Focus On Student Issues

While administrators focus on the goals of the Strategic Plan and discuss issues like the breathalyzer with faculty, a few shortcomings of Phillips Academy have fallen through the cracks. From a student’s perspective, these administrative bumblings reflect an adult community that misses what are obvious issues to students. We talk about them at dinner, we grumble about them on the path, and yet these issues fail to gain the attention of those in charge. The advising system is broken; the house counseling system is in disrepair; the cluster system is under duress; faculty grading discrepancies seem to be getting larger; and students feel disconnected from the administration. The Student-Administrative Rift: In this week’s State of the Academy survey, 76 percent of students said they thought there was a rift between the students and the administration. It is no surprise that students find themselves disconnected from the administration. The duties of our administrators are getting bigger and more demanding. Especially for the Head of School, work has become a difficult balancing act. The administration has worked very hard to keep this balance, but needs to take a second look at its efforts. Students want to know their administrators – they even want to like them – but have very little chance to interact with them. As it is, most students only know of administrators from All-School Meeting talks, emails about crossing Main Street, or worse, disciplinary issues. And the lack of communication goes both ways: administrators are also eager to learn more about student opinion, but the conduits have not been constructed to relay that information. The gap between students and administrators will be a difficult issue to resolve, but must capture more attention than it receives now. Academic Advising: Sentiment among students seems unanimous: the academic advising system, though desperately needed, is not working. Academic advisors are inconsistent. Some advisors see their advisees every Friday, discuss academic endeavors and even care enough to bring snacks. Other advisors, however, meet with their students once per term (the bare minimum). Whether we will admit it or not, teenagers need involved, knowledgeable mentors. No student is capable of making sense of classes at Andover without a little help. Although students lack the foresight and experience to navigate scheduling alone, many advisors do not have the knowledge to help them, or do not think it necessary to take the time do to so. This neglect reflects poorly on this school’s ability to care for the well-being of students, often leaving them alone to wander through a complicated list of courses and requirements. House Counseling: Similarly, the house counseling system is in poor order. Especially for new students, house counseling is extremely important. However, like in the advising system, house counselors are inconsistent in the amount of attention they give the students in their dorms. Although some house counselors are hands-on, many fail to get to know their nearest neighbors. For students acclimated to dorm life, this liberality is often a breath of fresh air, but for new Lowers and Uppers who do no have the benefit of Junior Housing, neglect on the part of a “surrogate parent” can be devastating. The Grade Discrepancy: Faculty grading discrepancies also frustrate students. In the State of the Academy survey, 73 percent of respondents said that they thought there were significant disparities in teachers’ grade ranges. Old teachers and young teachers, art teachers and math teachers – all have different philosophies about what a grade should be. To some, a six is like an “A”; it should be given to the top performers in each class. To others, a six is an extraordinary, once-in-a-career grade given only to truly unbelievable students. The discrepancy leaves students unfairly judged and frustrated with such a critical measurement of their success. The Cluster System: The Cluster System, which was designed to lend community to an otherwise spread-out institution, is under assault. The organization of cluster sports may seem irrelevant; after all, isn’t the point just to get exercise? Wrong. Cluster sports are significant because they encourage the type of “community-within-a-community” that the Cluster System was created for. With the re-organization of intramural sports into recreational groupings rather than clusters, they stripped the sports of their greater purpose: to highlight the cluster communities. Cluster unity is tenuous at best, and dissolving cluster sports removes a crucial opportunity for interaction with the neighbors. The fundamental premise of Phillips Academy – to educate students and ensure their well-being – is being lost in the hubbub over alumni affairs and institution-building. The continued success of Andover depends on goals like better administrative governance, faculty recruitment and retention, a communication plan, and financial equilibrium. But none of these goals matters if the student body is left behind. To the Trustees, administration and faculty: please, focus on the students. This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian Editorial Board CXXX.