The Coronavirus Diaries: We Won’t Go BACK To School; We Will Go Forward

Phase II of the Ottawa Jewish Community School’s Distance Learning Program launched on Monday, April 20th upon our return from Passover Break.  “Phase II” came after both a “Soft Launch” and a “Phase I” and each iteration was developed based on feedback from student/parent/teacher surveys, shared experiences from schools on similar journeys (especially the ones a few weeks ahead) and best practices from educational experts.  Each phase has us moving farther from simply trying to reproduce brick-and-mortar schooling in a virtual context and moving closer to creating meaningful learning experiences through distance learning.

Although the spectra on which each calibration has been based – live experiences/recorded experiences, synchronous/asynchronous, teacher-directed learning/self-directed learning, group learning/independent learning, device-dependent learning/device-free learning, etc. – remain the same, we believe that each new phase has fine-tuned the program so that the highest number of students can find the highest degree of success within the range.  We know that with each family situation and each child’s learning style being highly personal that there are no one-size-fits-all programs.  We believe that we have landed in the right place – for now – and that our continuous seeking of feedback and ongoing flexibility will allow for the successful navigation of individual concerns.

We don’t know when we will return to school.  (Technically, the current restrictions end on May 4.)  We developed and launched Phase II to accommodate schooling through the end of the school year.  We would be thrilled to return sooner.  We are hopeful that the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year will take place in our classrooms.  We know that at some point in the future that we will return.  But as one of my gurus in the field Heidi Hayes Jacobs recently said,

We have to start thinking about how we don’t go back to school, but how we go forward to school.

This quote was brought to us by our friend and colleague Silvia Tolisano, whose name you may recognize because she was one of the consultants who worked with our faculty last year on innovative pedagogies and documentation of/for/as learning, who facilitated our April Faculty Meeting this week.  And like every professional development experience with Silvia (and I am lucky enough to have had a decade’s worth across two schools and four organizations), our teachers and administrators came out of it with just the right blend of feeling overwhelmed and inspired.  “Overwhelmed” because Silvia is a fountain of information, pedagogies, ideas, techniques and tricks that seems impossible for any one person to learn, let alone master.  “Inspired” because Silvia gives you permission to dream big dreams, encourages you to see challenges as opportunities, and urges you that the future is right around the corner with our children deserving nothing less than an education that will prepare them for their future success.

This extraordinary moment we are living, teaching and learning through will eventually end, but it would be a huge mistake to go back to school as it was when we have an opportunity to go forward to school as it ought to be.  This moment, however long it lasts, is a challenge, but it is also an amazing opportunity to try learn and to try and to fail and to succeed.  We are only (!) in our fourth week of distance learning, but I feel very strongly that there are five clear ways that we will want to go forward to school.

Amplifying Quiet/Introverted Voices

This is something that I recently blogged about, so I won’t repeat myself here.  I will simply say that I continue to find just in my own (limited) teaching and engagement with blogs and blogfolios that the use of chat rooms, the facilitation of Google Meetings with clear and obvious rules for muting and speaking, and the use of self-recorded audio and video continues to allow me to see facets of our children’s personalities and depth of thought that would surely be lost in a healthily noisy classroom context.  The feedback from teachers bear this out.  Distance learning may have forced us into these techniques, but our core values – our North Stars – of “each being responsible one to the other” and “we learn better together” require us to continue to amplify quiet voices when we go forward to school.

Developing Self-Directed Learners

This category comes directly from Silvia and was the focus of her time with our teachers this week.  Distance learning – as many of our parents can vouch for – is helped tremendously when students have the skills necessary to be self-directed learners.  And these skills are not exclusive to certain grades or subjects or even learning styles.  Our teachers have already begun thinking about how the skills you see below can make as much sense in a Kindergarten English lesson as they can a Grade 4 French lesson as they can in a Grade 8 Hebrew lesson.

One could argue (and one has!) that the only real aim in schooling is being sure that students are capable of being able to learn how to learn.  What the move to distance learning forced on us was explicitly teaching these skills to students who not have adequately mastered them yet.  We are making up for lost time now out of necessity.  But we cannot truly embody our core values – our North Stars – of “We own our learning” unless we embed these skills more deeply in our curriculum when we go forward to school.

Digital Citizenship

Digital Citizenship is already something we invest a great deal of energy in at OJCS because of what we believe to be true about teaching and learning.  However, the shift to distance learning has revealed some gaps and some delays in our workshops and curriculum.  Our teachers, working together with our amazing Librarian, Brigitte Ruel, are filling those gaps in the present and will work to make them permanent features of #TheOJCSWay when we go forward to school.

Personalized Learning

Almost more than anything else, the move to distance learning has proved the necessity and the power of personalized learning.  We have no choice, but to lean into individualized instruction, personalized curriculum, and self-directed learning.  We can’t live our North Star of “a floor, but no ceiling” without fulfilling this promise – that we will know each student in our school well enough to lovingly inspire them to reach their maximum potential academically, socially, and spiritually.  To do that well, to do that all for that matter, requires you to spend meaningful time building relationships.  It can be hard to do that in a crowded classroom, but its importance comes screamingly clear through distance.  The amount of time we are now spending in direct communication with students and parents about their learning, the care that is now being put into personalized learning programs will help ensure that when we do go forward to school that we will come that much closer to treating each student as if they have unique and special needs…because they do.

Strengthening (Global) Connectedness

Jewish day schools in general and OJCS in particular emphasize global connectedness.  We’ve always maintained connections to schools in other countries and to personalities from other cultures.  We leverage those relationships to speak in our three languages, to engage in active citizenship, to perform acts of social justice and lovingkindness, to participate in our city, provincial and federal discourse and to foster our love for the People, Land and State of Israel.

