Annual Report From Randolph Union High School

People / Jan. 28, 2010 10:40am EST

By Co-principals John Holmes and Dave Barnett

We are proud to share another year’s news with you in this report for the 2009-10 RUHS/RTCC Budget Report To The Voters. The ‘we’ in the first sentence is significant as it denotes that Dave Barnett and I (John Holmes) are now Co-Principals of Randolph Union High School. We collaborated and co-signed last year’s report, but Dave’s role in school governance has increased substantially over the last year, and, consequently, his input will be more prevalent in this writing. We’ve combined our individual administrative skills and interests to provide a fairly comprehensive leadership package for RUHS, but, when you deal with almost 600 different individuals on a daily basis, there are always new challenges being presented that make our jobs enduringly interesting.

As is done every year, we involved the whole RUHS staff as well as significant input from the central office in developing next year’s budget request. The result of many hard decisions and long discussions is a request to spend 0.27% ($20,950) more next year than we’ve been granted for this year. When you compare this increase with that of most of the rest of the state, we believe you’ll find that we are being very conservative, and we ask for your support in funding this increase. Barring any unforeseen significant impacts to our predictions, this budget will see us through another year of providing the students of our district with the high quality education that you expect.

We used the word ‘predictions’ specifically to highlight that our request is based on a lot of changeable figures. We start building the budget request eight or nine months before we will begin to spend it, and just about the only stable numbers we have to work with are the established salary contracts that dictate what current employees are to be paid. Even these numbers can change as employees leave and are replaced by individuals who request different insurance plans or whose experience levels place them onto different columns of the various contracts. When predicting the cost of insurances, electricity and wood chips, food, supplies, maintenance services, building needs, educational materials, and most significantly, the possibility of unanticipated special needs of new students, we use advice from experts, past expenses, and our best guesses to set our requests. If we are successful, the results of our predicting what it will cost to get us through the next year of educating the students in our charge always generates a question at the annual budget information session prior to the vote. The question is ‘How can you justify asking for an increase in next year’s budget when your last year’s request wasn’t all spent?’ Our answer? ‘The safety net we established held up against the actual costs of operation and so we’re now asking you to allow the school board to put the unexpended funds into (most often) the building maintenance account as a hedge against either catastrophic or high expense future building needs.

Your faithful support of our budget requests (you might note that our request for next year is lower than the actual expenditures for both the 2007-08 and 2008-09 years) and our conservative spending of same have again allowed us to put funds into the building maintenance account. With the school board’s direction, this past summer we used some of these funds to completely refurbish our 1954 chemistry lab (Mrs. Miller would be happy to take you on a tour), replace our 1954 senior high bleachers (sliding down them won’t get you splinters any more but might generate some static electricity as the seats are now plastic – could we ‘go green’ by tapping into that to power the basketball scoreboard?), rebuilding the front parking lot (no more ‘pothole shock’ as you drive through), installed 21 Smartboards in classrooms (talk about electronically enhancing education!), put security cameras in the back parking lot (watch out speeders), and put a new sound system into the auditorium (now if we could just replace those squeaky seats). Most of these improvements are small parts of the overall building improvement plan that was developed with significant community input and approved by the RUHS school board in 2007. More significant parts of the plan such as replacing the roof, installing a sprinkler system, and rebuilding the electrical system will have to wait for the state to rescind its moratorium on state building aid to schools.

Despite the lack of aid from the state, we are still engaged in planning reasonable improvements to our building. We’re currently using the talents and input from staff, students and community members on developing a phased plan of improvement for our media center. Recognizing the current fiscal situation in our local economy, this is the only major project we are developing for possible completion this coming summer. The committee realizes that we could spend a considerable amount of money refurbishing this area that hasn’t seen significant change since it was originally built in 1967 but, first of all, we recognize that funds are limited, and secondly, we don’t want to spend money on improvements that might be changed by future major rebuilding efforts. Thus, we’re developing a three or four phase plan that will depend on the finances available now and in the future. We hope to have the plan ready to propose to the school board soon enough so that, with their approval, we can have the first phase of improvements completed by the opening of school next fall.

