We’ve Got Spirit!

Yesterday morning, my first grader, Eliana, woke up early to come into our room to make extra sure that we had remembered to put her MJGDS Marlins shirt in her day-of-the-week clothes organizer because she had to wear it for spirit day.

Each time I passed her in the hallway, she reminded me that I was to get her out of aftercare in time for her to watch the big game.

When I came to pick her up in aftercare to walk her over to the gym, she (and her 3-year old sister) was so excited she flew out of the room.

Eliana had never seen, nor probably heard, of “volleyball” prior to yesterday’s first home game in school history.  Didn’t matter a whit.  She had spirit.

And she was not alone!  We had an overwhelming amount of students, parents, alumni and supporters in attendance to share in history.  We won the first (of three) game and as we drew closer to the clinching point, you would have thought we were about to win the Final Four, not the first game of a girls middle school volleyball match!

I blogged last week, here, about the value of athletics in the (small) Jewish day school after our first road game.  The energy yesterday afternoon,  however, took things to exponential levels.  It really proves the point; in terms of rallying school spirit, it is really hard to top athletics.  And school spirit is not insignificant.  It is not as important as academic achievement, inculcating Jewish values, and developing character.  But in terms of that intangible “something” that gives you pride in being part of something larger than yourself and encourages you to want your children to be part of something special?  It is hard to put your finger on it, but you can kind of tell when you’ve got it or when you don’t.  And heading into another sweet Jewish new year…we’ve got it!


In other updates, we went live this week with edJEWcon and our first application from another Schechter Network Day School came in within the first few hours!  We have been utilizing our social media and with the Network’s social media roll-out to begin soon, the buzz on the event will only continue to grow.  (For continuing updates on the conference, click here.  For background information on edJEWcon, click here.)  So when it comes to 21st century learning, MJGDS certainly has spirit as well.


Heading into Rosh Hashanah this evening feels this year to me like slipping into a comfortable, warm bath.  I have a wonderful opportunity to put workaday concerns aside and concentrate on making meaningful use of the gifts of time, family and friends.  After relying on the kindness of the community last year, Jaimee and I are blessed to be able to open up our home to new friends this year.  We are looking forward to days of communal meals, honest reflection and creating Jewish memories to carry us forward into 5772.

From my family to yours, let me wish everyone the sweetest of new Jewish years…

Shanah tova u’metukah,

Jon, Jaimee, Eliana & Maytal



Why athletics matter (more) in small schools

Let’s begin with a hearty “Mazel tov” to Coach Jared Goldman and the MJGDS Lady Marlins Volleyball team on their historic first match this past week at Hendricks Middle School!  (Check out this article in our local news here!)

Our school turns fifty years old this year and this was the very first athletic adventure we have ever embarked on.  The final score mattered not a whit (and, yes, we did score points as well) – the excitement from the student-athletes, their parents, alumni, and supporters who packed the tiny parking lot and bleacher seats was palpable and meaningful.  Our girls did their best and will only perform better as they grow more experienced and practiced in their sport.  [Local plug: First home game in MJGDS history takes place in the gym on Tuesday, September 27th at 4:30 PM.  Wear your Marlins gear and come out to support our team!]

So as one of my favorite sports shows would ask, is launching middle school athletics at our K-8 Schechter Day School a “big deal, little deal, or no deal at all?”

Big deal!

First let’s look at it from the perspective of the participants.  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 middle school students, no?

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

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.  (I thought our alumni were as, or more, excited about the volleyball game than the players or their parents!)

Jewish Day Schools – especially the small or midsize ones – have a lot to get done.  We have to offer 100% 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, 21st Century Learning, P.E., etc. AND we also have to offer athletics, the school play, the yearbook, TV production, and all the other extracurriculars.


Doesn’t matter.  It isn’t a choice.  Non-orthodox day schools heading into middle (and high) school face enormous attrition challenges.  We have to find the “torah” of volleyball as we do the “torah” of math (not to mention the “torah” of the actual Torah).  We, at our school, have dipped our first toe in the water.  It certainly isn’t easy finding sports we have a critical mass to compete in, but based on the energy it has brought to our school and our community it was well worth it.

We may not be hanging any championship banners from our gym any time soon.  But we will be adding great spirit and community-building to our school when we host the first home game in the school’s 50 year history next week.

Go Marlins!


A poem on behalf of those struggling to make sense…

It is storming outside.

