Why Sports Matter

I promise that I am not motivated to write this purely because my beloved San Francisco 49ers are poised to win the NFC Championship this weekend. (This is a reference to American Football, my Canadian friends.)  I’ve been thinking about the amount of time our teacher-coaches put into the administration of our athletics programming and the amount of time our student-athletes put into practices and making up for lost class time (because our local league competes during the school day).  With time being a zero-sum game, it is reasonable to ask (about this and everything else), is it worth it?  And my answer to that question, is another question – doesn’t each child deserve an opportunity to be excellent across their day/week/year?

When we talk about “a floor, but not a ceiling” as one of our North Stars, we typically are talking about academic floors and ceilings, but our students have passions and talents in art, music, and athletics as well.  Not only does it provide an opportunity for those to students to shine (which for some may be their only time to do so), but when it comes to sports, having both a robust PE program and competitive teams allows students to reach for non-academic stars (as well).

Let me quote (liberally) from “Co-Curricular Physical Activity and Sport Programs for Middle School Students: A Position Statement by the National Association for Sporty and Physical Education’s (NASPE) Middle and Secondary School Physical Education Council (MASSPEC).”  [That is a mouthful!  You can read the entire position statement here.]:

“All students should be encouraged to participate in such after-school programs regardless of their ability and prior experience with organized sports.  The primary purposes of these programs are to provide opportunities for students to:

  1. improve self-esteem and feelings of competence through positive interactions with their peers and adults
  2. acquire new skills and refine those previously learned
  3. learn to function effectively as members of a team or group
  4. improve personal health and fitness levels
  5. to have fun and enjoy physical activity”

Those all sound like things we would like to see for our upper elementary and middle school students, yes?  “We learn better together” and “We are each responsible one to the other” are enhanced by opportunities to be part of a team.  “Ruach” is certainly amplified through fun and enjoyment.

But beyond the benefits to the participants, there are significant benefits to our school and our community worth mentioning.

Jewish day schools – especially the small or midsized ones – have a lot to get done.  We have to offer 100% of the secular academic programs of local independent and/or suburban public schools.  We have to offer the highest-quality Jewish studies program available.  We have to offer all the resources of well-rounded schools – Art, Music, Library, Technology, P.E., etc. AND we also have to offer athletics, the yearbook, robotics, etc., and all the other extracurriculars.

Fair?

Doesn’t matter.  It isn’t a choice.  We have to find the “torah” of basketball as we do the “torah” of math (not to mention the “torah” of the actual Torah).

Athletics are vitally important to our ability to maintain and grow a healthy middle school.  They demonstrate to ourselves and our parents that we are capable of providing the kinds of experiences one ought to find at the middle school level.  And that includes the opportunity to play, cheer and support athletics.

And it turns out the OJCS Rams aren’t just in it for the participation trophies!  Whether it is badminton, soccer, basketball or volleyball (most years) – our students not only have an opportunity to learn and to grow and to compete, but oftentimes to win.   Just take a gander at all the championship banners hanging up in the Gym!

Go, Rams, Go!

The Transparency Files: OJCS Middle School Parent-Teacher Conferences

Talk about a niche blog post!

I recognize that I am really narrowing my audience here, but I do think there is some value in sharing aloud (rather than just emailing the contents to our current middle school parents) our thought process around how we structure our parent-teacher conferences in our middle school.  Part of the value is that some of the big ideas live beyond that narrow lens, impacting how we view parent-teacher conferences as a school and – more widely – how we view parent engagement and parent partnership.  Part of the value – I hope – is that we get some feedback from our current parents and from other schools and school leaders that will positively impact our thinking.  It can sometimes feel like you are blogging into the wind, but every now and again, I do get meaningful feedback from a blog post.  Here’s hoping this is one of them!

Last year, in a blog post that was more focused on a new-and-improved report card format, we did introduce the following change to our middle school parent-teacher conferences:

With a large number of middle school students and a fair number of middle school teachers, we are going to try to provide a larger window of time with a more strategic number of mutually selected teachers.  Instead of signing up for individual conversations with any or all teachers, we are going to be asking for parents to sign up for a 15-minute window and a request for one or two teachers they feel strongly need to be present.  Then we will meet as a full middle school faculty and assign teachers to each middle school conference, using parental request and who we believe to be important in the conversations that should happen to best support each child.

