OJCS Announces $50,000 Investment in French Education

File this under “promises made; promises kept”.

We are thrilled to share that our school will be making a $50,000 investment to ensure an increasingly excellent French education, to grow the number of students who successfully transition into French immersion programs in Grade 9, and to increase the odds of their success once placed.  This comes directly from the hard work of our French Language Faculty, the changes we began this year as a result of beginning this conversation last year, the leadership of our Board and the generosity of our donors.  This is a great day for those who already know a Jewish day school education does not preclude an excellent French education; it is an even better day for those who want to believe it, but needed a little more than anecdotal evidence to go on.

If you are new to this conversation, I encourage you to read my blog post from last February which lays out a detailed history of French education in Ontario, how it impacts OJCS and what the state of affairs was like when we began this work last school year.

Here are a few reminders and updates:

We continue to acknowledge that small sample sizes make statistical analysis complicated.  We remain committed to annual surveys of our alumni and frequent check-ins with the high schools in our community.  We do know, for example, that 50% of the students who graduated OJCS last year from French Extended are currently in Grade 9 French Immersion in high school (the other 50% opted out).  They report being successful and having been adequately prepared.  It may not be statistically significant (this was not a large class), but it lines up with last year’s data and the ample anecdotal evidence we do have that OJCS students can and do successfully transition from “Extended” to “Immersion” in Grade 9.

Here is what we committed to for this school year:

  • Conversations with parents about their hopes and expectations for maximal French contact time will begin during the admissions process.  Students who may require additional support to place into “Extended” need to be identified early.
  • 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.
  • 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.  This includes a philosophical shift in K-3 that raises the bar – rather than aim towards the middle and wait to see who rises up, we will aim towards immersion and stream those who struggle.
  • We adjusted our schedule to increase contact time with French.  Students in OJCS have more contact time with French in each grade (except K which was already frontloaded).

Here is how our French Language Faculty put it when we met with parents twice yesterday at our “French Q & A Sessions”:

Vivre en français à OJCS

  • At OJCS, the FSL (French as a second language) faculty has made a commitment to speak French with their students everywhere in the school, so if you walked through our hallways, you would hear us speaking French to our students, increasing the interaction and contact time with our students.
  • Our enhanced FSL program with its consolidated class time (blocks of periods), all within a trilingual school where the francophone culture is alive and regularly celebrated, produces students capable of successfully communicating and learning in French.
  • Students practice their language skills in various environments, such as on the playground, and during coaching on our various OJCS sports teams.
  • Our FSL faculty is committed to offering authentic OJCS learning experiences.

While we believe we are on a gradual path towards clarity around French outcomes and increased excellence in French education, we are also aware of how serious an issue this is for a meaningful percentage of our families.  We have also seen how the use of consultancy has jumpstarted innovation and growth at our school.  What we are announcing here is going to do for French what our other consultancies have done for OJCS – dramatically speed up the process of moving from good to great.

We have identified a few different consultancies that would provide OJCS with the following features:

  • One to two years of professional development for OJCS French Faculty from the same folk who train the Immersion and Francophone programs in the public boards, including multiple in-person observation and direct training.
  • Shareable tools for benchmarking and tracking individual students over time.
  • New and updated French curriculum.
  • Individualized paths forward for high achieving students from the OJCS “Extended” program to full Immersion programs at their next schools of choice.

The tools, the curriculum and the paths would be ours after the consultancy and would become part of the budget moving forward.

We are in the process of finalizing our consultancy and will share out additional information when confirmed.  Additionally (not part of the $50K), we are also committed to adding French Resource.  We feel this will bring much needed support not only for students who have IEPs, but for any student who struggles.  [Yes, we are committed to adding Hebrew Resource as well.]

We enjoyed the opportunity to share our progress and our plans with parents.  We appreciated the candor and the tough questions we were asked.  We are pleased to share it more widely here.  Interestingly, we heard similar feedback that we heard last year about three areas.  One we tried to do something about and couldn’t get it off the ground; two we need to pay even closer attention to…

  • 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.  We surveyed parents last year about it for this year and did not get a critical mass.  We will try again.
  • 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.  We addressed this issue this year with a philosophical shift (aiming higher), but we could also choose to address it structurally (actually streaming earlier).  This will be worth exploring through consultancy.
  • There remains a meaningful percentage of our families (particularly ones who are from and/or are familiar with the model in Montreal) who would like to see us offer a full immersion track, if not embrace a full immersion model.  Although our cultural context is different, we do have a responsibility to pay attention to these families.  We will continue to survey and assess this need; we will also try to better calculate the opportunity cost of not having it – who is not coming to OJCS (and, thus, not getting a Jewish day school education) because we can’t offer it.

