created “offices” for these students, complete with their own desks and cubicles. Mr. Galli and Ms. Hall are creating the offices in the room at the top of the stairs in the East Wing and the Workshop room in the West Wing. Students will be required to be in the offices during Study and Flex times. They cannot leave. We will have
teachers in these rooms to assist students. When students are above a 69% in all their classes they can challenge out of mandatory academic support.

Ms. Hall and Mr. Galli will be meeting with every mandatory academic support student each week to check up on their progress and develop strategies for success. Additionally, Ms. Hall is investigating a computer-based program that will help keep students organized.

Better Data and Analysis
Mr. Galli, Ms. Oakes, and Mr. Ackerman are creating a data base for us to track the factors associated with students who fail classes at Rivendell. In the past we identified 3 factors: 1) missing assignments, 2) not taking advantage of opportunities for extra credit or test retakes, and 3) refusing help when it was available and offered. We firmly believe that the reasons for failure often are not related to students’ abilities, but a sense of futility that their effort will make a difference. Our goal is to try to address the sense of futility with more consisted support, strategies, and clearer structure.

New Handbook
Mr. Galli has rewritten the student handbook and Ms. Gray has reformatted the document. We will eventually combine our handbook with our program of studies in e-book format. We will also print a small number of hard copies to help support recruitment efforts.

Yearbook
Ms. Gray is heading up the yearbook, and we are using a new format that will give us greater flexibility in our layout and allow greater flexibility in ordering. The company that we are using is Picaboo in Hanover. Our yearbook chief last year, Megan Landgraf, worked at Picaboo and they might be willing to hire someone from Rivendell again this year. We need 2-5 dedicated students to begin work immediately. This could be a great Upper house project.
http://yearbooks.picaboo.com

Back to School BBQ
We have not set a date for a back to school BBQ. We will make this decision as a staff when everyone returns.

Bus to Hartford Tech
We have made arrangements with Hartford and Thetford to run a bus to Hartford Tech. in the afternoon program. In the past students had to provide their own transportation.

Title I Support in 7/8 Math
Rachel McConnell will provide Title I support to students in math in 7th and 8th grade. The first trimester the support will be in the classroom and during flex time on Wednesday and Friday. Second trimester will schedule students in an extra support class. Every day.

After School Programing
We no longer have an after school Visions program. Students interested in afterschool opportunities should consider sports (including the fencing club) and robotics.

We will be asking for parent support to create an after school art program (Rivendell Arts Alive) and to organize a winter fundraiser to support the program. We have an initial $5,000 donation to begin the work. Our limited resources and faculty will require family leadership for this project. It has enormous potential for our students and school/ community partnerships.

News from Keri Gelenian, Head of Schools/RA Principal

May 2016

Dear Rivendell Families,

Events in May move us in many directions. We say goodbye to our seniors and introduce ourselves to our new seventh graders.

It is a time for reflection on the past year as we also begin planning for future. Here are some highlights.