I added the boldface above, because that sentence did not seem to be clear (enough) to many families last year and, thus, unintentionally became a source of tension.  That is something I am hoping to avoid this year…

Let’s start with the observation that the entire model and structure of traditional parent-teacher conferences is likely obsolete.  Why?  Let’s count the reasons…

  • Meaningful parent partnership requires frequent conversation.  Two high-leverage, really brief engagement points do not lend themselves to relationship-building.
  • If the mantra for parent-teacher conferences (and report cards) is “No surprises!” and we’ve done that work already (see above point), then what exactly are these brief encounters designed to accomplish?
  • How much can you really discuss/show/ask/learn in such brief windows of time?  With people running behind schedule, knocking on the doors, etc. – even if you are lucky enough to be having a meaningful moment of engagement, you will likely still wind up frustrated to have it truncated by an artificially imposed time limit.

So why do we still do them?

Well, despite their challenges, they do tend to succeed in bringing more parents into the school and into conversation with their children’s teachers.    Brief conversations are better than no conversations.  Some opportunity for relationship-building is better than no opportunity for relationship-building.  So to the degree that they can and do lead to constructive conversations, it is worth continuing to try to improve upon them.

And that leads back to the changes we made last year for our middle school…

With our North Stars clarified and our culture evolving, we have an opportunity to revisit our programs and processes to be sure they are in alignment.  The move to adjust our middle school conferences was designed to ensure that we would land with a format which would provide parents with meaningful and actionable feedback, and provide us with the same in terms of inviting valuable feedback from parents – all in the service of helping our students “own their learning” and that there be “a floor, but not a ceiling” for each student.

Because we view this as a partnership, we believe it is important that both parent and teacher voice contribute to the conversation, and to determining who sits around the table.  Unlike the public board at the middle school and high school levels, we don’t believe a process which only honours parent choice serves our needs.  As we said above, when it is time to decide who should sit around the parent-teacher conference table, we “meet as a full middle school faculty and assign teachers to each middle school conference, using parental request and who we believe to be important in the conversations that should happen to best support each child.”

Why?  Why not just let parents decide who and how to spend their valuable, ever-so-short, window of time?

Well, it is the same reason we don’t do it in the Lower School.  We believe that each part of our curriculum is important and that who your child is – how they behave, how they are feeling, their academic growth, etc., – across different teachers is valuable for parents to know.  We don’t feel like you will have a full picture of your child and we don’t feel that we can get the feedback we need to serve your child, without having diverse representation.  If we had more time, we’d have the full 7-9 teachers around a larger table.  But we don’t.  So we give parents and teachers an opportunity to build a smaller team to meet in partnership.

It is worth noting that any parent at any time can request any meeting with any teacher.  It is not like this is your only opportunity to have 15 minutes with your child’s Math Teacher.  Or French.  Or Hebrew.  But for one of two nights a year, it is a wonderful (even with its structural flaws) opportunity to come together as a team of people who care deeply about your child to share what is working, discuss what might not be, plan for what could be, strengthen our own relationships, and chart a course for a successful  next term.

We are looking forward to a wonderful week of conferences.  See you there!

Marching With Fruits & Vegetables (5780 Remix)

As promised, after having shofar-ed into Rosh Hashanah and leaned into Yom Kippur, it is time to hop into my favorite holiday of them all…Sukkot!

We are looking forward to celebrating this holiday at school with the assistance of our OJCS Sukkah [to be finished this today] (with great thanks to the Zaret Family & Gemstone), in which we look forward to eating, celebrating, shake-shake-shaking and hopping in as a school community when we resume school during Chol Ha’Moed next Wednesday.  [By the way, it seems like whenever we discuss the timing of the fall Jewish holidays relative to the start of the school year, we always describe them as coming “early” or “late”.  They don’t ever seem to come “on time”!]  Great thanks to all our teachers for the hard work that goes into holiday preparation/celebration and keeping the normal routines of school moving forward as per usual.

As I mentioned above, Sukkot is absolutely my favorite holiday of the entire year.  There is nothing else like it on the Jewish Calendar – sitting outside in a sukkah you built yourself (which is pretty much the one and only thing I actually can and do build), with handmade decorations from your children, enjoying good food with friends and family in the night air, the citrusy smell of etrog lingering and mixing with verdant lulav – this is experiential Judaism at its finest.

But here is a complicated truth: Even though our school will be closed on Monday and Tuesday for Sukkot, it is reasonable to assume that a significant number of our students will neither be found in a synagogue nor a sukkah enjoying what is known as “The Season of our Rejoicing”.  But I know that many, if not most, were in synagogue a couple of days ago for Yom Kippur.  So when it comes to “atoning” we have a full house, but for “rejoicing” we have empty seats?!