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 know 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 in the years ahead.

The Transparency Files: Why Do We Give Homework?

That’s not rhetorical.  It is an actual, live question that we are finally ready to begin answering here at the Ottawa Jewish Community School, as promised.

It is reasonable to conclude that there are various philosophies about what the purpose of homework ought to be and that there is ample research to be found supporting just about all of them.  For our school, however, the conversation comes with a context.  Considering who we are and what we believe to be true about teaching and learning, what ought to be the role of homework here?

What is our current homework policy?

We have a simple 10 minutes that incrementally increases by grade level (outside of reading) formula for estimating the appropriate time it should take a typical student to complete his or her homework.

Part of the impetus for taking this on is that not only does that policy seem not to hold true often enough, it fails to address the whys and whats of homework.  It only speaks to, “how much?”  We can do better.

 

The purpose of an OJCS Homework Policy, once re-imagined, will be to provide guidelines for teachers, provide for consistency through the grades, and to educate parents who have questions about homework.  A school policy regarding homework, along with clear expectations for teachers as to what constitutes good homework, can help to strengthen the benefits of homework for student learning.

This policy will need to address the purposes of homework, amount and frequency, and the responsibilities of teachers, students, parents, and administrators.  The OJCS Homework Policy will be based on research regarding the correlation between homework and student achievement as well as best practices for homework.

Without having had all the conversations we will be having, I do think based on the conversations we have had, that there are philosophical conclusions consistent with who we are that we can put up front that will inform the policy once complete.  The philosophy at the Ottawa Jewish Community School regarding K-8 homework is that it should only be assigned if it is meaningful, purposeful, and appropriate. Homework will serve to deepen student learning and enhance understanding.  Homework should be consistent with the school’s “North Stars” and strive to incorporate creativity, critical thinking, authenticity, and student ownership.

There are also some commonsense practices we believe will help to increase the benefits of homework while minimizing potential problems.

Homework is more effective when:

…..the purpose of the homework assignment is clear.  Students should leave the classroom with a clear understanding of what they are being asked to do and how to do it.

…..it does not discourage and frustrate students.  Students should be familiar with the concepts and material (unless a flipped pedagogy is being employed).

…..it is on a consistent schedule.  It can help busy students and parents remember to do assignments when they are consistent.

…..it is explicitly related to the classwork.

…..it is engaging and creative.

…..it is authentic.

…..feedback is given.  Follow-up is necessary to address any comprehension issues that may arise.

…..it is personalized.

 

This is not to suggest that we are not presently trying to live up to the above in our current practice.  But it is to suggest that our written policy fails to provide teachers, parents or students with sufficient guidance to ensure that all students in all grades are doing appropriate homework – appropriate quality, appropriate content and appropriate length.

As with every other initiative or project we undertake at OJCS, our conversation and conclusions about homework will be done collaboratively and transparently.  We look forward to these conversations, to doing the work, and to sharing it out when done.

The Transparency Files: CAT*4 Results

In the lull between parent-teacher conferences, I spent my time reading and analyzing the results of this year’s CAT*4 testing.  [I strongly encourage you to reread (or read for the first time) my philosophy on test-taking and how we planned on both sharing the tests with parents and utilizing the data in our decision-making.]  We are in the process of providing 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.

In terms of sharing out the results publicly, which I will happily do, there are a few things worth pointing out:

  • Although we do have prior years, they are not “apples to apples” enough to plot as comparison data.  This is mostly because of our decision to change our testing window and partially because we don’t have enough grades taking the test often enough.  (I have data on spring tests from two and three years ago for grades 3 & 6.)  If that changes, part of this annual analysis will consist of tracking the grades over time 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.

One final caveat about why share out grade and class averages at all when so much of our focus is on personalized learning and individual growth…

Here, my thinking has been influenced by the work I was doing prior to coming to Ottawa, in my role as Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network and then part of the transition team which helped create Prizmah.  I cannot tell you how many conversations I have had with colleagues about the different challenges Jewish day schools often have from their secular private school and high-achieving public (and/or gifted programs and in the States and/or magnet and/or charter) school neighbors.  The biggest difference comes down to a philosophy of admissions.  [Please note that although a primary audience for my blog are OJCS parents, other folk read as well, so I am including references to forms of public education that are commonly found in the States.]