Student Accomplishments

  • Trillium Cserr, a graduating junior, has been awarded a National Merit Scholarship Nomination as a result of receiving a qualifying score on her PSAT examination. Her score has placed her somewhere in the top 3% of PSAT scores nationwide. Trillium has also been awarded a writing award from the National Council of Teachers of English, thanks to a submission of her work by Eric Reichert.
  • Good luck to our seniors! They have made their plans for next year—work, military, and college. We have 26 seniors moving on to college.
  • Thank you Megan Langraff for taking on the yearbook as your senior project. We look forward to it. Hopefully someone or some people can fill your shoes next year!
  • Ms. Robison’s Women’s Literature class is creating a syllabus for restructuring the health curriculum to include such issues such as reproductive rights; consent; physical, sexual and emotional partner violence; and gender expectations and gender roles. Women’s Lit is also hosting a night of spoken work on May 26th from 6:30-7:30 in the multi.
  • On May 11th we received a phone call from a woman praising Will Ussler, Max Haehnel, and Isaac Martel. The caller and her husband were heading to Thetford Academy for an event featuring one of their grandkids, when they got a flat tire in front of Rivendell. The three boys rushed out of class and changed the tire. They also refused payment for work. The woman said she and her husband would have never made it to Thetford in time if it weren’t for the quick
    help from our students.
  • The front page of the Valley News http://www.vnews.com/A-Tree-Grows-in-Fairlee-Along-with-Student-Knowledge-1880893 showed Rivendell taking advantage of the unique opportunity to plant, nurture and record the growth of chestnut trees developed
    over decades of work by the American Chestnut Foundation http://www.acf.org/index.php. Doc Browne seized this opportunity when Rivendell parent Marcus Bradley secured saplings from the foundation.
  • As a result of years of work by Michael Galli, Nancy Hall and Cindy McLaren, we will have approximately ten tuition students joining our 9th grade class next year. These students will come from Warren, Piermont, and Waits River.
  • Brenda Gray has done the impossible! She secured a driver’s education teacher for a summer New Hampshire class. Rod Hull will be returning to teach the class. It is nearly impossible to find a certified NH drivers education teacher. We would love to have a local person get certified to teach the course! Anyone interested?
  • Nancy Hall and the Leo’s club combined forces with their sponsoring Lion’s Club Chapter to give eye tests to Rivendell stu-dents using a hand-held digital scanning devise.
    Jack Winxxx practicing as xxx Gray looks on.
  • Nancy Hall organized a comprehensive, experienced-based approach to introducing our students to Dual Enrollment and Early College opportunities. At the Norwich campus, CCV faculty gave our 9th and 10th students an overview of their classes. An excellent panel of CCV students, including our own Erin Lapine, gave a great overview of the rewards and challenges of community college.

The Past is Prologue

  • Mary Rizos and Jenny Ellis picked up the work started by former English teacher, Silas St. James in refocusing our advisory program. Mary and Jenny also broke the ice with the Rowland Foundation by submitting a very competitive application last year.
  • Following Jen and Mary’s example, Lazlo Bardos and Rachel Sanders submitted a Rowland Fellow application and received $100,000 to continue our work with Critical Exploration. Critical Exploration is an approach to fostering deep learning by engaging learners with materials that allow learners to naturally develop and further their own ideas. http://www.criticalexplorers.org/about/origins-inspiration/.
  • In two weeks Kirsten Surprenant, Jen Bottom and Story Graves will travel to San Diego to visit a very innovative set of pub lic charter schools known as High Tech High http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/on_innovation/2015/03/ most_likely_to_succeed_a_film_about_what_school_could_be.html.
    These schools are unique in their singular focus on projects. As in Critical Exploration, the projects give students owner-ship over their learning. With scaffolding from the teacher, these unique projects develop creativity, a capacity to work in teams, problem solving and confidence. A real problem or question drives the best projects.

Where are we headed?

  • Build on and improve our advisory program including morning meeting.
  • We need to continuously improve our advisory curriculum. To do so we have rearranged some grade level advisors who will stay with their advisory group for two years. This gives advisors an opportunity to focus on two years of curriculum rather than four. The downside is that advisors need to get to know another set of 10-12 students every two years. We have reestablished our student advisory council and given them specific leadership responsibilities.
  • Deepen our expertise using Critical Exploration as an approach to learning. This work will continue to be supported by the district’s Committee on Learning through professional development activities and the work of Lazlo Bardos and Rachel Sanders with the support of their Rowland Foundation funding. We hope to create a deeper relationship with the staff of Critical Explor-ers, a group based in Cambridge, MA.
  • Develop projects leading to public exhibitions.
  • Next fall, at the end of the first trimester, the 7/8 students and the 9th grade humanities students will present a public exhibi-tion. Developing the projects and exhibitions will begin with a problem or question. We will judge our success by the impact that these projects have on the audience when students present their final work.
  • Continue to develop our curriculum documents.
  • RA’s thematic framework for curriculum (Truth, Choice, Systems and Change) and our learning expectations will continue to drive course development at RA. Our goal is to develop critical, pragmatic thinkers. We want Rivendell students to be well versed in considering these questions: What “truths” need to be brought to bear in understanding a significant problem or question? How are choices impacted by those truths? What systems are created or maintained by those choices? What choices impact those systems?