If our children – if we – only experience the Judaism of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and not the Judaism of Sukkot, the simple truth is that we are not exposing them to the full range of beauty and joy that our tradition has to offer.  So why, in fact, is this such a common occurrence?

lulavI’m not entirely sure, but I think it has to do with the exotic nature of the holiday.  As someone who did not grow up celebrating this holiday, upon coming to synagogue as an adult and watching a congregation march in circles waving fruits and vegetables – well this was not the Judaism I knew!  But for me, that is precisely what makes it so unique, special and not-to-be-missed!

No one likes to feel uncomfortable, and adults especially, are wary of feeling under-educated or unprepared.  I know how I felt encountering new Jewish rituals for the first time as an adult – it was scary.  I, however, was lucky.  I was pursuing a degree in Jewish education and, therefore, had all the support and resources I needed to learn and grow.  I realize that most adults coming at new Jewish practices for the first time (or the first time in a while) are not so lucky.  The amount of “stuff” Judaism asks of us to do – building the sukkah with precise specifications, shaking the lulav and etrog in the proscribed way, chanting less-familiar prayers, coming to synagogue on unfamiliar days – can be overwhelming.

But don’t lose the sukkah through the trees…

I’d simply ask you to consider this: When building your child’s library of Jewish memories, which memory feels more compelling and likely to resonate over time – sitting in starched clothes in sanctuary seats or relaxing with friends and family in an outdoor sukkah built with love and care?

You don’t have to choose just one, of course, that is the beauty of living a life of sacred time – there is a rhythm to the Jewish calendar, evocative and varied.  Come to synagogue for the High Holidays, to be sure.  But don’t miss out on Sukkot (or Simchat Torah or Shavuot or “Add Jewish Holiday Here”).  Let this Sukkot truly be the season of our great rejoicing.  I hope many students find their way to synagogue and into sukkot this Sukkot.  I hope many parents push themselves out of their comfort zones and join the parade.  [Next year under the guidance of our new Head of Jewish Studies, Dr. Marcovitz, our school will take a more active role in providing families with the tools they may need to get started through parent workshops and community sukkah-building parties.]  But if you are curious or inspired…go ahead…pick up your fruit and vegetables and join the parade!

Chag sameach!

Shofar, So Good!

I realize that anything might sound anticlimactic after yesterday’s exciting announcement.  But the truth is, that as meaningful as that gift is for both today and tomorrow, it is the actual work of teaching and learning that inspired it and us.  And this is definitely the season for inspiration!

It is also the season for my most favorite and best/worst pun!  How are things going at OJCS finishing our fourth week of school and headed into Rosh Hashanah you may ask?

Well.  Shofar so good.

Our “Shofar Patrol” has been making the rounds, apples are being cut, and honey is being poured.  Let me take a moment to congratulate all our new teachers and all our new parents on a wonderful first month of school.  Your enthusiasm and your passion are welcome additions to our growing school and inspire our hopes not only for this year, but for the years to come here at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.  While our newest faculty members are acquitting themselves with great aplomb, our returning teachers have plenty of new tricks up their sleeves to mix with their tried and true excellence.

Echoing my thoughts about the calm before the calm, I looked back on my last two years of “Shofar So Good” posts and in each one there were major systemic changes necessary to explain in response to lived experience and parent feedback.  We had changes to carpool and dismissal (twice!), changes to our schedule, changes in online platforms, etc., etc., all (ultimately) positive changes, but all significant enough to warrant detailed conversations.  What has been wonderful shofar this year, is how smooth and calm things are.  I have been so impressed with how prepared our teachers have been, how positive our parents have been, and how enthusiastic our students have been to start the year.

Although, outside of French, we are not launching any major initiatives this year, what is bubbling up are major programmatic advances to align our practice with our “North Stars”.  Hopefully those of you who were able to join us for this week’s “Parent Night” saw evidence of that firsthand.  After conducting our AGM (Annual General Meeting), Melissa Thompson, our Teaching & Learning Coordinator, led us through our online spaces to help parents know exactly how to find the information about their child(ren)’s class(es), including homework/quizzes/tests parents want and need to know about to be wonderful partners and advocates.  We did touch briefly on the whys of blogs, blogfolios, use of technology, etc., but have scheduled a “Parent Workshop” on October 24th (8:45 AM & 7:00 PM) for exactly that conversation.