In a time of social distancing, however, not only have we had to lean on our global connectedness, but we have had to learn how to foster local and school connectedness through platforms as well.  We cannot live our North Stars of “ruach” and “being on inspiring Jewish journeys” during a time of distancing without it.  When we gather as a community for a virtual Family Kabbalat Shabbat or our students learn with and from a Holocaust survivor or when we celebrate Israel’s independence as part of a global audience, we feel the power of a connected community.

But when we go forward to school, what I’ll be thinking about is how much joy our students have each (virtual) day when they get to see each other’s smiling faces.  How can we use what we have learned about connectedness when distance was imposed on us all, to address school and community needs when distance is required for a few?  How could we incorporate our sick classmates into daily learning?  How could we incorporate parents or grandparents who are unable to be physically present, but want to be connected and involved into the life of the school?

Sooner than later – hopefully sooner! – we really will be returning.  We look forward to enjoying a hot dog and the physical company of new and returning families…at the 2020-2021 OJCS PTA Welcome Forward BBQ.

Ken y’hit ratzon.

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.”

The Transparency Files: Evaluation of Self

Although the weather outside is only finally warming up, it is actually June and we have reached our final month of this amazing 2019-2020 school year!  It is hard to believe how much has happened this year and how much we still have on tap for the final weeks!  Circumstances led me to switch up the order of my annual series of closing “Transparency Files” blog posts.  This year, I began with the results of the Annual Parent Survey and the results of the Annual Faculty Survey (shared directly with Faculty), am now moving here to my self-evaluation, and will finish with a discussion of next year’s new initiatives and conclude with an introduction of the 2019-2020 OJCS Faculty.

So let’s lean in…

We are in that “evaluation” time of year!  As Head of School, I have the responsibility for performing the evaluation of staff and faculty each year.  Fittingly, they have an opportunity to do the same of me.  Our Annual Faculty Survey presents current teachers and staff with the opportunity to provide anonymous feedback of my performance as Head of School.  Please know that I have already shared the results and analysis with the faculty and have sent the full unedited results to our Board’s Head Support & Evaluation Committee as part of their data collection for my evaluation.

You are welcome to review last year’s self-evaluation post before moving onto this year’s…

This year’s self-evaluation is based on goals created for this year (which was done at the beginning of the year in consultation with that same Head Support & Evaluation Committee).  You will not find a complete laundry list of my day-to-day responsibilities.  [I am focusing here on more of my “principal’s” responsibilities, not as much on my “head of school’s” (i.e. fundraising, marketing, budgeting, etc.)]  You will find selected components [there are more goals in each area than I am highlighting here] for the 2018-2019 OJCS academic year:

Establish steady and measurable growth of the student population

  1. Establish and drive a recruitment plan to promote the school and attract new students.
    1. Develop a recruitment strategy with the Admissions Director by December 1st.
    2. Review and track recruitment effectiveness and make adjustments as required (ongoing, but December – April is the key period).
  2. Design and execute a retention strategy and plan.
    1. Develop a “moves management” database for all current families and launch weekly retention meetings with Admissions Director by first week in December.
    2. Annual Parent Survey is taken each May, shared with families and utilized in plans for the following years (when appropriate).
    3. Complete exit interviews/surveys with students and parents to better understand reasons for leaving are done as decisions become final in the Spring.
    4. Parent Ambassador for all new OJCS families to launch the first week of school.
  3. Strengthen pipeline with Ganon & Early Beginnings.
    1. Meet with directors to share updates and solicit feedback twice-yearly (December & May).
    2. Schedule engagement opportunities for Ganon and Early Beginnings JKs w/OJCS K for November.
    3. Develop a plan for the ongoing transition of Ganon’s JK to OJCS by February.
  4. Deepen relationships with synagogues.
    1. Re-launch the Rabbinic Advisory Committee in November with a goal of identifying concrete engagement opportunities for OJCS and each synagogue.
    2. Meet with each Rabbi by January to identify a specific engagement opportunity for Jon (speaking, Shabbat dinner, etc) and a select group of prospective parents.

OJCS is a school of excellence (through our work with NoTosh we aspire to be “the best school in Ottawa”)

  1. Translating our “North Stars” (“The OJCS Way”) into a strategy document.
    1. Work with NoTosh to revise final strategy document by December 1st.
    2. Translate the strategy document into a slide-deck for presentation to teachers/board/parents by January.
    3. Create parent collateral to help drive external identification of “The OJCS Way” with “excellence”.
  2. Connecting the dots between our work with NoTosh and our work with Silvia Tolisano.
    1. Meet with members of the NoTosh Design Team and the Silvia Cohort to keep everyone on the same page (ongoing).
    2. Encourage at least 10-15 prototypes through the prototype protocol.
  3. Clarify what role the CAT-4 plays in evaluating academic “excellence”.
    1. Analyze CAT-4 results with teachers to evaluate how useful they are in shaping instruction.
    2. Based on data and “The OJCS Way” blog out results while holding individual parent meetings (as needed).
  4. Create a technology plan for teachers, students and school.
    1. Work with Technology Director to develop plans for current and desire technology in the school.
    2. Work with teachers – and then parents – to decide which devices students will need to have (both in school and at home) in which grades.
  5. Develop a comprehensive Professional Development (PD) plan.
    1. Ensure that each teacher has a signed Professional Growth Plan (PGP) by November.
    2. Work with new Coordinators to see what common themes arise from PGPs and decide where and how to address over the course of the year (PD days, faculty meetings, conferences, resources, etc.).
  6. (Constantly) improve faculty morale.
    1. Launched “Positive Notes” prototype in January
    2. Results from the Annual Faculty Survey indicate success.