And for too many I know and care about this week, it has been storming inside as well.

So I offer for those of faith who cannot make sense of what life is presently delivering a poem.  I find that there are moments when prose simply will not do.

The following poem is unpublished and was written by Elisa Ewoldt, a close friend for nearly 25 years.  She captures the struggling soul in a way I find both startling and oddly comforting.  May it bring comfort to those who seek it.


I’m trying to move you out,

I’m needing to kick you out,

Create some additional space,

Free up some room in my mind for matters more consequential,

More substantial…

But I lie.

You are substance and consequence

You are a virus colonized in my heart my mind my lungs my glands

And there is no medium that can push you out.

I cannot speak fast enough,

I cannot write fast enough,

I cannot type fast enough,

I cannot beat you to the punch line or understand the stand up routine you perform.

And all the things I think I Know become things I only thought I knew

And all the things I think are Truth become things I tell myself in order to get through.

I am not at home here with you

I am not at home when you are in residence inside my intimate thoughts.

My home becomes a stage for execution with you presiding.

My brain seizes, I try to find something, anything, to grapple with that is not you

I create miscellaneous misanthropic beliefs and assign them to you

I decide what you believe and I attribute to you all brands of larceny.

You are not this colony in my mind. You are a wayside attraction, the largest ball of string, a museum above a highway, an unmarked detour on unmarked roads.

You cannot be this to me.

But you are.

And it is a terrible, beautiful, glorious travesty

Coming Attractions

Where did summer go?!

For many of you, it is still going strong, and to be honest when I consider that I haven’t worn socks since the last day of school, my summer is still going as well.  But despite the summery feelings all abound, for those of us in schools…you can kind of feel the tug of the upcoming school year becoming noticeable.  Partially due to our early (relative to the rest of the country) start…let’s just say “Back to School” isn’t just a tag-line for sales, it’s very much a’coming!

So, in the heart of July, perhaps with the midpoint of summer vacation upon us, I thought I’d take a moment and tease some of the coming attractions that will make next year, our best year yet!  Cue the bullet points!

  • We have now done more than create the postcard.  All of our K-5 General Studies Teachers attended a week-long training in June for the purpose of beginning to transition our students from our traditional math curriculum to Singapore Math.  It just so happened to coincide with my family trip to Las Vegas, so the time zone allowed me to receive all sorts of emails and texts from our teachers during their training.  It is a very exciting program and offers our students a wonderful opportunity to learn Math “as a second language”.  You can look forward to Parent Information Nights, additional professional development sessions for teachers, “Not your mother’s math homework anymore” conversations, and most importantly – students who develop amazing critical thinking skills in mathematics.
  • We did it!  We have finally created our own mascot – signaling our official entry into the world of Middle School Athletics!  Thanks to Coach Goldman for motivating our students and making the arrangements.  We look forward to at least two or three sports launching next year to compete against local schools. T-Shirts and other swag will be available for purchase next year with all proceeds going to support our new teams.  Whether you are a player, a parent or just an MJGDS booster – be sure to show your support for the Marlins next year!
  • Enrollment for our new, enhanced Kindergarten Enrichment Program is beginning – as it dawns on parents that school is coming – to come in.  We are very excited to be able to offer for the same fee as last year an enriched program for our Kindergartners from 1:45 – 3:45 PM.  Under the direction of Mrs. Kristi O’Neill, our Kindergartners will have an opportunity for free play, snack, homework assistance, socialization and a special enrichment project.  Parents can sign up for the entire year or for whatever makes sense for your schedules.  We expect this class to take off once we get started , but you don’t have to wait.  Please contact the School Office with questions or to sign up.

  • This one is just a teaser (we’ll see who’s paying attention!)…but our school is working behind the scenes with national foundations, grant-makers, day school networks, etc., with the goal of announcing our hosting of a 21st Century Learning Conference next year here at our own school!  Stay tuned!
  • Our year will culminate, of course, in a once-in-a-generation celebration of our school’s 50th Anniversary!  Blogs, announcements, committees, advertisements, etc., are all in the planning stages to ensure this event is everything our school and community deserve it to be.  If you are interested in being involved (in any way!), please let us know.  In the meanwhile, save the date for the weekend of May 4 – 6 as we celebrate the excellent 50 years that have been and prepare for the next trailblazing 50 years to come.
Wow.  We’ve got a lot of excitement to come next year!  Still sad about summer ending?