For our final session, we gave parents the choice of four different topics.  Some stayed with Mrs. Thompson for a little more hands-on support.  We had a conversation led by Keren Gordon, our Vice Principal, about how our new Homework Policy is taking shape.  We had a conversation about our new school-wide behavior management program (based on the “7 Habits“) led by Sharon Reichstein, our Director of Special Needs, and Deanna Bertrend, our Student Life Coordinator.  Our new Head of Jewish Studies, Dr. Avi Marcovitz hosted a discussion on connecting the Jewish living and learning at OJCS with life at home.

If you missed any of those sessions and want more information, you can find the slides uploaded to our website and you are welcome to contact any of the above to find out more.

As the eve of a new Jewish Year approaches, it is my most sincerest hope that this is the year we’ve been waiting for.  To all the teachers, staff, parents, students, donors, supporters, and friends in this special school- thank you for your enthusiasm and your hard work.  5780 is shaping up to be a quite an amazing year!

From our family to yours, “Shanah tovah!”

OJCS Announces $1,000,000 Gift

With extraordinary gratitude and sincere humility, I am thrilled to announce a gift of $1,000,000 to bridge the journey from stability through sustainability at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.  This gift represents a significant milestone in our school’s journey of revitalization, reimagination and return over the last few years.  The gifts we hope it inspires will ensure our newfound stability leads to long-term sustainability, through which our school will not only be able to secure the Jewish future of its students and families, but will help secure the Jewish future of our community.

We begin with thanking directly the families who, through their philanthropy, are guaranteeing our present while inspiring our future.  Thank you to Stephen Greenberg and Jocelyn Greenberg.  Thank you to Barbara Crook and Dan Greenberg.  Your quiet leadership and meaningful investment have sustained our Jewish community for years.  This new commitment to our school not only validates the hard work our teachers and board have put in over these last years, but raises the bar for what we hope to accomplish in the years ahead.  We accept this gift not as a celebration of what we have done, but as a charge for what we now must do.

We must also add sincere thanks to Andrea Freedman and the Jewish Federation of Ottawa who played an instrumental role in keeping OJCS moving forward during its leanest years and who took a lead role in securing this $1,000,000 gift.  It is a blessing to work in a Jewish community whose institutions are invested in each other’s success.  We look forward to ongoing cooperation and coordination with Federation, not only in the fundraising work to come, but in the overall work of strengthening the Jewish Superhighway.

You may be wondering what (specifically) this $1,000,000 gift and campaigns ahead is going towards.  In order to ensure a growing school is capable of providing a high-quality, progressive, personalized, innovative, trilingual, Jewish and secular education, it does take funding.  We need to retain and attract passionate, professional teachers who continue to learn and grow.  We need physical spaces as cutting-edge as our program.  We need to provide financial assistance so that the decision whether or not attend a Jewish day school is not a financial one.  We need to increase access for children with special needs.  We need to keep tuition increases modest so as not to squeeze families already feeling pressure.  We need access to consultants and experts to ensure we capitalize on current research and practices.

We need all this and more to truly achieve sustainability.

We look forward in the weeks and months ahead to making this case directly to our community.  We look forward to the active participation of our parents, grandparents, alumni and community.  We look forward to connecting and reconnecting to all those people for whom Hillel Academy/OJCS played a meaningful role.  We look forward to sharing the story of our school with a wider audience.  We look forward to living up to the expectations that come along with such generosity and ambition.

Thanks to these donors and this gift, together we will write the next chapter in the story of the Ottawa Jewish Community School.  We write this chapter knowing its plot will include growing enrollment, educational excellence, innovative spaces, and meaningful Jewish experiences.  We write this chapter knowing that we have more chapters to write.  As it says in Pirkei Avot (2:16), “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.”

2019 OJCS Middle School Retreat

Woo-hoo!

That’s pretty much all I can say.  We left exactly one week ago for our second annual three-day Middle School Retreat at Camp B’nai Brith Ottawa (CBB) and it was everything we could have hoped for in a Jewish informal educational experience.  We had learning, games, athletics, prayer, social bonding, community building, hiking, white-water rafting, and a campfire to boot!  It was like we squeezed a summer’s session of camp into just three days…and we were all tired enough to prove it!

