Questions from the floor

Posted by Rebecca Moore - 03 March, 2015

IMG_447013806At our Lower School Admissions Open House in January, Head of School Jay Rainey invited the parents in attendance to text their questions to the screen. He chose to take questions this way based on his experience as a classroom teacher, when he had used this format to elicit participation from students who wouldn’t otherwise have raised their hands to ask difficult questions.

Choosing the right school for your child is a big decision, and a Randolph education is a significant investment on the part of the family. The child and the school should be a good fit. “I opened the floor to anonymous questions in the interest of being approachable and transparent,” says Mr. Rainey. “I wanted prospective parents to feel that they were getting authentic, unscripted information from us in order to make the best decision for their children. I also believe that such open dialogue is true to who we are as a school. At Randolph, we believe that opportunities for candid conversations are essential to building a community of trust in which every student can thrive.”

Admissions events and school visits are an excellent opportunity to have these conversations and ask such important, sometimes difficult, questions.

After an initial pause, the questions started to tumble in from the floor, too many to answer fully in one night. Mr. Rainey shared these questions with members of the School’s administration and now offers these answers. We hope we both satisfy and pique your curiosity about Randolph by sharing them with you here.

Our next admissions event is March 31, and we’d love to see you there. If you have questions of your own or want to arrange a campus visit, please get in touch with us by email or call 256-799-6103.

I would like to know how behavior problems are handled when they arise.

We are proud of our Lower School Honor Pledge and practice it daily to emphasize appropriate behavior in a school community. We believe the home and school partnership is necessary to support the ever-changing challenges in a child’s life. The classroom teacher is responsible for working with her students and managing appropriate consequences for small disciplinary problems. When a child is involved in a serious offense, the Lower School Head intervenes and seeks a conversation with parents. Our school counselor is available as another resource when needed. — Cindy Shaw, Lower School Head

Talk about how you approach the whole child.

Our Lower School prides itself on being an advocate for the development of the whole child. We create an environment where a child’s natural curiosity can thrive, offering opportunities for practice and play. We use a nurturing and developmentally appropriate approach in all academic, social, and emotional situations, providing children a safe place to learn. Randolph offers an array of specialty classes to enrich the daily school experience and give students the opportunity to develop their creativity and talents.
— Cindy Shaw, Lower School Head

What percentage of children who apply are accepted?

Over the past five years, we’ve averaged an 81% acceptance rate over all grades. There is typically a higher acceptance rate in the lower grades. The admissions process is a very personal experience, and we work hard to have helpful, transparent discussions with families to know if Randolph is the right school for the child and the family.
— Glynn Below, Director of Admissions

Are there guidelines or certain test scores that you require for a student who is transferring in (who didn't start in kindergarten)?

The very best statement about the kinds of students who are accepted is our Admissions Philosophy: “Randolph seeks the very best students and the most supportive families from wide-ranging backgrounds with an eagerness to learn and contribute to our community and programs. Randolph's mission-driven admission practices are established to foster a student-centered learning environment for developing strong character, moral leadership and courageous habits of heart and mind.”

We gather many sources of information about a student in the application file, including report cards, teacher recommendations, personal statements, test scores, and notes from the campus visit and interview. While there isn’t a baseline test score we look for, we do keep in mind this statement by Randolph’s founders: We are looking for students who are willing and able to do good work. — Glynn Below, Director of Admissions

What are the 50 schools that you baseline Randolph against?

Randolph is a member of the Independent Schools Data Exchange (INDEX) Large Schools Group, which includes 50 American co-educational PS/PK/K-12 day schools with at least 750 students. INDEX schools are characterized by high academic standards; they generally graduate 100% of their students to 4-year colleges and universities. They are:

