Les Fichiers de Transparence: L’assemblée de Français

As promised, we held a “town hall” on Thursday, February 8th to share back the results of our investigations, thus far; to discuss what we currently believe to be true; and to sketch out next steps.  We were pleased by the turnout and with the candor and seriousness of the conversation (see more below).  We would be happy share out the entire slide deck from the “town hall” so that folks who were unable to attend can be in the know.  Please feel free to email me (j.mitzmacher@theojcs.ca) with your request.  What I would like to do here is walk you through the highlights and offer you the chance to add your voice to the conversation by commenting below.

A few caveats as prologue…

The spirit of this conversation is one of “transparency” – a value we have discussed in depth in prior posts.

You can read an earlier post for a more in-depth history of French education in Ottawa and at the OJCS.

Let’s restate the fundamental issue…

Unlike our Hebrew and Judaic standards, which are entirely our own to determine and whose outcomes are entirely ours to assess, our French standards come from the Ontario Ministry of Education and the schools our graduates attend perform assessments.  So why is this so confusing and chronically debated?

What does French currently look at OJCS?

K:   10/40 Periods in French

1-3:   6/40 Periods in French

4-5:   6/40 Periods in Core French & 8/40 Periods in Extended French

6-8:   6/45 Periods in Core French & 9/45 Periods in Extended French

What kinds of data collection are we doing to better understand the issue?

  • Grade 9 Alumni Surveys
  • Grade 12 Alumni Surveys
  • Conversation with SRB & Ashbury
  • Conversation with Knoxdale
  • Anecdotal Testimonials
  • Exit Interviews (pending)

What did we learn from the Grade 9 Alumni Survey?

74% of Grade 9 students were enrolled in Core French with an additional five students in Immersion and one in Extended French. Of the children enrolled in Extended or Immersion French, no parent reported they needed an extra tutor or extra assistance.

At this point in time, we can see of the six students taking more advanced French, there is no issue with them keeping up.

What did we learn from the Grade 12 Alumni Survey?

Fourteen respondents are attending a public high school in Ottawa, with the vast majority at SRB. One student is attending Ottawa Torah Institute.

Four students indicated they were in Extended French and another two in French Immersion. (This was before SRB dropped “Extended”. Those four “Extended” students are now either in “Core” or “Immersion”.) There was one respondent who did indicate they hired a French tutor to help with Extended French.

The rest of the students (44%) were in Core French.

What did we learn from our conversations with Sir Robert Borden High School?

  • Students are placed in Grade 9 as recommended by OJCS.
  • Some students experience a temporary culture shock transitioning from “Extended” to “Immersion”.
  • Some students see a temporary dip in their grades in Grade 9, but typically recover by Grade 10.
  • Many students come in “super strong”.

What did we learn from our conversations with Ashbury College?

  • “Marks in French are strong.”
  • 1/3 of OJCS students who go to Ashbury graduate with one of their two bilingual diplomas. (Anecdotally, we believe the other 2/3 self-select out, but more data collection will be needed.)

What did we learn from our conversations with Knoxdale Public School?

  • OJCS students who transition into Grade 4 for “middle immersion entry point” are well-prepared for success.
  • Grade 4 is an arbitrary entry point, susceptible to changing public school norms.
  • Students can be accepted into Knoxdale at any point and placed into immersion upon parental request.

What additional/ongoing data collection will be necessary to better refine our understanding of true French outcomes?

It will take additional years of data collection before our sample sizes will allow for more definitive conclusions.  Additional data points that we will collect include exit interviews (families who transition out prior to graduation), testimonials from alumni and alumni parents (we have plenty of positive, anecdotal evidence, but we need a uniform protocol for collection), and adjusting our parent survey data to better determine how many families these issues impact.  We also need to do a deeper dive into the details.  For example, not only how many students earn a bilingual certificate, but do they score well enough to succeed at the next level?

What do we presently believe to be true about French at OJCS?

  • We believe there is a path from here (OJCS Extended French) to there (Grade 9 French Immersion).  We believe we need to better illuminate that path, as well as being open to creating additional paths.
  • We believe that we have passionate, talented, capable, and responsive French teachers who are part of the solution.
  • We believe we need to be more transparent about what needs to be true during the year of transition to set (more) students up to be successful.
  • We believe we will need to collect more data over more years to better answer questions and address concerns.
  • We believe that for some families nothing short of full immersion will be satisfactory and we will have to meaningfully address what that means – for those families and for OJCS.

We believe we can make significant improvements to our current program, and plan to, beginning as soon as next year.

What can we do next year?

  1. Conversations with parents about their hopes and expectations for maximal French contact time need to begin during the admissions process.  Students who may require additional support to place into “Extended” need to be identified early.
  2. The selection process in Grade 3 will be more rigorous, begin earlier, come with more parental engagement, etc., so that students who do continue into “Extended” for Grades 4 and higher are even better prepared for Grade 9.
  3. We will increase the rigor and immersive experience of what contact time we presently make available.  We need to squeeze every moment of immersive French possible.
  4. We will provide additional extracurricular contact time with French through clubs, lunch, etc.
  5. We believe we will be able to adjust our schedule to increase contact time with French.  Stay tuned.

We had in attendance that night our full administration, our French department and a good mix of parents who represented different age groups, different views on the ultimate value of French education, but who demonstrated a shared sense of the issue’s importance, provided meaningfully constructive feedback and exhibited a genuine desire to partner with the school to get it right.