After having spent a good chunk of time putting together a video of our experience, I will let the video do the talking.  We didn’t necessarily know what we would come out with, so I apologize to parents and students that not everyone may have made it in – it is not a reflection of anything other than happenstance.  We will more than make up for it with photos and videos throughout the year.  It is, I hope, a taste of why this retreat has become an important part of our middle school.  Our relationships are forever changed – for the good. We will be able to do things within the walls of the classrooms that we never would have without having spent time together outside of them.

Here’s a taste:

Here is a final reminder about September 25th…

In order to encourage attendance in both parts of the evening, we are (for the second year) combining our AGM (Annual General Meeting) with a hands-on parent workshop to ensure parents are able to be meaningful partners in their child(ren)’s education.

The evening will begin at 7:00 PM in the CHAPEL with an approximately 30-minute AGM.  We will begin the Hands-On Workshop at 7:30 PM, beginning in the GYM, where we will start with some hands-on learning, exploring and subscribing that will help you know exactly where to find the information about your chid(ren)’s class(es), including homework/quizzes/tests/projects that you want and need to be wonderful parents and advocates.  We will then move into a choice of topics for parents to attend featuring “Homework”, “Behavior Management” & “Extending Jewish Learning” – all facilitated by members of our Educational Leadership Team.  The evening is intended to conclude by 8:30 PM.

This evening is about ensuring that parents know how to find, access and use all the tools we have available to help keep them in the know.  We are scheduling a different day – October 24th (8:45 AM & 7:00 PM) – to engage in a more substantial conversation about the what and the why of our approach to technology and innovation.  Why is the school moving to BYOD and what does it (really) mean?  What are blogs and blogfolios and how are they used in service of learning?  What role should schools play in developing media literacy and digital citizenship?  What does the latest research tell us?  If these questions, or others, are on your mind, we hope that you are able to join us at one of these conversations.

Meaningful Parent Partnership Ought Not Be Taken For Granted

This is the first week of my parenting life where I fully understand what it means to be a regular parent.  And I love it.  And I hate it.

As we all went back to school on Tuesday, my oldest daughter, Eliana, went off to high school.  As significant a transition as it is for her, it is actually quite the transition for me.  This is the first time in my parenting life that I have a child attending a school that I do not run (or recently ran).  I don’t know the teachers.  I don’t know the administration.  I don’t fully know (or understand) the curriculum or the pedagogy or the rules or the routine.  All I know about what my child is doing, or will be doing, either comes from her or what the school chooses to share with me.  Sound familiar?

There is a wonderful freedom that comes without all this knowledge!  As both a parent and an educator, I do have some genuine faith that teachers and schools know what they are doing.  I also know that as my child is now in high school (and I guess not really a “child” anymore), that there is a necessary and natural transition of ownership of her learning more fully to her.  I, too, want her to advocate for herself and I am okay with her school putting up some guardrails to help shift that onus from us, her parents, to her.  I could definitely enjoy not having to know so much about the details of her education and having faith that everything is happening as it should.

Like anyone, I only have the experiences that I have, but I imagine it is fair to suggest that it is not only the differences between K-8 and high school that are in play here, nor is it only the differences between private and public or Jewish and secular.  What I am learning now, in a way I never could before, is how meaningful it is for a school to open itself up to parents.

“Transparency” at OJCS is a core educational value, not a core business strategy.  We don’t seek to be proactive and candid with parents about how and what we do in service of their children because it is good for business.  We don’t seek and use parent feedback because it is good customer service.  We are proactive and candid with parents about how and what we do in service of their children; and we seek and use parent feedback because we eagerly seek parent partnership.  Parent partnership is not a business transaction; parent partnership is an educational relationship.  The “we” in “we own our own learning” includes parents.

The opportunity to actively and meaningfully partner in your child(ren)’s education is not a given in every school.  It is an opportunity, not a requirement, but one we want to inspire, encourage and empower.  We work hard to provide parents with information and access to what is happening in school – about big picture issues and workaday activities.  It can be overwhelming.  My blog posts are too long.  We have too many “Town Halls”.  The OJCS Blogosphere is too complicated to navigate.  We send too many emails and we post too much on social media.

Maybe.

It may be true that you may not want all the details of our new homework philosophy.  You may not want to know how we are going to translate the “7 Habits” into a school-wide behavior leadership program.  You may not want to know the details of the comprehensive PD our French teachers are participating in.  You may not be interested in the details, pictures and videos being generated by teachers and students in class blogs and student blogfolios.  The details of the Makerspace may be more than you care to have at your fingertips.

Etc.