Berkeley Preparatory School (Tampa, FL)
The Blake School (Hopkins, MN)
Cape Henry Collegiate School (Va. Beach, VA)
Chadwick School (Palos Verdes Peninsula, CA)
Charlotte Country Day School (Charlotte, NC)
Charlotte Latin School (Charlotte, NC)
Christ Church Episcopal School (Greenville, SC)
Cincinnati Country Day School (Cincinnati, OH)
The Collegiate School (Richmond, VA)
Colorado Academy (Denver, CO)
Detroit Country Day School (Beverly Hills, MI)
Durham Academy (Durham, NC)
Dwight-Englewood School (Englewood, NJ)
The Episcopal Academy (Newtown Square, PA)
Francis W. Parker School (Chicago, IL)
Francis Parker School (San Diego, CA)
Germantown Academy (Fort Washington, PA)
Greenhill School (Addison, TX)
Hawken School (Cleveland, OH)
The Head-Royce School (Oakland, CA)
Holland Hall School (Tulsa, OK)
Isidore Newman School (New Orleans, LA)
Kentucky Country Day School (Louisville, KY)
La Jolla Country Day School (La Jolla, CA)
The Latin School of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
The Lovett School (Atlanta, GA)
Mary Institute & St. Louis Country Day School (St. Louis, MO)
Moses Brown School (Providence, RI)
Norfolk Academy (Norfolk, VA)
Pace Academy (Atlanta, GA)
Park Tudor School (Indianapolis, IN)
The Pembroke Hill School (Kansas City, MO)
The Pingry School (Martinsville, NJ)
Porter-Gaud School (Charleston, SC)
Princeton Day School (Princeton, NJ)
Providence Day School (Charlotte, NC)
Randolph School (Huntsville, AL)
Ravenscroft School (Raleigh, NC)
Rowland Hall - St. Mark’s School (Salt Lake City, UT)
Sidwell Friends School (Washington, DC)
St. Andrew’s Episcopal School (Ridgeland, MS)
St. John's School (Houston, TX)
St. Margaret’s Episcopal School (San Juan Capistrano, CA)
St. Paul Academy and Summit School (Saint Paul, MN)
St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School (Alexandria, VA)
The Summit Country Day School (Cincinnati, OH)
Trevor Day School (New York, NY)
University School of Milwaukee (Milwaukee, WI)
The Westminster Schools (Atlanta, GA)
William Penn Charter School (Philadelphia, PA)

— Jay Rainey, Head of School

Three questions about Randolph's secular status and the role of religion at our school:

  • Rumor is that Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) is not allowed at Randolph any longer. Is this true?
  • Are Christians encouraged and given the same opportunities to express their beliefs as students of other religions?
  • Randolph has a reputation of being secular and liberal. Comments on this?

A number of students at Randolph are involved in FCA. Randolph students participated alongside students from other area schools at the FCA’s 2014 Northeast Alabama High School Football Media Day, for example, and dozens of Randolph Middle School students convene for FCA morning meetings at a church near our Drake campus. Our school provides transportation for these meetings. Randolph is not antagonistic to FCA, but as a non-sectarian institution, we limit the extent to which we formally partner with any religious organization in terms of its direct involvement in our student program offerings.

At Randolph we love children, which means that we love Christian children, Hindu children, Muslim children, Jewish children, children of other religious backgrounds, and children whose families do not adhere to a specific faith tradition. All children in our care are encouraged and given opportunities to express themselves, not because they are or are not Christian, but because they are children, and because we know that encouragement and self-expression are essential to the educational journey of any young person. We also know that self-expression should never extend so far as to trespass against others. Tolerance, an ecumenical human virtue, is fundamental at Randolph. What we teach our students in terms of establishing, inhabiting, and sustaining a community of trust and mutual respect aligns squarely with the wisdom of Matthew 7:12 (“Do to others what you would have them do to you”), but it also aligns with similar ideas in Buddhism’s Udānavarga (“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful”), the Muslim hadith (“None of you has faith until he loves for his neighbor what he loves for himself”), the teachings of Confucius (“Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself”), and the philosophy of Aristotle (“How should we behave to others? As we wish them to behave to us”).

Secularity is the state of being separate from religion; so yes, Randolph is a secular institution — which is to say non-religious — but this is not the same thing as being amoral. Ours is a deeply moral school culture. A Randolph parent of strong Christian faith whose children have previously attended Christian schools told me recently that Randolph is “the most Christian school my kids have ever gone to” — and yet, as he well knows, we are not actually a Christian school. What a wonderful paradox he highlighted in his praise.

