Update: Impact of $50K Gift to Strengthen the “J” at OJCS

As our Middle Schoolers write exams and our entire school gets ready for the triumphant return of “Winter Fun Day” heading into a “PD Day” and February Break, I thought it would be a great opportunity to provide a second “Update: Impact” post.  Two weeks ago, I provided an update on the impact of our French consultancy.  Today, I would like to provide an update on the impact of last spring’s $50,000 gift to strengthen the “J” in OJCS.

At the time, I described the possible impact in a blog post as such:

And now, thanks to today’s gift, we know that we will go into Year Three with an amazing opportunity to build on our successes and introduce new and deeper Jewish engagement for our students and our families.

What might this investment lead to in 2019-2020?

(W)e will be revisiting our leadership team.  I will have more to say about this when it becomes concrete, but we are very excited about the possibilities we are exploring.  We also have – similar to French – opportunities to import second-language acquisition professional development so that our teachers of Hebrew will have the same resources available to them as our teachers of English and French do and will.  Updated curriculum, more Hebrew-language books and materials, and expanding our Jewish Studies Resource are all worthy to consider for investment.

How is it going shofar?  (I know.  I am past that pun window, but I feel like in a post dedicated to Jewish Studies that I can pull it off.)

Well, some of what we had imagined has in fact come true.  We have purchased new and additional Hebrew-language books and materials. We have made connections to second-language acquisition experts to improve our pedagogy.  And we have added Hebrew resource teachers and contact time to better meet the needs of students.  And all of that has made a meaningful difference.  Other things, however, we could not have predicted because new people bring new ideas.

The biggest change this year in Jewish Studies at OJCS is the addition of our new full-time Head of Jewish Studies, Dr. Avi Marcovitz.  Like our Dean of Jewish Studies Emeritus Rabbi Finkelstein, Dr. Marcovitz is a critical member of our Middle School Faculty.  Unlike Rabbi Finkelstein, Dr. Marcovitz does not have another important day job, but has the opportunity to focus all his energy and creativity at our school.  He may still be getting acculturated, but in addition to assuming leadership of our Jewish Studies Faculty and building relationships with synagogues and community leaders, he has also found time for launching new programs.

Parasha & Pancakes

“Parasha & Pancakes” now takes place on  Tuesdays (Grades 3-5) & Thursdays (Grades 6-8).  With great thanks to the OJCS PTA for providing support, we have students volunteering to come to school early to learn Torah!  Who knew?  Students are taking responsibility for the cooking and Dr. Marcovitz for the learning.  Tasty pancakes to feed the body with words of Torah to feed the soul – what a great way to start the day!

Rabbi Simes z”l Yom Iyun

This grew out of a wonderful assignment with our Grade 8s who have been exchanging questions (sh’eilot) and answers (t’shuvot) with rabbis in our community on hot button topics.  The work has been so rich that we got the idea to invite those rabbis to be with us for a day of learning, which we are dedicating to the memory of our beloved teacher and communal leader, Rabbi Yehuda Simes z”l.  We are looking forward to a special day on February 24th.  Contact the office for more information.

Do you want to see the amazing intersection between Jewish Studies and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math)?  Go no farther than Morah Ruthie’s Kitah Zayin (Grade 7) Hebrew II class!  They learned all about the Israeli city of Tzfat and showed what they learned by creating VR (virtual reality) projects.  The views below aren’t as cool as viewing them through VR goggles, but they are pretty cool.  I have left one sample for you to check out below, but if you want to see them all, please check out Morah Ruthie’s blog post:

What’s next?  Something really exciting…perhaps even a game-changer.

Based on a model I first experienced (not created, it was there before me) in my last headship at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, we want to launch a brand-new Middle School Jewish Studies Curriculum that is predicated on the idea that both Torah leads to deeds AND deeds lead to Torah (Kiddushin 40b).  We want to create an integrated Jewish Studies / Tikkun Olam (Social Justice) program in which the text our students learn Monday-Thursday gets put into action on Friday, each and every week.  Aligned with our North Stars, “We own our own learning,” and “We are each responsible one to the other,” we would create a committee of students, teachers, parents and community leaders to develop this curriculum which integrates key Jewish values, deep textual learning and practical hands-on projects.