And that’s okay.  Each parent and family can choose for themselves how much they want to know about all the ways we think and work to educate the children in our school.  Just know that we believe you are entitled to that information and, more than that, that your being in the know about the school, and your keeping the school in the know about your child(ren), enhances, amplifies and helps ensure our mutual success.

Speaking of which…

We hope to see many of you on Wednesday, September 25th at 7:00 PM for our AGM followed by our Hands-On Workshop at 7:30 PM.  There we will be doing some hands-on learning, exploring and subscribing that will better help you know exactly how to find the information about your child(ren)’s class(es), including homework/quizzes/tests/projects, you want and need to be wonderful partners and advocates.

We will likely put out some additional information about the workshop (including either an opportunity for folks to participate virtually and/or where to find a recording of it) because we are still actively shaping it in response to feedback from the opening of school.  I realize that that might seem a bit messy, but it is only because we want to make sure that our assumptions about how we prepared for this year are actually borne out in reality.  We want to actively respond to the facts on the ground, not what we assumed to be.  If you have specific questions, concerns or suggestions on the content of the workshop, please don’t hesitate to share them.  We want this to be in service of parents’ felt needs.

Finally, if you need an extra incentive to be with us, please note that we will be making a major announcement that evening on how we plan to secure the long-term future of our school.  It is very exciting and will be a big moment for us and our community.

[And I wrote a blog post under 1,000 words! #LifeGoals]

The Calm Before the Calm

As I sit in my office on the Friday before our teachers report for what will surely be an enthusiastic and inspiring week of “Pre-Planning”, I can’t help but think that as we enter our third year together on this shared journey that the old canards no longer apply.  It would be normal to joke at this moment about how this is the “calm before the storm” – the last moments before teachers and students fill our rooms and the school year officially begins.  And like most jokes, there is often an uneasy truth hidden within.  That, of course, the whole point of having schools is to have students and teachers, but boy it sure has been calm not having y’all here over the summer…

But when I self-scan or talk with our administrative team and the many teachers who have been in touch over the summer, the ping of anxiety that often accompanies the pang of excitement just isn’t there.  Without getting too metaphysical, I almost feel more strongly the absence of worry than I do the joy of anticipation.  I think it is an apt signpost of where this school is and where it is going to suggest that what we are enjoying at this moment is actually the calm before the calm.

This does not mean that we lack an ambitious agenda for the upcoming year or the years ahead!

We have added a dynamic new Head of Jewish Studies, Dr. Avi Marcovitz, who is going to deepen and expand the work we have done revitalizing Jewish learning and living at OJCS.  We have added an exuberant Development Director, Staci Zemlak-Kenter, who is already building relationships and thinking about alumni engagement.  Our work as the first private school in Ontario to partner with the Centre Franco-Ontarien de Ressources Pédagogiques (Franco-Ontarian Centre for Educational Resources) or CFORP to implement the TACLEF program begins next week.  (We are also prototyping a French-language after-school art program.)  We will be taking the critical step of translating our new Homework Philosophy into an implementation strategy.  We will be deepening our work with blogs and blogfolios.  We will open up the OJCS Makerspace.  We will continue to build on our prototyping culture.  And so on…

We are neither content nor satisfied.  We still have lots of work to do!

But I do think something has shifted.

Perhaps “stability” is not as “sexy” as change, but it beats “crisis” every day of the week!  Partly why we aren’t engaging with a major consultancy this year (except in the French Department) is that we need to give everyone – students, parents, teachers, etc. – time to lean into all the change initiatives we have already launched over the last two years.  Our work with NoTosh has left us with powerful “North Stars” to aim ourselves towards, strategies to move us from here to there and a prototyping culture to develop the innovative tactics of the day-to-day work.  Our work with Silvia Tolisano has left us with a cohort of teachers who have increasing skill in “now literacies” that continues to spill over from their classrooms to the school as a whole.  Our work with blogs and blogfolios is going to take a huge leap forward this year with additional teachers eager to explore these platforms for learning, writing, sharing, amplifying, reflecting and connecting.

[TEASER: Please be sure to join us on September 25th at 7:00 PM where we will be doing some hands-on learning, exploring and subscribing that will help you know exactly how to find the information about your child(ren)’s class(es), including homework/quizzes/tests/projects, you want and need to be wonderful partners and advocates.]

