Taking #NoOfficeDay to the next level…get ready for a #PrincipalStudentSwap

It has been a tremendously exciting couple of weeks!

I had hoped last week to blog about our successful FCIS (Florida Council of Independent Schools) Five-Year Re-Accreditation visit, which took place on March 12th & 13th, but the week got away from me.  ‘Tis the busy season, what with standardized testing, re-enrollments, report cards, parent-teacher conferences and model seders to squeeze in before Passover Break.  And I am still going to save that blog post for a later date because I would like to be able to quote and share parts of it with you.

Spoiler Alert.

We came through with flying colors!  We have only a very few number of record-keeping issues to clean up and we should have our first-ever “clean report”!  In fact, two areas that the school was flagged for during our last evaluation have been transformed from “violations” to “commendations”.  The first was in the area of professional development.  The second, which should serve as an inspiration to all those schools still fretting about taking first 21st century steps, is to know that six years ago the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School was flagged for being a technological wasteland.  Yes, the school that will bring to the field next month edJEWcon – the first significant conference on 21st century learning and Jewish day school – was, just six years ago so far behind in technology that it constituted a violation.  Speaking of edJEWcon, anyone within shouting distance of Jacksonville is invited to hear our major keynote:

But more on FCIS accreditation and edJEWcon in upcoming posts.

I want to focus this blog post on linking together two great initiatives from this year into one brand-new idea.

On Wednesday, March 4th, I will be taking “No Office Day” to the next level by officially swapping places with Shoshana H. in Grade Five.  Shoshana will be “Principal for a Day” and I will be “Student for a Day”.

What did Shoshana H. do to earn this reward?  She created our first student-made, 2-minute “Community of Kindness” video, called “Being Nice”.

You can tell her what a great job she did yourself, by visiting and commenting on her blog, here.  (Please do.)

Now it was her idea to be “Principal for a Day”, not mine.  But since it has been so long since my last (and only) “No Office Day” this seemed like a great opportunity to tie some threads together.  The purpose of having regular “No Office Days” is to get principals unchained from their computers, untethered from their meetings, unleashed from their desks and out into classrooms.  [You can click here for my original blog on the idea and here for my blog on the experience itself.]

Here is what Shoshana and I have worked out so far for our swap:

  • She will come dressed as principal; I will come dressed in uniform.
  • She will greet families at the door; I will be on Safety Patrol.
  • She will visit classrooms during the day; I will be in Grade Five.
  • She will join me at our weekly Staff Meeting.
  • She will lead Grade One Tefillah (one of my regular duties).

We will both wield Flip cameras to document our days in each other shoes and will both blog about our experiences, including our video diaries.

So in one fail swoop, I get to reward a student for taking the initiative in helping our school develop its Community of Kindness AND experience a twist on No Office Day.

Talk about a win-win!


Constructing a Community of Kindness

I refer you back two blog posts, here, for the beginning of our story of trying to create a community of kindness in our schools and synagogue and here for the second installment of that story.  For other headlines and current events, of which there are many, you are welcome to look here.  For a bit of an update as to how we did this year in applying a “Purim Prescription for Pediatric Judaism”, you are welcome to click here (but be warned – you may never look at me the same way again!).  Next week’s blog post will  discuss this upcoming week’s FCIS Re-Accreditation.  I can neither blog weekly on our “Community of Kindness” initiatives nor cease blogging about it altogether.  It is important enough to garner regular attention, but is not the sole initiative of the school.  So, this week, I will enter a third installment of a trilogy of opening conversations on how we can begin to live up to our highest Jewish values.  But just because I may not refer back to it (in this blog at least) for a little while, surely does not mean it will fall onto the back-burnder.

I want to offer one update, one additional example from a student blogfolio, and a request for next steps.

Here is the update.  We finally (!) scored the bullying surveys we issued to students in both the Day School and the Center’s Religious School in Grades 5-8.  As with the prior two surveys, there may well be issues in how they were proctored and we cannot distinguish between students in either school.  BUT, we still do need some baseline data to build from and this is certainly better than the “no data” we had prior.  As with the Grades 2-4 survey, I would like to share some of the results with you and suggest what it might mean.

