More questions from the floor

Posted by Rebecca Moore - 19 January, 2016

IMG_6700At our K-12 Open House, in October 2015, our Head of School invited the audience to text in their questions. He answered most of these questions at the event, but he wanted to give other administrators the opportunity to respond as well. We would love to answer your questions. Please contact our Admissions Office 256-799-6103 or by email, if you would like to speak with someone, arrange a visit or be notified for future events.

What level are the students testing at... Same grade level or next grade level?

IMG_6735We use the Educational Records Bureau Comprehensive Testing Program in Lower and Middle School. 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. The ERB CTP IV does not provide a grade level comparison. However, when administering other assessments which compare our students to national norms, we find that our students tend to perform at an average of 1.5 grade levels above their current grade. – Jerry Beckman, Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs

Is there a high level of anxiety among the students about academics? If so, are they taught methods to manage stress?

The majority of students do experience academic-related stress at some point, but rarely is it an ongoing issue. Students are taught stress-management and coping skills, formally in 5th, 7th and 8th grades, and counselors work individually with students who seem to experience more anxiety with regard to academics. – Vanessa Robinson & Leslie Shelor, School Counselors

What's the student/teacher ratio?

8 to 1. – Jerry Beckman

Does Randolph teach cursive handwriting?

11_KM sqWe begin teaching cursive handwriting in 2nd grade.  We use the Handwriting Without Tears method and materials to teach both manuscript and cursive writing in grades K-4.  We have learned from current brain research that writing in manuscript and writing in cursive activate different parts of the brain, which leads to better understanding of content. Studies have shown that students who learn to write in both manuscript and cursive perform better on reading and spelling tests, possibly because writing words that are linked together forces children to think of words as wholes instead of parts.

We believe it is important for our students to be able to read cursive writing for several reasons. Not only will students be able to read the cursive they will encounter in and out of their school life, but they will also be able to read our most important historical documents in their original form. – Laurel Shockley, Assistant Head of Lower School

Ten Reasons People Still Need Cursive, The Federalist

What's Lost as Handwriting Fades?, New York Times

I was told that Randolph has been a Blue Ribbon school in the past (2003) but has not achieved this recognition since. Why is that?

Since 2004, the National Blue Ribbon program has accepted nominations only for schools that enroll a significant number of disadvantaged students or that perform at a high level on state-normed tests. Because Randolph does not enroll a sufficient number of at-risk students to qualify and does not participate in state testing, we are no longer eligible for Blue Ribbon commendations; otherwise, I am confident that we would be very competitive for recognition. Randolph outperforms all other schools in our region by a substantial margin on college-entrance exams; for example, 37% of students in our last two graduating classes earned a composite score of 30 or higher on the ACT, almost twice the rate achieved by the next highest-performing school in north Alabama. – Jay Rainey, Head of School

What differentiates the teachers at Randolph from the teachers in public schools? How does your curriculum differ from public schools?

It is always important to me in responding to questions like these to affirm Randolph’s support of public education as an essential institution in American society, and to affirm the work of public school teachers and administrators as invaluable in the lives of millions of American children. My wife worked for 14 years as a public school guidance counselor, and my sister is a public school reading specialist in Virginia. I should note, too, from a regional perspective, that the City of Huntsville, the City of Madison, and Madison County all benefit from the favorable reputations of their public school systems, and that Randolph School, as a north Alabama institution, benefits from those reputations by extension. Families in our region place a high value on education thanks in part to the good work of our public schools.

What differentiates Randolph from public schools in the strictest sense is that we are self-funding and self-governing. This independence allows us to define for ourselves what excellence in K-12 education should look like, and it liberates us to adjust that definition as we deem appropriate. We are a relatively straightforward enterprise. We operate and behave not as a complex system that serves and is accountable to a range of communities and governing authorities, but rather as a singular, focused entity that serves and is accountable to a single school community. Randolph’s stakeholders are united by a common investment in and commitment to an exceptional college-preparatory educational program. Public education, like the interstate highway system, state parks, public utilities, and government safety-net programs, is in essence a socialistic construct; its strengths are a function of the large scale of the population that compulsorily funds and is entitled to its services. Independent schools like Randolph are, by contrast, free-market constructs; our strengths are a function of the high expectations of the families who voluntarily invest in and receive our services.

As the Head of School at Randolph, I am expected first and foremost to know and educate the children in our care, not to manage complex administrative systems. I am in constant contact and dialogue with the students I serve as the leader of this institution, from kindergarten through twelfth grade, and I work hard to know their names, to understand their lives, and to maximize their educational opportunities. Teachers at Randolph are held to these same expectations. Their job is not to deliver a generalized, externally-determined program of instruction in accordance with state or national curricula and in preparation for standardized tests. Their job is to know, nurture, captivate, and challenge each of the students they serve. As Head of School, I am committed to recruiting, hiring, developing, and retaining educational professionals who do these things exceptionally well and giving them the freedom and support to teach and, in concert with our school administration, adopt and adapt curricula as they see fit. – Jay Rainey

IMG_6736With 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 kindergartners individually progress through the Primary Phonics series. First and 2nd graders use the Treasures series as the basis for literacy skills including grammar. Third and 4th grade students move on to using fiction and nonfiction literature to support the subject-based units of study. – Laurel Shockley

Is Common Core taught at Randolph? What are your thoughts on Common Core math?

