A Big Week for Visual Arts in the Junior High

This week, two extraordinary art exhibits opened in Atlanta. Well, probably more than two opened in Atlanta, but I am particularly interested in these two:

  1. Junior High art students exhibited their creations in Broyles Art Center at The Westminster Schools. Each student who is enrolled in Junior High art selected a single piece of their work (and/or a teacher selected it) to display in the Gaines Foyer of Broyles. Here’s a short video for a visual reference…
  2. Students, from both Westminster and Lovett, ranging in age from kindergarten and pre-first, through middle school and junior high, as well as high school, witnessed special selections of their art open at the High Museum of Atlanta. The student art hung under the same museum roof as special exhibits of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Toulouse Lautrec. The turnout was superb, and I was overwhelmed with pride for the students who had created such powerful visuals for their views of the world and the ideas within their minds.

Interesting Follow Up on Summa Cum Laude

On Tuesday, February 22, I published a blog post (Junior High End-of-Year & JH Celebration 2010-11) announcing several changes to the end-of-year schedule for Junior High, including details about transitions from “JH Honors Day” to “JH Celebration.” On Tuesday, that post received 831 “hits” or views.

At the time of this writing, the post has received 958 views in total. However, not one viewer has left a comment on the post. (The comment listed is simply a tweet mentioning the post – a “ping back” of sorts.) Not even one viewer commented on agreement with or disdain for the decisions and changes. Over 1300 parents and educators were sent an email with a link to the post. Not one comment. I find that fascinating.

Nevertheless, I have received other forms of communication about the changes to Honors Day – now called Junior High Celebration. Approximately 55 people have communicated with me about the changes:

  • Overall, I would characterize the communications as mostly positive. About 40 contacts have expressed appreciation and agreement with the changes. About 5 contacts sought clarity about how summa cum caude is calculated. About ten contacts have expressed concern. I appreciate that people are using email, phone calls, and face-to-face opportunity to provide feedback. Some communications are more respectful and tactful than others, but I appreciate that people are communicating. Even if I disagree with what they communicate, I appreciate that they are communicating. If people don’t communicate, it is terribly challenging to know what folks are thinking and feeling.
  • Yesterday, however, one parent used the phrase that people are “up in arms” about the changes. This alarmed me and surprised me. I certainly don’t want people to be “up in arms.” What shocked me is that my “recon” tells a very different story.
    • Not one person left a comment on the blog.
    • Of the 55 communications I have received, about 40 have been positive and supportive of the changes.
    • None of the grade chairs have reported any upset or disagreeing parent communications.
    • Only one teacher has reported a conversation with a student who was concerned with the changes.
    • Two PAWS (Parents Association of the Westminster Schools) representatives have communicated to me that people are upset. From what they tell me, though, I feel like there is confusion about the summa cum laude decision.

Consequently, I want to try explaining the summa cum laude decision another way…

  • For as long as I have been at Westminster (16 years), we have designated an Honor Roll and a Merit List. Summa cum laude, in some ways, is simply an extention of this long-standing system.
    • To earn Merit List distinction, a student must maintain a GPA of 80 or higher, with no grade below 75.
    • To earn Honor Roll distinction, a student must maintain a GPA of 88 or higher, with no grade below 75. [During my time, this GPA requirement rose from 87 to 88 with virtually no challenges to the change.]
    • At the end of semester one, 480 students achieved Honor Roll. 56 achieved Merit List. 23 did not receive either distinction. This is a fairly typical spread. However, the change in policy last year to “no zeros” has had a slight effect.
    • During the year of discussions about honors and awards, teachers and parents and students communicated that the Honor Roll does not seem “discerning” enough. Many wanted a “third tier.”
    • To my knowledge, we have never had a strong parent objection to the existence of an Honor Roll/Merit List system based on GPA. There is some faculty concern about the existence of this system.
  • For as long as I have been at Westminster, Junior High Honors Day has recognized just 6 students (one from each grade and gender) for “Highest Academic Average.” In most cases, the difference between receiving this honor and “finishing second” has been caused by just hundredths of a point. And grading practices among teachers are not perfectly uniform. With the summa cum laude system, we can have multiple “valedictorians” from each grade and gender group. Just as with Honor Roll and Merit List, if you earn the grades – through hard work, solid assessment performance, diligent effort – then you are eligible for the distinction. The standard for achievement is clear and visible. It is no longer a behind-the-scenes, head-to-head competition for hundredths of a point. We have ended the sense of “there can only be one.” If we had had the summa cum laude tier last year, about 40 middle school students would have earned the honor.