The Rationale

  • These goals put student learning in the center of what we do. Advisory is an about personal relationships, with specific purposes in mind-- becoming reflective learners able to develop a strong community and individual character. Critical Exploration puts students’ ideas at the center of the learning process. Projects and public exhibitions unify understanding and action with the purpose of having an impact in the world. Curriculum that rests on a framework of truth, choice, systems and change supports complex thinking, relevance, and impact. No amount of testing, standards, textbooks, or lectures compare to the virtues these ideas and practices can bring forth in our students.
  • These ideas and practices require patience and practice. We have produced examples of these ideas. We have experimented and reflected on those experiments. We are slowly gaining control based on what we have learned. We are novices. Yet, I am confident that with continued freedom to experiment, we will have a lot more to say and show for our efforts at this time next year.

 

I wish everyone a safe and happy summer.
Best,
Keri Geleian

News from Keri Gelenian, Head of Schools/RA Principal

January 2016

Dear Rivendell Families,

Happy New Year! We have much to be thankful for at the start of 2016:

  • I would like to welcome our new interim superintendent, Mike Harris, to Rivendell.
  • Our modern language students had 5 placements at the annual Hanover poetry recital competition.
  • The Rivendell Academy Players did a fantastic job performing, And Then There Were None. The show raised $2,500.Waits River students spent a half-day visiting Academy classes. We hope to grow our Waits River enrollment at RA. 
  • Our afterschool academic skills program started in October. We have seen mostly 7th and 8th graders for literacy and math support.
  • Laszlo Bardos and Rachel Sanders have applied for a $100,000 Rowland Fellowship. We wish them luck. The grant will help support professional development in the district.
  • The Academy would like to thank everyone who played a role in the memorial for our beloved Gerry Suich. The memorial was a reflection of Gerry’s influence on the lives of RA students.
  • Thank you to all students for your positive response to our initial problems with the After School app. RA has played a big role in highlighting the harmful effects of anonymous social media applications. Thanks to Cindy McLaren and Michael Galli for all their work bringing Emma Bogardus to RA and for extensive media coverage. Emma was an inspiration.
  • A big thanks to James Graham for supporting morning weight training.
  • Ms. Rizos, Ms. Brynne and the Guatemala travelers have been recycling, stacking wood, raking and doing other dirty jobs to raise money for the Guatemala trip. Rivendell has a recycling container at the Fairlee dump. Please contribute.
  • Thanks to Ms. Hall and teachers for all their efforts with college applications. Soon the nervousness of completing all the paperwork will be replaced by waiting for the results! Good luck seniors.
  • Our soccer teams were once again recognized in Vermont and nationally for outstanding sportsmanship and academics.
  • A big thanks goes out to Nora Clark (Class of 2006) for creating a series of videos on the lives and accomplishments of Rivendell graduates.

Academic News

Based on last year’s standardized test scores, RA is ranked 5th in the state of Vermont. RA’s rank defies the economic disparity that exists in our district compared to 8 other top schools. Our average score of 91.11 was only 6 points below the top school, yet our free or reduced lunch percentage was 39% compared to 12%. Similarly, Westshire Elementary is ranked 10th in Vermont, only 10 points below the top elementary, but with a free or reduced lunch percentage of 42% compared to 7% in the top performing school. Recent comparisons of State by Education Week places Vermont schools3rd in the nation. http://www.edweek.org/ew/qc/2016/2016-state-report-cards-map.html?cmp=eml-sb-sr-qc16-20160107n

This news has caused quite a stir on local Facebook posts! Keep up the conversations and bring them to the board meetings.

Here is how we look compared to the rest of the state on 8th and 11th grade testing. Note: The scaling on the graphs gives the illusion that we are almost twice as successful as other schools. This is the result of not starting the x-axis scale at 0. (A 9th grade student pointed this out.)

sbac scores RA

Our performance continues to be high in all subject areas. Our scores are high despite the fact that we do not overtly track students or focus instruction on standardized tests or any single set of standards. We hold high expectations in individual classes and our graduation requirements are rigorous. We focus on students who struggle and do all we can to provide them with individual support and attention. Our teachers care about the quality of students’ ideas and thinking. We teach big ideas. We trust our students.