This was, like the other two surveys, more positive than not, but instructive.  Here is a chart which provides students a chance to describe how things are at school:

Now…we don’t know entirely if the Religious School students are indicating their experiences in Religious School (as was intended) or not.  But let’s assume, for the creation of this baseline that they have.  The chart indicates, somewhat similarly to the results from Grades 2-4, that physical bullying is not so much the issue.  However, unlike the results from Grades 2-4, by Grades 5-8 the primary cause for concern is not as much exclusion as it is teasing.  This is vital information as we plan programming to address our needs.  Bullying, in our setting, seems to take on different forms at different developmental levels.

On a happier note, students in these grades assessing their teachers, have indicated a fair degree of confidence in their willingness to help out:

Looking closer, we see that although the confidence level is high, the place it is less-high is in dealing with students teasing behind the teacher’s back.  This is very similar to what we saw in the last survey.  When teachers are aware and confronted with bad behavior…they act and act appropriately.  The issue is being sure that teachers are aware – and create an environment (say a community of kindness?) where students are comfortable being sure that they are aware.

Let’s hear from another student…this time Zoe M in Grade Four:

“Bullying is a huge problem. It happens all around the world. It makes people afraid to go to school. It makes people afraid to go out of their house. Bullying is when people make fun of others, threaten others, physically hurt others, and type mean things about others. Nobody likes to get bullied. However, people do it anyway. Most of the time a person bullies someone else is because there is a problem at the bully’s house. It is usually something personal, so the bully takes it out on others weaker than he or she  is. Bullies are usually cowards. They almost always have a gang that backs them up.  Otherwise, they would be too afraid.

There are a few types of bullying. Cyber-bullying is one type. Cyber-bullying is when people threaten you behind a computer or they hack into your e-mail. Cyber-bullying is  cowardly , because they are hiding their identity behind a computer so no-one will know it is them. People should not share passwords. That is usually how cyber-bullying starts. Cyber-bullying is very common.

Another type of bullying is threatening or physically hurting others. People threaten others when they want something, or when they just want to scare others. Some people physically hurt others for fun, just to see others cry. That is what makes people afraid to go out of their house. Once there was a boy who got bullied a lot. One day, he just couldn’t stand it so he committed suicide. That is one example of why people shouldn’t bully.

Bullying is very bad. People have to stop bullying. We can prevent it  by sticking up for others and ignoring bullies. I can help prevent bullies by sticking up for others.


Image Credits: Microsoft Clip Art”

Zoe identifies a crucial component to creating a community of kindness: the willingness to stand up for the victim and the realization that bystander-ism is sometimes as harmful as the bullying itself.


So…we have students blogging about bullying prevention.  We have clergy and teachers blogging and talking about bullying prevention.  We have students preparing their own 2-minute “Creating a Community of Kindness” videos that I look forward to sharing soon.  We have begun an important conversation.  But where do we go from here?  Here are just a few starting points:

  • Revise our Student & Family Handbooks to reflect both sides of our coin: swift and decisive discipline AND incentivizing caring and kind behaviors.
  • Professional Development
  • Parent Seminars
  • Peer-led activities & programs
  • Create a developmentally appropriate approach to bullying at each age and stage

Parents, students, teachers, community members, foundations, agencies – here or anywhere – whoever is passionate about this issue, please reach out to us with your ideas, your volunteerism, and your support.  In the spirit of transparency, we will continue to share our experiences here as we look forward to each day being better than the one before by creating a community of kindness one act at a time.


Finally…in light of this week’s local tragedy, I wanted to share with you the blog post written by Dr. Barbara Hodges, Executive Director of the Florida Council of Independent Schools (FCIS) in honor of our fallen college Dale Regan:


It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to one of our own, Dale Regan, who was the Head of School of Episcopal School of Jacksonville (ESJ) and the President of the Board of Directors of the Florida Council of Independent Schools (FCIS). As reported by the media, Dale was fatally wounded yesterday by a teacher, who had been dismissed; the teacher then turned the gun on himself. No other adults or students were involved or hurt.

So what do we do when someone we love and admire is so senselessly taken because of choices of another? I know what Dale would have done if she were in our position. She would have done what she always did; she would have reached out to comfort, to support, to lift up, and to unify the community. Dale was not only an exceptional educator and a courageous leader, but she also had a unique talent for connecting with others and meeting people where they were. So what are we going to do? We are going to follow the model that Dale beautifully unfolded for us.