I’m off to New York City on Monday morning for a Schechter Day School Network Board Retreat.  (I’ll be back Monday night – a nice perk of East Coast living!)  I think I will turn my attention next week to discussing all matters Schechter.  It has been a very interesting year and the Network has some exciting plans of its own…


An “Academy” Approach to Jewish Education

Transparency & Collaboration.

[No, it’s not the name of the next buddy cop or lawyer series with a summer premiere on TNT, TBS or USA.  Although I’d probably watch it!  “Coming this summer on TNT, he’s a wisecracking lawyer looking for a second chance; she’s a divorced mother of three looking to get back in the game – together they are cleaning up this town one case at a time: ‘Transparency & Collaboration’.  Mondays at 9.”]

If I had to sum up our educational philosophy in just two words, it would be difficult to find two better words than those.  I have written at length about both concepts in prior posts (you can check here, here and here for good examples).  They encompass almost each facet of how we go about the business of teaching and learning.  Whether we are talking classroom pedagogy or stakeholder communication; professional development or parent partnerships; student motivation or governance – it is difficult to imagine any component of schooling not improving with greater transparency and collaboration.  We worked extremely hard last year to move down the path towards greater transparency and collaboration.  The data we collected (surveys, testing, etc.) indicate significantly positive results.  We took a step – we have many more steps to take.  We are spending our summer preparing those next steps and I will blog about the new initiatives and programs to be undertaken next school year in the 50th anniversary year of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School.  But let’s readjust our focus back a few degrees to the macro.  For transparency and collaboration cannot be hypocritically or artificially bound to the physical separation between school, shul and community.  In order to gain the maximum leverage of human, physical and financial resources to provide the highest degree of excellence, it is useful to begin thinking about an “academy” approach to Jewish education.  And we have.

Some background may prove useful to readers less familiar with our present model. (MJGDS stakeholders feel free to skip to the next paragraph!)  Our day school is in the minority of Solomon Schechter Day Schools owned and operated by Conservative synagogues.  (Fun fact: I’ve now headed two of them!)  Our school is owned and operated by the Jacksonville Jewish Center.  Like many synagogues, the Jacksonville Jewish Center operates a preschool (the JJC Preschool), a religious school (the Bernard & Alice Selevan Religious School), a [supplemental] high school (Makom), youth groups (USY) and even a summer day camp (Camp Ki Tov).  Add the day school to the mix and you can see the extraordinary size and scope of educational programming currently in operation at the synagogue!

Having spent a year, I can say that we operate with a high degree of collegiality.  The clergy,  professionals and staff who work at the Center interact with respect and, when circumstance dictates, work together well.  However, there is a big difference between collegiality and collaboration.  “Collegiality” is an attitude; “Collaboration” is an approach.  It is the difference between getting along with each other and realizing that you can’t get anywhere without each other.  It is the difference between separate schools, camps and programs and an academy.

Over the next year, the lay leaders, professionals and clergy of the Jacksonville Jewish Center will be working together as a task force to create a vision to bring our formal and informal educational programs together into what we are calling the “academy”.  It is a vision that calls for the tearing down of boundaries between our schools and programs in order to foster excellence in all.  It is a vision that acknowledges that the Preschool can learn from the Day School and the Day School can learn from the Religious School and the Religious School can learn from USY.  It is a vision that realizes that we are invested in each other’s success.  It is a vision that has the courage to acknowledge that there are many paths in Jewish education and that our task is not to decide for a family which the right one(s) are, but to provide excellence in each for the good of our children and our community.

I am honored to be the professional charged with the task of guiding the task force in its work during the upcoming 2011-2012 school year.  (I will be working with Mauri Mizrahi, the Center’s Vice President of Education, as the lay leader for the task force.)  Our ambitious goal is for the academy to launch in the 2012-2013 school year.  We are spending the summer reading books and articles on educational vision, team-building, Jewish education and the Jewish community so we can begin our work together with a shared vocabulary.  For the sake of transparency, we may create some kind of an “Academy Blog” as a means of communicating the work of the task force with greater detail to its stakeholders than I would choose to share to this blog’s audience…or not. We’ll have to see as we move forward.

It is a very exciting process.  Some of the advantages to operating in this mode are self-evident.  But there will surely be many fascinating questions raised.  You may be thinking about some of them right now.  In future blog posts (here or elsewhere), I will try to address them.  But let me address two right away:

1)  Our school took a wonderful step last year.  But it is just one step on a long journey. The work of the task force will not come on the back of my primary task, being Head of the Martin J. Gottleib Day School.  I will have to carve out the time somewhere else and I will.