For example, during a week (or unit), students in Grade 6 would study on Monday-Thursday texts that describe the ethical treatment of animals and then on Friday go out into the community and volunteer in animal shelters.  Students in Grade 7 would study texts that help us understand our responsibility to feed the hungry and then on Friday go out into the community and either feed the hungry, or volunteer in both kosher and community food banks.

This new program will be a direct and weekly application of Jewish wisdom.  It allows for individual choice (we imagine some of the “Mitzvah Trips” having choice for students), but more importantly through the experience of many “Mitzvah Trips,” students will make meaning of which mitzvot, which tikkon olam projects, etc., are personally meaningful.  They will also build connections to people and organizations that will strengthen their sense of peoplehood.

We want to provide our students with Jewish experiences that inspire them to learn more Torah and we want to help our students make personal connections between the Torah they learn in school and the larger world around them.  We want our students (and families) to recognize that part of being Jewish is to make the world a better place, that doing so requires both learning and doing.  Locating this work in our Middle School allows for practical connectivity to the b’nei mitzvah process.  Providing these opportunities in a Jewish Middle School in a community without a Jewish High school, is critical to inspiring students and families to see and feel value to their Jewish learning beyond the walls of the school.

As a parent who had one child experience this program before and another one eligible to receive it now, I can tell you firsthand how impactful it is and can be.  As a principal who watched families eagerly anticipate middle school so they can start going on “mitzvah trips” and watched alumni eagerly anticipate opportunities to come back and volunteer on “mitzvah trips,” I know this creates a wonderful opportunity for our school to retain and attract students through Grade 8.

Wouldn’t you want your child to have an opportunity to make the world a better place each and every week?

OJCS Celebrates Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month (JDAIM)

February is Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month (JDAIM) and the Ottawa Jewish Community School is proud to be celebrating in ways big and small!  We actually kicked things off in January when current OJCS Parent Dr. Madelaine Werier met with our Knesset to introduce them to the Jewish Ottawa Inclusion Network (JOIN) and to brainstorm with them ways that they could raise awareness and advocacy for inclusion at our school.  Here’s how Jenny, our Knesset Communications Rep, put it in her blog post:

Maybe we can create a mission to show the other students in our school that everyone can do something to help one another. Maybe we could do a class challenge to bring awareness to the importance of inclusivity. Donating money can be part of awareness campaigns but giving time is even more important. Even just holding the door for the person behind you can make a big difference in their day. How about a video? Making a video is a really easy way to make someone feel welcome, especially to a new environment. Maybe you don’t even have to do something special, by just asking them to do something with you could make them feel more welcome. The person you are spending time with doesn’t even have to be in your grade, branch out, talk to people from the grade above or below you. I know that if someone I didn’t know came and played with me I would feel much better.

Madelaine did mention that a very important word is advocacy for us to learn about and think about how to incorporate it into Jewish Disability and Inclusion Month at OJCS. This Knesset meeting was very helpful and meaningful to our Knesset team. Thank you so much Madelaine- you definitely gave us some really amazing ideas.

And our Knesset didn’t just listen, they took action.

Our student leaders wrote our faculty an email this week:

Dear OJCS Faculty,

The month of February is JDAIM- Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, and we would like to bring more awareness about the month to the school.
There are 3 ways we want to do this:
1. We want to have a door decorating challenge. Each homeroom class can choose a door to decorate around the theme of ‘Being Inclusive & Kind’. We would like to showcase photos of all the doors at our February Rosh Chodesh assembly so please have your beautiful doors all finished by February 24th. Gather the materials that you need, ‘begin with the end in mind’ with a class plan, and you can get started anytime! We can’t wait to see them!
2. The Shinshinim activities throughout the month of February are going to be run with Knesset too! The workshops will focus on the big idea that it’s important to be inclusive and celebrate & support one another’s differences.
3. When your reading buddy group meets in February, focus on books around the themes of kindness and inclusivity. We encourage you to have a class discussion or activity after the reading around these themes.
These are our school-wide initiatives, but you’re welcome to plan other activities for your class. Jewish Ottawa Inclusion Network (JOIN) is having a youth leadership challenge that you could enter with your class. See the poster below.
Please let us know if you have any questions. We are excited to incorporate JDAIM into our learning at OJCS.
Want to see “the poster below”?

And how can our teachers and students focus on books around the themes of kindness and inclusivity?  Well they can turn to our incredible librarian, Brigitte Ruel, who just put out a post of her own:

The month of February is JDAIM- Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month.  The right book can really help foster more awareness and kindness in our students.  I have created a book bin with books on this topic for reading buddies that you can find at any time in the library.  I have also created a short list of some of our most on-point titles.