We would like to invite all 157 FCIS schools to find a way in the next few days to remember Dale, realizing that our schools will respond to this tragedy in different ways. A suggestion from one of our heads was for all of us to join together at a set time for a moment of silence and remembrance. For those of you who would like to participate, we are setting aside Friday at 11 AM for a moment of silence and reflection as the Memorial Service will be starting on the ESJ campus in the Campion Courtyard in Jacksonville. As a matter of note, the memorial service is open to the public. In the days and weeks ahead, FCIS will continue to support the ESJ community and Dale’s family.

As I close this tribute to a special and dear friend, I want to share with you an Irish saying sent to me this morning by Joe McTighe, the Executive Director of the Council for American Private Education (CAPE); the saying was left to Joe and his family by his mother who died in 1996. Reminding me of Dale, it brought me great comfort, as I hope it will bring to you.

“Grieve not, nor speak of me with tears, but laugh and talk of me as though I were beside you. I loved you so; ‘twas Heaven here with you’.”

So, we are now called, as Dale would do – to comfort, to support, to lift up, and to unify our community. We hold Dale’s family, ESJ, and our FCIS family in our thoughts and prayers.

With great love,

Barbara Hodges

Cultivating a Community of Kindness

This is a busy, busy time!  Let me give a few headlines before picking up the thread of the conversation begun two weeks ago…

  • edJEWcon 5772.0 is officially closed and a waiting list has begun to fill!  Over 20 Jewish day schools from across North America and the ideological spectrum will be coming to the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School to collaborate and create.  Official press releases announcing the first edJEWcon cohort to come!  Thanks to the AVI CHAI Foundation for their generous support and to the Schechter Day School Network for its valuable assistance.
  • Our 50th Anniversary preparations are well underway!  Thanks to our extraordinary team of volunteers and professionals, we are preparing an event of a generation.  If you want to know more about this historic event, if you would like to volunteer, attend, or donate…please click here on our 50th Anniversary website.
  • Purim is coming!  Please click here for my blog post entitled “A Purim Prescription for Pediatric Judaism”.
  • Community University is coming on March 11th!  Click here for more information and to register.  I’ll be teaching a course this year called “Tiger Moms & Panda Dads? A Conversation about Jewish Parenting in the 21st Century”.
  • And finally, our school will go through its 5-year Florida Council of Independent Schools (FCIS) Re-Accreditation on March 11 – 13.  I’ll have more to say about this in an upcoming blog.

That’s a lot of headlines!

But now I want to pick up with the incredible responses that have come in since I blogged two weeks ago, here, about Creating a Community of Kindness.  It was picked up very quickly on Twitter and Facebook by other schools and foundations, which is a sign of how relevant and important this issue is.  But this initiative is not about garnering attention – it is about changing a culture.  And even though it will take time…it is beginning.

Here is some proof.

Rabbi Jesse Olitzky blogged about it here focusing on the importance of not only being reactive in issuing swift and decisive discipline when behaviors erupt, but being proactive in creating a community of kindness.  He also contributed a 2-minute video of his own:

But that’s not all!

Demonstrating that the entire Jacksonville Jewish Center is on board, we have our first contribution from the JJC Preschool, who have two amazing parents who wrote and preformed a play on the value of Gemilut Hasadim (acts of lovingkindness) for our preschool students this week:

But that’s not all either!

Better than anything the adults have done are the extraordinary blog posts our students have begun to write about this important topic. ( You can link to all our student blogfolios here.)  There are more than I can highlight here, but I want to acknowledge a couple of wonderfully written posts in my blog.  I urge you to comment directly to the students.  I am also issuing my “2-minute” challenge – I want our students to start creating their own 2-minute Community of Kindness videos and posting them to their blogfolios.  I will share them in future postings.

Here’s a terrific post from a fifth grader named Shoshana:

Things are happening.. but you might not know it.

Posted February 29th, 2012 by shoshanah

Has your child ever wanted to talk to you about someone bullying them, pushing them around, or calling them names? Well, the secret is revealed. Some children hide it from you, but yet they don’t know how to stop it. I am going to give all of the kids that have to deal with this some advice.

 Some children are sad when someone says something to you like ”You are so dumb!” or”Why did you say that! You made us loose!”. Others for reasons like they are feeling left out, or they are physically or mentally being bullied. Those are all reasons why. The problem is, if they don’t let a parent know, then they’ll just be bullied the whole year, or more. If an adult doesn’t know, then there is no way to deal with it, and it might just get worse.

