Q&A from Parents on Opening Day

Amy Dempster

At the opening parent meeting, parents were encouraged to text questions for Steve Wilkins to answer.  Below are some of the questions that Steve was able to answer in person at the meeting, and some of the questions that we didn’t get to “live”.  These are parent questions, presented in chronological order during the presentation:

What is ratio of boys and girls in Lower School?


Female enrollment is:

  • 46% Lower School
  • 44% Middle School
  • 34% Upper School

The weighted average for school: 44% female.

Are there any plans to start a high school and add grades 9-12?

Answer: There are not plans to expand Carroll through 12th grade.  Carroll had a high school program for 20 years (1979-1999).  The Board of Trustees decided to rivet our focus our efforts on younger children.  Most of our graduates have opportunities to expand their education beyond specialized schools.  Many alumni tell us that success in a “typical” school was  an important part of their evolution as students and emerging confidence as people.

When will we receive an understanding of my child’s unique profile from your placement assessment and key focus areas for her?

Answer: Parents are encouraged to have “data” meetings with us so that they can understand their child’s unique profile.  These data discussions are complex because interpreting data on human performance is complicated (many children’s results are so variable from one sitting to another).  We are currently trying to analyze whether it is a reasonable expectation that all faculty would be able to engage in a high level of assessment interpretation in order to talk with parents about a wide range of test data, or whether this is something in which a smaller number of administrators should be the experts who could translate the meaning of all these numbers to parents.  Additionally, we are aware that some parents are rabid for this information and that others don’t need this depth of data analysis.

What is being done to increase diversity (especially racial and economic) among carroll students/families, and is there anything parents can do to help with this?

Answer: Carroll has done a great deal in the past twelve months to create “a community that loves humanity and deals with difference lovingly.”  That’s our goal.  (a) About 20 of us have engaged in multi-day workshops to increase our cultural awareness, (b) Last year the lead administration worked for ninth months with expert consultants on what Carroll needs to do to increase our commitments to equity and inclusion, (c) We hired our first Director of Equity and Inclusion, Osa Osagie, who will lead us in our diversity efforts, and (d) Our hiring and admission practices are highly tuned to creating a more diverse population of human beings at Carroll, (e) We continue to significantly increase our annual financial aid allotments, (f) We are actively marketing Carroll in places where Carroll is not well known or understood, and (g) We will continue to make sure that our adults are ready for a broader representation of the general population in our students.

Parents can help spread the word that Carroll is open and accessible.  Parents can join the affinity groups, discussions, book clubs, and curricular activities that Osa and the administration will be sponsoring as we get deeper into this school year.  Thank you.

How does Carroll hope to address truly distressing behavior from our heads of government

Answer: As part of our Equity & Inclusion work, we will be addressing the values implicit in the words: equity and inclusion.  This question has already been in discussion in Carroll’s ACT (Administrative Communication Team) group in our Equity & Inclusion team.

Can you speak to the planned future plans for accepting state funding?

Answer: See the presentation Steve Wilkins made to parents on the opening day of school (on the website news section).

Where has the funding growth come from for the financial aid?

Answer: Funding for financial aid has come from three main places: (1) philanthropy in terms of annual giving and endowment are important factors in allowing Carroll to deliver $1.9 million annually in financial aid, (2) transfer of money that previously supported the tuition differential between private tuition and what the state reimburses for funded children into pure financial aid— to date this has moved approximately a million dollars into pure financial aid, and (3) the operating budget of the school has always had a financial aid line item.

Is tuition going up to support the choice of no public funds and increasing financial aid?

Answer:  The tuition has not increased more than usual as a result of the decision to become a school independent of the special education requirements of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  In reality, Carroll’s financial health is increased by this decision; participation in Chapter 766 was making it harder for Carroll to build a sustainable model because of the low tuition reimbursement rates for publicly funded students.

With the increasing enrollment have you adjusted the program to keep the individualized teaching in a larger population?

Answer: The ratio at Carroll continues to be three students for each educator.  No matter how many students we enroll, this will continue to be the case.  Therefore, the individualization remains the same.  Over the years, Carroll has grown in student population, and it is easy to make the case that the school is more individualized than ever before.  We are deeply committed to giving each child what she or he most needs.

Do you expect more students to be accepted into the middle school throughout the year or are the grade populations capped?

Answer: We do not generally enroll students after the beginning of the year.  We are a full middle school with our current numbers.