Lest you think that the days of major change are behind us, don’t worry!  As we have stated before, our first years have focused almost exclusively on the “hows” and “whys” of education.  As a private school, however, we have the luxury/responsibility/opportunity to also determine the “what”.  While always being cognizant of what is required at our graduates’ next schools of choice, a true belief in a “floor, but not a ceiling” requires us to determine for ourselves what academic outcomes to reach for.  For example, if we believe that Ontario’s math standards are less than (we do!), then we have a responsibility to aim higher (we will!).  To do that work well – to truly map our curriculum across each grade and every subject – is a significant project that requires significant expertise.  So, yes, more change (and more consultants!) are in our future.

The work of being the best school we can is as endless as the work of being the best selves we can.  Schools are organizations with learning at their hearts, and growth-seeking in their souls.  Schools are only as good as their teachers and only as successful as their students.  We simply can’t wait to open the doors on Monday to our terrific team of talented teachers and the following Tuesday to our super squad of spirited students.  Our compass is pointed squarely at our North Stars and our team is eager to guide us on our shared journey.

For those of you squeezing every last drop of summer to be had, we hope you check every last item off your summer bucket list!  For all of us, as they say, enjoy the calm before the calm…

[MAJOR TEASER: We are scheduling a major announcement in the next couple of months on how we plan to secure the long-term future of our school.  It is very exciting and will be a big moment for us and our community.  Stay tuned.]

How We Are Spending Your Summer Vacation (2019)

Happy Summer!

We hope everyone is enjoying the beginning to middle of summer!  While our teachers are cycling in and out, vacationing and thinking about the future, and while our administrative team is also taking some downtime and ramping up for the next school year, I wanted to take an opportunity to share some updates and exciting news.  (If all you are interested in is the hiring updates, you can scroll straight through to the bottom!  You will be getting updated handbooks and relevant information later on in August.)

Building Learning Communities Conference

Last week, I had the privilege of taking a team of OJCS Teachers to Boston for the the Building Learning Communities Conference.  It was equal parts validation and inspiration to see how far our school has come.  Our teachers had an opportunity to see just how innovative OJCS currently is, while being exposed to thinkers and ideas that will continue to propel us forward.  If you want a taste of what we learned and how we thought about it, I invite you to scroll through my Wakelet below:

Makerspace Update

Yes, we are still building the Makerspace!  And, yes, it has come with some of the inevitable delays of construction.  We will unlikely be ready to open on Day 1, but are working hard to get it done as quickly as we can.  We are planning to open with Science in a different space (TBD) and will provide updates as we get closer to the start of school.

OJCS & CBB

I am looking forward on Thursday to my annual visit to CBB to say “hi” to our OJCS students and alumni.  I’ll post pictures on social media.

Hiring Update

We are pleased to share with you an update of new hires as we are almost completely staffed up for 2019-2020!  We are thrilled that these new administrators are joining our amazing team of returning administrators and teachers to make next year our best yet!

  • Dr. Avi Marcovitz will be joining our Administrative Team as our new Head of Jewish Studies!  Avi comes to us with extensive administrative and organizational leadership education and experiences, including prior day school teaching and administration.  He additionally carries rich subject matter expertise, a passion for Jewish day school, alignment with our “North Stars” and an enthusiasm to help us on our journey to becoming the school we want to be.  He has already begun and looks forward to meeting everyone soon!
  • Rabbi Howard Finkelstein is being re-introduced as our Dean of Judaics Emeritus!  This is not merely an honorific, but a way of meaningfully engaging Rabbi Finkelstein as both advisor and rabbinic presence in the years ahead.  While he is still in town and even after he makes aliyah, we look forward to Rabbi Finkelstein’s wisdom and participation in relevant conversations as we move forward.
  • Staci Zemlak-Kenter will be joining our teams as our new Development Director!  Staci is a trained social worker with years of development experience in the Atlanta Jewish Community who is coming into this half-time role with lots of ideas about how to make our fundraising dreams come true.  She will begin on August 1st and she looks forward to meeting everyone as well.
We are finishing up with final interviews and contracts for a Grade 6 EA, an additional Core French Teacher and a part-time Music Teacher, so stay tuned!

The Courage to Finish: My Charge to the Class of 2019

We had an amazing graduation last night at the Ottawa Jewish Community School – and I am not just saying that because I had a child in the class!   I was so proud of our students, our families, our school and our community.  It was really something special.  And, yes, I did say last week that I was kinda done with the weekly blogging for the summer.  And, yes, it does feel like I have delivered a speech a day these last few weeks.  And, yes, it runs the risk of being overly self-serving to say that a number of people asked if I could post my speech.

But they did.

And so I will (paraphrased because not everything translates into writing).