Finally, Randolph is not a “liberal” school. Our faculty includes Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike — but their political affiliations are really beside the point. We employ great teachers, and great teachers are not interested in persuading students to their own points of view. Great teachers play the devil’s advocate. Great teachers push their students out of their comfort zones. Great teachers value their students’ questions more than their own answers. We have no interest in indoctrinating our students at Randolph. Indoctrination is not thought. You cannot tell children what to think if you want to teach them how to think. We aspire to educate thinkers at Randolph. — Jay Rainey, Head of School

How do you find and retain awesome, enthusiastic teachers?

We employ a Director of Faculty Development who partners with our administration to conduct faculty searches far and wide. We contract with national faculty recruitment firms to search and compete for the best teachers in the field. Once we have hired them, we provide a faculty mentor for each new teacher to nurture their growth and acclimation to the Randolph culture. — Jerry Beckman, Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs

What kind of state assessments do you administer?

We do not administer state assessments. Our curriculum is comprised of a combination of standards, objectives, and skills that have been informed by professional organizations in each discipline. An example would be that in mathematics, we currently review the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) standards and focal points to make sure our curriculum’s scope and sequence are aligned with current best practices. You will find in most cases that our curriculum exceeds the standards put forth by state and federal guidelines. We use the Educational Records Bureau Comprehensive Testing Program. This assessment allows us to measure and monitor each child’s educational growth and skill development compared with students at other independent schools similar to Randolph. — Jerry Beckman, Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs

Why start Randolph in kindergarten versus later in middle school or high school? What is the benefit to starting a child at Randolph for kindergarten versus later?

IMG_4897Parents who know our school well understand the clearly articulated program that is K-12. Beginning in kindergarten, our curriculum (like Handwriting Without Tears and Everyday Math) establishes a solid foundation that continues in first and second grade and beyond. Our teachers know their charges and lean on each other through the Lower School years to meet students exactly where they are. “Esprit de corps” builds early, and there’s nothing like our Friday-night Raider Rallies and football games to understand the wonderful family atmosphere at Randolph. Families get to know families — and the Randolph faculty and administration get to know our families, too, through years of interactions at school events like these. The longer our students are enrolled, the more opportunities they will have to become a part of, and to thrive within, our close-knit school community. — Glynn Below, Director of Admissions

The question regarding the most important time to start a child at Randolph is a common one heard from prospective parents. Our former Head of School, Byron Hulsey, would often answer this question by pointing out that the most important time in a child’s education is right now – wherever that child is in his or her educational journey. These are wise words. If your child is approaching kindergarten age, starting the journey at Randolph will give him or her the opportunity to begin the relationships that will grow and strengthen throughout his or her school years. Students who begin kindergarten at Randolph are able to take full advantage of the many traditions that we hold dear. Kindergarteners begin the special relationship with their senior buddies and play an important role in school ceremonies such as Convocation. The Randolph alma mater and Honor Pledge become second nature. There is no substitute for a strong educational foundation, and that begins in kindergarten at Randolph. — Laurel Shockley, Assistant Head of Lower School

The K-12 educational program is carefully constructed to meet the developmentally appropriate needs of children as they progress through their Randolph experience. Each grade-level experience is a building block for the child’s foundation. The kindergarten year is the most important year for a child to become comfortable with their school setting and to begin building confidence with their sense of self and expression. The classroom experience accompanied by robust exposure to music, visual art, computer science, library services, foreign language, lab science, and physical education allows the child to truly establish their “joy for learning” from a young age. — Jerry Beckman, Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs

Throughout my career, I have often heard parents reason that they will wait until high school to invest in an independent school education, “when it matters most.” But what is true with compound investing is also true with education: it matters most in the early years. (An analogy: We aspire to create in our Lower School program an optimal learning environment for the children in our care through classes small enough for individual students to be known, through emphases on character formation and citizenship, through a diversity of learning experiences, and through a prevailing expectation that school should be both challenging and rewarding. Randolph’s Lower School program sets a solid foundation for the long-term “construction” of a child’s life.
— Jay Rainey, Head of School

What curriculum guidelines do you follow (e.g., Common Core, Singapore Math, etc.)? How are you handling the Common Core debate?