OJCS inspires Jewish journeys in its students, families and community.

  1. Deepen and develop personal relationships with holiday and Shabbat experiences.
    1. Invite children’s classes to house for Sukkot (September).
    2. Begin rotating families through for Shabbat dinners.
    3. Prototype at least one holiday workshop with PTA.
  2. Expand holiday family experiences.
    1. Make sure each grade has at least two Kabbalat Shabbat experiences at school.
    2. Grow our annual Chanukah and Passover celebrations to deepen family engagement.
    3. Coach a few teachers who have family engagement as part of their PGP to maximize their prototypes.
  3. Thought-leadership.
    1. Make sure blog has appropriate balance, including connections between the way Judaism is lived in school and how it could be lived at home.
    2. Work with local synagogues on Shabbat and holiday programming.

I am pleased to say that we managed to hit many of the above goals and are on our way to hitting the rest!  Here are some things to focus in on…

…we just recently met with our friends at the SJCC and Ganon Preschool to deliver preliminary plans for the next two years of transition of JK from Ganon to OJCS and we are holding meetings this month between JK and SK teachers to launch new initiatives in 2019-2020.

…we are pleased to be cosponsoring a Shavuot program this week with Congregation Beit Tikvah and co-facilitating a Shavuot program with Kehillat Beth Israel.

…we are meeting with PTA leadership this week to pass along feedback from the Annual Parent Survey and to explore ways to engage more parents in holiday workshops or other parent education opportunities.  This is an area we are desperate to improve in next year.

…we have drafted a BYOD (bring your own device) policy for Grades 4-8, which will be sent to parents later on this month.

…the schedule kinda got away from us, but we do have a final K-5 Kabbalat Shabbat on June 21st at 3:00 PM!

Those are just some highlights!  As always, your feedback – whether publicly commented here, privately shared with me through email or social media, or directly shared through conversation – is greatly appreciated.  As I told our teachers, I look forward to getting better at my job and I am thankful for the feedback I receive that allows me to try.

The Transparency Files: Annual Parent Survey

This is probably a couple of weeks later than I had hoped, but I am pleased to share with you the results of this year’s Annual Parent Survey!  If you want a full comparison with last year, you can reread those results or toggle back and forth.  What I will try to do here, is to capture the highlights now that we have a baseline for comparison.

The first thing to name is that the percentage of students represented in this year’s survey is lower than last year, even if it captures slightly more students.  Last year’s survey covered 81 students and this year’s covers 84.  Also, the survey is per student, not per family, which means that it is even less representative than that.  In the service of anonymity, we have no way to know how many families the survey actually represents.  Finally, for most of the sections below, only 70 students – or roughly 40% of the school – is represented in the results.  (Surveys of 14 students did not include data outside the opening and closing questions.)  We would love to see that number at 70% or higher in the future to be more sure that the results are valid, but as always, we believe that all data is valuable data.

Whereas it is common wisdom that folks with concerns are usually more likely to fill out these surveys, the truth is that it would only strengthen these numbers, because by and by they are pretty good!  More than being worried about the motivations for why families do or don’t fill out surveys, we are most concerned that our families feel that they have an opportunity to provide us with feedback and, even more important than that, that the school factors in parent voice as it makes decisions.  We can only hope that we prove to families each year that we do take voice seriously, we do lean into healthy critique, and we do want to hear from them.  We will revisit when we give the survey, how long we keep the survey window open and how we could incentivize folks to fill them out.  We will aim for over 50% next year and 70% in the years to come.  In the meanwhile, let’s celebrate the parents who did participate and try to make meaning of what they are telling us.

As was the case last year – and is usually the case everywhere – it is the parents of our youngest students who are the most invested with decreasing participation as the years go on.  It is, however, a bit more representative than last year’s group.

This percentage is higher than last year and is confounded a bit by the fact that families who are moving out of Canada for example, or who are graduating would sit in the same “No” with families who attritting before Grade 8.  That the percentage is higher has some logic because our attrition rates are down again heading into next year, but I cannot unpack the “No” box while maintaining anonymity.  All of this to say is, if it is true that our most critical parents are filling out this survey, the overwhelming majority intend to continue at OJCS.  That says a lot about them and about us.

Let’s look at the BIG PICTURE:

So I will remind/tell you that for this and all categories, we look at the range between 7-9 as the healthy band, obviously wanting scores to be closer to 9 than 7, and looking for numbers to go up each year.  Last year, our score was 7.13 and this year it is 7.20.  Is it healthy?  Absolutely, although still closer to the low end of the band than we would prefer.  Did it go up?  Yes, although not as much we would like considering how much better a school we have become by a variety of other measures.  Is there a disconnect between what the school believes is true and what parents see and believe?  Is this a failure of communication?  These will be important questions for us to chew on.  Let’s dig deeper…

A few things jump out…

  • The topline number is essentially unchanged (7.17 to 7.11), while remaining lower in the healthy band than we would like to see.
  • Unlike last year, the score for “learning LEVELS” and “learning STYLES” is exactly the same, which leads me to wonder if people understand what we’re actually asking about (are these actually good or clear questions).
  • Even the ones that are below the healthy range (in the 6s) are actually all up from last year, which hopefully means they will enter that range soon.
  • I am pleased to see parents have pushed the question about individualized attention into the healthy range (7.09) as it is a core value of the school.
  • Our lowest score (6.56) is connected to homework, which we had already identified as a critical concern.  We hope that the new Homework Philosophy we shared out just a few weeks ago will help see that score rise when it is implemented next year.

