Re: DSM: Diplomas

From: Bruce Smith (
Date: Tue Dec 11 2001 - 23:04:28 EST

This is Bruce at AVS.

Dawn's post leads me to think it may help (or at least add fuel to the
fire!) to sketch out Alpine Valley's twist on the Sudbury diploma process.
A few years back, we spent many months poring over all the SVS documents in
our possession, to rely on their accumulated experience and wisdom while
making the AVS diploma process truly our own. The differences in detail are
many, but the significant ones can be summarized thus...

1) There are two primary bodies involved: a Diploma Committee (a standing
committee elected at each June Assembly meeting) and Thesis Panels (one per
candidate). Any Assembly member can join the Diploma Committee, which is
responsible for specific diploma procedures (the main elements of the
process remain Assembly Policy). The Diploma Committee also selects each
candidate's Thesis Panel, in consultation with the candidate.

2) Thesis Panels consist of six to eight people, with a variety of Assembly
member categories (e.g., student, staff, parent, trustee), and a mix of
people who know and do not know the candidate well. Immediate family
members are ineligible to serve on a candidate's Thesis Panel (though they,
and the candidate him/herself can be on the Diploma Committee that
determines the panel membership, and is the first group to which all
candidates present). Their task is to get to know the candidate's
thesis/argument well, to work with the candidate to help them build their
best possible defense. I suppose it's somewhat like advisor-by-committee
(and advisor-by-future-evaluators).

3) The candidate must receive a 2/3 vote from the Thesis Panel to be
awarded a diploma, although unsuccessful candidates may appeal to the
entire Assembly (or, of course, mount another defense).

The idea behind the Thesis Panel was to ensure, as much as possible, that
the people voting on a candidate had the basis for making an _extremely_
informed decision; to minimize any adversarial or antagonistic aspect by
putting the evaluators in the role of assisting the candidate over a long
period; and, by injecting a somewhat random blend of ages, assocations with
the school, and levels of familiarity with the candidate, to balance
various perspectives toward the end of objectivity -- or, at least,
minimizing individual bias. (At one point a couple of years back, a Diploma
Committee member floated the idea of using specific/'objective' criteria,
modeled after the performance evaluation process at his business; but we
didn't pursue this.)

Last year, we had our first two candidates; I was a member of both Thesis
Panels, and saw the process work extremely well (not surprisingly, we
fine-tuned it afterwards, with both candidates' input). I'm not sure to
what extent our procedures contributed to this relative ease (as opposed to
the strength of each candidate's defense, which was considerable). Neither
am I sure how objective we were. Still, to date I remain very comfortable
with what we have in place.



>The SVS thesis process does not resemble any kind of job or school interview
>I have ever been part of. I think getting a job or getting into college is
>much easier than getting an SVS diploma, and being challenged and evaluated
>by a committee of 50 to 75 people often in front of your extended family is
>usually not part of the process.

This reminds me of another unique (as far as I know) aspect of the AVS
diploma process: candidates decide for themselves who, beyond their Thesis
Panel, may attend their defense. Last year, one candidate allowed anyone
who wished to attend, while the other invited only a select few.) We didn't
want public speaking before a huge crowd to be a litmus test for one's
preparation for responsible adulthood.


>Has your school
>ever granted a diploma and then had the kid return to school for the next
>year, in a way signifying that the Assembly got it wrong when they thought
>they had prepared themselves to go out into the larger community?

Actually, one of our two graduates re-enrolled this year, on a part-time
basis. She had to get special Assembly dispensation to do so, but I don't
think in her case that it represents a lack of preparation to go out on her
own. She simply wanted to be able to come back a few days a week, to hang
out with friends and occasionally get help with her community college
classes. No one spoke up against this in the Assembly, or suggested that it
impugned her candidacy or diploma. She simply wanted not to cut her ties so
suddenly and completely, and we were willing to allow her to make this more
gradual transition.

"Cherish your best hopes as a faith, and abide
by them in action."

                                        -- Margaret Fuller


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