Want to see the books?  Visit her post!

Want to see an example of a teacher who was “excited to incorporate JDAIM into our learning at OJCS”?  Look no further than Grade 2!

Below is our video project that we have created in order to celebrate World Read Aloud Day (which is today!) and Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month, also known as JDAIM, (which takes place through the whole month of February).

These are just a few examples of what is presently happening and what is to come in the weeks ahead.  I invite you to visit the OJCS Blogosphere and the OJCS IRL (in real life!) to see how else we celebrate JDAIM this February.

Of course, however important dedicating months to raising awareness are (and they are!), working hard to include children with unique and diverse needs is something we do each and every day at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.  Thanks to generous supplemental grants from Federation we have been able to provide flexible furniture, assistive technology, and diagnostic software to benefit learners of all kinds.  We have grown our Department of Special Needs to include a part-time director, our Vice Principal, and two full-time and a variety of part-time resource teachers in English, Hebrew and French.  We have adopted a pedagogy of personalization that allows each student in our school to find the appropriate floor and fly as far as their God-give potential permits without a ceiling.  For a Jewish day school of our size and resources, we have a lot to be proud of when it comes to meeting the needs of diverse learners.

This Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month, let us be reminded that we strive to meet the needs of children because we recognize that each child has special needs.  That to truly believe that each is made in God’s image requires that we apply the filter of inclusivity whenever possible.  The work of becoming more inclusive has no beginning and has no ending.  Inclusivity is both a process and a journey, one that OJCS has proudly been on for a while and one that we intend to keep walking with our community into the future.

Ken y’hi ratzon.

Quality Comments: Welcome to OJCS Student Blogfolios!

I spend about an hour each week commenting on our student blogfolios.

What’s a “blogfolio” you ask?  Well it is a term of art that (I think) my former colleague Andrea Hernandez created, and in her words:

Portfolios give students a chance to develop metacognition, set goals and internalize what “good work” looks like.  Blogs offer a platform for creativity, communication, connection and the practice of digital citizenship. “Blog-folios”are the best of both worlds- using a blogging platform to develop writing skills, provide opportunities to connect with an authentic audience and increase reflective practices. Instead of using the entire site as a portfolio, students will use the category “portfolio” to designate those selections that represent high-quality work and reflection.

Having begun last year with Grade 5, we have now added this year’s Grade 5 as well.  [Spoiler Alert: We will be expanding the use of blogfolios in both directions in the not-too-distant future.]

During the time I set aside for my reading, I typically start at the beginning of each blogroll and make my way through as many as I can. During that hour, I can see which spelling words are being emphasized in a particular grade.  I can see which kinds of writing forms and mechanics are being introduced.  I learn which holidays (secular and Jewish) are being prepared for, celebrated or commemorated.  I see samples of their best work across the curricula.

But what I enjoy seeing the most is the range of creativity and personalization that expresses itself through their aesthetic design, the features they choose to include (and leave out), and the voluntary writing.

This is what we mean when we talk about “owning our own learning” and having a “floor, but not a ceiling” for each student.  It is also a great example of finding ways to give our students the ability to create meaningful and authentic work.  But, it isn’t just about motivation – that we can imagine more easily.  When you look more closely, however, it is really about students doing their best work and reflecting about it.  Look at how much time they spend editing.  Look at how they share peer feedback, revise, collaborate, publish and reflect.  [Spoiler Alert: When we shift into “Student-Led Conferences” the blogfolios become a critical anchor.]

Seriously.  Look at it.

If you are a parent in one of these classes, we hope that you are already subscribed to your children’s blogfolio(s) and that grandparents and special friends are as well.  But if you are not a parent in one of these classes (or a parent in our school or a parent at all), but are (obviously!) reading my blog, I ask that however much time you would have spent reading one my typically overlong, 1,000-word (plus) posts, that you please use that time now to read one of their posts.  Even better, post a comment! It brings them such joy!  Just pick a few at random and make a burgeoning blogger’s day.

If you are interested in perusing the Grade 5 Blogroll, please click here.

If you are interested in surfing the Grade 6 Blogroll, then please click here.