Most Jewish day schools attempt to cast the widest net possible, believing it is our mission to provide a Jewish day school education to all who may wish one.  We do not, often, restrict admission to a subset of the population who score X on an admissions test and we do not, often, adjust birthday cutoffs or recommend grade repeating to maximize academic achievement. However, schools who we are most often compared to in terms of academic achievement often do one or both.  If you then factor in whether or not you exempt special needs students from the testing and whether or not you explicitly teach to the test, you may have quite an uneven playing field to say the least.

To reframe and reset the discussion:

Jewish day schools have an inclusive admissions policy, but are expected to compete equally with elite private and high-achieving public (and gifted and, in the States, magnet and charter and suburban public) schools who have exclusive admissions policies or homogeneous populations.

So, in light of all of that – if a Jewish day school with an inclusive admissions policy, a non-exempted special needs population, and a commitment to “not teach to the test” – if that kind of school could demonstrate that it was achieving secular academic excellence on par with elite schools; well to me that would be news worth sharing.

So with all those caveats in mind, in the spirit of full transparency, and with the attitude that all data is valuable data, allow me to present this year’s results:

The bottom line of this graphic is that each grade in the Ottawa Jewish Community School scored, with a few exceptions, at a mean grade equivalent a full year higher than their current grade.  There are a few (Grade 3 Writing, Grade 3 Spelling, Grade 6 Writing, Grade 6 Spelling and Grade 6 Computation) that are closer to their current grade.  [Part of our ongoing analysis and annual comparison would be to learn more about our current spelling and writing outcomes.  Part of our deeper investigation is whether there is a way to layer on standardized French and possibly Hebrew tests to learn more about those important outcomes.]  There are a lot of grades/topics whose averages are significantly higher than that, but let the boldface sink in for a bit.

Too much time dedicated to Jewish Studies?  Nope – a high-quality Jewish Studies program enhances secular academics.  Too much time dedicated to Skyping or blogging?  Nope – an innovative learning paradigm not only positively impacts student motivation, but leads to higher student achievement.

I can sense the tone of triumphalism in my writing and, although I am extremely proud of our students and teachers for their achievements, I do not wish to sound boastful.  But with the state of Jewish day school education being what it is, when there is good news to share…share it one must!  I firmly believe that Jewish day schools with dual-curricula (and in our case tri-curricula!) and innovative pedagogy and philosophy produce unmatched excellence in secular academics.  Here in our school, we will have to prove it year after year, subject after subject, and student after student in order to live up to our mutually high expectations, but what an exciting challenge it shall be coming to school each day to tackle!

The Transparency Files: The OJCS Report Card Prototype

The season is upon us!  We are busily filling out report cards and eagerly preparing for parent-teacher conferences.  We are also continuing to innovate and to prototype, so it should be no surprise that a few changes to both are in store.

Let’s first talk about what will not be different about report cards and then what is different…

As we have discussed, the arc of our journey to reinvent and revitalize our school has begun to take shape.  Last year was about values.  We spent significant time clarifying our value proposition which is now expressed in our North Stars.  As we begin to live those values, we are spending this year focusing on strategy.  The strategies we put in place are designed to help bring us closer to our North Stars – they are how we bring “The OJCS Way” to life.  The “7 Habits Prototype” is a strategy that will help us create a community of kindness, drawing us closer to being a place where “each person is responsible one to the other” and where “we learn better together”.  Increased informal educational experiences like the “Middle School Retreat” are a strategy for infusing our community with “ruach”.  The use of Silvia Tolisano and the “Silvia Cohort” is a strategy.  Etc.

What we have launched our journey with, is time spent on the why and how of learning – what do we believe to be true about teaching and learning and what does that look like in a classroom or a school?  What we have not spent time on – nor will we in this year – is the what we are teaching (with the exceptions of Lower School Jewish Studies, which has a new curriculum and Middle School Jewish Studies, which has new benchmarks).  So the one thing that has not changed in our new report card prototype is the what.  You will find the exact same topics and subjects from last year.

Let’s focus on what is really the only meaningful change, the commentary.

