TA News

Head of School Weekly Email: High Stakes + High Engagement = Meaningful Assessments

Dear TA Families,

What do we mean when we describe something as ‘high stakes’ in an education setting? Usually the phrase is associated with various kinds of testing, such as required state assessments, a heavily-weighted course final, or college entrance exams – the outcomes of which can have a major impact on a student’s future and/or a school’s ranking. 

I like to expand the definition of ‘high stakes’ to include a different kind of assessment, where the high stakes are coupled with high engagement – and the sharing of one’s knowledge and skills is more public, interactive, and might even include celebration. There is still a lot of prep and review in advance, a lot of content and skills to demonstrate, a certain amount of healthy stress and adrenaline on the day of, and the outcome matters a lot. But the experience of this kind of assessment is more creative, contextual, and community-oriented. The stakes go up when an audience is involved – and when our own ideas, designs, solutions, and voice are on display.

We’ve had a lot of high-stakes/high-engagement assessments happening during the final stretch of the semester, which I’ve been highlighting in my weekly emails since December. A few more to share with you during these final days of the semester:

Upperclass students who participated in the STEM internship with corporate partners Hypertherm and Fuji Film wrapped up their five month experience with individual presentations to an audience of peers, mentors, teachers, parents, and industry experts yesterday. Congratulations to Spencer Burch, Connor Gaine, Dempsey McGovern, Mitchell Parkman, and Hardy Payson for their deep-dive into learning off site this semester and completing the final step of summarizing their experience in a professional talk in a professional setting. 

Meanwhile, here on the TA campus yesterday morning, 6 upperclass students who pursued a TA ‘challenge course’ this fall did presentations on their independent studies to a similar audience of peers, mentors, parents, and teachers. The Challenge Course Expo took place in the learning lab and featured slideshows followed by Q&A discussion sessions with Chenoweth Donohue, Layne Mullen, Alicja Perdrizet, Justin Robinson, Bracy Sloop, and Isaac Yukica, on topics ranging from independent filmmaking to equine biodynamics to a service learning experience at the Haven.

And there’s still more to come with putting our first semester accomplishments ‘to the test.’ Next week, 10 TA visual artists will have their work on display in the AVA Gallery High School Exhibition, to be ‘assessed’ by a professional in the field and reviewed and enjoyed by community audiences. Congratulations to Harlequin Copeland, Madisyn Freeman, Nathan Harris, Sam LaPlume, Calvin Powers, Bianca Pulaski, Caroline Watts, Charlotte Willing, Twyla Weinstein, and Oliver Yukica for having their works selected. The public is invited to an opening reception and awards celebration on January 19, 5-7pm. More details on AVA’s website:

On Tuesday, we move into the new semester. All students should have their schedules. There will be a short add/drop period from Jan. 16-19. Any students with questions about their schedule should check in with their advisor or come to the counseling office next week.

A few upcoming dates of note:

  • Jan. 13 – ‘In Our Own Words’ Performance, 6pm
  • Jan. 15 – Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday
  • Jan. 17 – MLK Jr. Assembly
  • Jan. 22 – College Session for Juniors & Families: LINK
  • Jan. 22-23 – 8th Grade Overnight @ Hulbert Outdoor Center
  • Feb. 2 – Founders’ Day

As always, please check the online calendar for the latest updates and info on school events:

I encourage us each to find time over the holiday weekend to reflect on Martin Luther King, Jr’s legacy – and consider ways we can help continue to carry out his vision for our world.

Thank you,

Carrie Brennan, Head of School

Featured photos this week: Isaac Yukica ’25 responds to a question from his mentor John Payson during his challenge course presentation on filmmaking (above); (below) the stunning photograph ‘Sunlit Stroll’ by Bianca Pulaski ’25 will be on display at the AVA Gallery; Justin Robinson ’24 presents on his independent study about learning the art of trapping from his family-member mentor and exploring the controversies around the practice.



We set high expectations. We challenge all members of the school community to reach their highest potential.


We value initiative, courage and dedication. We take personal responsibility for the goals we set and work hard to achieve them.


We work and learn together. We see teachers as coaches, students as team members, families as partners, and learning as practice and action.


We provide individuals with personalized support and guidance. We care about each other and the larger community.


We respect differences among people. We welcome the contribution of varied perspectives to a rich and flexible school culture.