With enrollment for 2019-2020 now fully open [Don’t forget to take advantage of the opportunity to lock in this year’s tuition rates by enrolling on time!], I am looking forward in upcoming posts to providing meaningful updates on two major initiatives:

  • How has the work with TACLEF impacted French at OJCS?
  • How has the gift to strengthen the “J” in OJCS impacted Jewish Studies (and Life) at OJCS?

Stay tuned!

Why Sports Matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fair?

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

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

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

Go, Rams, Go!

Radical Transparency: Finding Wellness Through Brazen Vulnerability

I was out of the office this past Monday and Tuesday attending an Alumni Retreat of the Day School Leadership Training Institute (DSLTI).  DSLTI is the preeminent preparer for new heads of Jewish day schools and I was lucky enough to be in its fourth cohort.  In addition to the coaching and content that comes during your cohort experience, one of the greatest ongoing values of DSLTI is its robust alumni network.  That alumni network gathers annually for a retreat and is typically a peak experience for attendees.  The topic this year was “wellness” and I was asked to speak specifically  on the connection between “transparency” and “wellness”.  As those were concepts that I didn’t automatically connect, I spent some time proposing and then rejecting possible ideas.

Here’s what I did not talk about:

At first, I thought I would approach it from the angle of how blogs and blogfolios can actually promote wellness in our school culture through small, but meaningful acts of kindness.

Then I thought I would come at it from how my own blogging and social media usage embodies transparency as a personal value that promotes my own self-care – talking about my personal flaws, coping with the death of my father, setting health goals, etc.

My next rejected idea was to talk about how I blog transparently about what I want to be true with the hope that by putting it out into the universe, I set in motion making it actually come true.

Next idea was to explore blogging as a form of personal cheshbon ha’nefesh – a self-accounting to inspire me to do and be better.

My final rejected idea was to explore how we use the concept of the “nondiscussible” to build a professional culture that promotes wellness in the workplace.

The truth is that I could have told compelling professional anecdotes about any of the above slides/topics.  And since many of them are pulled from blog posts I have already written…I guess I already have. But because DSLTI is such an intimate environment, a safe place for heads of schools to get real with themselves and each other, I decided that I would go deeper and more personal.  And so I landed here…

Imposter Syndrome” is a common condition across all professions.  It can be defined as…

…a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence. They seem unable to internalize their accomplishments, however successful they are in their field. High achieving, highly successful people often suffer, so imposter syndrome doesn’t equate with low self-esteem or a lack of self-confidence.

I can distill my “imposter syndrome” down to three anecdotes reflected in the slide above which served as the heart of my talk…

The handsome gentleman on the left is me at age 13.  I was yet even more handsome at age 10 when we moved from Edison, New Jersey to Fremont, California.  In addition to my amazing Jewish Neil Diamond hair, and owlish eyeglasses, I also brought with me to California an overbite of cartoonish proportions.  My overbite was so large that I could fit two fingers (sideways) comfortably inside.  The solution?  A bionator.

My Google search for a bionator reveals to my surprise its continued existence, since I had imagined it would have been banned by the Geneva Conventions as a source of torture.  In my parents’ great wisdom and to avoid my needing to wear braces until 35, not only did I get to wear the bionator for all of Grades 6 and 7, I also got to wear headgear 18 hours a day.  And one of those days was, in fact, the very first day of school.

In a new school.

In a new state.

I show up for the first day of Grade 6 with my bionator in, Jewish locks pouring through the headgear and owl eyes.  As just one example of how awesome that was, because the bionator took up every inch of space in my mouth, I had to take it out to speak.  And because I needed a toolset to take it out, I had to have prearranged times with my teachers for when I was going to be called on.  (I swear this is all true.) My Math Teacher would tell me that she was going to call on me at 10:45 AM and then at 10:30 AM I would take out my toolset and start unhooking myself.  My time would come, I would say, like, “5x,” and then I would hook myself back together.

How I ever met a friend is an enduring mystery…

That “first-day-of-school-in-a-new-school-wearing-a-bionator” is how I feel each time I walk into a new room with new people.