In the area of Technology one of our most significant changes this year was the implementation on our new data management system, PowerSchool. While the change to this system has not been without its glitches, we have seen, and will continue to see many positive benefits. What PowerSchool offers us is the chance to, under one system, manage attendance, discipline, emergency/health information, food service, demographics, and scheduling. In addition, PowerSchool includes a component called PowerTeacher. PowerTeacher incorporates an internet based electronic gradebook now used by the entire RUHS faculty. With this gradebook teachers can now access, and add, information from home, improving convenience and efficiency. An additional component to this program will eventually provide parents with secure, password protected, Internet based access to their child’s current grades! At this time we anticipate activating this part of the program at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year.

A very popular technological change this year has been the advent of the Alert Now system. This is a rapid communication service that empowers administrators by giving them the ability to communicate important information to parents. We use this system to call faculty, staff and parents for school closings (a very popular feature with students!) and to announce upcoming events. Alert Now is synched with PowerSchool so contact information is kept up to date.

Classroom equipment is also another area of technological growth this year. As noted earlier in this report we now have 21 Smartboards throughout the building. A Smartboard is a large whiteboard that uses touch technology to display a computer's video output onto the whiteboard, which then acts as a huge touchscreen. Each day teachers learn new ways to integrate this technology into lesson planning and instruction. For example, students in classes recently used Google map to explore the routes of famous explorers, determined congruent angles in math, played Spanish jeopardy, and deconstructed focus statements in Humanities. Teachers have access to standards based Smartboard lessons and students appear to appreciate this very visible investment in their education.

A new mobile Polycom video-conferencing system also now provides teachers with the opportunity to connect our classrooms with experts in various fields, noted authors, and classrooms around the world. Many middle and high schools throughout the state possess this system, so the potential for students to interact with peers and teachers from other schools is rich and ready for exploration.

This year we are piloting the use of Virtual High School (VHS). VHS classes are taught by certified teachers from all over the United States. Access to the VHS learning community expands our class offerings for students beyond what would otherwise be possible. Students can access classes 24 hours a day, and students interact with their instructors in the web-based VHS classroom. Virtual High School debuted at Randolph Union High School on Wednesday, September 2nd 2009 and will continue through the spring semester. RUHS students are currently taking classes such as: AP Government & Politics, History of Photography, and Genes and Diseases.

Students were given permission to sign up for courses not offered at RUHS. In addition, in this pilot phase, students had to have all course credits complete in a subject area before registering for a VHS course in that subject area. As our year continues we are examining the outcomes of this pilot year to determine the continuation, and possible expansion of VHS offerings in years to come.

With all of the changes taking place this year, and in the years to come, proper professional development is essential to the success of our students and teachers. This year we continue our focus on differentiated instruction (using varied curriculum, instruction and assessment to meet the diverse learning needs of our students). To do this we again utilize our new technology to "virtually" access one of the best-known educational leaders in differentiated instruction- Rick Wormeli. Through Internet-based video clips, power point presentations, study guides and quizzes our teachers are improving their use of grading and assessment in the differentiated classroom. Additional professional development this year has included training in the use of: Smartboard, PowerSchool, Google docs, Microsoft Pages, and social skills training.