  • So here is where having comparison data is actually helpful.  Each score in this section is lower than we want it to be and each score in this section is higher than it was last year.  (Remember that we think 7-9 is the healthy range; a “5” still means “satisfied” on the scale).
  • The topline number is still below a 7 and that still remains unacceptable.  It may round up, but next year it has to get there on its own.
  • The biggest improvements in this section are connected to our ability to meet the needs of students with IEPs and we know it is connected to our having hired a Director of Special Education this year.  We also know that it is not yet where we want it to be, but this is a clear example of where parent voice, aligned with teacher and student voice, leads to meaningful action.  (Fill out those surveys y’all!  We really do pay attention.)

As was the case last year, there are no huge bombshells, but there are some things worth pointing out…

  • The topline number is essentially the same (7.27 to 7.24).
  • Our lowest scores (and we added two new sub-questions in this category) deal with French and we are excited to see those numbers begin to approach healthy levels as we move forward next year with the intense professional development for our French Faculty that we announced earlier this week.  We are a bit disappointed that the added contact time and rigor have not yet registered, but we know they were steps in the right direction.  Our newest families have the same high expectations of us that we have for ourselves, and now it is time for the school to deliver on its promises.  This is another clear example of where parent voice, aligned with teacher and student voice, leads to meaningful action.  (Fill out those surveys y’all!  We really do pay attention.  We even wrote it twice to be sure you noticed!)
  • From the comments in the experimental section on French outcomes, it is very clear that we do, in fact, have three populations at OJCS.  We have families who are satisfied with what we presently offer with a “Core” and “Extended” program.  We have many families who want to see the quality of those programs increase, especially the ones who are counting on our ability to graduate students out of “extended” into Grade 9 immersion programs.  We also, however, have families who would like to see us – at least as an option – provide an analogous immersion experience to the public board.  This conversation, as we said, is just beginning.
  • We noted last year that we were counting on Art, Music and PE to be improved by assigning them teachers who could focus more exclusively on these specialties and we are pleased that each score has gone up!

  • With regard to Jewish Studies, we are very pleased that all our numbers are significantly up from last year and have entered the healthy range (one score needs a little rounding to get there, but still)!  Reading last year’s results, I said that, “I fully expect that the changes we proposed for Jewish Studies – emphasis on Hebrew fluency, reinstitution of structured tefillah, etc. – will lead to higher scores in the year to come.”  Well…we made those changes and it is wonderful to see that they landed with our families.
  • We clearly have work remaining to bring our hot lunch program, our field trips (both quantity and quality), and helping our friends at the JCC with feedback about after-school programming to bring those scores into the healthy band…speaking of after-school programming…

From our experimental section, we gain this data point.  If we have at least 40 students, as is indicated, expressing interest in a French after-school experience, we have a responsibility to figure out the how and the what.  Stay tuned.

  • I will hold most of my comments on my own scores for an upcoming “Transparency Files” with my full self-evaluation.  Here, I will simply say that I am relatively pleased with stable scores in the healthy range.
  • My lowest score is in providing learning for parents…and I agree!  I am legitimately struggling to figure out how to do this better with the busy lives of our parents.  Last year I tried to teach a weekly class, but we couldn’t carry a critical mass week-to-week to make it viable.  I’m open to suggestion (like, please do) on how to do this better.  Help me to help you to help me.
  • Our lowest score in this area (ticked slightly down from last year’s 6.97) is about our “code of conduct” and we are pleased to share that we are working on launching a new, school-wide behavior management system next year based on the “7 Habits” and anchored in our “North Stars”.  I will be surprised if this score doesn’t go up next year.

Last data point:

Remember this question was scaled 1-5.  Our score is interestingly unchanged at 4.14.  I’m not sure how much more room to go up there is, but it is a windmill we will gladly tilt at.

So there you have it for 2018-2019!

Thanks to all the parents who took the time and care to fill out surveys!  In addition to the multiple choice questions, there were opportunities for open-ended responses and a couple of experimental sections.  Your responses added an additional layer of depth; one which is difficult to summarize for a post like this.  Please know that all comments will be shared with those they concern as you have seen that we really do use this data to make enhancements and improvements each year.  By the by, we are pleased with how well satisfied our parents are with how the school is going…but be assured, just like with everything else, we expect to see growth and progress in a school where there is “a floor, but no ceiling”.

In the next few weeks, I will look forward to sharing my self-evaluation, an exciting enrollment update, and to introducing the 2019-2020 OJCS Faculty!

Shofar So Good! (This is a LONG blog that I hope you read.)

The holidays start so early this year that I can barely squeeze in my favorite pun! With only four school days before Rosh HaShanah, we are doing our very best to get into the holiday spirit.  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 week 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.

During our opening assembly, we talked as a school not only about the new colors and photos on the walls, but about the 18 new signs – 6 in Hebrew, 6 in French and 6 in English – that reflect what we now describe as “The OJCS Way”.  These are the “north stars” that came out of the work we did last year – the core values that help describe what is unique about our school.  We shared these values in a “Town Hall” last spring and they are described in greater detail in your OJCS Handbook.  We are excited to begin living those values and seeing how they impact culture and innovation in our school and community.  I also want to use them as a frame to discuss a few live issues we know are percolating…

“We learn better together.”