We took good notes from the serious conversation that followed the presentation and I have opened a GoogleDoc to track the feedback and recommendations that we hope continue to come in (see below).  Here are some highlights from that night’s conversation:

  • There was a strong feeling that using Grade 4 as our arbitrary split into “Core” and “Extended” is unnecessary and that we are missing an opportunity to increase the immersive exposure in Grades K-3 when it could potentially have even more value.
  • There was a very positive response to the idea of OJCS offering French enrichment as part of an after school program and/or as part of a summer day camp experience.  This seems like a no-brainer for us to jump on right away.
  • We have energized parents who bring a research background to the conversation and who are willing to help us craft better survey instruments and conduct more thorough analyses to address the issues raised above by way of data collection.
  • A Grade 4 OJCS “middle immersion entry point” may not be a crazy idea.

So.

This is where you come in.  We desperately want to know what you think…

…what questions did this answer for you?

…what questions did this raise for you?

…what do you want to more about?

…what else do you want us to know?

We cannot encourage you more to email, comment or come in for a conversation.  We need all voices heard as we work towards clarifying and enhancing our French mission and vision – next year and the years ahead.

By the way…if you like town halls (and you know you do!)…

Stay tuned for a Town Hall after Passover where will share back the results and the plans we’ve been working on to clarify and enhance the “J” in OJCS!

Taking a Leap of Fact

There they are…these are some actual members of our current Class of 2030.

All the talk and rhetoric about what we could be, what we ought to be – it is all for these children.  They are not an educational theory to be debated; they are flesh and blood children to be educated.  What we do now matters not in the abstract realm of philosophy, but in the practical realm of whether these girls and boys will be prepared for success in the 21st century in all the ways academic, social and Jewish that can be defined.  They – and all of the children in our school – are what it is really about.  They are the reminder and the inspiration; the goal and the promise.

January this year brings us a wonderful confluence of events – the publication and mailing of enrollment materials for the 2018-2019 academic year and the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat – a holiday celebrating, among many things, the planting of seeds and the harvesting of fruits.  I always marvel when the rhythm of Jewish living intersects with the rhythm of school life – it never fails to create meaningful and new connections.

And so the time has come to see how well we have sown the seeds of confidence and competence; love and caring; rigor and renewal; energy and enthusiasm – have we begun to deliver on the rightfully lofty academic, spiritual, emotional and social expectations our children and parents have for us?

You are likely familiar with the phrase, “leap of faith”.  A “leap of faith” is predicated on the notion that one cannot really know (at least in scientific terms) religious truth and so in the end it is a matter of faith.  You believe…because you believe.

However, as admissions and enrollment packets find their ways into parents’ hands, all of us involved in the sacred and holy task of educating children look to this time of year and hope that we have nurtured the seeds we have sown with success.  We are not looking for parents to make a leap of faith and enroll their children in our schools. We are looking for parents to make a leap of fact and enroll their children in our schools – confident that our school is the right place for their children to receive the education they want and deserve.

The seeds were planted during the summer.  They were watered and nurtured during the fall and into the winter.  As winter moves on (and on and on) and slowly moves towards spring, the faculty, staff, administration, lay leaders, donors, and supporters of the Ottawa Jewish Community School look forward to a rich and satisfying harvest.

We look forward to many, many leaps of fact.

Speaking of facts…

…our work with NoTosh – which we described at length prior to Winter Break launched this week with a first site visit.  We debriefed the project with the full faculty and had our first Design Team meeting.  We look forward to sharing more as the work develops!

…our Grade 9 Alumni Survey has closed (our Grade 12 has another week of collection to go) and we look forward to sharing the results. We are working  on the “French outcomes” deliverable first announced here, but there are other important data points about how well (or not) OJCS prepared students for all aspects of high school that we’d like to share out as well.  [All current Grades 2 & 3 Families, any current francophone families or any prospective family who has questions or concerns about French at OJCS should “save the date” for February 8th.  Our “French Town Hall” will take place that evening; still tweaking the time.  Stay tuned.  Or restez à l’écoute.]

…our work with the Rabbinic Advisory Committee is moving forward as well.  We are currently working through elements of tefillah that will ensure we deliver on our promises of strengthening the “J” in “OJCS”.

A WORD in the Hand is Worth Two in the CLOUD

My last few blog posts have been long and heavy…so, let’s switch gears.

Readers of this blog know a few things…

…I will make bad puns.

…I will take 200 words to say something better said in 20.

…I will use a complicated word to say something better said simply.

…I love ellipses.

…I will worry aloud that only my mother and the people she shares with on Facebook read my blog.

…I will insert a punny Spotify playlist.

…and

…I love word clouds.

If you are unfamiliar with the idea, in a nutshell, word clouds (through an algorithm only they know) takes any piece of written text and represents it graphically in a way which highlights frequently-used words.  It is a fantastic device for visually summarizing the essence of a written text.  Another great feature is that, not only can you cut-and-paste in any written document, you can type in blogs, websites, etc., and it will go back and search them for content, add it all up, and spit out a word cloud representing the sum of all its written content.

For many years, I have used word clouds to visually summarize the content of this blog and compare it to years past in order to reflect on whether I am living up to its goals.

I will have to wait a bit longer to do a comparison on how things evolve here at OJCS, but even a quick glance at the current state of things is illuminating.

 

It is definitely not perfect, but it hits many of the high notes.  The two most important mission/vision issues under exploration?  Jewish mission/vision and French outcomes.   The most important paradigm shift?  Transparency. Digging deeper, you can see interesting patterns in what we are emphasizing (time, new, share, etc.) or what might be missing (innovation, technology, personalization, etc.).  Either way it really gets you thinking…

If you see something interesting in the OJCS word cloud..let us know in the comments!

Quick Pedagogy Epilogue:

Who is using word clouds in their schools, classrooms or organizations?  You can check classroom blogs, school websites, the Torah, your mission statement, a behavioral code of conduct and so on.

How fun!

So…let’s word cloud up!  Find a text that is meaningful to you, create a word cloud, and find a way to share it.  If I can write a post with less than 400 words, you can do it!