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

We would never want to limit our focus to one federal or state curriculum such as Common Core. 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

Can you tell us more about the advisory programs?

IMG_4723The advisory program in the Upper School aspires to be the central relational connection for the four years of learning and growth through our Upper School program. A student is assigned an advisor in 9th grade and stays with this advisor until they graduate. Advisors see their students every day, they meet with parents during conferences, and they are often an integral part of course enrollment and college conversations. This year we have a particular focus across our Upper School Advisory program on bringing further alignment between the student experience in advisory and our mission to inspire and enrich all in partnership with Randolph, both within the School and in the outside community. For more details, please see this post.Michael Treadwell, Dean of 9th and 10th Grades

The advisory program in the Middle School is one of the most important parts of our schedule.  It is a time that encourages relationship-building, between students, and between faculty/administration. It is also a time dedicated to character education. Our advisory program this year is centered around the Randolph Middle School “Core Values” of: creativity, resilience, curiosity, integrity, respect, responsibility, and teamwork.  Additionally, our conferences occur through the advisory program.  Fall conferences are with the child’s advisor (in 7th and 8th grade) and homeroom teacher (in 5th and 6th grade). Student-Led Conferences are held in the spring, with support from the advisors.  Dedicated advisory time is spent helping students prepare for these. – Jennifer Ragsdale, Dean of 5th and 6th Grades

Is Randolph LGBT-friendly?

Randolph’s Upper School works to provide a safe learning environment for all of its students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender-related issues. In addition to our counseling department, the School emphasizes inclusion and tolerance through a number of programmatic initiatives, including our 9th grade Health and Human Performance curriculum and our Advisory system.  We conduct school culture surveys to help us understand the student experience as it relates to issues of tolerance and inclusion to help us augment our programming should that prove necessary. We strive to ensure that each student has supportive adults in their lives and that we have the resources to help our community accept a variety of backgrounds or differences. – Ryan Liese, Head of Upper School

We are committed to the education and formation of young people at Randolph in the broadest possible sense, which includes supporting those students who struggle, especially during adolescence, with a sense of difference or separation from perceived social norms – in terms of race, ethnic identity, religion, sexual orientation, or otherwise – and which also includes instilling in all of our students timeless human habits of humility, compassion, and kindness. As a native Virginian, I am frequently reminded of Thomas Jefferson. “It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no God,” he wrote in his Notes on the State of Virginia. “It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Tolerance, that fundamentally American virtue, is cultivated and celebrated at Randolph.

Approximately 1 in 25 American adults identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, so we can expect at Randolph – as every school can expect – that our population includes a percentage of students, however small, who will during their years here or after their graduation “come out” as non-heterosexual. The care and keeping of those students is as profound an obligation to us at Randolph as is the care and keeping of all other students whom we are privileged to serve. – Jay Rainey

You have the senior buddy program for Kindergarten; do you have something similar for 1st grade transfer students?

We don't, but we have other opportunities to build relationships with older students, such as reading buddies, Gaudy Day helpers, interim and Community time. – Cindy Shaw, Head of Lower School

What exactly is Interim and how does it benefit my child's learning experience?

2_shoemake_shadowsFor many years, Interim at Randolph has been an experience for Middle and Upper School students only.  Middle and Upper School students have an opportunity to learn from real world experiences during the week of interim.  Many students travel to learn about current events, history, art, humanitarian pursuits, science, etc. in a hands-on experience.  Other students job-shadow to gain real life experience and knowledge about a profession in which they are interested.

This year, we are introducing a Lower School Interim experience that will seek to achieve some of the same goals met by Middle and Upper School Interim, but at the appropriate developmental level of our younger students.

During the Lower School Interim week, all of our teachers, specialist teachers, and some of our staff members and administrators will teach enrichment clusters. All students in grades K-3 will participate in a 1 1/2 hour-long enrichment cluster of their choice in the morning, and one in the afternoon. Teachers will plan clusters based on interest inventories completed by students. The enrichment clusters will provide the opportunity for students to learn important skills through topics not encountered in the regular curriculum. Each enrichment cluster will be limited to a small number of students (10 or fewer). For many enrichment clusters, outside speakers will be invited to help students understand how the topic they are learning about is practiced as a profession. – Laurel Shockley

