Jaffrey-Rindge holds ‘state of the district’ meeting after issues with communication, turnover and new grading system

  • Conant High School/Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School Principal Brett Blanchard addresses the crowd on Thursday.  Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—

  • Jaffrey-Rindge Superintendent Reuben Duncan fields a question during a state of the district meeting on Thursday. Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—

  • Rindge resident Deanna Wilson talks about the differences between the middle school and the high school. Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—

  • Rindge resident Marcia Breckenridge asks why the district decided to merge the middle and high school, given the different needs at both schools. Administrators said scheduling and curriculum were major factors behind the change.  Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—

  • Jaffrey resident Erin Chamberlain voiced her family’s frustration in not having homework count towards a student’s academic grade.  Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/18/2019 4:47:37 PM

Recently implemented changes at the Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School and Conant High School dominated much of the conversation at a community forum on Thursday.

Over 30 community members joined school district administrators at Rindge Memorial School for a state of the district meeting, which allowed parents and others to ask questions about the district’s curriculum, grading, budget, and more.

“Only with a unified effort can we hope to provide the conditions and outcomes needed for all of our students to successfully walk across their tightrope,” Superintendent Reuben Duncan said, referencing a sketch of a student walking a tightrope with a safety net underneath.

Many of the questions asked during the hour and a half long forum centered around the relationship between the district’s middle and high school – which now share a principal – the recently implemented grading system – which separates work habit factors like timeliness and effort from the student’s academic grade – and the school district’s flex time – an intervention and enrichment period during the school day.

Parents in the district spoke on both ends of the spectrum about the recent changes, as some felt the changes have led to chaotic situations and a lack of accountability, while others praised the ability for middle school students to take high school courses.

Erin Chamberlain said her daughter, a senior, has struggled with the grading transition as homework no longer counts toward a student’s academic grade.

“My common household frustration is how much time my children put into their homework, but they get no credit for it,” Chamberlain said. “It’s not teaching them real life lessons like accountability.”

Conant High School/Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School principal Brett Blanchard said homework will continue to not be counted towards a student’s summative grade, but such work can go a long way to inform a teacher if a student is learning the skills needed in the classroom.

Chamberlain also said her daughter has had trouble concentrating on schoolwork during flextime at the library, as middle school students often congregate there.

A few parents spoke up about the positive changes that have taken place due to the district working towards a competency-based, individualized learning model, as students are more free take classes above their grade level and participate in extended learning opportunities, which allow a student to focus on an area of interest, such as nursing or photography.

“I find that this design is much less watered down, and more specific and focused on these skills and understandings we want the kids to grasp and have proficiency of,” Conant High School/Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School Interim Assistant Principal of Safety and Culture Michelle Durand, after a parent expressed concern with the district’s new approach leading to Jaffrey-Rindge students looking potentially less attractive to colleges and universities.

Administrators said the synergies between the middle and high school have allowed for more collaboration and idea sharing between the two staffs. Scheduling and curriculum development have both benefited by the changes.

“Anything was probably possible in the past with a lot of effort and a lot of difficulty,” Conant High School/Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School Assistant Principal of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment David Dustin said. “We have released the barriers and brought the teachers together, and the results are already starting to show.”

Administrators also admitted that adjustments have continually been made since the start of the school year, including looking at grading rubrics, the district’s re-take policy, and flextime offerings.

Prior to the question and answer session, Duncan took some time to summarize the changes that have taken place since he took over his position in July 2015.

“At that time, I didn’t have an HR manager, we hadn’t hired a curriculum director, the former business manager was at the end of her time here, and a few other transitions were occurring,” Duncan said. “I was new, one of our principals was new. There was a lot of new, but also a lot of history that needed to be learned.”

While there has been much administrative turnover since his arrival, Duncan said much work has been done to implement a strategic design, create synergies between the middle and high school, and efforts to increase communication between the district, parents, students, and the broader community – something that has been cited as a primary concern of many as of late.

Nicholas Handy can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or nhandy@ledgertranscript.com.


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