Where Does Healthy Parent-School Communication Live? (Hint. Not in the parking lot or on WhatsApp.)

I recently described in a post an activity we did as a faculty which introduced Roland Barth’s concept of the “non-discussible” and the “discussible”.  A “non-discussible” is something that is discussed in all the wrong places and all the wrong times preventing the issue from being resolved in a healthy and constructive manner. In the context of faculty, it is about all the things teachers talk about in the lunchroom instead of with the administration (although the administration almost always knows the conversations are happening about them/without them).  In the context of parents, it is about all the things folks talk about in the parking lot or on social media instead of with the school (although the school almost always knows the conversations are happening about them/without them).  In both cases you gauge the health of the culture by the degree to which you move your “non-discussibles” into “discussibles”.  The more willing we are to discuss what matters most in a constructive, healthy, transparent manner with the people who have the ability to address those issues honestly and responsibly, the healthier our culture.  The healthier the culture – whether we are talking about teacher-administration or parent-school – the more successful the school.

I was inspired by one of my rabbi’s sermons over the holidays to revisit a powerful idea from Martin Buber which I think informs this conversation.  [Buber “was an Austrian-born Jewish philosopher best known for his philosophy of dialogue, a form of religious existentialism centered on the distinction between the I-Thou relationship and the I-It relationship.”]

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

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

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

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

Finally, during these days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we engage in the act of teshuvah – the complicated act of acknowledging past wrongs, correcting past mistakes, promises of changed behavior, etc.  Here, in the most public of forums, please allow me apologize to all those I have wronged or hurt, intentionally or unknown over the past year.

Easy fasts for all who do so…meaningful reflections for all who feel the need.

What Problem Does Our School Exist to Solve?

Preamble…

For three years, during my time at Schechter and at Prizmah, when I was not a head of school, it seemed so easy calling on folk to take seriously the responsibility and the power of blogging.  Now that I have been back in the headship for all of seven weeks, I can’t imagine when I will ever have time to blog again!  I know what kind of person people say Karma is, but s/he should really meet my good friend Hubris.

Getting back into weekly blogging, apparently, is harder to do than it is to type, but slowly, slowly, I will get back into shape.  In the meanwhile…

THERE IS SO MUCH HAPPENING AT OJCS AS WE GET READY TO WELCOME TEACHERS NEXT WEEK AND STUDENTS THE WEEK AFTER!

If you are a parent, I strongly encourage you to read carefully the email from this past Monday and the handbook it came with.  If you have any questions or concerns, I even more strongly encourage you to email or call us sooner than later.  We really want the first day of school to be as smooth and celebratory as possible.  Let’s deal with any confusion or preparation beforehand for all our collective sakes. Also, remember (or know) that we have “Back to School” Night super-early this year – September 14th – so you will have ample opportunity to ask additional or deeper questions about the calendar, schedule, program, discipline, homework, curriculum, Google Classroom (hint, hint), etc., sooner than later.  You don’t have to stress about each detail by the first day of school – let’s focus on a positive, enthusiastic, ruach-filled beginning to a terrific year.  The conversation begins on the first day, it never ends.

Pivot…

Finding the problem is an essential part of learning – one that students miss out on when we pose the problem to them first. – Ewan McIntosh

The ability to ask the right question is more than half the battle of finding the answer. – Thomas J. Watson, the founder of IBM

You might think from the above quotes that I am going to launch into an educational conversation about teachers and students and learning.  And perhaps in a future blog post I will – there is much wisdom to apply to shifting paradigms, flipping classrooms, student-centering and passion-driving in our classrooms.  But in this year of change, I actually want to zoom out a bit and ask us to consider how creating a healthy culture of “problem finding” will ensure we engage in the right kinds of conversations to move our school forward into its next phase of growth, innovation and renewal.

I have spent much of the last few weeks meeting with teachers, parents, board members, rabbis, donors, Jewish community colleagues, volunteers and just folks who care enough to share an opinion (which I genuinely appreciate).  Those conversations often feel (to me) like the process of pulling back the leaves of a never-ending onion (which kinda sounds delicious).  One layer takes us to another as we peel away initiatives, programs, schedules, budgets, and eventually assumptions just trying to figure out what that layer was originally put into achieve.  In other words, we frequently seem to be offering a chain of solutions in search of the right problem.

Let me try to walk through one relatively benign example that impacts such a small number of our students, you may not even be aware it exists…

We offer a pull-out, one-period-a-week, mixed grade (3-6), “Special Interest Learning” (SIL) class for “gifted learners”.  It provides them an “opportunity to be creative, innovative, (and) think critically”.  [BTW – I am not offering an opinion or making a decision about SIL.  It just lends itself to this conversation.]

How many questions does this raise?

Why one-period-a-week?  Which period?  Why those grades (in a K-5 & 6-8 school)?  What interests?  Don’t all our students deserve an opportunity to be “creative, innovative…” and to think critically?

What problem was SIL in search of solving?  What problem does it actually solve?  What problems does it unintentionally create?

Etc.

Again, that is a benign example.  There are critical and more highly charged examples whose examinations are overdue.

What problem is our voluntary, middle school “Orthodox” and “Traditional Egalitarian” minyanim trying to solve?

What problem is Core and Extended Hebrew trying to solve?

What problem is Extended French trying to solve?

What problem does OJCS exist to solve?  

You get it.

As we prepare to welcome back our teachers next week (the subject of next week’s blog), I am encouraging and inviting us to find the right problems…

Let’s be brave enough to ask questions we might not know the answers to or whose answers we might not like.  Let’s be open enough to revisit our core assumptions and proud enough to assert what’s currently excellent.  Let’s have the courage to show up for difficult conversations and the vulnerability to really show up.  Let’s take risks and make mistakes.  Let’s dream boldly and work tirelessly. Let’s advocate for our children and respect our teachers.  Let’s make this the beginning of something special.