The hirsute gentleman in the upper righthand corner is me at age 23.  I had taken a year after university to try to figure out what path in the Jewish professional world I wanted to walk down and landed at Jewish Education.  Based on my Reform Jewish background, I should have wound up in the master’s program at the Hebrew Union College-Los Angeles.  And I likely would have if not for the friend of my mother’s who told her that if I was already going to down to LA for an interview at one seminary, that I might as well visit the Conservative one, the University of Judaism (now American Jewish University).  So I set myself up an interview…

They told me that my day was going to begin with “minyan” and I said, “Great!” even though I had no idea what that was.  To paint the full picture, I wore my hair that day in a ponytail (which I assumed was more professional), put modest earrings in my four piercings, wore the only long pants in my possession coupled with Naot (Israeli Birkenstocks).  That is how I looked when a grad student met me and escorted me to the school’s beit knesset for minyan.  That morning was the first time in my life I had ever seen tefillin or a Hebrew siddur.  It was the first all-Hebrew service I had ever attended and I was totally unfamiliar with the words and the tunes.

Why I wound up attending that school and the larger Jewish journey it took me on is a longer story…

That “first-time-in-minyan” is how I feel every time I enter a synagogue.

The picture in the lower righthand corner of the slide is not a class photo.  That is the school photo from my first year as founding head of the recently closed Solomon Schechter Day School-Las Vegas.  Grades 1 & 2, 14 students, three teachers and me.  The story of how that school came into existence and how I came to be its founding head is long and complicated.  It is, in fact, the subject of my doctoral dissertation and should you wish to join the exclusive club of my dissertation committee, my mother and my wife, I invite you to look it up and read it.  Needless to say, I was not a typical applicant for this job having never attended, worked or virtually ever stepped foot inside a day school until applying to be a founding head.

I distinctly remember the part of my interview where I attended a parlour meeting for prospective parents at the home of the rabbi who was spearheading the school’s creation.  At that time there were only the 6 students continuing into Grade 2 and prospective parents for what would turn out to be 8 students beginning Grade 1.  Because of my utter lack of experience and network – I was only accepted into DSLTI after I somehow got the job – the only way I could prepare for the interview was to do some light internet research.  I landed on PEJE’s (Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, now folded into Prizmah) PDF for launching new Jewish schools and tried to commit it to memory.

At this parlour meeting was a set of parents who had graduated from The Ramaz School, a very prominent Modern Orthodox Day School in Manhattan and they asked me a ton of very reasonable and practical questions to try to ascertain how on earth I was qualified to found this new school.  As I stood in the foyer sweating through my suit, stumbling to express my views on secular curriculum, Jewish curriculum, pedagogy, Hebrew, and anything and everything else about running a school, I was quite convinced that this was the beginning and the end of my career in Jewish day school education.

Why I wound up getting the job and the larger arc of my career that it launched is a longer story…

That  “sweating through my suit” is how I feel at all our town halls.

The feedback from my DSLTI peers when I gave this presentation was instructive.  Many shared with me that they had no idea that I felt that way – I seem so confident or I appear to have a strong leadership presence.  And like most people, I both do and I don’t.  I have obviously grown and learned and failed and succeeded and achieved and done a lot since I was 10, 23 and 33.  But that’s the way imposter syndrome works for us all.

So there you have it.  The simple truth is that I employ a kind of radical transparency not only because I think it creates healthy culture, leads to sound pedagogy, fosters parental buy-in and engagement – which I do.

In a sense “transparency” is my superpower.  It is the superhero cape I adorn that lets me be my best self.  I put it all out there because doing so makes me well and, I hope, promotes wellness in others.  Ken y’hi ratzon.

This will be my last blog post before we go onto Winter Break next week.  Wishing everyone a joyous Chanukah, a Happy New (Secular) Year and a relaxing break.  We look forward to welcoming everyone back to school in 2020!

The Transparency Files: CAT4 Results

As apparently is my new annual tradition, I again in the lull between parent-teacher conferences reviewed and analyzed our CAT4 results.  [I strongly encourage you to reread (or read for the first time) our philosophy on test-taking and how we both share the tests with parents and utilize the data in our decision-making.]  We provided our teachers with the data they need to better understand their students and to identify which test results fully resemble their children well enough to simply pass on and which results require contextualization in private conversation.  Those contextualizing conversations took place during conferences and, thus, we should be able to return all results to parents next week.

Before we get to the results, there are a few things worth pointing out:

  • This is now our second year taking this assessment at this time of year. However, we expanded our testing from last year’s Grades 3, 6 & 8 to this year’s Grades 3 – 8.  This means that although we now have “apples to apples” data, we can only track two of our grades (current Grades 4 & 7) from last year to this one.  Next year, we will have such tracking data across most grades which will allow us to see if…
    • The same grade scores as well or better each year.
    • The same class grows at least a year’s worth of growth.
  • The other issue is in the proper understanding of what a “grade equivalent score” really is.