With small class sizes and a vertically aligned curriculum throughout the Lower School, Randolph builds the content knowledge, work habits, and motivation necessary for students to develop strong academic and personal confidence. Within each grade level, our Lower School teachers are dedicated to creatively teaching literacy, math, science, and social studies content through comprehensive and engaging units of study. These curricula infuse technology and writing in ways that prepare students for learning and success in Middle School and beyond. While we use several different program resources, Lower School teachers are free and encouraged to layer, individualize, and enrich all areas of study. We use Everyday Mathematics throughout the Lower School. Our kindergarteners individually progress through the Primary Phonics series. First and second graders use the Treasures series as the basis for literacy skills including grammar. Third- and fourth-grade students move on to using fiction and nonfiction literature to support the subject-based units of study.

Because Randolph is an independent school, we are not obligated to follow the Common Core curriculum. We are very aware of the Common Core, but no more so than we have been aware of state and federal standards in the past. We feel that our students receive an education that exceeds the minimum standards set forth in the Common Core curriculum. — Laurel Shockley, Assistant Head of Lower School

Regarding Common Core, we would never want to limit our focus to one federal or state curriculum. We feel the need to constantly review and refine our curriculum scope and sequence based on current best practices at Randolph and at other independent schools. — Jerry Beckman, Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs

How do you monitor what is taught in the classroom if each teacher has the freedom to teach without a curriculum?

First and foremost, we do have an established curriculum. We are fortunate to use a digital curriculum mapping software system that allows each teacher to record their “taught curriculum” based on content, skills, objectives, assessments, and resources. Each teacher has the ability to view his or her colleagues’ maps which helps in establishing a spiraling curriculum that flows seamlessly across the K-12 experience.
— Jerry Beckman, Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs

Our K-12 faculty use the Atlas mapping software to record the curriculum in each grade. Teachers are given time throughout the year to update this information to make sure it is reflective of exactly what is being taught in the classroom. With this software, we are able to track where each skill is taught and compare our curriculum to national standards. Grade levels meet routinely to make sure the curriculum is vertically aligned.
— Laurel Shockley, Assistant Head of Lower School

How do I afford this premium education? Is there assistance, and how is it awarded?

Randolph offers three payment plans for families. Tuition payment plans exclude the $1,000 deposit, due at the time the student contract is signed, and the book/activity fees, which must be paid by August 15.

One-Payment Option: Tuition is paid July 15.
Two-Payment Option: Tuition, plus a $100 fee and .95% of the tuition, for tuition refund insurance, is paid in equal installments on July 15 and December 15.
Ten-Payment Option: Tuition, plus a $200 fee and .95% of the tuition, is divided into 10 equal installments, payable the 15th of each month from March to December.

Randolph offers a tuition assistance program to help meet the needs of our families who might not otherwise be able to attend Randolph. Admission decisions are made separately from tuition assistance decisions, but the application process for both should be simultaneous. We invite you to apply and be part of our efforts to provide the finest academic opportunity in the north Alabama area and to be part of a community that spans all economic levels.

All tuition assistance awards are based on a family’s demonstrated need, and they are made available to students in our Lower, Middle, and Upper School divisions. In order to assess a family’s financial need, the School partners with the School and Student Service for Financial Aid (SSS), a service of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). — Linda Bryant, Assistant Head of School for Finance and Operations

What is Randolph’s revenue versus education expense?

In 2013-14, Randolph’s total operating expense per student was $17,289, and the average tuition and fee revenue per student was $17,006. Revenue includes optional fees such as Interim trip fees and student activities fees. The largest components of operating expense were instruction (55%), plant (19%), and administration (15%). — Linda Bryant, Assistant Head of School for Finance and Operations

Do you conduct background checks on teachers prior to hiring?

Randolph requires all employees, coaches, volunteers, tutors, and any other individuals who will or potentially will have independent contact with students to complete a background screening, which includes the following: an address trace and state of residency search for felony, misdemeanor, and criminal records; a national criminal record check; a Social Security trace; and a national sex offenders database search.
— Meredith Pearson, Human Resources Associate

Nothing has a greater impact on a child's education than the quality of his or her teachers. Hiring the best people we can find is one of our most important obligations as a school, and we take it very seriously. In addition to screening all prospective employees, we speak with references, and applicants for all positions undergo a rigorous process of interviews with several members of our faculty and staff in addition to, in the case of finalists for teaching positions, campus visits and classroom observations. — Jay Rainey, Head of School

Topics: Academics, admissions, Admissions, curriculum, Kindergarten, Lower School, new students, parents, religion, teachers, training, whole child

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