2) Positioning the MJGDS within an “academy” at the Jacksonville Jewish Center does not impact its JJC-centricity.  The school has been owned and operated by the Center for 49 years – its ability to be a loving and welcoming place for all families regardless of affiliation has always been important and will continue to be important moving forward. Being part of an academy doesn’t make the school any more connected to the Center than it already is.  It simply (overly-simply) opens up the school to even more resources and excellence already in play.  As one example…if the Center’s USY chapter has excellence in team-building (and it does) we ought to employ those resources in our Middle School where team-building is paramount.  It really is no different than the value-added of having the Center’s clergy play the important role in our school that they already do.  We are simply extending the idea as far as it can fly for maximum benefit.

I look forward to sharing more with you as we begin our work.  There are some similar models already in existence (Pressman Academy in Los Angeles for one), but not many. I’d love to hear from someone in a community operating with something similar, so feel free and send me a comment or a tweet.  In the meanwhile, if you have any questions about the “academy”…please feel free and ask!


You Can Go Home Again

Forgive the brevity (for me)…

We got back late last night from a week-long vacation in Las Vegas and we are moving rental homes first thing Monday morning.  Between catching up at school and prepping for the move…

It was our first trip back to Las Vegas, our most recent home, after almost an entire full year here in Jacksonville, our new home.  As the plane was descending into Las Vegas, I was reminded of one those “only in Vegas” phenomena that I was finally on the right side of.  Living in Las Vegas and traveling for work was a singularly annoying activity because only in Las Vegas does everyone applaud when the plane lands.  You are simply returning home to your workaday life, but you are surrounded by people filled with desperate longing for the vacation of a lifetime.  Cities like Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Miami are fascinating to work in because people move there to be on permanent vacation – there is a different mindset and a different energy.  Anyhoo, last week, at least, we were happily clapping along with the rest of the vacationers.

I have written a lot (for 11 months of weekly blog posts) about my personal Jewish journey, but very little about my professional Jewish journey.  That hasn’t been for any reason other than I don’t expect there is much interest in my prior stops for my present, primary audience – stakeholders for the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School.  As I have eased my way into the blogosphere, I have felt more comfortable occasionally blurring the lines between the personal and the professional, although always cognizant that this is a professional blog.  I try to write in my own voice and with my own particular sense of humor.  I try to share the things that I am thinking about and, thus, make my private process public.  And sometimes I share something personal when I am so moved because that’s how I understand the meaning of authenticity.  Consider me so moved (and so jet-lagged).

This was, as I have said, my first trip back to Las Vegas since we moved to Jacksonville last summer.  In addition to having an opportunity to visit my parents, it was our first opportunity to return to the school I had the honor of helping create as its founding head. Almost six years ago, with a two-week old daughter in tow, we landed in Las Vegas to begin what turned out to be an extraordinary five-year adventure in almost every sense of the world.  There is little doubt that when, years later, I revisit the twists and turns of my professional career, my five years as founding head of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Las Vegas will stand out as uniquely fork-turning.


This is not a picture from my Bar Mitzvah – it is from my second year in Las Vegas during Simchat Torah.  Ah…how young we all were once!

It was wonderful to have an opportunity to visit my former school and even though school was already out, we got to see teachers, parents, and many friends on our trip. Maytal, our three year-old, didn’t really recognize her teachers from last year, but Eliana, our almost-six year-old, got to visit with almost all the teachers she had had from eighteen months on.  It was very intense walking through the doors of a place you had spent so much time and energy, but no longer belong to.  Part of me felt like I had never left; part of me felt like I had never been.  A colleague put it in perspective by reminding me that although the past year changed everything for me, for those still there…

By my third year, I used to tell the story of how during my first year, when we gathered as a school we took up less than one row of the Main Sanctuary.  14 First & Second Graders. By my fourth year…

…our first graduating class – almost as many students as we had to begin with.

The full story of that school’s creation is one that I am more than just personally interested in; it is the subject of my doctoral dissertation.  I am heading round the final turn entering my ninth (!) and final year as a doctoral student in the Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary.  Trying to write a doctoral dissertation while founding a new school, raising two young daughters, and then relocating cross-country for an amazing job opportunity is probably not the textbook move, but life rarely goes according to plan.  I mention all of this because the story of my time in Las Vegas and the (professional) lessons to be learned from it is nearly written and will be available in one form or another for those interested sooner than later.  I’ll have more to say as publication looms closer.