Those of you who are new to our school and to me, will learn that I embrace radical transparency.  I believe it is important to be authentic, honest, open to feedback and willing to lean into difficult conversations – all traits we believe worth modeling for our children. We have nothing to hide in our school and our parents are our partners. One of our north stars is that “we learn better together”. There are lots of “we’s” in our school – students with students, students with teachers, teachers with teachers, etc. – but parents are also part of the “we”.  Working together we can resolve almost any issue and adequately address any concern.

“Each person is responsible each to the other.”

I looked back to my blog a year ago and the number one issue facing our school was…our change to drop-off procedures!  It is hard to recall just how much bandwidth this took up, but it was significant.  There are a few lessons to be learned there…

We take the safety of our children as our highest concern.  The reason we invested so much energy last year in changing our drop-off procedures is that we wanted to ensure that the parking lot was controlled and safe.  We were so committed to it – and still are – that our entire administrative team commits itself each and every morning to being there.  (And we also think greeting our students each morning is the best way to start the day!)  It took a while for families to learn the ropes – and we have the emails to prove it!  But sooner than later, we got into a rhythm and now we have a safe and efficient drop-off.

It is deja vu all over again now that we have turned our attention to pick-up.  The issues are similar – we really want to make sure in a complicated world that each child finds his or her way to the right parent, carpool, bus or caregiver.  We also want to make sure students don’t wander into the parking lot or off campus without anyone noticing – things that could have happened here as a consequence of simply opening the doors and letting our entire school pour out.  There are minimal and maximal ways we could address this issue.  Lean too much to one side and you have greater convenience and less safety; lean too much to the other and you have greater safety and less convenience.  We are trying to find a middle path.

We invite your patience and appreciate your flexibility as we adjust to this new way of ending our day.  We firmly believe that sooner than later we will get into this rhythm as well, and we will add a safe and efficient pick-up to our safe and efficient drop-off.

“There’s a floor here – but no ceiling.”

This may seem like an odd place to anchor a conversation about snack and recess – which is the hot topic of the week – but it is actually where it lives.  The promise we make parents at the time of enrollment, not just at the beginning, but each and every year as we never take re-enrollment for granted, is that we have an appropriately rigorous floor for each student, but no ceiling of expectation for how far their passion and talent can fly.  That is why we are moving towards personalized learning, investing in innovation consultants, reimagining our schedules, introducing new technologies, playing with our space, etc., etc., all in the service of providing the highest-quality education possible.

We spent an enormous amount of time last year collecting data from alumni, former students and families, current students and families, the schools our children graduate into as we grappled with three really important conversations: What needs to be true about our French outcomes?  What needs to be clear about our Jewish expectations?  What is unique about teaching and learning at OJCS?  The answers to those questions were transparently shared out in Town Halls about French, Jewish Studies, and “The Future“.  And part of those answers required a re-imagination of our schedule, because time is a zero-sum game. And the reason we shared it so openly then was that we knew it would invite questions and we were happy to answer them then…and we remain happy to revisit them now that we are beginning to live them.

I want to focus here on the Lower School (K-5).  Up until this year, our Lower School had been functioning on a Middle School schedule – bells every 40 minutes dictating artificial changes that don’t suit the needs of younger students.  We wanted to move towards a larger block schedule that gives students and teachers the breathing room they need to let the learning flow at a more relaxed pace or to extend the learning where enthusiasm takes it.  So we have made that change.  It isn’t perfect (yet).  Some grades were easier than others due to personnel needs, but we are closer to where we want to be than where we were.

In Grades 1-5, in order to increase contact time in French and Jewish Studies – a need that came out loud and clear from our research last year – we are being more creative with the 50-minute block that was given to snack and recess each morning (a little over an hour after their arrival).  There has been no decrease in recess or physical activity.  (It has actually gone up with an added period of Physical Education.) What has changed – and where we are seeing the most questions and concern early on – is the nature of snack.  Our desire to provide our students with the nutrition they require remains intact.  Our willingness to provide our students with the time they require for snack has not changed.  What has changed – and where we have growing pains to work through – is that the time being given over to snack comes with a little bit of learning.

This will look and feel different in Grade One than it will in Grade Five. It will look and feel different in Week One than it will in Week Thirty. And the flexibility and autonomy our teachers have (now) allow them to make daily adjustments as per the needs of the children.  If some days the snack needs to come with little to no learning…that’s okay!  If some days the recess needs to be longer…that’s okay!  Another one of our “north stars” is that “we own our own learning” – and our teachers and students have full ownership of what needs to be true on a daily basis.  They are not being micromanaged by the administration.  That’s the real change to pay attention to – that we aren’t letting the bell dictate when learning begins or ends, or whether students can eat or not, or whether students get a body break or not – we are letting our teachers and students begin to take ownership of their learning since they know best what they need and when.

This is so new for us!  And for you.  It is natural that you have questions and concerns.  We welcome them directly.  We are having the same conversation with our teachers who also want to make sure that students have time to eat and time to play…and time to learn.  A number of parents have asked whether it would have been smarter to simply increase the length of the school day.  Believe me, I would love a longer day to work with and perhaps that’s a conversation we should be having.  But please don’t think that aren’t carefully considering the wellbeing – mental or physical – of our children.  We know the research on movement and on nutrition.  We believe our teachers – working with their students and with you – will discover what is best for each class and that we will land in a place that feels comfortable for all.

“We are all on inspiring Jewish journeys.”