How does Carroll address the many children who also have math challenges?

Answer: As your question points out, the underlying issues that make it difficult for our children to learn to read also make it difficult for some of them to perform well in math.  At any given grade level, Carroll has children who are strong in math, who are about on grade level, and who are well below where they should be.  Carroll deals with this in the same way that we deal with language skill levels.  We place students within a grade into many math groups based on their current skill levels.  In third through ninth grade, these groups are almost always different from a child’s language group.  We address math difficulties in the following ways: (1) Carroll math classes for those who are struggling are actually smaller than most language classes, (2) Carroll math teachers are specially trained by their department heads— also, we host several math workshops each year— to address the issues that make math hard for many of our students, (3) Carroll has teachers who focus solely on math in grades 4-9, (4) If math is a student’s greatest weakness— greatest need— we provide a focus area class in math in addition to the regular math class, and (5) We address the underlying cognitive obstacles that make math learning challenging.

Will Steve give us a sense of where Carroll graduates go to high school and college in recent years?

Answer: Historically, about a third of graduates each year go to public school, a third to local independent or parochial schools, and a third to boarding or specialized schools.  Our lists of high school placements are posted on our website.

The colleges our alumni have attended from 2013-2016 are listed in this screenshot:


Can you define cognitive weaknesses?

Answer: A cognitive weakness refers to a skill that underlies academic performance.  When we examine the profiles of Carroll students, we detect bright children who have significant deficits in specific areas in their IQ profile or other tests of cognitive skill.  In the Carroll population, these weak cognitive areas typically are in:

  1. reaction time (responding rapidly to a stimulus such as a letter or word on a page)

  2. visual working memory (holding onto visual cues while completing a task— such as in reading)

  3. Verbal working memory (holding onto auditory information while completing a task)

  4. Processing speed (quickly and efficiently making use of incoming information

  5. Executive function (organization, strategy creation, planning ahead, sustaining attention to task)

Rising 8th grader slide: is that a kid who’s been at Carroll since 1st grade? What’s the difference if a kid enters in 4th? 6th? 8th?

Answer: The slide in the presentation to new parents shows the growth in oral reading fluency in relationship to a decrease in cognitive weaknesses.  These data include children who have been at Carroll since 4th grade.  It is hard to make any general statements about the academic performance of a child based on when she or he enters Carroll.  Children do great coming in at every level and, conversely, we could tell you about students who struggle at any point of entry.  The differences are individual.  Perhaps the best predictor of student success, at any level, is the child’s readiness to learn, including social-emotional wellbeing.

Can you talk about Carroll Math?

Answer: We are not familiar with any commercially-available math curriculum that is geared specifically to children with language based learning difficulties. It doesn’t exist.  As such, we have built a best-in-class hybrid of many math curriculum programs.

In the Lower School, our math program relies of five central foundations: visual-spatial modeling, logic activities, communication, fact fluency, and applications to traditional math. We use Singapore math books as one of the consistent structures throughout the program.  In the Middle and Upper Schools, math classes begin with logic activities that challenge our students’ cognitive/thinking skills related to quantity, grouping, relational logic, and sequence.  Students then utilize their evolving thinking and problem solving skills to solve more traditional arithmetic, geometric, and algebraic problems.

When we examine our students’ progress on standardized tests, it is interesting to note that in aggregate, Carroll math students make more than the expected annual growth of traditional learners.

What important qualifications do Carroll teachers need to have in order to be hired?

Answer: We hire the best, brightest, most curious, and energized people— with college degrees— we can find.  We expect to train every one of our faculty members from the moment they are hired until the day that they leave Carroll.  Unfortunately, there are very few— if any— colleges or universities that provide the depth of training that is required to succeed with Carroll children.  When we find a job candidate who has the appropriate experience and training, it is a beautiful moment.  It happens!  On the other hand, some of our best educators originally came to us without the necessary training.  We are obsessive about ensuring that teaching at Carroll is constantly defined by professional learning, skill development, mentorship and expert support,  graduate coursework, and a culture of continuous improvement.

Starting in 2018-2019 we expect to train all of our faculty in five courses: (a) Orton Gillingham approaches, (b) The Profile of the Child with Dyslexia, (c) Equity and Inclusion, (d) Teaching Skills &Pedagogy, and (e) Data Inspired Teaching.  Teachers and tutors will complete this coursework in five years.

Will the slides be posted online?

Answer: Here are the slides.

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