In the Middle School, Interim does not really begin until 7th and 8th grade.  During those years, the whole grade takes a trip together at the same time as the Upper School interim program.  7th Grade heads to Camp McDowell where they work on environmental science and take on team-building activities.  8th Grade goes for five days to Washington, D.C. — a trip that is seen by many students as a highlight of their Randolph experience. While there, the students visit museums and government buildings, conduct studies and participate in activities. They get to sit on the floor of the House of Representatives and meet with local representation. The trip connects to our 8th grade U.S. History class and explores many of the themes presented in 8th grade English. – Clay Elliott

In the Upper School, the Interim program consists of a number of options to allow our students the opportunity of experiential learning outside of the classroom environment.  These experiences can take on a number of different forms depending on each student.  The 9th grade trip to Chicago immerses our students in a shared experience that highlights many aspects of their curriculum, from cell biology at the Field Museum to Gothic Architecture at the University of Chicago.  This serves as the only whole-class trip in the Upper School and is most often remembered as our students’ favorite Interim experience.

Students also have the opportunity to explore career interests by shadowing a profession of their choosing for a week.  This provides students with a practical, real-world application to the content and skills that they learn at school.  Community service is also a key component to the Interim program, as students work as a large group providing meaningful assistance to local non-profits.  In doing so, they learn about the needs within their community and ways in which their education can impact those around them.  We also work with Habitat for Humanity to offer experiences through their group.

2015-03-16 15.57.24Students can also participate in a number of trips, which may take place within the state of Alabama or outside the country.  These trips expose our students in a particular culture or experience, whether that is a language-immersion trip to Puerto Rico or France, an outdoor experience through Alabama’s park system, or an immersive arts-based experience at a retreat in Arkansas.

Our goal for each student is to provide time during the school year in which they explore interests and passions and learn how they connect to their academic, athletic, or artistic talents.  Exposure to the new ideas and concepts that they encounter during their Interim experiences helps many of our graduates gain clarity about their future academic and professional pursuits. – Ryan Liese

Other than the extracurricular activities that are provided, what other activities are provided to the children (eg, field trips)

We provide a wide range of activities outside the classroom in the Middle School.  One of the most important is the culminating 8th Grade leadership project, now named 8Lead.  This culminating project challenges students to synthesize and practice the many skills learned during their Randolph Middle School years. It places an emphasis on initiative and community involvement and provides opportunities for real world, practical experience that reflect what the world will expect of them in years to come. During the project, students work both on campus and off and learn about the challenges facing the broader Huntsville community.

In the other grades, we take a variety of trips and look for opportunities to connect our curriculum to the outside world. The 5th grade spends a week at Space Camp and goes to the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham. The 6th grade spends a few days outside conducting science experiments and getting outdoor experience at Tremont Park in the Smoky Mountains.  In addition, in all grades, we take advantage of our flexible schedule to allow us to have visiting authors and a wide variety of other speakers present to the students.  We also take local field trips as opportunities arise and connect to our curriculum. – Clay Elliott

We pride ourselves in offering an array of developmental opportunities from our curriculum-based field trips to in-house experiences in the design lab and science lab, and with community partners with the Huntsville Symphony Violin program and the Fantasy Playhouse program. This year, we are introducing an Interim program (see above)  We also offer opportunities to "give back" to our community through our Morris Elementary food-packing program and our Second Mile Preschool nap blankets donations. – Cindy Shaw

What's the average award for financial aid?

$7,000 is the average annual award for tuition assistance. - Linda Bryant, Assistant Head of School for Finance and Operations

What's your favorite thing about Randolph?

IMG_0062The community! Modern life fractures us. We don’t know our neighbors as well as we once did; we experience uncertainty and anxiety at higher rates than we used to; we communicate too often with screens and too rarely with faces; we trust each other less. Randolph offers a much-needed sense of community and belonging not only to our students, but to their parents, their grandparents, our faculty, our staff, and our alumni as well. To be a part of Randolph School is to feel that you are part of something special, something bigger than you that betters you. I feel very lucky to work here and very lucky that my children attend school here. – Jay Rainey

Questions and conversations are what admissions is all about! Last week we held our Lower School Open House. This week, we are offering a webinar on the process of applying for tuition assistance and a lunch and learn with our athletics director. In the weeks to come, there will be several other events for prospective families to visit our campus, speak with members of community and gauge fit. You can find details about future admissions events here. Please join us, and please keep asking questions!

Photos by Rebecca Moore (Drake Campus lit up for Lower School Open House), Meade Davis (learning about measurement in 3rd grade), Rebecca Moore (a selection of tools used for learning to write in kindergarten), Laurel Shockley (learning about light in 4th grade), Michael Treadwell (students set goals at the 9th grade retreat), Julia Shoemake ’17 (8th grade Interim trip to Washington, D.C.), Jereme Matthews (Alabma Outdoors Interim trip), Nan Cox (3rd graders in the design lab on Grandparents and Special Friends Day)

Topics: admissions, Admissions, advisory, Common Core, community learning, School Culture, financial aid, Freedom, High Expectations, Huntsville, Interim, LGBT, Relationships, testing, tuition assistance

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