We are seldom satisfied. There are still too many very capable students receiving one or more failing grades. We have many students who could be making the honor roll. At the end of the first trimester I met with a dozen 10th grade students who fell in these two categories.

First Trimester Grade Results:

The following graphs give a picture of students’ performance during the first trimester. Given the strong correlation between test scores and GPA’s last year, we have a bit of evidence that GAP and test scores are related.

ra 1stsem grade results


The numbers seem to tell the following story about students’ performance:

There is a movement of kids up (100-90) and down (69-55) in GPA, with the middle (84-70) getting smaller. We need a stronger showing in the middle range. Ideally, we need to move the bottom up to the middle. From 2011-13 the % of GPAs in the failing range was approximately 6%-7%.

ra 1stsem grade results2


Grades 7, 8 and 10 seem to be accounting for the overall drop in GAP. There were 4 7th graders who failed 3 classes, 4th graders who failed 3 or 4 classes and 4 1th graders who failed 3 or 4 classes.

failing grades honor roll

 

Act 46 and Rivendell

There are a number of things to consider when looking at Act 46 in relation to Rivendell. First, as a result of being an interstate district, Act 46 does not compel Rivendell to consolidate. Recently, we also found out that the tax penalties also do not apply. Second, Rivendell has consistently met the equity concerns of Vermont lawmakers and the DOE as evidenced by our broad academic programs and our consistently high test scores that defy our high free or reduced lunch numbers. Also, our spending increases have been minimal over the last 6 years, given increases that are not under our control—fuel, bussing, health insurance, maintenance, etc. Third, our board has been discussing merger possibilities with neighboring districts; Thetford Elementary in particular (200, K-6 students). Including a district like Thetford Elementary makes sense because it increases the overall tax base of the district.

Sincerely,
Keri Gelenian

News from Keri Gelenian, Head of Schools/RA Principal

Fall 2015

I looked up the origin of the word spontaneous. It comes from the Latin spont, which means willing. Not what I expected, but a perfectly appropriate connection to my thought that RA’s distinctiveness stems from valuing spontaneity. We are willing:

  • A group of seniors led by Jennifer DeBois were willing to draft a letter to change the rules regarding senior privilege during study time.
  • Eric Reichert was willing to take over as the cross-country coach, a new experience for him.
    Caleb Parker and Emma Hayes were willing to take me up on my offer to come in on a day off from school to work on a math activity with a stranger in front of some 35 Rivendell teachers. I thought it would take me hours to cajole two students to come in. It took minutes.
  • Rachel Sanders was willing to experiment with her biology curriculum by adding an aquaculture project in the greenhouse based on a spontaneous field trip to the Dartmouth organic farm last year.
  • Nurse Creigh Moffatt would be willing to do just about anything to improve our health and wellness.
  • Laszlo Bardos was willing to teach three different courses in the same room at the same time to accommodate the needs and interests of different students. He was also willing to start an electronics club after school.
  • Students in journalism were willing to include advertisements in the school newspaper to help pay for a trip to DC.
  • Gail Keefer was willing to teach French to 5th and 6th graders from Samuel Morey and teach a new course on Africa to expand our global studies offerings.
  • Everyone was concerned about taking a dog named Digger on a field trip to the Orford cemetery, but Jamie Nunn was willing to make sure that Digger didn’t disturb any bones.
  • Michael Galli, Cindy McLaren and Nancy Hall were willing to plan a complicated assembly, change the schedule and hold the assembly less than 16 hours later. The entire process was triggered by a short conversation earlier that day. It would be safe to say that it was an amazing assembly.

I could go on and on with examples of people being willing to help make RA a better place for everyone. People at RA don’t pontificate they spontificate.


After School Help (Soon to be renamed by students)

Our after school program is finally up and running. The program is designed to support students in math and literacy based on test scores and grades or teacher recommendations. We have sent letters home inviting students into the program based on our selection criteria.