A way to deal with this is by talking about it. Don’t keep it to yourself, if you do, the outcome will not be good. Stick up for yourself. You don’t needANYONE bossing you around, pushing you around, or saying things that insult you. You have courage in you, and don’t hide it. If something happens outside on the playground, don’t just stand there. You can tell a teacher. Go ahead!

If something happens to you when you are not with an adult, you might have a problem. Here’s an example. Lets say you are in the mall with your friends and you got dropped of, no adults you know, or no parents. Something happens to you, but you don’t know what to do. Look for a phone. If you don’t have a cell phone, then there should be one there. Call a parent, and ask if you can get picked up. Tell your friends that you aren’t feeling very well, wait for your Mom or Dad to call you back and tell you they’re outside. Tell them goodbye, and then go to your car. There are other ways that you can handle this situation. It depends what happens to you. If all they do is call you a name like “stupid”, then ignore it, or say that it hurt your feelings. If they bully you, that’s a WHOLE different situation.

I hope this advice helps for those of you who need it. Everyone else, I’m so glad that there is nothing wrong. I hope that the people who need advice take this into consideration, and I hope that the problems end, and peace is on earth. Parents, I hope that you will be able to see your children smile. Have a great day, and stay out of trouble!


Image credits:

Peace Sign http://www.flickr.com/photos/fredmikerudy/4885331980/

Kids hugging http://jamma.blogware.com/blog/_archives/2006/5


Pretty terrific, no?

Here is one from a fourth grader named Yoni:

lying is going very serious in most schools, especially public schools.  The types of bulling are physical bullying, teasing, and cyber bullying.  Physical bullying is when someone is trying to hit you, and  hurt you.  Teasing is when someone is trying to mock you (making fun of you).  Cyber bullying is when someone says something bad to you on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, or on your E-mail.  In third grade, our class learned when someone teases you, or cyber bullies you, you will remember it for the rest of your life.  If you cyber bully, you can get yourself in big trouble.

I got experience physical bullying, and was teased by some people, but I did not get cyber bullied yet.  When someone teases me I feel very sad.  When I got physical bullied I had no choice, but to just defend myself.  I really do not like people bullying each other.  When people are not bullying me, but bullying someone else, I feel miserable.  Without bullying kids get a much better life.  Some people are sensitive from teasing, and cyber bullying.  I am sometimes sensitive when someone teases me, even if it is just a silly joke.

When you are about to hit someone, tease someone, or type something mean online; think before you do that!  A bully starts when someone bullied them.  If you see a bully, you would usually not see them by themselves.  You would see them with other people, because a bully is not strong in the inside; but a bully tries to feel strong.  Some kids get bullied in all ways physical bullying, teasing, and cyber bullying.  If you do nothing, a bully can still be very mean to you.  If you tease someone, or cyber bully someone it is also making fun of G-D, because G-D is inside everyone.  You do not want to make fun of G-D, because G-D is infinite times stronger than anyone.  If someone bullied you an any type, you should go to someone that got bullied in the same type, so he, or she can tell you how to stop the bully.  If a pack of bullies are surrounding you, and you cannot run away you have to fight back.  My dad told me if that happens fight the the leader first, because if you defeat the leader the rest of the pack will get scared, and leave you alone.   Only fight when you have no choice.  Bullies usually bully kids that are lonely, because it will be easier to bully them.  If a pack of bullies are bothering you and your friends, you, and your friends can say, “Leave him, or her alone! ”   That is a way to stop bullies.  If someone bullies you, you can tell an adult you trust, especially your parents, or your older sibling.  You can be friends with a bully, and help the bully to think before he is about to bully someone.

That is all about how to stop bullying.  Bullying happens in a lot of places.  You can stop bullying.  You can tell the principal to make a no bully zone.  If you have any question ask me, and I will tell you.  If you follow the ways to stop bullying it will help you.  Bye!

Do not Bully!