Report cards are not the best place to summarize activities or curriculum.  For as long as we use the ministry standards as a floor for General Studies, we can provide parents with more detail than they would ever need about what we are teaching.  Furthermore, our handbooks, our website and classroom blogs provide parents with all the information about topics and activities they need to stay current.  And even if, with all that, there are some curricular highlights we want parents to have top of mind, we can share them at the Parent-Teacher Conferences.  Report cards, therefore, are a place for providing parents with meaningful feedback about their child’s growth.  We are looking for a “less is more” approach that breaks the commentary into two sections: “Feedback” and “Next Steps”.   This approach is a strategy for ensuring “a floor, but not a ceiling” for our students and to give them an opportunity “to own their own learning”.

Let’s give a few concrete examples:

Rachel has earned an “E” in Grade 2 Jewish Studies.

Feedback:
  • Rachel has excelled in her quizzes, homework and projects this term.  She consistently uses Hebrew in class and shows mastery over Jewish Studies content.
  • Rachel has a particular passion for Tefillah and frequently volunteers to serve as prayer-leader.
  • I’ve noticed that Rachel has some difficulty working in groups – when given the choice, she almost always prefers to work alone.
Next Steps:
  • I would like to see Rachel push herself even more with her conversational Hebrew.  I am going to create a Voicethread account for Rachel so that I can give her a few conversational prompts a week for her to orally respond to.
  • Next term, I am going to assign Rachel a few more complicated prayers that I know she is capable of learning.  
  • We are going to spend time next term skill-building around group learning so that Rachel can benefit from others and others can benefit from her.
 
Michael has earned a 65% in Grade 5 Language Arts.
 
Feedback:
  • Michael was benchmarked at a 4.2 (Grade 4, Two months) reading level on his last reading assessment.  This represents appropriate growth for Michael based on his end of Grade 4 assessment (4.0) and is consistent with his IEP.
  • Michael’s oral expression continues to surpass his written expression, but he is finding success with the voice-to-text accommodation we have made this year per his IEP.
  • I am concerned that based on his homework, quizzes, and tests – even with accommodations – that Michael is not putting in enough time at home to be as successful as he is capable of being.
Next Steps:
  • I would like to see Michael expand his reading repertoire to include more just-right books and more genres (he tends to stay with graphic novels).  This will help him continue to grow as a reader next term.
  • While we continue to make appropriate accommodations, I do want to see Michael take the next steps with his writing, which will focus on writing strong paragraphs, with a topic sentence and supporting sentences.  
  • I would like to work with you and Michael on establishing successful study habits at home so that he has every opportunity to present his best work.
Solomon has earned a 78% in Grade 7 Math.
 
Feedback:
  • Solomon received an 83% on his Unit Test, averages 74% on his quizzes and tests, and dutifully completes homework and participates in class.
  • I’ve noticed that Solomon’s written work doesn’t always reflect his ability to explain math concepts.  I have observed in class that he does not always check and recheck his work before turning in assignments and tests.
  • Solomon is having particular difficulty with multistep word problems.  He has the necessary computational skills, but sometimes cannot unpack word problems into their appropriate steps.
Next Steps:
  • I will encourage Solomon to employ new strategies for checking his work (such as putting a check mark next to each one he has rechecked) to ensure he is putting forth his best effort.
  • I am going to provide Solomon with individualized word problems this term – and will conference with him – to help him build skills.
  • Here is a link to a section of Kahn Academy that I encourage Solomon to visit if he is interested in pushing himself.  I believe Solomon has the ability to be an “A” student if he puts in the time!
Last thing…based on strong feedback we will be emailing report cards to parents on Friday, November 23rd.
The Bonus Middle School Parent-Teacher Conference Prototype

We are also very excited to introduce a new prototype for Middle School Parent-Teacher Conferences that we think will go a long way towards ensuring that these important conversations are aligned with our “North Stars”.  This new format will provide parents with meaningful and actionable feedback, and provide us with the same in terms of inviting valuable feedback from parents – all in the service of helping our students “own their learning” and that there be “a floor, but not a ceiling” for each student.

With a large number of middle school students and a fair number of middle school teachers, we are going to try to provide a larger window of time with a more strategic number of mutually selected teachers.  Instead of signing up for individual conversations with any or all teachers, we are going to be asking for parents to sign up for a 15-minute window and a request for one or two teachers they feel strongly need to be present.  Then we will meet as a full middle school faculty and assign teachers to each middle school conference, using parental request and who we believe to be important in the conversations that should happen to best support each child.