In the meanwhile, it was good to know that Las Vegas will continue to be a home of sorts for our family.  It was good to see my parents.  It was wonderful to see our old friends.  It was fun to be back in Las Vegas.  It was dangerous to eat so much kosher meat.  It was satisfying to see the school I helped found doing so well under the tried and true stewardship of others.  We will surely be back for future visits.  But as our plane descended last night into Jacksonville, I must say that, in my mind, I quietly applauded.

It is good to be home.


Self-Evaluation – The Ultimate Transparency

We had our final meeting of teachers and staff this morning to officially wrap up the 2010-2011 school year!  Woo-hoo!  School’s out…for summer!

But before we turn the page entirely on the year that was AND before we share some of the “Coming Attractions” for 2011-2012 (an upcoming, post-vacation blog post!), I thought I would take a final stab at transparency and share a reflection of how I thought I did this year in my first year as Head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School.  [I reflected last week (here) about my adventures in 21st century learning this past year, but that is only one aspect of my role as head of school.]  What follows are actual excerpts from the self-evaluation I wrote and submitted to my “Head Support & Evaluation Subcommittee” as part of my overall evaluative process.  We have asked all of our teachers to post reflections of their years on our (closed) ning as part of promoting the value of shared reflection.  I want to do my part by sharing excerpts of my reflection for y’all (did that sound authentically southern enough?  It has almost been a year!):

Jon’s Self-Evaluation “Students”:

I think in this area we took a number of important first steps this year.  We created academic standards for each grade and subject by Winter Break and were able to disseminate benchmarks as part of the Admissions Process.  We created and disseminated a variety of survey instruments, failing only to send out and score an “Alumni Survey” for this year’s freshman class.

We have also taken great strides in our outreach to special needs families and in our current practice in putting together processes for dealing with the mechanics of delivering services.  We take it as a positive sign that KoleinuJax has gifted us (in collaboration with Jewish Family & Community Services and the Jewish Community Foundation of Northeast Florida) the monies necessary to expand our program next year by allowing us to hire and train additional support staff in classes where we have children with special needs.

One additional area I would like to improve upon for next year is my own personal investment in teaching and establishing relationships with students.  I taught First Grade Tefillah once a week this year; I may expand upon that next year.  I taught MS Tefillah once a week this year; I may seek to find additional opportunities to teach in the MS as well.  I take it as a positive sign that students have been sending me letters, emails and making appointments to meet with me when they have questions and concerns, but I would like to do a better job next year of working on developing meaningful relationships with my students.  It is a time management challenge (what isn’t!), but one worth solving.

Jon’s Self-Evaluation “Faculty”:

I think I have successfully implemented an evaluative process that has not been active in some number of years.  I believe we have created an environment where teachers have reached the higher bar we have mutually set.

My takeaway from the survey data from the faculty is that I have room for growth in providing more regular positive feedback.  I do not compliment as often as I would like to and because I am not shy about providing critique, it can create an imbalance.  My experience is that in time as we all get to know each other better it becomes less and less of an issue, but that does not mean I shouldn’t try harder to provide positive reinforcement.  Next year, I want to put up a bulletin board in the faculty room where we share positive thoughts with each other and then make it a personal goal to put one up a day.  That will create good habits.

I also want to make more of an effort to spend more time developing personal relationships.  It is so hard to find the time, but if I am serious about creating a family atmosphere it will be necessary.

We did a good job of providing professional development to our Jewish Studies Faculty.  We have provided more opportunities for teachers to teach each other during our Faculty Meetings which are now hosted by a different teacher each month in her classroom and has a theme.  I would like next year to try to send a few more teachers out to receive subject matter expertise that they can bring back – for example, Judy Reppert could attend a seminar and then lead a faculty meeting and share what she learned.  I would like our MS Faculty to serve more as “department chairs” for the Lower School in their areas of expertise.

Jon’s Self-Evaluation “Parents”:

Teaching “Parent University” and establishing a blog were two big goals for this year.  It takes a lot of time to keep up the weekly blogs and to prepare and teach the class, but it is worth it and then some.  The twice-yearly face-to-face meetings with parents yielded vital information and hopefully positively contributed to retention.