This is just the beginning…we still have to finish scoring the bulk of our surveys and report back (it isn’t through lack of effort, they are a bear to score).  But in two weeks we have seen our Day School students, Center clergy, Preschool parents, just to name three different constituencies make their first contributions to making us a community of kindness.  I look forward to sharing more examples and to having more examples shared with us.  This is no quick fix, but a struggle to ensure the safety and health of our children in all our sacred spaces.  Let’s keep the momentum going!  Keep blogging, Tweeting, posting on Facebook, commenting on blogs, emailing, sharing, talking, learning and caring.  Each act of lovingkindness builds on the next until one day we’ve created culture of caring in which acts of intentional harm are not viable – the day we become a Community of Kindness

May that day be soon.


Creating a Community of Kindness

We have been engaged in a yearlong investigation into how to address the difficult issue of bullying in our school and in all the schools of our synagogue.  I explained the rationale and the plan here in September in a blog post entitled “Sticks and Stones”.  The mantle was taken up by Rabbi Jesse Olitzky in a powerful blog post here, entitled “Sacred Space is Safe Space”.  The next step in the process was performing an institutional assessment for all students in our schools in Grades 2-12.

We surveyed students in Grades 2- 4 in both the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School and the Bernard & Alice Selevan Religious School, using a pencil and paper instrument chosen particularly for that grade range.  A series of questions about verbal, physical and emotional acts experienced by students and performed by students were asked to measure the degree to which our students feel safe and protected.  Questions were also asked about faculty and staff to measure the degree to which students feel their teachers are available and prepared to act on their behalves.

It is not a perfect survey and it was not proctored perfectly.  It is, however, a starting point.  Issuing the survey on a yearly basis should give us something to measure the degree to which we are succeeding in changing the culture of our schools.  I would like to share just two results from the survey to start the conversation.

By the by, the schools graded out well.  Although, it is difficult to suggest that any degree of failure is acceptable.  The area where students self-reported the greatest degree of negative behaviors came not in the physical or the verbal.  It came in peer exclusion.

This graph reports that 35% of students in Grades 2-4 in both schools feel they have been purposely been excluded by their peers.  No other area of the survey scored anywhere near this high.  This is an indication, to me, that when it comes obvious acts of harm – we are largely successful (although complete elimination is required).  However, when it comes to the much more subtle, but equally painful act of social exclusion, we have work to do.  Let’s add context by examining students’ perceptions of their teachers.

Again, the percentages look good.  The overwhelming response is that by and large students believe their teachers are available to help and support.  However, the fact that we have ANY students who believe their teachers would NEVER be there to help is unacceptable to us.  It is not a perfect survey and I am sure there are margins of error included.  But when it comes to creating a safe and sacred space for our children there can be no margin of error.

And so the difficult work of institutional change moves forward.  (Results from the other surveys are forthcoming.)

Based on the data (not merely this survey, but disciplinary records, communication with parents, teachers, students, clergy, etc.) we believe we have to change the conversation. “Anti-bullying” (to us) means that we wait for bullying behaviors to take place and then act appropriately when they do.  That is a defensive posture that admits these behaviors are inevitable and the goal is damage control.  We can do better.

We need to build and grow a Community of Kindness.  Instead of waiting for something bad to happen and respond, we need to go on the offensive with an all-out assault of lovingkindness.  We need to recognize that only by becoming a community of kindness can we truly eliminate bullying and hurtful behavior within our walls.

This is much harder to achieve, but there are no quick fixes.  All the surveys, assemblies, and teacher trainings in the world cannot get us there by themselves.  On that all the research agrees.  We are going to have to do the hard work of changing the culture one student, one teacher, one family, one act at a time.  It is just as much the work of the office staff as it is the National Junior Honor Society.  It has to happen on Sunday mornings in the Religious School carpool line and on Wednesday afternoons in the Day School lunchroom.

I am issuing a call to all my colleagues in the field: We have established “Communities of Practice” (CoP’s) for just about every aspect of running a school – Development, Admissions, Educational Technology, etc., in order to share and grow best practice.  I think in an age where the click of a button can do irreparable harm, we would be well-served with a CoP for Kindness.  Where better than in Jewish schools to ensure students a culture built on kindness?

We will be creating a series of 2-minute videos on this topic to stimulate conversation and begin the movement.  I encourage parents, teachers, clergy, community members, colleagues and friends to make your own and share.  There’s nothing more important and there’s no reason to wait.  It begins now.


#What Matters Most

These are heady times for our school.  The inevitable anxiety and excitement of the open enrollment period.  The gathering rush of a 50th Anniversary weekend.  The powerful reflection through impending re-accreditation.  The tidal wave that is becoming edJEWcon.