“There are many heroes in the story of a Jewish day school journey…

There are the teachers who put in untold hours of love and talent not only to nourish your brains, but your souls as well.  Our teachers are not just here to inspire a love of learning.  Our teachers recognize that our students are, in fact, our most important subject matter.  There is very little we can ever do to show our proper appreciation for our teachers, but we can directly prove the adage it takes a village and show our proper respect.  I’d like to ask every teacher who taught any of our graduates in any capacity over their years to rise…

 

There are the students who come to school each and every day (or at least many days) ready to learn and eager to lead.  And we have and will rightfully spend most of our time tonight celebrating you each…

 

But for me, tonight, I want to spend a little time celebrating who I think may be the most important heroes of the story, and that…is our parents.  And I think the adjective that best describes these heroes is “courage”.

Courage to Choose

In today’s world, we are all, in a sense, Jews by choice.  Choosing to be Jewish is counter-cultural by definition; choosing to attend Jewish day school is almost revolutionary.  We all chose Jewish day school for different reasons: some of us are alumni of Jewish day schools (including this one!), others were seeking the comfort of the family environment, some had a desire for personalized attention, others had a deep commitment to Jewish Studies, there were some who simply went where everyone else was going.  But each parent with their own unique constellation of reasons had the courage to choose Jewish day school.

Courage to Sacrifice

You have each sacrificed in many ways to be here this evening.  For many, it has been a financial sacrifice.  Jewish day school is not yet as affordable as we may wish it to be, and there are those in this room who have forgone both luxuries and necessities to be here.

You have all sacrificed your most precious gift – time.  Between the normal schlepping and carpools, you have volunteered at events and at PTA and in innumerable ways big and small.

Courage to Finish

In talking with the kids in New York [on our Grad Trip], I realized that for many of them – and you – I am the fourth head of school you have had on this journey; five if you count Mr. Friedman twice.  Each person, I am sure, had their own ideas of what makes a Jewish day school excellent and, I am sure, those ideas may not have always aligned.

With each new administration you had to choose and choose again, and for whatever complicated set of reasons you chose to come, you chose to stay and that, too, is a profile in courage.

The largest class I have ever graduated was 23 and the smallest was, but 4, but what I can tell you with 100% certainty is that not one parent on graduation night ever regretted the decision to finish.  And looking around this room tonight – and as one myself – I am confident that this remains true.

You have already given us the greatest gift we can have – the sacred and holy task of educating your child – let me give you the only gift tonight that I can, a brief gift of time.  To take just a brief minute or two not to document this experience, but to be in this liminal moment in our children’s lives.  I’d like to invite the graduates to rise and face your parents…

 

Returning to our graduates, my prayer for you as you graduate and head out into the world is that you come to experience and embody our school’s North Stars.  I pray that you continue to point in their direction as you continue to grow and develop into high school and beyond…

“Have a floor, but not a ceiling” – be your best self.  Have high expectations at a minimum and unlimited aspirations at a maximum.  We hope you learned at OJCS to be comfortable in your own skin and to carry that confidence with you when you head out into the wider world.

“Ruach” – be joyful.  School – and life – is supposed to be fun, even when it may seem hard or have difficult moments.  We know you had many moments of joy at OJCS and know that you have many more moments of joy ahead of you in the years to come.

“We own our own learning” – learning isn’t something that happens to you, it is something you choose.  We hope you take the sense of ownership for your learning that we strive towards at OJCS into your next schools of choice and that you not merely be satisfied with gathering information, but that you take a growing sense of responsibility for what you learn and how you learn.

“We are each responsible one to the other” – make the world a better place.  Take what you’ve learned (Torah) and do great deeds (Mitzvot); do great deeds and be inspired to learn more.

“We learn better together” – we are stronger and more successful together than we can be alone.  Judaism has always been communitarian in this way and what is old is new again as we live in a world where collaboration is not simply advantageous, but required.

“We are on our own inspiring Jewish journey” – keep choosing Jewish.  One can argue that the next years of your Jewish lives are more important than the ones you are celebrating tonight.  In your own ways – continue.  Whether that is in formal Jewish learning, youth group, summer camps, Israel, synagogue attendance, social action – you are no more fully formed Jewishly at your Grade 8 Graduation than you were at Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  We pray that you build on this foundation and that you embrace the Jewish journey that continues after tonight…

 

You each are blessed more than you realize.  My blessing for you is that you never be content to merely count your blessings, but that you always be someone who makes their blessings count.”