Below is a simple poll. I hope you will take a few seconds to provide some feedback. [I will blog about the change in departmental awards ASAP.]

Junior High End-of-Year & JH Celebration 2010-11

February 22, 2011

Dear Junior High School Parents:

With this note, I bring you updates and news about two topics: 1) revisions made to the schedule for the final week of school, May 23-27, 2011, as a result of the “snowcation” that occurred January 10-14, 2011; and 2) enhancements made to the event formerly known as “Junior High School Honors Day,” which is newly named “Junior High School Celebration.”

Final Week of School, May 23-27, 2011
As you know, because of icy conditions during the week of January 10-14, 2011, Westminster was forced to cancel school. While we have added Monday, April 25, 2011 to the school-day calendar, I do not believe that this single day can replace the lost instructional time as a result of “snowcation.” Consequently, after much discussion with the Junior High School PAWS representatives and the school administration, the Junior High is altering our spring “exam week” and reclaiming several more class rotations.

Below you will find the schedule for May 23-27, 2011, loaded into a Scribd viewing screen. Instead of using May 23-27 for traditional exams, we will use half-days, Monday through Thursday, to recapture lost instructional time. Essentially, we are adapting final exams to final tests, which will fit into 50-55 minute classes, just as tests normally do in the Junior High. We will take special care to space out these final tests, so that students will not experience more than two tests in a single day. Because we are adapting exam week, we will not need an extended “review week” during May 16-20. Review for tests will occur as it normally does. In other words, the week of May 16-20 will operate as does any other normal week of school. As an additional benefit of this adaptation of the final two weeks of school (in the Junior High alone), students will be able to review their final assessments to continue their learning. This is an improvement over taking a final exam and dismissing for summer. We appreciate your understanding as we implement such a creative solution to losing a week of instruction in January.

2010-11 Revised Schedule for May 23-27, 2011 (for JH)
[due to lost instructional time Jan. 10-14, 2011 – Snow Week]

Enhancements Made to Junior High School Honors Day and Junior High Celebration

In the Junior High School, we enjoy countless moments of informal recognition for the learning, growth, and development that our students experience and demonstrate. These recognitions occur daily as teachers, coaches, directors, and advisors provide students with positive feedback about good decisions, strong thinking, determined effort, and noteworthy achievement. Of course, we offer constructive criticism, too, so that learners can grow from inevitable mistakes.

Formally, we have a number of events and ceremonies designed to provide more public recognition for accomplishments we wish to celebrate as a community. One of these events has been known as Junior High School Honors Day, which has typically occurred in late May each year. After much discussion and thoughtful deliberation, the Junior High is making several enhancements to Junior High School Honors day, which is being renamed Junior High Celebration.

In the video below, I explain the three fundamental changes to Junior High School Honors Day, as well as the anticipated program for our newly formulated Junior High Celebration. Please take a few minutes – 5 minutes and 22 seconds, to be exact – to view the video.

Additionally, I am providing a description of the various awards that will be presented at the Junior High Celebration – these descriptions can be found in the Scribd document below. In coordination with the changes to the final week of school, Junior High Celebration is now scheduled for Thursday, May 26, 2011, from 10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., in McCain Chapel of Pressly Hall. Parents are invited and encouraged to attend as we celebrate together as a community.

2010-11 Descriptions of Awards Presented at JH Celebration

If you have any questions, concerns, or comments, please contact your child’s grade chair, or one of the deans, or Director of Studies Betsy Spruill, or me. As I mention in the video, the next Junior High School Parents Parley with the Principal is scheduled for Wednesday, April 13, and should afford us an opportunity to discuss collectively any questions you have about the final week of school or Junior High Celebration. As you may remember, I am embarking on a sabbatical from March 5 through April 10, so I will be excited to tell you about my experiences when we get together on Wednesday, April 13.

Thank you for your understanding and thoughtful consideration of these changes and enhancements to end-of-school schedules and events. What a blessing to be in partnership with you as we work together to create the most positive and profound learning opportunities for the Junior High students.


Bo Adams