I write a lot.

And when I do, I tend to use lots of words. This is not so very different from how I speak.

And I speak a lot.

A lot of my speaking comes with the position and some of it from my natural proclivity to be wordy.  (Anyone familiar with this blog or with me is likely nodding their head.)

One side effect of producing so many words – and between conversations, emails, blogs, letters, etc. I put out into the universe a lot of words – is that you run the risk of losing the forest of what matters most through trees of verbiage.

The blogging platform lends itself to endless writing for those so inclined.  One interesting (and almost poetic) byproduct of Twitter is that it forces a 140-character structure onto the writer.  As someone who cannot text in anything less than complete words, sentences, proper capitalization, grammar, etc., Twitter becomes an exercise in self-discipline.  I almost never get the first or second tweet to fit the space and I wind up having to edit and edit to get a thought down to its essence.

With two liminal rites of passage to celebrate this weekend (our annual Kindergarten Shabbat Service & Dinner on Friday and our First Grade Consecration on Shabbat) in the heart of all the planning for the major events to come, I want to take a moment and engage in what I hope will be a collaborative exercise.  Beginning here, I am going to encourage y’all to express #WhatMattersMost about @MJGDS and @JewishDaySchool.

[I am putting it “Twitter-speak”  both for those who already utilize Twitter AND to use Twitter to solicit responses.  I am going to offer some of my own thoughts here.  I am also going to tweet out the request.  And I encourage you to add your own 140-character suggestions either on Twitter using the #WhatMattersMost OR as comments to this blog post.  I will update the post with responses I receive (both from our school and the field) from Twitter.]

#WhatMattersMost @MJGDS from @Jon_Mitzmacher

Each child deserves a floor, but no ceiling…

No one will know your child better or work harder for their success than we will.

We may not get it right the first time, but we will partner with parents until we do.

The audience for student work was once the teacher; now it is the world.

21st Century Learning is not a slogan, it is a revolution.

The future of education is happening at a Jewish day school.

Having a child with special needs should never

preclude an inclusionary Jewish day school education.

A parent should never have to choose between the

best secular education and Jewish day school.

We are proud of our graduates, not because of what they

know and what they can do, but because of who they are.


Your turn!


The Dreaded Bullet Point Blog Post

Yes, it is time again for another dreaded blog post in which I weave together a variety of bullet points, links, and thoughts representing the torn-in-20-directions this head of school is experiencing in the early dawn of 2012.

What can I do?  I have not blogged since we went into Winter Break and the clock is ticking on a Friday school afternoon!  Having been convinced that a less-than-perfect blog post is better than no post at all, I offer you a sample of what’s on my mind.

Yet another video from Talie Zaifert, our amazing Admissions & Marketing Director, debuted over the break celebrating another wonderful Chanukah Celebration.

Thanks to our friends at AVI CHAI and PEJE for helping us promote!

I may need to reread my own blog post about the value of unplugging in a technologically obsessed era.  We spent one week in Cancun and I overspent my international data plan within the first two days.  How can I possibly deny the world my valuable tweets and status updates?  [Seriously, how could you have not wanted to see this as it was happening?]

Next vacation…no iPhone and no iPad and I mean it!  (Anybody want a peanut?  Click here if you need to know how that is funny.)  Other than my difficulty disconnecting and the fact that my daughter now expects to be serenaded by a Mariachi band at all meals, it was a great opportunity to relax and refresh for this new (secular) year.

I did manage during the break to guest blog on the PEJE Blog on the topic of “Entrepreneurial Educational Leadership: Seeking Excellence Beyond Our Resources”.  Thanks much to Ken Gordon (as always) from PEJE for the editorial work and the opportunity.  You are welcome to read it, comment on it, share it, etc., here.

Next week, Andrea Hernandez, our school’s 21st Century Learning Coordinator, and I will be off to Atlanta to participate and present at this year’s North American Jewish Day School Conference.  It will be a great opportunity to network, represent, learn and connect with colleagues from all over.  As soon as we finish our presentation (!), we will be happy to link to it for anyone interested.  And I will hope to follow up my last blog post from a conference (here) with another multimedia presentation describing my attendance experience through a 21st century learning lens.