One thing I know for sure.  The future of education isn’t coming to OJCS.  It is OJCS.  Be excited.

The Transparency Files: The 2017-2018 OJCS Faculty & Hebrew Pilot Program

We are, but 19 days from the return of our amazing teachers, followed soon thereafter by our incredible families and children! Can you believe it?  Me neither!

Readers of my blog know that any blog post that comes labeled “The Transparency Files” is likely geared towards a primary stakeholder group and that it will share information, ideas, news, issues, etc., that I assume are new, newsworthy, important and potentially worthy of conversation.  If you search for prior “Transparency Files” you’ll find posts about homework policy, scheduling, behavior management, evaluations, standardized test scores, new programs, etc.  You’ll also find introductions of faculty and staff.

But before I share for the first time the full make up of the Ottawa Jewish Community School’s 2017-2018 Faculty & Staff, I want to…

…talk very briefly about “transparency” as a core value.

…introduce an exciting Core and Extended Hebrew Pilot for Grades 4 & 5.

…introduce our new teachers.

This much would normally occur over 2-3 posts, but because I have a sneaking suspicion that OJCS parents will be unusually interested in this post, I am going to pack it full and keep you (them) in suspense.

Transparency as a Core Value

As I prepare for the return of teachers and students and the full opening of my third headship, I am more sure than ever that our success as a school will be directly related to how deeply embedded “transparency” becomes as a core cultural value.  When I say “transparency” I don’t mean to imply a lack of discretion or oversharing; when I say “transparency” I mean to imply honesty, candor, open and healthy communication, trust, vulnerability and faith.  Transparency requires relationship and demands respect. Transparency raises the bar.  Transparency tears down walls and uproots silos.  Transparency lives in the classroom and in the boardroom.  Transparency forces clarity.  Transparency means you don’t only get to share the good news.  Transparency fosters humility.

I take transparency seriously because it guarantees accountability.  I believe in transparency because it engenders relationship-building. I have seen the power of transparency transform and the lack of transparency destroy.  I cannot guarantee that all my decisions or ideas will be well-liked or even the right ones.  (I can actually guarantee that they won’t be.)   I can guarantee to operate in a spirit of transparency and I invite you to join me on the journey.

Hebrew Pilot Program for Grades 4-5

Speaking of transparency…

I must admit there is a bit of chicken-egg to this one, to be honest, because it was really the next item on the list (new teachers) that allowed us the opportunity to launch this pilot.  Not that we wouldn’t have wanted to have done it anyway, but (again chicken-egg) it probably should have come as a more organic conversation about the role of Hebrew in our school and a larger conversation about revisiting our Jewish mission/vision – both incredibly important conversations that we will (transparently) begin this year. But when it dawned on us (and by “us” I mean Keren Gordon, our amazing Vice Principal and schedule-whisperer) that we might have a chance to pilot an enhancement to our Hebrew program…well…we couldn’t resist.

As OJCS families know (hopefully!), our French program goes deeper beginning in Grade Four with our “Core” students continuing to have a differentiated French language period and our “Extended” students adding on a second subject – Social Studies – with French as the language of instruction, thus providing an “extended” exposure to French.  [Please note that I am purposely not launching the significant conversation-to-come about French immersion in this blog post, but that I am not ignorant of its pressing nature.] When it comes to our Hebrew program, however, we use the same “Core” and “Extended” terms, but with different meanings (I presume not only to confuse me).  In Hebrew we have been using “core” and “extended” only to describe level, not contact time.  That’s where the pilot comes in.

With extraordinary gratitude to two of our master Hebrew Teachers, Ada Aizenberg and Rachel Kugler – both of whom gracefully and enthusiastically accepted a rather late-in-the-game adjustment to their teaching portfolios to take this pilot on – OJCS “Extended” Hebrew students in Grades 4-5 will, like “Extended” French, have one period of high-level Hebrew instruction and a second subject – Judaics – with Hebrew as the language of instruction, thus providing an “extended” exposure to Hebrew.

Does this solve Hebrew fluency at OJCS?  Nope!

Does this clarify the Jewish mission/vision of OJCS?  Nope!

Will there be unintended consequences – both good and bad?  Yup!

This is a pilot – an opportunity to try something new and to learn from it.  We absolutely think it is a step in the right direction to enhance Hebrew fluency at OJCS.  We absolutely think it will contribute to the larger conversations coming.  We are absolutely thrilled about it and hope you are too.  And if you are an OJCS parent of a child going into Grades 4-5 and have questions, concerns, feedback, etc., I look forward to those conversations most of all.

Introducing New Faculty

As of this writing, we have three new teachers joining our incredible faculty of returning teachers and I wanted to share a little bit about them so you can be as excited as we are.

Lianna Krantzberg will be joining us as our Kindergarten Educational Assistant.  Lianna has her B.A. and B.Ed. and may be a familiar face to OJCS families from her time here during her student placement or her work at Camp B’nai Brith Ottawa.  Lianna brings new energy and new ideas and we are thrilled she has chosen to launch her career at OJCS.

Shira Waldman will be joining us as our Kindergarten Judaics, Grade Four Core Hebrew, Judaics & Art, and Middle School Girls PE teacher. Shira has her B.A. and B.Ed. and may be a familiar face to OJCS families from her time working at Ganon Preschool.  Shira brings extraordinary warmth, range and creativity and we look forward to what she will add to our school.