The program runs Monday through Wednesday from 3:00 pm to 5:30 pm. Students are organized into literacy and math groups depending on their needs. Students have an additional block of time to complete homework. On some days we will have a math and reading specialist working with teachers.
We will have a snack and a fun activity to end the day. Students exit the program when their level of performance improves.

Special education teacher, Brynne MacMurtry, is running the program. If you have questions or would like to havemmore information, please contact Brynne at .


Smarter Balance [SBAC] Scores

Recall that newspapers used to print NECAP results and school rankings. The Vermont DOE has also downplayed SBAC results -- surprising, given all the media attention, time and money that went into the launching of the Com-mon Core Standards and associated SBAC testing.

We received a memo from the Secretary of Education that reported that SBAC scores across the state were lower than NECAP scores. She attributed the drop to the nature of the Smarter Balance questions. This was expected based on the results of the pilot testing that occurred two years ago in Vermont and across the country. In the same memo, the secretary went on to write:

“So how do we use these tests? Remember first of all that this is the first year of these tests. We really have no idea what level of performance on the Smarter Balanced assessment predicts a stu-dent will be well prepared for college and careers. We need to look at this data over time before we can come to any defensible conclusions about school quality based on these tests.”

I believe that there probably is a strong relationship between students’ scores on the SBAC and their ability to do college level work. But I also believe there are other important factors besides standardized test scores that influ-ence a student’s ability to complete an undergraduate degree, technical degree, job training program or simply meet the expectations of an employer. These might include financial support, ability to deal with stress, confidence, the ability to find adequate support, or uncertainty about what they want to do in life.

The issue of school quality mentioned in the memo rests primarily on educator’s ability to improve students’ intel-lectual skills to the greatest degree possible. At RA the Smarter Balance test results provide very little information that we don’t already know about students’ academic performance. The DOE should investigate whether or not this is true in the majority of schools in the state.


SBAC Results Compared to GPAsbac scores

“Was there a relationship to 11th grade students’ GPAs at the end of last year and their SBAC scores?” We asked this question to test if Smarter Balance assessment actually did give us information about students that we didn’t already know.

By dividing students into four equal groups based on GPA (four quartiles) and comparing GPA quartiles to SBAC scores, we found that there was a strong correlation between test scores and GPAs. For example, of our students who scored a 4 on SBAC language, 9 were in the top GPA quartile, 4 were in the third highest GPA quartile, 1 was in the third highest quartile, and 1 in the lowest quartile. We then looked close-ly at the surprising individuals. For example, why did someone in the lowest GPA quartile score a 4 in the lan-guage test? When we identified that student, there was a readily apparent reason. When we looked at three stu-dents with a high GPA but low test scores, we also found sensible reasons; we had recorded that these three students spent very little time on the test.

 

In her memo, the Secretary of Education went on to say that we need to give these tests, “Because they DO give us useful information that we can use to evaluate the size and direction of our achievement gaps, as well as the mas-tery of individual students on specific content.” Our RA analysis leads us to conclude that we already have this information.

What We Could Do

Given our stance and our experience, I believe the state and federal governments need to back away from failed policies of accountability/punishment and constant meddling with standards. There are many common sense ways to better spend taxpayer’s money. Here are a few examples:

  1. Create greater incentives for qualified people to become math, science or reading teachers.
  2. Increase the training and placement of clinical counselors to work in elementary schools.
  3. Assure that schools have strong music, art, and drama programs.
  4. Increase support of post-secondary programs like Upward Bound.

Sincerely,
Keri Gelenian

News from Keri Gelenian, Head of Schools/RA Principal

November 19th, 2014

Dear Rivendell Families,

On Tuesday some students began using an app called After School. The app allows a student to send an anonymous message to other Rivendell students who have also downloaded the app.

A small number of students have used the site for bullying and sexual harassment of other students. Because the posts are anonymous we are currently unable to identify who has sent a message. I am concerned about the emotional impact these hurtful messages have had on targeted students. We will be checking in with targeted students as we move ahead in dealing with this issue.

Since Wednesday morning I have discussed this issue with all high school students. All high school students have agreed to remove the app from their personal device. I realize that some students will not remove the app, but I am hopeful that most will do so. I am meeting with the 7th and 8th grade on Friday.