I also think I’ll be able next year to expand my reach into Shabbat and holiday programming which will better foster the school-shul relationship and the kinds of meaningful carryover we are all looking for.

I think, similarly to faculty, I could do a better job with volunteer recognition and appreciation.  I need to take the extra step to ensure that people feel appreciated for the volunteering they do.  I try hard now, but I think I can grow in making sure people feel they have my full attention whenever we are speaking.  My mind races a million miles an hour, but I don’t ever want a parent to feel that I am not keenly interested in their issue at the moment we are speaking.


So…that’s that!  I hope having an opportunity to peek inside my process from time to time is useful; it is for me!

I told the teachers this morning that I am typically as excited about summer vacation as they are…but honestly?  I am so enthusiastic about what is planned for next year that I almost wish we could skip to Pre-Planning…



And the winner is…all of us! (Part III)

Is it a cop out if I borrow an article I have already used this week to address the exact same topic if it is the final Friday of the school year?  I vote, “No!”

In Part I (found here), I made transparent and explained the results of our first Annual Parent Survey.  In Part II (found here), I made transparent and contextualized one important slice of our annual standardized testing results.  Finally, what I had intended for exciting conclusion in Part III (and shared already with our parent body) was to make transparent our faculty and staff assignments for the 2011-2012 school year.  This will be the team charged with taking all the data from Parts I & II to make next year the best year yet!

It is hard to believe that we are in the final days of the school year, but here we are.  It is time to take a peek at the future.  We don’t want to wish away our summer, but we are so excited at how next year is shaping up!  (The lineup is 99% complete and we will continue to work hard to fill the final two part-time positions in the upcoming weeks.) We are confident that the foundation built this year through all the hard work and love of this year’s faculty and staff will be carried on to the next level by the next year’s.  And so, without further adieu, be excited!

Here is the 2011-2012 Faculty of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School:

This is the team prepared to take on the next step of our school’s journey.  We are committed to partnering with parents, providing differentiated instruction, Hebrew language immersion, fostering Jewish identification, 21st century technology, and “a floor, but no ceiling” for each student in our school.  We will enjoy the last days of this school year, relax and prepare over the summer, and look forward to working with you when it is time to come back to school.  Next year is going to be something special!







P.S.  If you are in town, please don’t miss our Middle School Graduation this Monday evening at 7:15 PM!

P.P.S.  Please don’t miss out on a variety of creative programs here at the Center for Shavuot, but particularly don’t miss our first “Who’s Left Standing at Sinai?” contest on the June 8th during morning services!  I’ve been watching the kids practice their verses and its anybody’s guess who will win!

P.P.P.S.  Congratulations to our Third Grade for their wonderful end-of-year video and presentation of “Jacksonville Reads”!  Twenty-first century learning in action!

P.P.P.P.S.  Congratulations to our Fifth Grade for their wonderful end-of-year project “Facebook Profiles of the American Revolution”!  Even more twenty-first century learning in action!


.ה.   מַיִם עֲמֻקִּים, עֵצָה בְלֶב-אִישׁ; וְאִישׁ תְּבוּנה יִדְלֶנָּה

.כא.   רַבּוֹת מַחֲשָׁבוֹת בְּלֶב-אִישׁ; וַעֲצַת יְהוָה, הִיא תָקוּם

Where has the year gone?  How can we only have four weeks left to this amazing year?

We had our final official faculty meeting this week.  (We will have some post-planning days after school lets out, but this was the last “faculty meeting”.)  As we are preparing to transition from one year to another; as graduates are preparing to transition to new schools, as some faculty are preparing to transition to new assignments or new phases in life – with all the anxiety, emotions and excitement that come with transitions, I thought I would pause for a week.  (Thanks to my friends and colleagues from DSLTI-Cohort 4 who I stole most of this from!)

Instead of sharing a new idea or trying to spark a new conversation or announcing a new project or innovation, I want to share the text study we did together as a faculty this week.  In upcoming weeks, I’ll share results form our Annual Parent Survey.  I’ll talk about how well we did on our standardized test scores (we really did!) or the new initiative we are launching next year in special needs education (thank you KoleinuJax, Jewish Family & Community Services, and Jacksonville Jewish Foundation!) or our new mascot for athletics (debuting next month!) or new faculty for next year, etc., etc.  We’ll pick up on all those kinds of things next week.

Let’s look at the above two quotes, as we did as a faculty in our last meeting (here translated into English):

Proverbs 20:5

The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters,

but a person of understanding draws them out.