Melissa Anders will be joining us as our Grade Six General Studies Teacher.  Melissa has her B.Ed. and an M.A. in Educational Technology and will soon be a familiar face to OJCS families.  Melissa has significant experience teaching in Jewish day schools throughout Canada.  Melissa brings a remarkable set of skills and we look forward to her contributions to our growth as a 21st century learning organization.

 

OK…I think that’s quite sufficient.  I don’t typically do a 1,000-word preamble, but I hope you found it informational and useful.  I have no more caveats or contextualizations.  I simply have gratitude to be working with this gifted and loving group of teachers in the sacred work of educating our children.  Without further adieu…

The 2017-2018 OJCS Faculty & Staff

Kindergarten

  • Ann-Lynn Rapoport – General Studies
  • Shira Waldman – Hebrew and Judaics
  • Marlène Colbourne – French Studies and Physical Education
  • Bethany Goldstein – Music
  • Lianna Krantzberg – Kindergarten Educational Assistant

Grade One

  • Ann-Lynn Rapoport – General Studies
  • Ada Aidenberg – Hebrew and Judaics
  • Marlène Colbourne – French Studies, Physical Education and Art
  • Bethany Goldstein – Music

Grade Two

  • Janet Darwish – General Studies
  • Bethany Goldstein – Hebrew, Judaic Studies, Art and Music
  • Marlène Colbourne – French Studies and Art
  • Linda Signer – Science and Physical Education

Grade Three

  • Julie Bennett – General Studies
  • Rachel Kugler – Hebrew, Judaic Studies and Art
  • Aaron Polowin – French Studies
  • Brian Kom – Physical Education
  • Bethany Goldstein – Music

Grade Four

  • Chelsea Cleveland – General Studies
  • Shira Waldman – Core Hebrew, Core Judaics and Art
  • Ada Aizenberg – Extended Hebrew and Extended Judaics
  • Stacy Sargeant –Core French
  • Aaron Polowin – Extended French and Études Sociales
  • Brian Kom – Physical Education
  • Bethany Goldstein – Music                                

Grade Five

  • Deanna Bertrend – General Studies
  • Ruth Lebovich – Core Hebrew
  • Rabbi David Rotenberg – Core Judaic Studies
  • Rachel Kugler – Extended Hebrew and Extended Judaics
  • Aaron Polowin – Core French and Physical Education
  • Stéphane Cinanni – Extended French and Études Sociales
  • Ruth Lebovich – Art
  • Josh Ray – Music

Grade Six

  • Melissa Anders – General Studies
  • Noga Reiss – Core Hebrew
  • Ruthie Lebovich – Extended Hebrew and Art
  • Rabbi David Rotenberg – Judaics
  • Aaron Polowin – Core French
  • Stéphane Cinanni – Extended French and Études Sociales
  • Stacy Sargeant – Leadership Program
  • Shira Waldman – Girls’ Physical Education
  • Josh Ray – Boys’ Physical Education and Music

Grade 7

  • Deanna Bertrend – English and Social Studies
  • Josh Ray – Math, Science, Boys’ Physical Education and Music
  • Stacy Sargeant – Core French
  • Stéphane Cinanni – Extended French and Études Sociales
  • Noga Reiss – Core Hebrew
  • Ruth Lebovich – Extended Hebrew and Art
  • Rabbi David Rotenberg – Judaics
  • Shira Waldman – Girls Physical Education

Grade 8

  • Stacy Sargeant – English, Core French and Social Studies
  • Josh Ray – Math, Science, Boys’ Physical Education and Music
  • Ruth Lebovich – Core Hebrew and Art
  • Noga Reiss – Extended Hebrew
  • Rabbi David Rotenberg – Judaics
  • Stéphane Cinanni – Extended French and Études Sociales
  • Shira Waldman – Girls’ Physical Education

Administration

  • Ellie Kamil – Executive Assistant to the Head of School
  • Deanna Bertrend – Student Life Facilitator
  • Stacy Sargeant – Special Education Advisor
  • Rabbi Howard Finkelstein – Dean of Judaic Studies
  • Jennifer Greenberg – Director of Recruitment
  • Keren Gordon – Vice-Principal
  • Dr. Jon Mitzmacher – Head of School

Here’s a super-secret sneak peak at our summer preparations for those of you who had the stamina to scroll…

See you soon!

O Canada? My Serendipitous Return to the Headship

Do they celebrate Purim in Canada? – Maytal M., Age 9

I’m not going to lie.

I distinctly recall the first day of the 2014-2015 school year. It was the first time I drove carpool as a day school parent (only).  I was wearing shorts, flip-flops, and a t-shirt and as I wheeled through the line, I locked eyes with my colleague Rabbi Jim Rogozen who had just replaced me as head of my children’s school.  He had just returned to the headship after a brief time out and I was just beginning my first year out of the headship after nine years in.  I said goodbye to my girls, waved to Jim wearing his tie and nice clothes, turned up the music and headed back to my new home office to begin the day.

I was not unhappy.

To be clear, I had not been unhappy in my work.  Leaving my headship at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School to become Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network was an agonizing and bittersweet decision.  We were just becoming the school that so many of us had worked so hard to begin to be; the chapter in the life of the school that I was there to help author was not complete.  But I was called into service for Schechter and I ultimately answered that call.  It was both that simple and that complicated.

Now, I realize that nine years sounds like either a long haul or a blink of the eye depending on your vantage, but after nine years of night meetings, living and dying with each enrollment decision, going to synagogue and the supermarket with the potential for bumping into the micro-drama de jour, etc., I was ready for something different.

Like so many of the happy accidents that constitute my career path, these last three years have been a blessing. Having had the chance to be on the national stage, to engage with the foundations, agencies and donors who sustain our schools, to view the field from a different vantage, to visit over 50 schools, to help reimagine what a “Schechter” education can be, to participate in the birth and launch of Prizmah, and to dig deep into educational innovation – these have all been extraordinary professional experiences.  I have learned so much more from my colleagues, first in Schechter, then in Prizmah, not to mention all my colleagues in the field that I could scarcely describe it.