One of the highlights of the first week was our inaugural “Welcome Ceremony” for Kindergarten students and parents.  Tears were shed as we took just a pause to name the liminal moment a child begins his or her formal Jewish learning.  To see them all under the tallitot surrounded by parents as our teachers shared a poem in Hebrew, French and English, and as Rabbi Finkelstein led a parental blessing before a final farewell, was to see the beginning not just of a family journey at OJCS, but – we hope – “an inspiring Jewish journey” leading…wherever it leads.  It was also a reminder of the sacred trust a family places in us for the education of their children and the holiness of such work.  A truly special way to begin the year…

“Ruach”

We added ruach (spirit or joy) as a “north star” not just because we needed six to make sure our “north star” was a “north Star of David”, but because we know how important ruach is in the life of a school.  We want our students and teachers to feel the joy of learning and the love of community.  We want each person to feel that special feeling when he or she can be their truest self and know that they will be heard and respected and loved.  That’s a lofty ambition, but one worth reaching towards.  It is why we are so excited about next week’s Middle School Retreat at Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa (CBB).  It is why we are looking for greater parent engagement in our PTA and in our school.  It is why we created cafeteria space to eat and to sing together instead being siloed into classrooms.  It is why we raised money to install air conditioning in our hottest classrooms so our students can learn in comfort and not distress (with more to come).  It is why we are increasing field trip opportunities, adding electives to Middle School, and constantly re-imagining what we do and how we do it.  It is why we get up in the morning each and every day with a fire in our bellies and a smile upon our lips.

Research shows that one of the most important variables to academic success is teacher joy – when teachers are excited to teach, students are excited to learn.  And when students are excited to learn, anything is possible.  That’s the future we are building at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.  That’s why we are willing to make changes, even when those changes are hard and sometimes even when those changes fail.  We will never let fear of failure prevent us from reaching towards those (north) stars, because we’ll never get there if we don’t try.

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.  5779 is shaping up to be a quite an amazing year!

From our family to yours, “Shanah tovah!”

What a Difference a Year Makes

Sitting here in my office on the Friday before teachers report on Monday, I cannot but marvel at how different things are from just a year ago.  This will not be one of my overly-verbose and lengthy blog posts with oodles of details.  I do that often enough and if we are being honest, I will probably be doing it again sooner than later.  Here I just want to name the feeling…and that feeling is best described by one of our new “North Stars” – ruach.

We have had so many teachers in and out of the building this summer – which represents a major cultural shift – working and planning and preparing and organizing and beautifying. Why?  Because they are full of enthusiasm and excitement about the year to come…

We have had so many vendors, parent volunteers and campus employees working tirelessly this summer – which continues a major cultural shift – painting and repairing and cleaning and beautifying.  Why? Because they understand that how the building looks and feels matters and they are invested in the year to come…

Prototyping a new behavior management system at OJCS!

We have had opportunities for the administrative team and the teachers to gather for social bonding this summer – which begins a major cultural shift – axe-throwing and karaoke singing and eating and playing together.  Why? Because we know that our relationships contribute to the joy we feel when we come to work and we know that our joy is contagious to our students and parents and we have such high hopes for the year to come…

Last year was amazing, but it barely scratched the surface.  This year will be a huge leap forward, but it too will only be a step in the direction we are heading toward.  When we say that we intend to be the finest school in Ottawa, we do not mean it as hyperbole or as a marketing slogan.  We mean it literally and it is already beginning to happen.  We see it in our two kindergarten classes which are still growing even this close to the beginning of the school year.  We see it in our overall growth of nearly 10 percent.  We see it in the caliber of our new faculty – many of whom sought us out.

We know it from the additional new gifts from donors that we haven’t even had a chance to announce yet (stay tuned!), which will only bring the future closer.  We know it from the programmatic changes launching this year – many of which were described in prior posts – but hereto, includes some new ones that we have not yet had a chance to announce (stay tuned!).

I am as excited about this year of school as I have ever been about any year in any school I have had the honor of heading.  With our “North Stars” to guide us, a team of talented administrators to lead us, a group of gifted and loving teachers to make the magic happen, a community of caring parents to partner with, and – of course – our students whose voice will be amplified and whose educational journeys represent sacred work – this year will undoubtedly be our best yet.

If you were on the fence – get off.  If you were skeptical – believe.  The future of education is being written at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.

That’s #TheOJCSDifference.

How We Are Spending Your Summer Vacation

Happy Summer!

Even though this is my second summer in Ottawa, my internal clock is still tuned towards a Florida calendar, so it feels like summer should be over any minute!  But luckily (for all of us!) we still have plenty of time to recharge and refresh before a full return.

That does not mean that we are not hard at work preparing for what will assuredly be our best year yet in 2018-2019.  And it is not just the new colours on the walls (with other surprises yet to come) that is worth being excited about.  We are about to take a great leap forward and before we all get caught up in the hullabaloo of workaday life, I want to take a chance to highlight a few things that may have escaped your attention.  [If you are only interested in a hiring update…scroll down!]

Website / Google Classroom / Blogs

Please be aware that due to significant and overwhelming feedback from parents, teachers, and students that we are – with the help of the amazing Josh Max – currently transitioning to a new and improved website and transitioning away from Google Classroom to a blogging platform.  Our website is about to be a whole lot more accurate and helpful to current and prospective families, as well as to donors, supporters, volunteers and community stakeholders.  A new virtual platform is about to make it a whole lot easier for parents and students to know what is happening in their classes and for teachers and students to share pictures, videos, examples and reflections of the incredible work they are doing.

“We learn better together” is one our North Stars and this shift towards a better and more accessible platform will help us expand the concentric circles of “we” to amplify and share the learning.  We will likely look for opportunities to provide education for parents who wish for it and all our current privacy policies remain intact.  Parents will continue to maintain full control over privacy, even as we take the next step forward.  Stay tuned for more information.  Feel free to ask any questions.