Many improvements come to our school without having to budget for them. One significant and consistent area of educational enhancement continues to be our involvement through foreign exchange. Dean Meltzer, 8th grade science teacher, is currently on sabbatical, teaching in the Lijiang province in China. Dean and his wife Dona (Braintree School teacher) are both experiencing teaching typical Chinese classes of 50+ students in an area of China that is unique in that it is the home of the Naxi culture. The Naxi people are one of the few (if not the only) peoples left in the world that use a pictorial alphabet, so Dean and Dona are enjoying observing how this culture’s old-world ways blend with the modern world. Dean has sent back many interesting pictures and observations so far. A side benefit of his presence there was the visit to RUHS several weeks ago of the principal of his school and several government officials from the Lijiang Province. They presented us with a book describing the Naxi culture printed on handmade paper that we now have in our media center. They toured some of our classrooms, spoke to our students through an interpreter (one of whom is a teacher in an elementary school of 4,000 students), and filmed all aspects of their tour as validation that they were here. They were particularly interested in learning that we involve community members in many of our decision making processes (China still uses the top-down government directory approach to running their schools), as well as talking to one of our two students on the school board, Katie Jickling (again, a ‘foreign’ concept to have student input in school governance). We also have 5 foreign exchange students with us this year. Rotary exchange brings us Louise Hoen Berge from Norway, and sends out Kim Francis (RUHS 2009) to Poland. We have two AFS students, Clara Ahlenius from Sweden and Joy Wade from Denmark. We have a PAX student, Mathilde Laderud, also from Norway, and we have Vincent Freeman, from Germany, staying with family in the area. At first, Vincent had planned to spend about 6 weeks with us to improve his English skills, but he liked us so much that he asked to stay the whole year so our initial Scandinavian invasion has now taken on a Germanic tinge. We especially thank all the host families for providing homes for these students for the year as they certainly enhance our daily lives here at RUHS. If you’ve ever considered hosting an exchange student, from personal experience I’d heartily recommend that you do so. My family has maintained frequent contact with a girl from Germany that we hosted in 1984, and visited her and her family for the third time for a fantastic week last summer. Mrs. Tina O’Donnell, Humanities department chair, has also hosted several foreign exchange students, and is currently hosting her daughter Kate’s husband from Brazil. Fabio Nascimento has enriched several gym classes and a whole-school assembly by demonstrating capoeira, a method of self-defense presented in the form of a dance. We are also gearing up for a short visit in February by middle school students from our sister school in Shizukuishi, Japan. RUHS middle school students were unable to visit Shizukuishi last spring due to H1N1, but we hope that things will be healthier this spring so they can go. Finally, because of our strong reputation throughout the state for hosting exchanges, we were chosen as one of four Vermont high schools to be involved in a cultural exchange of information with high schools in Ireland. Ms. Wendy Fuller interviewed several of our students and their families as part of her doctoral thesis comparing the future aspirations of successful Vermont and Irish high schoolers. After visiting all four of her chosen Vermont schools, she made a point of contacting me to compliment our students and school for being so cooperative and supportive of her project.

In many middle schools a common scheduling structure is one that allows grade level teachers common time to meet throughout the school week. This is also the case in the middle grades of RUHS. The time, referred to as "core," occurs for forty minutes twice each week. The real power of this structure lies in what is accomplished during core meetings. At one meeting each week teachers meet to discuss specific student concerns and develop action steps to support students. In the second meeting of the week teachers discuss curriculum and programs. This is time vital to developing, and sustaining, programming that keeps our learning environment vibrant and engaging.

Over the last two years one of the programming successes that developed from core time was the creation of our CAPE cash incentive program. CAPE stands for Citizenship, Attitude, Participation, and Effort; and CAPE cash is given to middle school students who are "caught" meeting these standards. Students then save their CAPE cash and decide on events in which to spend it. Community connections have helped this program to be successful with event sponsorship from VTC, Sugarbush Resort, Valley Bowl, and others.

Through purposeful scheduling we have, this year, extended core meetings to 9th grade teachers. This endeavor has allowed us to better support our freshman during, what can be, a challenging transition year. Through freshman core we have designed additional math support through a freshman math lab, created an additional math path of study called "consumer math," designed a comprehensive classroom management system, and explored options for bringing a positive behavior incentive program to the 9th grade.