I have also benefited from the opportunity to be more present in my family’s life than ever before.  Despite a heavy travel schedule, when I’m here, I’m more here than ever before.  Breakfast with my daughters each morning, carpool, the ability to participate in school activities, being home for bedtime, I know that these three years have bonded me with my family like never before at ages where my daughters still appreciate my active engagement (tick tock!).

So, with all the benefits that come with not being a head of school, why am I jumping back in?  And why so far North!

Here is the simple truth.

A career is a function of what jobs are available when you are looking, which jobs you get, which jobs you don’t get, which jobs you want, which jobs you don’t want, who else is looking, how each interview is structured (or is unstructured), who you meet when, how you respond, how you are feeling, how other people are feeling, and who knows how many other variables.  It is a remarkably unscientific process considering how important it is for everyone involved.  I wrote about it at length when first considering it from the other side of the search process at Schechter.

When I describe my career as a series of “happy accidents,” I don’t mean to suggest that I wasn’t an active player, that I didn’t make choices or that I didn’t earn the jobs I received (or didn’t not-earn the jobs I didn’t get).  I’m just being real – there are variables outside one’s control, there is a measure of luck, and sometimes the universe lends an unseen hand pushing you towards things you may not have chosen to explore on your own.

I’ve written and discussed many times the almost comical series of events that led me to become the founding head of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Las Vegas considering my professional experiences to that point.  I’ve candidly shared that when “Jacksonville” popped on the list that I assumed it would be somewhere near Miami until I looked at a map.  Yet my time here in Jacksonville made my career. Schechter was a calling I felt compelled to answer.  And Schechter led me to Prizmah…

Once the decision was made to leave Prizmah, I found myself back on the market for the first time in a long time.  Did I consider other positions besides head of school?  I did.  But as my process went on, it became clear to me that my passion for the headship remained intact.  Looking at my options, what was most exciting, to me, was the opportunity to apply all this new learning I have accumulated at Schechter and Prizmah to the craft of the headship.  These last three years have provided me with the humility of knowing how many great ideas other people are working on at Jewish day schools across North America.  These last three years have shown me what can be done at schools of all sizes, flavors and geographies.  These last three years have not had the power of intimacy, relationships, community and impact that nourish my soul.

Winter is coming… – Game of Thrones (HBO) and everyone who finds out we are moving to Ottawa

We may not know the story of Canadian Thanksgiving, Boxing Day, the metric system, or a word of French, but we do know a warm (no pun intended) community when we see it.

Our experiences, both professional and personal, here in Jacksonville were critical in our decision-making process this time around.  I know that with generous donors, a committed Federation, a nourishing board, a passionate community, supportive parents, and talented and dedicated faculty, that you can be a school of global impact regardless of size or geography.  We know that with kindness and love, that our family will thrive regardless of the number of kosher restaurants or the weather.

Putting it all together, when it came time for us to decide on the next chapter for our family, it was clear early on that we would seek to write it in Ottawa, Canada where I have enthusiastically agreed to become the next Head of the Ottawa Jewish Community School.

I’ll have much more to say in the weeks and months ahead about the work, the school, and the move.  We are neck-deep in emigration law and relocation logistics.  I appreciate all the unintentional political jokes moving to Canada provides at this unique moment in time.  I know it will be cold.

But I also know something else.  It will be great.

People of the Book (Club)

There’s always a flurry of excitement – particularly in the bibliophilic circles of Jewish education – when the next book that we are supposed to read comes out.  I’m as guilty as anyone else.  Exhibit A: Screenshot_8_28_15__8_46_AM

We are usually not content to just be excited about our books, we want a way to demonstrate that excitement and be part of a community equally excited.  There are lots of ways that folk do that.  Exhibit B: If you glance down to the bottom, righthand corner of this blog, for example, I am happy to share with you my Shelfari so you, too, can know what I am reading and maybe you might find a book you would enjoy as well.

Your_ShelfWhen I go to conferences or other professional development experiences, what notes I do take wind up being lists of books and blogs that I hope to read if I have been inspired by the the learning.  I look to my mentors, my colleagues, my social media, and my listservs to see what they are reading so I can read it too.

If you are reading this blog, the odds are pretty decent you engage in similar behavior and have a stack of books (physical, virtual, or both) awaiting your attention.

But let’s say, through some miracle confluence of work efficiency, family harmony and unicorn dust, that you actually find the time to read that blog, article, journal, or book.

What then?

The question I am interested in exploring is, how do we take what we read professionally and apply it to our practice?

I am confident that what you consider your “practice” changes the question.  How a classroom teacher applies his professional reading to practice will be different than how a head of school applies her professional reading to practice.  Recognizing the great variability in what people read and their job descriptions, I want to lay out a few ways that people try to get from here to there.

The Book Club

Whether the chardonnay-sipping-the-book-is-simply-an-excuse-to-get-the-gang-together or the annotated-notes-outside-facilitated type, whether in person or virtual, one tried and true way to translate theory to practice is to form, lead or participate in some kind of “book club”.  I have (and still am) been in them all.  I have required teachers to be in them with formal protocols for participation.  I have been in voluntary ones with folk across the wide world.  The efficacy of the book club experience is entirely dependent, in my experience, on the expectation of a deliverable.

I think “book clubs” are tremendously motivating for people and have the highest odds of getting people to “read the book”.  But then what?  Are there expectations for the reading? Are there questions to answer?  Applications to work expected?