Proverbs 19:21

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is God’s purpose that prevails.


We used these two quotes, juxtaposed in this way, and discussed how they fit together.

Or how they don’t.  Or what strikes you about each one.  What do you think?


And if you have more time, sit with someone you care about and discuss the following questions, as we did in pairs on Tuesday afternoon:

  • What kinds of changes do you find yourself experiencing presently?  Are these changes you’ve initiated or changes that you are experiencing?
  • What helps you embrace change?
  • What obstacles do you find to embracing change?  How do you handle these obstacles?
  • How do you embrace change while preserving your core values—your sense of who you are and your commitments?
  • How do the above quotes fit with this conversation?

We have had an amazing year in 2010-2011…and next year is going to be even more amazing-er.  I look forward to telling you more about it next week.  I’ll leave you, as we ended our faculty meeting this week, with a favorite quote of mine by Dan Millman:

“Teachers and books have their value, and sources of guidance and inspiration may enter your life in different forms.  But never forget that the treasure is already inside you; others cannot give you anything you don’t already have; they can only provide the lens to your own inner wealth.  So listen well to those who speak from experience and embrace wisdom where you find it, but always weigh external guidance against the wisdom of your own heart.”

A restful and relaxing week to all…



The Art of Difficult Truths

“Man was endowed with two ears and one tongue, that he may listen more than speak.”

Hasdai, Ben HaMelekh veHaNazir, ca. 1230, chapter 26

Boy that is hard to do!

I am not a natural-born listener.  Talking comes fairly easy and I have ofttimes been accused of enjoying the sound of my own voice (guilty!).  But listening is much harder. Listening – deep listening, not merely hearing – is a gift we only notice when we are lucky enough to be in the presence of someone who really knows how to do it.  The way they maintain eye contact – not looking at their watch, their iPhone, or over your shoulder to see if something or someone more important is coming along.  The way they make you feel that what you have to say has weight, that it really, really matters.  I always feel a twinge of envy whenever I hear someone describe that kind of experience because I recognize that I rarely am that someone – like most people, I am a work in progress.

In a prior blogpost, “A Palace in Time,” I mentioned paranthetically:

[I think a Buber blog on how the ideal teacher-student / teacher-parent relationship can be constructed just germinated!  Hint: It all begins when the students enter the class for the first time and the teacher seeks the Godliness in each and every one.]

I think, heading into our first round of Parent-Teacher Conferences, it is time to bring this idea to full flower…

Martin Buber was “was an Austrian-born Jewish philosopher best known for his philosophy of dialogue, a form of religious existentialism centered on the distinction between the I-Thou relationship and the I-It relationship.”

The basic idea (and I realize that I am butchering it for the sake of brevity) is that when we treat others as objects, we are in an “I-It” relationship; when we treat others with recognition of the divine within them – when we acknowledge that we are all created in God’s image and treat each other as such, we are in an “I-Thou” relationship.  Taking a deeper step (according to this idea) would be to say that when we treat each other with love, we invite God’s presence into our relationships.  Not merely as metaphor, but as an existential fact.

Now that takes a lot of energy.  So much so that it is perfectly natural to have “I-It” relationships or moments – sometimes I just want to pick up my allergy medication and go home; I am not seeking to have an “I-Thou” relationship with my pharmacist.  I do, however, want to have “I-Thou” relationships with my wife and children and it serves as a useful and sometimes painful reminder of how hard that can be when Jaimee and I (like many busy couples) are forced to use email to communicate because we are two ships passing in the night.  It is hard to invite God’s presence into an electronic communication…

Tomorrow our school will hold Parent-Teacher Conferences.  One way to measure whether or not they will be successful, I would suggest, will be determined by whether or not we see each other as “Thou’s” and not “It’s”.  Have we done the work necessary from the start of school to develop “Thou” relationships with our students?  With their parents?  We’ll know if we are able to identify the good that comes with each student and share it with his or her parents.  We’ll know if we are able to share the difficult truths which are our responsibility to share and have them received in the spirit in which we will surely wish it to be received.  We’ll know if we are able to hear difficult truths about ourselves in the spirit in which they will surely be given.  The spirit of genuine partnership where only the wellbeing of the child is important.  The spirit of seeing the best in each other, even when it takes a little more energy.  The spirit that exists when we see each other as a “Thou” and not an “It”.

Ken yehi ratzon (May it be God’s will.)