Meet & Greet / Back to School / First Day / First Day of K / Trimesters

There are a whole lot of bullet points that describe minor, but meaningful changes, so let’s name them clearly:

  • We are moving next year to a “trimester year” – dividing the year into three trimesters, no longer into two semesters.  What is the impact of that?
  • It means that we will issue three report cards (not one progress report and two report cards) and that the schedule for “Parent-Teacher Conferences” (or “Student-Led Conferences” should any grade prototype them this year) will come a bit earlier than in years past (Fall and Winter).  What is the impact of that?
  • It means that we will not have a “Back to School” evening this year. With more accurate and accessible information available to parents from the beginning and with a first “Parent-Teacher Conference” earlier on the calendar, we believe this evening has been rendered obsolete.  What is the impact of that?
  • It means that we do want to provide an opportunity for families in the Lower School (K-5) to have an opportunity to meet teachers, see their classrooms, find their desks, etc., before the first day of school.  Now that you do not need to schlep all your materials, we have framed this day – Thursday, August 30th – as a K-5 “Meet & Greet” with an open-ended window from 3:00 – 5:00 PM for families to drop on by.  [We have timed it that way to flow into the PTA Welcome Back BBQ.]  What is the impact of that?
  • It means that all our students, including K, will be ready to begin school on its first day.  Parents of Kindergartners will be invited to stay for a brief ceremony marking their children’s transition to OJCS and all parents will be invited to stay for a brief PTA Welcome Back to School Breakfast.

Middle School Retreat / Tefillah

We have two Middle School prototypes colliding during the first month of school – the launch of our new daily Middle School minyan, which we unpacked at one of our “town halls” last spring and our inaugural Middle School Retreat at Camp B’nai Brith (CBB) of Ottawa.  To help ease our Middle Schoolers into minyan and to take advantage of being away together at camp to set the right tone and to introduce the right habits, we are looking at the beginning of the school year (with regard to tefillah) in three phases:

  • Middle School Tefillah Bootcamp: 9/2 – 9/11
    • We envision these first days serving as a “Part I” conversation of some of the whys and whats of tefillah, as well as a straight bootcamp of the basic matbeah shel tefillah [literally “formula of prayer”] we intend to use with Middle School.
    • These sessions will be non-performative and, thus, can be held as a full Middle School (or any combination we see fit) in either prayer space.
  • Tefillah @ Middle School Retreat: 9/12 – 9/14
    • We want to take advantage of these 2-3 days (depending on how we schedule out the travel days), with less time pressure, to launch “Part II” of the whys and whats of tefillah as a way of preparing for regular tefillah upon our return.
    • Students will be encouraged to bring tallitot and tefillin on the retreat as we will be dividing into minyanim and beginning our work together.
  • Tefillah @ Middle School Beginning 9/17
    • We return from the Middle School retreat and launch our regular Middle School Tefillah on Monday, September 17th.
    • Dr. Mitzmacher will facilitate the Traditional Egal minyan in the Chapel; Rabbi Finkelstein will facilitate the Traditional Non-Egal minyan in the Beit Midrash.
    • We are looking at a Monday-Friday template for Middle School Tefillah
      • Monday: Regular Minyan (straight davenning using the matbeah)
      • Tuesday: Iyunei Tefillah (meeting in small groups for conversation; sort of an ongoing “Part III” of whys and whats)
      • Wednesday: Regular Minyan
      • Thursday: Torah Reading / Torah Study / Student Divrei Torah
      • Friday: Kabbalat Shabbat (using a different matbeah)

Please bear in mind that these are prototypes – which means they are subject to constant tinkering as we learn what works and what doesn’t.

Hiring Update

We are pleased to share with you an update of new hires as we are almost completely staffed up for 2018-2019!  We are thrilled that these new teachers will be joining our amazing returning teachers to make next year our best yet!

  • Sharon Reichstein will be joining our Administrative Team this fall as our Director of Special Needs.  Ms. Reichstein is a specialist who brings decades of experience working with students who have special needs and looks forward to sharing her expertise with our faculty, students and parents.  As Director of Special Needs, Ms. Reichstein will be the central hub of ensuring all of our students’ needs are met through personalized plans.
  • Michael Washerstein is a passionate and experienced educator coming to us from Philadelphia to be our new Middle School English & Jewish Studies Teacher.  In addition to his secular educational experience, Mr. Washerstein’s time as a USY Advisor and experience as a MASA Teaching Fellow in Israel, will serve him well in his dual role at OJCS. Working closely with Rabbi Finkelstein, Mr. Washerstein looks forward to forging a strong connection with our Middle School students.
  • Yardena Shainbach has relocated to Ottawa after many years with the English Montreal School Board.  Ms. Shainbach is a fluent French speaker and will be taking on the Grades K-2 French position.  She is currently working on her Master of Education through the University of Ottawa.
  • Sigal Baray will be our new Kitah Gimmel Jewish Studies Teacher. Morah Sigal comes with decades of experience teaching Hebrew in Ottawa and is well known to our students from her time as an Occasional Teacher at OJCS.  She is currently engaged in coursework from an internationally recognized university in Israel.
  • Lara Vlajkov and Faye Mellenthin are certified teachers who will be Educational Assistants at OJCS next year.  Ms. Vlajkov will be part of our Kindergarten team and looks forward to lending her artistic touch to her day-to-day teaching.  Ms. Mellenthin will be working as an Educational Assistant with our Grade 3 class this year and comes with extensive teaching experience from the United Kingdom.
We are finishing up with final interviews and contracts for an additional Kindergarten EA, an additional Core French Teacher and a part-time Music Teacher, so stay tuned!