Collaborative Note-Taking

There are lots of way that folk do this presently.  Anything from Evernote to GoogleDocs to TwitterChats (and a million more too many to list) all represent opportunities to share notes about a reading experience with lots and lots of people.  What you lose in intimacy might be gained in having a permanent record easily organized.  What you lose in motivation might be gained in the forced reflection of putting pen to paper (or more realistically keystroke to screen).  Ease of annotation via ebooks makes collaborative note-taking simpler than ever…

…with the caveat that the odds are the only time you have to read is on Shabbat and holidays which render ebooks problematic for many of us.

The Book “Report”

Here, I mean simply that there is an expectation of applied practice which is shared. There are tons of examples to choose from.  I have seen schools where teachers are expected to present at faculty meetings about the impact of their professional reading.  These presentations can range from the least formal (speed-geeking, think-pair-share, etc.) to super formal (PowerPoint, Prezi, etc.) with lots of room for creativity (mini TED-style talks, hatzatahetc.) in between.  This is the most labor-intensive, but likely forces theory into practice most effectively.

As we collectively finish welcoming the rest of schools back to session in the weeks ahead, as life conspires against our best intentions with regard to professional reading, here’s hoping your stack of books is not simply consumed, but impactful.  I look forward to learning with you and from you in the year to come.

First glass of wine is on me.

The Musical Chairs of Greener Grass: The JDS HOS Search Process

musical-chairs

I came across this comic strip last week while I was busy with one of my new tasks – coaching candidates and schools through the head of school (HOS) search process.  As I have been deepening my engagement with candidates, search committee chairs and executive recruiters, a number of thoughts have occurred to me and I thought since this is (still) the season, they were worth sharing out for feedback and discussion.

The Most Inexact of Sciences

Up until this year, my experience with the JDS HOS search process was exclusively as a candidate.  Over the course of my career, I have applied for a variety of positions.  I applied for RAVSAK schools; I applied for Schechter schools.  I applied at large schools; I applied at small schools.  I applied to schools that used a variety of executive search firms; I applied to schools that ran their search processes in-house.  I was a finalist for some positions and I never made it past the initial screening call for others.  In the end, I felt blessed when offered jobs and I felt disappointed when not offered other ones.

What was most consistent across these search experiences was the incredible inconsistency.  Everything was very different from school to school, without any discerning pattern.  Schools asked that I teach students and/or parents and/or teachers and/or no one.  At different times I was asked to prepare…

  • divrei Torah for faculty.
  • …PowerPoint presentations for the board.
  • possible marketing plans.
  • possible development plans.
  • analyses of the current school based on supporting documents.
  • analyses of the current school without supporting documents.
  • inspirational speeches about my vision of education.
  • etc.

In deference to time and space limitations, I will refrain from detailing further variances in everything from which stakeholder groups I did and did not meet with, how long I did or did not visit, and the ways in which I was and was not treated.  Suffice it to say that there was an extraordinary degree of difference between one school’s search process and another.

Looking at it now, I can see that on the one hand it makes sense and is actually helpful. Each school is different and experiencing different approaches to the search process can help the candidate discern a cultural fit.  Plus, the experienced and/or coached candidate knows what questions to ask and which people to see so as to ensure they have the information they need to make an informed decision.

On the other hand it, looking at it from a 20,000 foot perspective, shouldn’t a process as critical to school success as identifying the “best-fit leader” should have some data-driven standardization to increase the odds?  [I am not sure it is a financial issue.  Some of the most thorough and affirming (even if I didn’t get the job) processes I went through were at small schools who handled their searches in-house.]

All It Takes Is One (Human) Mistake

One theme that runs through all my experiences and conversations is the impression that it can actually all come down to one ill-timed smirk, one distracted conversation with an unknown influencer, or one offhand comment to a sensitive stakeholder.

Once, I came down with a pretty bad head cold the day before I was to fly out for a finalist visit and had to decide whether to gut it out or to reschedule.  I opted to stock up on over the counter meds and go for it.  The air pressure on the plane took out my hearing for the entire finalist visit!  Even though I felt lousy, I thought I had done well.  When I was informed that I had not gotten the job, part of the feedback I received was that there people who had felt that I had spoken so loudly [because I couldn’t hear myself speak!] that it raised concern that parents and teachers would think that I was an angry person.

Now was that the (only) reason why I didn’t get the job?  Who knows?  I would like to think not, but like so many candidates before me, those are the types of stories that stick with you as you go through the rounds.

The Missing Peace

Now that I am working with the schools as well as the candidates, I have noticed another phenomenon.  Schools often search for a new leader to fill the missing 30% of the prior leader.  If you read the job descriptions for most HOS positions, you will see a list of attributes, skills and experiences that I cannot imagine any one human being possessing.  Let’s say the best of candidates might have about 70% of the complete set.  In large schools, you can try to complement the remaining 30% by rounding out the administrative team.  In small schools, you can try to complement by using lay leadership and volunteers, but that tends to be a riskier proposition.

This may be one reason there is both a crisis in small schools and in HOS wellness.

The pressure to be everything to everyone can be extremely challenging for the leader, no matter how much coaching s/he receives.

The temptation to seek what’s missing in the next leader can lead a school back and forth and back again trying to continually fill a gap that can never fully be filled.

Grass is Greener

To be fair this happens on both ends.  Let’s say any headship has about 70% of all the things one could hope and dream for in a position – salary, lay support, faculty excellence, fundraising capacity, etc.  In a world of scarcity, one can also be tempted to seek that which is missing in your current headship, thereby perpetuating a search for something that doesn’t exist.

There is no perfect school and there are no perfect heads.

 

To be clear, I have certainly moved from position to position for the purpose of furthering my career.  And schools have every right to expect the best from their heads and to seek new leadership if and when they feel new leadership is called for.  At the level of the individual leader or school, it all seems fairly straightforward.