Closer to home…between now and July 1:

  • Florida Council of Independent Schools (FCIS) Re-Accreditation Visit: March 12th-13th
  • edJEWcon 5772.0: April 29th-May 1st
  • Martin J. Gottlieb Day School 50th Anniversary Weekend: May 4th-6th
  • The launch of the “Academy” model at the Jacksonville Jewish Center: July 1  (Click here for a reminder.  Official press release coming next month!)

Four extraordinarily significant events in the life of our school will take place between now and July 1!  This is in addition to all the ongoing events that make school administration so rewarding.  What an amazing six months this is going to be!

We are right on track with each major item.  I am so grateful to my administrative team, support staff team, synagogue partners, lay leaders and volunteers for all their ongoing contributions to ensuring the success of these endeavors.  Each of them alone could take up a school’s yearly agenda – all four within six months?  (Plus two new ventures not yet ready to announce!  But amazing ones!)  It shall surely be transformational.

Next week?  I’ll be back with singular focus and a single topic: presenting an overdue “State of the School”.


A (Very) Transparent Thanksgiving

I have learned a lot of important lessons over the last month.  One of those lessons?  It is very easy to espouse “transparency” as a value when things are going well and/or when the issues are simple and non-controversial.  It is another thing altogether when things are more complex, risky and deeply personal.  As a complicated episode in my professional life has played out over the last few weeks, I have felt compromised between my professional desire for transparency and my personal desire for privacy.  I have struggled with the decision about whether or not it was appropriate to utilize this “professional” blog – property of the school, not the person – to discuss events which have had a profound impact on not just me, but my family.  With the episode (thankfully) resolved, it just did not seem right to pretend that it never happened (by its absence in my primary vehicle for reflective practice, this blog).  

[I realize that although the primary audience for this blog was and is the school family, there is an extended readership who may or may not be interested in some of its content. I try to manage those potential audiences through how I do (or don’t) promote the blog via social media.  Another side-effect of “transparency”?  If the boundaries were semi-permeable before, they sometimes feel as if they have disappeared altogether.  I’m not sure this is a good thing, but it feels like the truth.]

The facts are relatively straightforward and have been public knowledge since November 1st.  An unanticipated opportunity to compete as a finalist for the headship of Sinai Akiba Academy in Los Angeles, CA resulted in my exercise of an opt-out clause in my current contract.  My wife and I went to LA for our finalist visit and returned to Jacksonville. After meeting with my lay leadership here, I withdrew my candidacy for the position at Sinai Akiba and have renewed my commitment to remain here at MJGDS.

It seems so simple when you write it like that!

Both institutions handled this delicate situation with tremendous grace and with incredible transparency.  A series of public meetings here in Jacksonville with all concerned constituencies (parents, faculty, boards, etc.) resulted in the formation of a search committee charged with seeking out my replacement (since closed).  My candidacy in Los Angeles was a matter of public record on the school’s website and my finalist visit was conducted openly as all such visits are.

Needless to say, the situation left me (and my family) rather exposed on all sides.  That it was self-imposed did little to dull the piercing spotlight the month of November has brought to us.  Again, let me clear.  The choices were mine.  The responsibility for them was mine.  And the situation could not have been handled any more professionally or compassionately by everyone.  But I would be lying if I suggested that it also was not deeply and personally stressful.  It was, in fact, agonizing.

As I said to the search committee for Sinai Academy when I withdrew…

“…I write to officially notify you of my decision to renew my commitment here in Jacksonville, thus withdrawing my candidacy from Sinai Akiba.  I thank you all for your hospitality, your warm welcome, and the opportunity to have been a finalist.  I am confident with lay leaders like yourself and the high quality of your other candidates that only bright days lay ahead for Sinai Akiba.  I look forward to following your success and working with your next head as a fellow Schechter colleague.

Thank you again for the time and care you put into my candidacy.”

I have nothing, but positive things to say about Sinai Akiba Academy.  We met lovely people during our visit and our desire for their continued success is genuine.  But our decision and our future is here – at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, the Jacksonville Jewish Center and in Jacksonville, Florida.  And for that we are thankful.