In addition we will be having follow-up discussions with all students in advisory and in an assembly. We are also investigating ways to gain access to the identities of students who have sent inappropriate messages. Bullying and sexual harassment are against the law. Those students who might be identified will be dealt with accordingly.

I encourage you to have a discussion with your Rivendell student about the legal and personal issues related to using technology to harm others. Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and other online tools can be fun and helpful or hurtful and harmful. The choices people make define how others see them now and in the future.

It is important to remember that nearly all our students used this app appropriately. The majority of students in the school did not even know that it existed. As is usually the case, we are all paying the price for a few but significant instances of negative behavior. We are using this incident to once again have open and honest conversations with students about how to treat one another and use technology appropriately.

Sincerely,

Keri Gelenian
Principal, Rivendell Academy

Click here to download this letter

News from Keri Gelenian, Head of Schools / RA Principal

August 3, 2015
 
Dear Rivendell Families and Staff,
 
Rivendell Academy, and the district in general, are poised to have a very exciting year. At the Academy we will continue to focus on supporting our students to develop as critical and flexible thinkers who successfully navigate the world.
 
Highlights of last year include the Vex robotics championship, packed houses in our fall play and spring musical, yet another trip to Barre to try to beat the seemingly invincible Williamstown, state records in track, a fantastic Raptor Run organized by our Athletic Leadership Council, artists selected for the AVA Gallery show, participants in St. Paul’s Summer Academy, trips to visit Noam Chomsky and Amy Goodman, many technical award recipients, speakers from the front lines of Afghanistan, and a high school (paid) internship recipient at Hypertherm. We have been making steady progress academically as well in our work to expand the possibilities for students.
 
We will do our best to continue to ask, offer, cajole, and push our students to look for new experiences and reasonable challenges that help them learn and grow. Visit the Academic Enrichment section of our web page for a partial list of opportunities available to students. http://www.rivendellschool.org/schools/rivendell-academy/guidance/academic-opportunites. We will be doing more to get students involved with our Choose Your Own Adventure program started last year.
 
Summer Reading—Ideas, Events and People that Changed the World/BBQ and Speaker
We have an exciting agenda of activities planned for students during the first week of school. On Tuesday, August 25th at 5:30 p.m. we will hold our annual Pot Luck BBQ. We will try something new by having everyone eat together in advisories at various locations. At 6:30 p.m. we have a guest speaker, Dr. Yolanda Sanchez, who will discuss breakthrough cancer research. She is an example of someone working with others to try to change our world.
 
Yolanda Sanchez
 
If your Rivendell student has procrastinated finishing his or her summer reading and writing, time is running out. They should have it done by the time school starts. Our slightly new schedule allows us to start classes without much interruption from summer reading activities as has happened in the past.
 
Advisory, Rivendell Curriculum and Learning Expectations
For the past two years we have been developing our advisory program and our curriculum. We want advisors to be true mentors to our students, guiding them to figure out who they are, keeping them on track while in school, and helping them figure out (even tentatively) what direction they might be moving after Rivendell. If students were rockets, advisory would be their launch pad, and advisors would be ground control.
 
The curriculum in advisory is designed to help advisors and advisees get to know one another well, work out any differences (an important life skill) and be successful individually and as a group.
For the past year the Academy curriculum committee (Scott Riess, Kirsten Surprenant, Laszlo Bardos, Gary Ackerman, Keri Gelenian) has been working to restructure curriculum documents in a way that explicitly reflects a philosophy that emphasizes deep understanding over facts, broad skills in the areas of our specific learning expectations, and the ability to think across disciplines through the exploration of four themes: Truth, Choice, Change and Systems. One of my proudest moments at Rivendell occurred on the last staff day of school last year when each faculty member presented a 10-minute overview of the curriculum in one year long class. The aspects of curriculum that I just described came though very clearly in all the courses. This was the first time Rivendell Academy teachers had heard, in a very focused presentation, what colleagues were teaching across the school. I think we were all ready to enroll! Our work this year is to move on to complete curriculum documents across all or most of the remaining classes.
 