And yet…

I do wonder at what cost to the field this elaborate game of musical chairs is taking?  If the average length of tenure for a head of school (2.7 years) is less than that of a successful change of school culture (3-5 years)…

…well at some point in every person’s career and in each school’s search, the music will stop and there won’t be a seat left in the game.

Who wins then?

Reflections on the Census: Size Matters

1871-schoolhouse-626265-mSmallness is embedded in the Jewish day school world, the inevitable consequence of geographic and denominational diversity.  For each of the four censuses, approximately 40% of day schools have less than 100 students.  Smallness is self-perpetuating because a small school has a limited curriculum and limited facilities, and this feeds the perception in homes of marginal religiosity that it is preferable to send their children to public school that are tuition-free and have a substantially wider range of educational offerings and extracurricular activities.

– Marvin Schick, A Census of Jewish Day Schools in the United States – 2013-14 (The Avi Chai Foundation, 2014)

There were very few surprises (in my opinion) to what came out this week in the census of Jewish day schools.  That doesn’t render the situation any less sober, however.  The data from the census matches with our (Schechter’s) data with regard to small schools.  We can spend hours and hours debating the merits of varying affiliations for small, non-Orthodox Jewish day schools.  (In fact, we have!)  But in some ways the truth is both more simple and more challenging: Large schools in large Jewish communities are doing well.  Small schools in small Jewish communities are struggling.

That’s the story.

I know this firsthand having been a head of two small (let’s redefine “small” here to being less than 150 students, in which case, the percentage climbs well over 50%) Jewish day schools.  I know the challenges, the frustrations, and – sometimes – the successes.  In small schools, you sometimes feel like Sisyphus, but now with two conjoined boulders of “enrollment” and “fundraising” that you keep trying push up that hill – with a razor-thin margin of error that larger schools just can’t understand.

I remember my first or second summer in Jacksonville when, due to the economy, we had three families move out of town.  Three families.  Not a big deal right?  Well, those three families paid full tuition on their 11 children.  Do you know how big a hit to enrollment and budget 11 full-pay students is in a school of 130?  To live and die on each child, on each donation, on each Federation campaign, on each Federation allocation meeting, that’s life in a small school.  To be doing well by percentage (of Jewish families from the community enrolled, of parents contributing to the annual campaign, etc.), but being on the brink by reality (it costs a lot of money to run a good school), that’s life in a small community.

I know this firsthand, now, as the head of a network with a preponderance of smaller schools.  I receive the requests for support.  I see the impact on the dedicated professionals and committed parents.  I hear the stories of triumph and despair.  I feel the joy of intimate Kabbalat Shabbat and the power of community small schools provide.  I meet the families whose lives have forever changed through their participation in the Jewish life of small schools.  I meet the families whose lives have forever changed by the closure of their small school.

The economics of the ecosystem in the Jewish day school world at present create a situation where the resources available to help schools are too cost prohibitive to make available to the exact schools who need them the most.  And so schools who are doing well are provided with a path towards doing even better…and schools who are struggling are kept on a path towards a destination unknown.

It isn’t for lack of effort, by the way.  In the same way that it just costs a lot of money to run a “good” school…it costs a lot of money to provide schools with “good” resources.  I see this every day.  We do not lack the knowhow (or more accurately, we do possess some knowhow) or the desire.  We do lack the means.  The foundations can only fund so much, the networks can only fund so much, the program providers can only charge so little, and the schools only have what they have to contribute.

It can feel at times like we are chasing our tails while our schools sit by and struggle to make do with less and less.

We can do better.

We have to do better because the future of our schools and with them, our people, depends on it.

What will it take?

A vision based by research and funding unlike that which we have ever produced would be a good beginning.

We don’t lack for vision.  Or visions.  And there has been some (a little) research.  But in many ways we continue to operate on faith.  Here is how I expressed it as the head of small school back in 2011:

With increased competition from Hebrew charter schools, independent schools, and suburban public schools AND a perilous economy – we have to brand Jewish day schools as being the kind of school most likely to provide a high-quality learning experience – that we are the future of SECULAR education because we are JEWISH.

Totally flips the script on prospective parents. “Too Jewish?”  No such thing.  Parents looking for excellence in secular education should be more concerned with “Jewish enough?”

To be financially sustainable really only requires two consistent streams of revenue: tuition and fundraising.  You can only increase tuition revenue by adding students. You can only add students if you have a great product.  And I absolutely believe this to be the case.  But as a philosophical concept, it doesn’t really help.  Because all I’ve done is suggest that if you want your school to be really successful it should be a really good school.

You don’t need me to point that out.

No you don’t.

If you don’t believe there is an answer it is hard to keep going.  Fear comes often from a place where you feel you have no control.  If I can just do the right thing, the right result will follow.  If I just make my school good enough, people will come and donors will give.

Won’t they?

How do you know?

What if they don’t?

What if we have great schools and people still don’t want to come?  What if the permanent costs for sustaining excellent small Jewish day schools cannot be supported by the communities who need them most?

This is an issue beyond network and beyond politics.  This will require all the collective wisdom and capital that can be mustered.  This is why Schechter is working so hard to specifically meet the needs of small schools.  This is why I am so pleased to see this year’s North American Jewish Day School Conference theme of “Systems Intelligence” and why I am thrilled that the NAJDSC will have sessions that explicitly focus on meeting the needs of small schools.  This is why I am so pleased to work with such great colleagues at other networks, foundations, agencies and organizations who are equally committed to getting it right.  This is why I have optimism despite the data.

We are committed to working together with our colleagues at other networks and with funders to address the needs of our small schools.  In order to be a system not of “have’s” and “have-not’s”, but of “have’s” and “soon-to-have’s”, we are going to need all the intelligence that’s available.

Let’s get to work.