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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

 

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

 

September 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,
Keri Gelenian
Head of Schools/RA Principal

Click here to download Keri Gelenians letter.

 

News from Keri Gelenian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,
Keri Gelenian

News from Keri Gelenian

August 6, 2016

Dear Rivendell Families, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to download

 

Best,
Keri J. Gelenian

News From Keri Gelenian

Dear Rivendell Families,

Choose Your Own Adventure

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

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

New Faculty

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the 80's

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

Prom

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

Senior Trip

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

ra news june2014

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

Sincerely,
Keri Gelenian

May/June 2014 Newsletter