With the support of our digital project leader, Gary Ackerman, we are moving to further the digital integration of our curriculum documents and teacher course web pages that will be fully accessible to students, teachers and community members.
 
After-School Programming
Last year was the final year of funding for the Visions Program. At the Academy this means that the structure and purpose of our programming will change. The Federal Title I program will fund much of the afterschool program. The program targets students with identifiable needs for extra support in literacy and math, based on three criteria established by the school. These criteria will likely be grades, standardized test scores, and teacher recommendations.
 
Students will receive targeted assistance in areas of need provided by teachers and classroom assistants in small groups. We hope to also provide ongoing assessment by a reading specialist and math specialist. This will not be time for homework help. The targeted instruction will run from 3:00-4:30 p.m. with a snack break. From 4:30-5:30 p.m. we will have time for a planned activity or time for students to complete homework with help.
 
We will have a parent meeting to introduce the program and hold periodic meetings for parent feedback and suggestions for program improvement.
 
The Larger Context of Education
Testing and Standards
Last October I sent a lengthy letter about standardized testing, and we hosted an information night about testing issues. North Country Schools’ Superintendent, John Castle, and I voiced our concerns about standardized testing (time, money, lack of useful information) at the Vermont State Board meeting last February. Currently, the U.S. Senate and House are trying to resolve differences in their versions of the new education law that is intended to replace the No Child Left Behind Act that began the standardized testing movement approximately 14 years ago. NCLB expired four years ago without being reauthorized.
 
The new education bill will likely turn the use of testing back to states. The states are still required to put together some type of accountability system. Both bills eliminate the Common Core Standards mandate, but states must have some standards in place. The bottom line, after about four years of build up to the Common Core Standards and the new testing system, the pendulum swings back to where it was with other various political twists and turns. That is, if the two houses can reconcile the differences in their bills. (My approach over the last four years has been to ignore the mandates and buzz words and focus on student learning, high expectations, teachers, teaching, and innovation).
 
The federal government is backtracking, only because of political backlash, but they are not proposing federal initiatives that in the long run will help state use and allocate resources to have more impact. The sad ending to the likely federal legislative changes is that state will likely stay on their current course.
 
Vermont has more freedom because it did not buy into the entire package of federal “incentives” that were used to push a much larger testing agenda in most other state. The new bill will likely allow the Vermont legislature, under the guidance of the Secretary of Education and Governor, to create standards and assessment structures that are more educative and appropriate than what we are currently left with. We can hope.
 
Until the NCLB Act is changed under new legislation Rivendell Academy is still designated as a school in need of improvement in math despite several years of solid test scores in math. (I am required to report this to you by Federal law).
 
Some links about testing:
 
School Consolidation
Closer to home Vermont has implemented new legislation (Act 46) designed to move schools toward consolidation. The issues around this legislation have led the American Civil Liberties Union to threaten to take Vermont to court if a district makes a request. Simply put, the ACLU
sees that funding caps (designed to limit spending increases and force consolidation) as a violation of the state constitution.
 
 
The Governor, Secretary of Education, and legislature currently believe that consolidation will: 1) reduce education costs for taxpayers, and 2) increase the educational opportunities for students in very small schools. The following two articles state opposing opinions on this issue.
 
 
The complexity lies in our social values around taxes, education, and community, as well as what consolidation means. Does it mean increasing class size, closing schools, sharing administrative costs, all these things, or some of them? The devil is in the details. Making the right decisions will depend on getting the facts straight. For example, would closing one school result in overcrowding in another and an eventual call for construction?
 
One issue often not discussed is that Vermont often rates very highly in terms of educational achievement in its K-12 system. Another is that it might be that small schools can’t offer the same opportunities as larger schools, but what they do offer might reach more kids at a deeper level.
It is important to note that Rivendell is not required to consolidate because of our unique status as an interstate district. The question of whether or not Rivendell consolidates by bringing in other districts isn’t easy to answer. What is important is that the issue is brought forth in an open and inclusive way so all perspectives and ideas on this issue can be examined. It was this type of process that led to the creation of our unique district in the first place.
 
