Prospective Parents Ask Good Questions

Posted by Glynn Below - 08 July, 2017

At our K-12 Open House, in October 2015, our Head of School invited the audience to text in their questions.Open House 15w.jpg He answered most of these questions at the event, but he wanted to give other administrators the opportunity to respond along with him as well.

These were such great questions, we thought the post was worth revisiting.

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

We 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 does not provide a grade level comparison, but when administering other assessments that 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 sq

We 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

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

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 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

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?

For 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 they are interested in.

We recently introduced a Lower School Interim experience that aspires 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 teach enrichment clusters. All students in grades K-3 participate in a 1 1/2 hour-long enrichment cluster of their choice in the morning, and one in the afternoon. Teachers plan clusters based on interest inventories completed by students.

The enrichment clusters provide the opportunity for students to learn important skills through topics not encountered in the regular curriculum. Each enrichment cluster is limited to a small number of students (10 or fewer). For many enrichment clusters, outside speakers are invited to help students understand how the topic they are learning about is practiced as a profession. – Laurel Shockley

What's your favorite thing about Randolph?

The 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! Please contact our Admissions Office at 256-799-6103 or by email, if you would like to speak with someone, arrange a visit, or be notified for future events. Follow our blogs to learn about so much of our program information.


Topics: Academics, challenge, Common Core, Freedom, innovation, Interim, Lower School, Head of School

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