Grade-equivalent scores attempt to show at what grade level and month your child is functioning.  However, grade-equivalent scores are not able to show this.  Let me use an example to illustrate this.  In reading comprehension, your son in Grade 5 scored a 7.3 grade equivalent on his Grade 5 test. The 7 represents the grade level while the 3 represents the month. 7.3 would represent the seventh grade, third month, which is December.  The reason it is the third month is because September is zero, October is one, etc.  It is not true though that your son is functioning at the seventh grade level since he was never tested on seventh grade material.  He was only tested on fifth grade material.  He performed like a seventh grader on fifth grade material.  That’s why the grade-equivalent scores should not be used to decide at what grade level a student is functioning.

We do not believe that standardized test scores represent the only, nor surely the best, evidence for academic success.  Our goal continues to be providing each student with a “floor, but no ceiling” representing each student’s maximum success.  Our best outcome is still producing students who become lifelong learners.

But I also don’t want to undersell the objective evidence that shows that the work we are doing here does in fact lead to tangible success!

That’s the headline…let’s look more closely at the story.  (You may wish to zoom in a bit on whatever device you are reading this on…)

A few tips on how to read this:

  • We took this exam in the “.2” of each grade-level year.  That means that “at grade level” [again, please refer above to a more precise definition of “grade equivalent scores”] for any grade we are looking at would be 3.2, 4.2, 5.2, etc.  For example, if you are looking at Grade 6, anything below 6.2 would constitute “below grade level” and anything above 6.2 would constitute “above grade level.”
  • The maximum score for any grade is “.9” of the next year’s grade.  If, for example, you are looking at Grade 8 and see a score of 9.9, on our forms it actually reads “9.9+” – the maximum score that can be recorded.
  • Because of when we take this test – approximately two months into the school year – it is reasonable to assume a significant responsibility for results is attributable to the prior year’s teachers and experiences.  It is very hard to tease it out exactly, of course.

What are the key takeaways from this snapshot of the entire school?

  • Looking at six different grades through six different dimensions there are only two instances of scoring below grade-level: Grade 3 in Spelling (2.9) and Grade 5 in Computation & Estimation (4.1).
  • Relatedly, those two dimensions  – Spelling and Computation & Estimation – are where we score the lowest as a school (even if every other grade is at or above grade level) relative to the other dimensions.
  • What stands out the most is how exceedingly well each and every grade has done in just about each and every section.  In almost all cases, each and every grade is performing significantly above grade-level.

In addition to the overall snapshot, we are now able to begin sharing comparative data.  It will take one more year before we can accurately compare the same grade and the same class year after year.  But we can get a taste of it with Grades 3 & 6.  What you have below is a snapshot of the same class (the same group of children) from last year to this:

What are the key takeaways from this comparison?

For both classes in all categories save one (Grade 3 to 4 “Computation & Estimation”) you see at least a full year’s growth and in many cases you see more than a full year’s growth.  (The one that fell short only showed 8 months of growth.  And it comes in the category we have already recognized as being a weak spot.)

Let’s look at one more data point.  We can also get a taste of how the same grade performs from one year to the next as well.  Again, we only have Grades 3 & 6 to examine:

Now, remember that this represents a completely different group of children, so it is not unusual or surprising to see variances.  Teachers can only grow students from the place they received them and it is that annual growth that we are concerned with.  But over time you are looking for patterns.  If we believe that Spelling is a weakness, we will want to know whether it is a weakness in every grade or does it dip in certain grades.  We have no way to know that or much else new from the above graph. It simply confirms what we presently know.  But in another year or so, we will be able to plot the trajectory of both classes (the same students) and grades over time to see what additional stories they tell.

To sum up, we have a lot to be proud of in our standardized test scores. We have two areas to investigate: Spelling and Computation.  With regard to Spelling, since we noted this as a weakness last year we had already scheduled PD for our faculty.  It just so happens that we are holding a session on “Structured Word Inquiry” for our Language Arts Teachers on Monday!  With that and other efforts we would expect to see those numbers tick up next year.  With regard to Computation, we will – like with Spelling – have an internal conversation which may lead to PD for Math Teachers.  These are examples of how we use data to increase performance.