I am very excited to start the new school year.
 
Best,
Keri Gelenian
Head of Schools/RA Principal

News from Keri Gelenian, Head of Schools / RA Principal

June 2015

Dear Rivendell families,
Congratulations to the Class of 2015 on their upcoming ceremonies. They are well-prepared to take the next steps in their lives. This is the first graduating class that completed the high school program that we put into place in 2011. They have completed rigorous graduation requirements, many hours of community service and a career internship or Upper House Project. These seniors continued our Rivendell tradition of fielding strong teams and demonstrating outstanding sportsmanship. They have graced our stage with their musical and acting abilities, and have done great work at River Bend. This class has matured into a wonderful group of young adults. We will miss them, and hope that they will stop by for a visit next year.

We have entered the time of year that spins us at a dizzying speed. Outgoing seniors and incoming 6th graders are all nervous for the next steps in their lives; teachers and administrators wrack their brains over planning for next year; we worry about getting everything done to finish this year. We have to remember to breathe and rely on our strong collaborative spirit. Here are some highlights from recent months:

  • The Rivendell Players in grades 7-12 packed the house with three outstanding performances of Anything Goes—outstanding singing, dancing, music and comedy— the whole shebang. The production grossed $4,500, the most ever. Bravo!
  • Congratulations to the Athletic Leadership Counsel for successfully organizing the Raptor Run this year. Also, a big thanks to the Lions Club for all their equipment and Lion Power. We were also proud of “Liam power”: Liam Fleming had the second fastest overall time in the Raptor Run.
  • Thank you Michael Galli for your hard work organizing our documentary series presentation of the Hornet’s Nest and the panel discussion on PTSD. The event drew about 100 people from the community, including 25-30 veterans. The last people left the gym at 11:00 PM.
  • Congratulations to Tali Gelenian and Maija Bradley, who will be attending St. Paul’s Summer Academy.
  • On May 26th Sam Emerson ran fast, really fast. Sam set a new D4 State Outdoor record in the 100 meters in 11.49 seconds. Sam also holds the outdoor record in the 200 meters and the indoor record in the high jump and in the 4x200 meter relay.
  • Thanks to Cindy McLaren for taking all the 7th grade girls to the Sister-to-Sister Program at Dartmouth.
  • Thanks to Nancy Hall for organizing a college fair trip for all juniors.
  • Thanks to senior advisors Mr. Bardos, Ms. Barsamian, and Mr. Newsted for organizing and chaperoning the senior trip to Lake George.
  • Thanks to junior advisors Ms. Rizos, Ms. Keefer, and Mr. Riess for helping the junior class with the prom.
  • Ms. Rizos is working with Quenla Haehnel to plan the Spanish trip next year. Last year, students travelled to Peru, and next year’s destination is Guatemala.

Staff Changes:

We are sad to say goodbye to Jon Lester and Nicki Barsamian. Their departure brings the following changes in staffing for next year:

  • Jennifer Bottum is moving from middle school special education to middle school Humanities-English. Jennifer has been working with the 7/8 team for the past two years, so this should be a smooth transition. She is very excited.
  • Christina Robison is moving from 7/8 English to 9th grade Humanities-English, and Upper House English. Christina had previously taught high school English and she is looking forward to teaching it again.
  • Carol Sobetzer is moving from Title I, Upper House Social Studies, and Career Internship to 10th grade Humanities-Social Studies, Upper House electives and a new course that is split between CCV’s Early College Course and the internship curriculum.
  • We have hired James Graham to replace Mr. Lester as our PE teacher. Mr. Graham brings years of experience teaching PE, Health, Adaptive PE, coaching, and serving as Athletic Director.


Schedule Adjustment:

Our schedule next year will create a short study block and a short advisory block every day. These changes honor the request of students for more study time, allows us to expand advisory to two days a week, and aligns 7th and 8th grades and high school so middle school students can attend club meetings with high school students. The change shaves two minutes from each class, making classes 61 minutes. This is the second minor change to our schedule in four years.


Sincerely,
Keri Gelenian

June 2015 Newsletter

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