We are very excited about this change and the kinds of conversations we believe it will yield.  Please know that our parents are always welcome to schedule meetings with any and all of our teachers – before or after parent-teacher conferences.  If you have additional questions or concerns, you are encouraged to let us know!

The Transparency Files: The OJCS 2018-2019 Faculty

It is amazing to note that we have reached June and the final three weeks of school are in front of us!  It is hard to believe how much we have accomplished and how much we have planned for next year.  I can certainly understand that no one wants to wish their summer away – including me – but we are so excited about what next year has in store at OJCS that we really almost cannot wait to begin again!  Speaking of next year…

As you hopefully have already heard, we are saying goodbye to Marlène Colbourne and Rachel Kugler who will be retiring at the end of this school year after long and distinguished careers at OJCS.  [Hopefully you are planning on attending their “Retirement Tea” on Sunday, June 24th at 2:00 PM here at the school.  Email the office to RSVP.]  We are also saying goodbye to two additional longstanding teachers – Stacy Sargeant and Rabbi David Rotenberg – and we wish them all the best in their new endeavors.  These four faculty members have contributed much to our school and each will be missed.  The search process to fill existing and new positions has already begun and we will update you periodically as we make hires.

You will see below that we are looking to hire a significant number of positions – more than the four alluded to above.  Let’s talk about why that is true…

…the first reason is pretty simple: we are a growing school!  With attrition down and recruitment up, we will need more teachers.  With 26 students enrolled for Kindergarten (and more prospects expressing interest), we will have two Kindergartens next year, and they each require not only a lead teacher, but an assistant teacher in order for us to deliver on our promise of personalization.

…speaking of delivering on promises, the second reason is due to the increase in contact time for French next year.  We will need two additional French teachers to join our French Department to ensure that the commitment to increased rigor comes along with the increased time.

…the third reason is a direct response to both our own lived experience and the feedback we heard loud and clear from the Annual Parent Survey.  With all the transition that took place from last year to this, our ability to meet the needs of our current special needs population requires more support. We are actively looking for a Director of Special Education who will work under our Vice Principal and with our Resource Teachers to ensure that our communication will be as clear and proactive as our accommodations.  We are also looking for a part-time Music Teacher to help clarify and streamline music education at OJCS.

One more point to make before we make the big reveal…

You will note a few structural changes as well.  The first is the aforementioned creation of a Department of Special Education.  The second is the formation of an Education Leadership Team (ELT) that will bring together members of the faculty who have been given “Coordinator” portfolios, signifying additional quasi-administrative responsibilities, and members of the administration to help move the innovation agenda forward, preparing us to take that next great leap forward.  The third is that we will be sharing out soon a revamped Middle School Jewish Studies Curriculum that may better explain the way we have described the positions below.

OK, I think I have given a lengthy enough preamble.  Let’s get excited about this gifted and loving group of teachers and administrators who will partner with our parents in the sacred work of educating our children.  I know I am!

The 2018-2019 OJCS Faculty & Staff

Lower School General Studies Faculty

  • Kindergarten: Janet Darwish, a French Teacher & 2 Educational Assistants
  • Grade One: Ann-Lynn Rapoport, Lianna Krantzberg & a French Teacher
  • Grade Two: Ann-Lynn Rapoport & a French Teacher
  • Grade Three: Julie Bennett & Aaron Polowin (French)
  • Grade Four: Julie Bennett, a French Teacher (Core) & Aaron Polowin (Extended)
  • Grade Five: Melissa Thompson, Aaron Polowin (Core) & a French Teacher (Extended)

Lower School Jewish Studies Faculty

  • Kitah Gan: Shira Waldman
  • Kitah Alef: Ada Aizenberg & Lianna Krantzberg
  • Kitah Bet: Bethany Goldstein
  • Kitah Gimmel: A Jewish Studies Teacher
  • Kitah Dalet: Ada Aizenberg
  • Kitah Hay: Bethany Goldstein (Core) & Ruthie Lebovich (Extended)

[Please recall that this will be the last year of “Core” and “Extended” in Jewish Studies.]

