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Stories of 2018: Jaffrey-Rindge’s rocky start

  • An aerial view of Jaffrey from Conant High School. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • A group of Conant High School students - including senior Mariah Chamberlain, freshaman Kendall Chamberlain, junior Alexis Gallagher, andsenior Kyle Gallagher, left to right - have been wearing "Make Conant Great Again" shirts and hats in protest of some of the recent changes occurring throughout the district. Staff photo by Nicholas Handy



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, January 02, 2019 10:36AM

Administrative turnover and a new grading system created a bit of controversy for the Jaffrey-Rindge School District this year.

In March, voters approved eliminating one principal position at the middle/high school – transitioning from one principal and one assistant principal at each school to a principal to oversee both schools and two assistant principals, one in charge of safety and culture and curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

Before the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, all four previous principals would end up resigning in a six-month period, including one – Richard Simoneau – that would resign the day before the first day of school.

“The board is concerned with what is occurring and we are aware of what has happened, it is a lot of change,” school board member Jeff Clark-Kevan said at a school board meeting in August. “We invested a lot of time and energy into looking at this direction and the community was involved. I don’t know if we anticipated it would be this much of a disturbance… the intent of this is to improve the education for the students, and we believe that is where we are heading.”

The district has since hired Brett Blanchard to serve as the middle/high school principal, and two Jaffrey-Rindge teachers – David Dustin and Michelle Durand – to serve as the assistant principals.

Dustin was tabbed as the assistant principal of culture and curriculum, instruction, and assessment, while Durand was named interim assistant principal of safety and culture.

The board also accepted the resignation of Director of Curriculum and Instruction Misty McBrierty, though she will stay on through the rest of the school year.

A new grading system – one that removes a student’s work habit factors like timeliness, effort, and preparedness from their academic grade – created a lot of confusion on the part of students and parents at the beginning of the school year.

Multiple meetings were held throughout the start of the school year to explain the changes and their benefits to parents, students, and the community at large.

Administrators in the district said the change would allow for a student’s grade to more accurately reflect what they learn in school, as the grade is no longer bogged down with metrics like participation.

“When you remove practice and work habits from an academic grade, suddenly that academic grade takes on a huge amount of increased rigor just by the nature of what’s now being assessed,” Dustin said, during an informational session in September. “The only thing showing up in that percentage grade is what has been learned in a class… when you earn a 90 now, that means you have achieved 90-percent of the content and skills for that course.”

The new system also allows for students to work with their teachers to redo assessments to show they understand the course material.

Some parents and students were vocal in their opposition to the changes throughout the start of the school year. Some parents asked for the district to repeal the grading changes, while some students took to wearing “Make Conant Great Again” memorabilia to protest the changes.

“We came in senior year having the same grading structure the past three years and then getting a whole new one and not having any understanding of it all,” senior Kyle Gallagher said during an interview in November. “It’s frustrating to think that it’s your senior year and you have a new grading system that isn’t explained.”

The school board admitted during a few meetings that communication regarding the changes was poor. Board members said better communication regarding changes will be a point of emphasis moving forward.

Senior Hannah Lambert said in November that she felt communication surrounding the changes wasn’t great, but after a while she understood the changes.

“It was a sudden shift – we knew there was going to be a new system, but we didn’t know exactly what,” Lambert said. “… “In previous years, if I got a bad grade on a test that could tank my grade. I think this system is definitely a better shift.”

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