The bottom line is that our graduates successfully place into the high school programs of their choice.  Each one had a different ceiling – they are all different – but working with them, their families and their teachers, we successfully transitioned them all to the schools (private and public) and programs (IB, Gifted, French Immersion, Arts, etc.) that they qualified for.

And now each year, despite all the qualifications and caveats, our CAT4 scores continue to demonstrate excellence.  Excellence within the grades and between them. And let’s be clear, this academic excellence comes with an inclusive admissions process.

Despite our focus on individual growth, our average growth continues to significantly outpace national percentiles and grade equivalency scores.  Does investing in reflective practices (like blogging) lead to achievement ?  Does being an innovative learning pioneer translate into high academic success?

Two years in a row may not be conclusive, but it may be heading towards it!

NOT Preparing for the CAT4 – How OJCS Thinks About Standardized Testing

From November 5th – 7th, students at the Ottawa Jewish Community School in Grades 3 – 8 will be writing the Fourth Edition of the Canadian Achievement Tests (CAT4).  The purpose of this test is to inform instruction and programming for the 2019-202o school year, and to measure our students’ growth over time.  

  • If this is the first time you are visiting this topic on my blog, I encourage you to read my post on our philosophy of standardized test-taking.
  • If you are curious about how we share the results of our standardized test-taking (and what those results have been), I encourage you to read that post as well.

What’s new for 2019-2020?

We have gone from offering the exam in Grades 3, 6, and 8 to Grades 3 – 8 in order to ensure that the data is actionable on all four levels – that of the individual student (is there something to note about how Jonny did in Mathematics from last year to this year?), individual classes (is there something to note about how Grade 5 scored in Spelling compared to when they were in Grade 4?), grades (is there something to note about how Grade 3 performed in Reading  this year when compared to how Grade 3 did last year?), and the school as a whole (how does OJCS do in Vocabulary across the board?).  Without testing the same students in the same subjects at the same time of year on an annual basis, we would not be able to notice, track or respond to meaningful patterns.

Reminder:

Standardized tests in schools that do not explicitly teach to the test nor use curriculum specifically created to succeed on the tests – like ours – are very valuable snapshots.  Allow me to be overly didactic and emphasize each word: They are valuable – they are; they really do mean something.  And they are snapshots – they are not the entire picture, not by a long shot, of either the child or the school.  Only when contextualized in this way can we avoid the unnecessary anxiety that often bubbles up when results roll in.

Last year it took about six weeks to get results back, analyzed and shared out – to parents with individual results and to community with school metrics.  We hope to be in that window of time again and look forward to making full use of them to help each student and teacher continue to grow and improve.  We look forward to fruitful conversations.  And we welcome questions and feedback through whatever channels they come…

OJCS Parent Connect: The Future of Learning

Who is excited about having a full week of school?

In addition to the joy of restarting our year and restoring our routines, we also had an opportunity this week to reconnect to our parents.  As promised back in September, we took some time this week to offer what we hope will be the first in a series of “Parent Connect” workshops to better inform parents, to solicit feedback from parents and – in the future – to help parents with hands-on guidance for navigating the educational journey at OJCS.

This week’s focus was following up on specific questions and concerns that have arisen as a result of our embrace of innovative technology, online platforms, etc., as part of our larger work of preparing students for their next schools of choice and beyond.  The slideshow below guided these conversations.  Although not everything may be perfectly clear from the slides alone, you will hopefully note that we attempted to anchor the conversation in our “North Stars” and in ongoing changes in education.  We then pivoted into ways those changes are taking shape at OJCS and ended with targeted conversations about issues of parental concern such as “Privacy”, “Screen Time”, and “Supervision”.

We are grateful to the parents who attended for their feedback!  We also welcome your feedback – either by commentary here on the blog, or email, phone calls, etc.  With what we have heard, thus far, we believe there would be continued value in providing interested parents with hands-on advice on how to navigate the internet at home (firewalls, apps for supervision, etc.), and a dedicated workshop to homework support.  Stay tuned.

We can’t wait to see what we can accomplish with five whole days of school!

OJCS Announces $1,000,000 Gift

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

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

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

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

We need all this and more to truly achieve sustainability.

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

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

Meaningful Parent Partnership Ought Not Be Taken For Granted

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe.

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

Etc.

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

Speaking of which…

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

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

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

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