Almost as important as the financial support from our greater community is the importance of the support given to our staff and students by community volunteers. It’s almost impossible to count all the folks who help out by opening their homes to foreign visitors, joining the various boosters clubs, being a mentor or panel member for the Senior Project, helping with bake sales, attending musical, cultural and athletic events, buying raffle tickets or donate raffle prizes, supporting the Adopt-A-Family during the recent holidays, etc. I include this in my report every year, and Thank You seems so inadequate, but that’s all I can give to the many unseen local supporters who help enhance our educational process. Being involved is a time-consuming process. Often taking care of all the everyday things that life throws at us is more than enough to use up all of our time, so we really appreciate the extra effort that many folks give to help us. Helping us in one area can sometimes conflict with helping in another, and that is what has happened with our Community School Organization (CSO). Last year I reported that the CSO’s membership was increasing and that we were using this membership to gain valuable community input on various projects going on here at RUHS. At the end of the year, however, with the retirement of several key members, the remaining members weighed their everyday commitments against what the CSO had planned for the future, and decided that they had so much on their plates that assuming a leadership role in the CSO wasn’t in the cards. Dave and I analyzed this and came to several conclusions. First, we’d still see many of the CSO members due to their involvement on other school related organizations, so we could still glean their input when needed, and secondly, we recognized that there really weren’t any ‘hot’ items on the agenda that needed this group’s specific input. So, many thanks to all the CSO members of the past for your help and input. We’ll contact you in the future when any new items come up, and we’re guaranteed that the school sign will be finished prior to the end of the school year! Something new for us this year was working with the Randolph Senior Center to co-sponsor the Vermont premier showing of the film ‘Pray The Devil Back To Hell’. This cultural event brought many citizens and students together for an evening of interesting viewing and after-film discussion led by current teacher Brian Rainville and retired teacher Roger Ennis. The film featured average citizens (mostly women) from the country of Liberia joining forces in a peaceful way to force their government to change some of it’s terribly cruel methods of citizen control.

Our Senior Project is another example of enduring community support. This year 37 of our seniors are doing projects here at RUHS while the remainder of the class is doing Tech Projects in their programs at the Randolph Technical Career Center. Program Coordinator Donna Viens reports that we have 41 mentors helping students by sharing their expertise in a specific area of learning, we have 36 school and community members on the seven panels which provide support and guidance for five or six students each, and we have additional staff who are official paper readers and many others who unofficially help in many ways. Five of the above mentioned folks are RUHS alumni who have personal Senior Project experience so they know firsthand what our current seniors are going through. We want to specifically recognize the folks at Kimball Library for their continued collaboration with our media center personnel in offering one-on-one instruction in research skill building strategies to all of the seniors. We’d like to take this opportunity to ask you to mark your calendars for May 19th, Night of the Arts, where seniors will demonstrate newly learned skills in the visual arts, and then the following week from 10am - 8pm on May 27th when all of the seniors will be displaying their projects here at RUHS. Some of the unusual projects this year include a Slum Outreach/Ministry experience in India, a wellwater mapping project, story compilation, pistol shooting, poultry raising, and constructing a Rube Goldberg machine. The high quality of these projects amazes us every year.

Student participation in extra-curricular activities remains high. At any one time, many students belong to more than one group and have to prioritize what needs to be done to balance schoolwork with in-school and out-of-school group commitments. We’re very proud of how well they seem to do this, and how much these groups get done. Students can choose from a total of 39 different sports teams as they progress through the grades (and community support has come forward to have a Cross–Country ski club next year), as well as Junior High and Senior High Student Council, National Honor Society, Rotary Interact Club, Encore Theater Company, International Exchange Club, Junior High and Senior High Band, Jazz Band and Chorus, Students Against Destructive Decisions, Yearbook, Newspaper, class officers and Junior class and Senior class memberships on the RUHS School Board. Our student groups and classes get involved in many activities that help the communities that support them. As you may have read in The Herald, Mrs. Sease’s Memory Bridge project has students visiting folks staying in the Menig wing at Gifford Medical Center. The senior high Student Council ran the annual Penny Wars again this year and donated over $400 in cash to the local Food Bank. The Interact Club will be helping the American Red Cross with the first ever blood drive here on February 9th in our senior high gym. The National Honor Society ran the canned food drive and delivered over 2,000 pounds of food to the Food Bank and helped make the Christmas celebration a lot brighter for 23 area families through the Adopt-A-Family program (thank you to all the Teacher Advisories and other groups within the school who contributed gifts and food).

Once again, we thank you for supporting our school as we work to maintain the highest possible educational standards and support for our students in attaining the 21st Century skills and knowledge necessary to their success in life. We certainly hope that by including all that we have above you’ll recognize how interesting and varied the educational opportunities are that the entire faculty and staff offer the students of RUHS. All the decisions that are made to change or enhance curriculum, co-curricular activities, and facilities are based on the guidance received from the RUHS and OSSU school boards which are, in turn, enhanced by input from community members, students, staff and administration. Improving the education of all our youth is a never-ending process. We thank you for your support.

Respectfully Submitted,

John Holmes & David Barnett

Co-Principals, RUHS

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