We have barely begun to write a chapter in the book of the life of this remarkable school which turns 50 this spring.  The idea of leaving so much exciting work undone certainly contributed to my professional desire to continue as head of this school.  It has been a dynamic and satisfying year and a half since we came here, but the “job” of becoming the school we wish to be is hardly “done” (if such a thing in an organic learning organization could ever be accomplished)!  We have so many exciting projects in the near and long-term future. [I don’t want to use this post to re-list all the initiatives and ideas that are in progress or fomenting.  A quick scroll through this blog or our school’s website provides a thorough recap.]  I couldn’t imagine not being part of them.  And I am thankful that I don’t have to.

But more than the work are the people…

…as I wrote to my teachers last week:

“As we enter into a holiday week, let me take a moment to express my gratitude to all of you for the opportunity to be part of this team.  As you know, it has been a topsy-turvy few weeks for me (and for everyone) as events unfolded, but it is with genuine humility that I tell you that a most significant factor in wanting to remain here is the opportunity to continue to work together to make this the finest, most innovative, highest-quality school it can possibly be.  I come to work each day excited about what we can accomplish together.  I am thrilled to have the chance to continue this journey with you and look forward to brighter and brighter days ahead.”

And I gladly extend those thoughts to this entire community – parents, students, colleagues, communal partners, etc.


So as we head into Thanksgiving tomorrow…let me express how joyously thankful I am for the blessings in my life:  The blessing of a healthy family.  The blessing of a caring community.  The blessing of blossoming friendships.  The blessing of fulfilling work.  The blessing of committed and generous lay leaders and volunteers.  The blessing of extraordinary colleagues.  The blessing of dedicated and talented staff and faculty.  The blessing to have an opportunity to work each and every day with others to ensure a Jewish future.  The blessing to feel one’s roots dig a little deeper into sacred ground.

For these blessings and more, I am thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Leap of Faith – The Sequel

I wrote a blog post last year after returning from our school’s second annual Middle School Retreat (my first with the school) at Camp Ramah Darom in Georgia, entitled “Leap of Faith” (you can read it here).  One of the great 21st century learning pedagogies is the gift of reflection.  And one of the gifts of living by a school calendar (which, parenthetically, is equally true of the Jewish calendar) is that it often gives you the chance to experience and re-experience similar events on a yearly basis.  And so now after having had a week or so to reflect on this year’s Middle School Retreat, I wanted to spend a little time unpacking this most powerful of experiences.

[You may wish to reread my most recent blog post here and/or check out the brief video we made of it here for a taste of those experiences.]

The other advantage of having taken an additional week or two to share my thoughts is that I am not writing in the feverish afterglow of the experience.  We’ve come down from the high, but the carryover effect carries on.  And that’s what it is really all about isn’t it? Transferability?  The magic bullet of all successful informal educational experiences is how well they transfer back into “real life”.  Sure it is amazing, the best-time-of-my-life when you are in the middle of gorgeous scenery flying down the zip-line.  But is it still amazing back in the science lab?


Or at least so far.  We have work to do to nourish the spark from the retreat and keep the flame lit through the peaks and valleys of a school year.  But when I walk the halls and see our Middle School students, I can see the bonds born from horseback and hikes remain intact. Similar to the positive impact on athletics in the small middle school (you can read that blog post here), our ability to create community is vital to our continued success.  We are not sixth graders, seventh graders and eighth graders…we are a middle school.  We are not just students, teachers and administrators…we are a family.


Final note: If you are an MJGDS middle school family reading this, you may be wondering what the big deal is with the Schnupencup.  If you are someone who has been a student, camper, teacher, staff, or participant in just about anything I have done in Jewish education since 1989…I hope you are smiling.  If you have no idea what I am talking about…it is just a matter of time!

Fingers up!

“We left as a school and came back as a family.”


That’s all I can say.  We got back yesterday from our four-day Middle School Retreat and it was everything you could hope for in a Jewish informal educational experience. We had learning, games, athletics, prayer, social bonding, community building, hiking, zip lines, a campfire, and a friendship circle to boot.  It felt like we squeezed a summer’s session of camp into just four days…and we are all tired enough to prove it!

After having spent a good chunk of time, in between catching up with the rest of the school, putting together a video of our experience, I will let the video to the talking – for this week.  I will likely have more to say next week when I’ve had a chance to properly process and reflect.

The flip camera was held by lots of hands and so I apologize to parents and students that not everyone made it in – it is not a reflection of anything other than happenstance.  We will more than make up for it with the photos to be published on our website soon.  It is, I hope, a taste of why this retreat is such 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.

I am now going to go home and rest.

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