The Transparency Files: Annual Parent Survey

After making transparent the results of my own evaluation by both myself and my faculty, it is time to turn to our other annual survey: the Annual Parent Survey.

For comparison sake, please know that I do have results from the former version of the survey and will do my best to highlight any trends I see, as well as indicate anything of import in this year’s survey.

It is hard to get an exact read on turn out because we changed from one survey per family to one survey per child.  We do know that 81 students are represented in this survey, which is just a bit over half.  We will use that baseline moving forward and hope to get closer to 70-80%.  Why do some families choose not to provide feedback (in this forum)? Families could be thrilled with what’s going on! (I’d love to vote for that one!)  Families could be resigned that the results are not taken seriously enough to invest the time in.  Hopefully, when people begin to see more links between the feedback they provide and meaningful improvement in the school it will inspire a greater rate of return.  In the meanwhile, even if validity is somewhat challenged, we operate here with a spirit of curiosity and believe we can learn from whatever there is to learn…so…let’s move on to the results.

From my experience, it looks mostly how you would expect.  There does tend to be diminishing enthusiasm for surveys as the students move on, but great job Grade 6 parents!

I wasn’t sure whether to include this data point as I didn’t want to be biased by it – all the feedback is meaningful.  That is why we conduct exit interviews with each family who chooses to leave OJCS prior to graduation – we are genuinely interested in their feedback.  I could have conducted an analysis where I separated the feedback between these three categories, but I have chosen to look at the results as a whole so as not to dismiss any piece of feedback because a family may or may not be continuing.

Let’s look at the BIG PICTURE:

Is that good?  I don’t have the exact same question from prior surveys to give you comparison data.  I can tell you from having used this survey in other locations, that scores between 7-9 tend to be healthy, and you look at scores below 7 as something you need to pay close attention to (and are thrilled if you ever get a 9 or higher).  So landing at 7.13 is technically within a healthy range, but is lower than I would like it.  I will definitely be looking to see this creep up in future years. Let’s dig deeper…

These next sections will require a little artful cutting-and-pasting from SurveyMonkey, so I apologize if it doesn’t “look” as professional as I would prefer…the data is still the data.

[Please note that the data is being sliced and diced according to my technical skill, not because there is any particular meaning to the groupings.]

The most important data point here is that our mark for offering a high-quality education is within the healthy range, 7.17.  Like above, please know that all our just-barely-above-7 scores are lower than I would prefer and clearly have room to grow.

What jumps out are the ones that fall below 7:

  • There is link between “learning styles” and “individualized attention” that really get to the heart of the school we are hoping to become.  Our premise of being a school that promises a “floor, but not a ceiling” lives here.  I will be surprised if those numbers don’t start to climb as soon as next survey.
  • There is also a link between “homework” and “study habits” that we need to pay attention to as well.  As we get more clear about what we believe teaching and learning should look like in school, we will also need to have an important conversation about what we think it should look like at home.

It is really important to name that not having comparison data makes it hard to identify trends.  So I see these numbers as pretty upsetting – and they are – but I don’t know if they reflect progress.

  • Preparing children for high school is our number one responsibility; less than a 7 is not going to cut it.
  • I’m not pleased with the score for “21st century technology” as it seems to be a step down from last year’s results (at least when compared to a question about “technology”), but as this is my area of expertise, I do feel confident that these numbers will climb next year.
  • Considering how hard we try to accept and accommodate children with exceptionalities, it is genuinely disheartening to see these numbers so low.  I think if we are being honest, the shakeup of the administrative team from last year to this has hurt our school.  We went from having a full-time, qualified special needs professional to divvying up responsibilities across multiple people and it left us a bit shorthanded. This will be addressed next year.  We also need to provide more training to our faculty on how to make accommodations.  We have a strategic goal to be even more inclusive in the years ahead…but we need to make sure we are meeting the needs of the students we presently have.

No huge bombshells here and pretty healthy in the core academic areas.

  • We are hopeful that the changes we proposed for French (which will be finalized and shared out in our final “Town Hall” – see below) will help the French numbers climb.
  • We believe that centralizing the teaching of Art, Music and PE to instructors who are both qualified and focused on their speciality will enhance the quality of all three in the year ahead.  These have been perennial concerns.

  • With regard to Jewish Studies, we know that there is work to do both in terms of academics and experiences.  I fully expect that the changes we proposed for Jewish Studies – emphasis on Hebrew fluency, reinstitution of structured tefillah, etc. – will lead to higher scores in the year to come.  As a point of reference, this year’s scores are slightly higher than the prior one, which is encouraging.
  • More field trips, more consistency with hot lunch, and providing feedback to the JCC about their after school programming are absolutely necessary.

You’ve heard me talk about myself enough by now…

  • I will pass the kudos on to our hardworking security team.
  • I think we are pleased, but nowhere near satisfied, with the score about student behavior.  We believe we have made meaningful progress this year, but are not quite where we would like to be.

Last data point:

Remember this question is only scaled 1-5!  So I am actually pretty pleased to see a 4.14, but like everything else in this survey, we will be looking to see growth in the years ahead.

So there you have it for 2017-2018!

Thanks to all the parents who took the time and care to fill out surveys. In addition to the multiple choice questions, there were opportunities for open-ended responses.  They added an additional layer of depth; one which is difficult to summarize for a post like this.  But please know that all comments will be shared with those they concern as we use this data to make enhancements and improvements headed into next year. By the by, we are pleased with how well satisfied our parents are with how the school is going…but be assured, just like with everything else, we expect to see growth and progress in a school where there is “a floor, but no ceiling”.

Want a sneak-peek on how we are going to get there?