Middle School Faculty

  • Science: Josh Ray
  • Mathematics: Chelsea Cleveland
  • Language Arts: A Teacher
  • Social Studies: Deanna Bertrend
  • Extended French: Stéphane Cinanni
  • Core French: Aaron Polowin (Grade 6) & a French Teacher (Grades 7 & 8)
  • Hebrew: Noga Reiss  (Level I) & Ruthie Lebovich (Level II)
  • Bible: A Bible Teacher
  • Rabbinics: Rabbi Howard Finkelstein

Specialists

  • Art: Shira Waldman
  • Music: A Music Teacher
  • PE: Josh Ray & Shira Waldman (Girls 7 & 8)
  • Library: Brigitte Ruel

Department of Special Education

  • Keren Gordon, Vice Principal
  • Director of Special Needs
  • Linda Signer, Resource Teacher
  • Brian Kom, Resource Teacher
  • Chelsea Cleveland, Math Resource

Education Leadership Team

  • Melissa Thompson, Teaching & Learning Coordinator
  • Deanna Bertrend, Student Life Coordinator

Administration

  • Josh Max – IT & Technology Support
  • Ellie Kamil – Executive Assistant to the Head of School
  • Rabbi Howard Finkelstein – Dean of Judaic Studies
  • Jennifer Greenberg – Director of Recruitment
  • Keren Gordon – Vice-Principal
  • Dr. Jon Mitzmacher – Head of School

We are moving full steam ahead with candidates for all the above positions and between our extraordinary returning teachers and the quality of the candidates we have met thus far for new teachers, we know that the future is bright at OJCS.

Let’s Talk About The Future: The 2018-2019 OJCS Sneak Peek Town Hall

It is hard to believe, but June is around the corner and with it comes a crescendo of closing experiences marking the end of a remarkable year of re-imagination and revitalization.  Looking back on the journey, I can honestly tell you that we are farther along than I could have hoped, and that the next year will bring us even closer to the school we are looking to become.  You can see it in the numbers and you can feel it in the building.  Enrollment is up and attrition is down.  We have officially opened up a second kindergarten class as we are cresting towards 30 new kindergartners next year.  And although we continue to pay very close attention to attrition from Grades 3 to 4 (largely due to French immersion) and Grades 6 to 7 (as we continue to watch the influence of high schools dipping down to Grade 7), and we will suffer some attrition, the percentages have decreased.  We also have new students joining many grades, including five new students joining Grade 1.

Numbers matter.  But feelings matter too.  And a time of year that used to be fraught with anxiety – whether about enrollment or funding – is now filled with enthusiasm as we look to celebrate the year that was, and plan the year that is to come.  There are big events still to come: Public Speaking Assembly, Entrepreneurship Day, Grade 8 Grad Trip, Girls & Boys Nights In, Walk-a-Thon, Yearbook Assembly, etc., all culminating in a celebration of our remarkable eighth graders at Graduation.  There are also a few more “Transparency Files” to come as we look forward to providing a more detailed look at next year’s daily schedule and sharing out the 2018-2019 OJCS Faculty.  That is a lot of activity for just five weeks!

For today, however, I would like to close one loop by sharing out a “movie” of last night’s Town Hall, the topic of which was “A Sneak Peek at Next Year”.  I learned a new trick, which I am playing with here. I have converted the PowerPoint presentation into a movie.  When you hit “play” it will begin scrolling the slides and will automatically play the embedded videos.  You are welcome to hit “pause” at any point to give yourself more time to digest.

Because any good presentation consists of much more than you find on the slides, please know that you may not quite grasp the full meaning of each slide.  (That’s why you should have come to the Town Hall!)  To help make it a little more clear, however, I want to call your attention to the narrative flow…

You will find within, the four critical conversations we declared early in the year would be necessary for our school to take a leap forward: Transparency, Jewish Mission/Vision, French Outcomes and the OJCS Value Proposition.  The first, transparency, we attempted to launch on day one; the latter three have each taken their own path, ending with a “town hall”.  The presentation walks you through the highlights of those four journeys…

There is one slide that lays out for the first time our “North Stars” – the core values that came as a result of all the work we did with NoTosh.  You may not fully capture the meaning from just that slide.  There is an entire separate presentation of those North Stars that we will look to make at the beginning of next year.

The embedded videos try to make the case that change is necessary and that we never change for change’s sake.  We distinguish between that which is timely and that which is timeless.

Finally, we lay out some of the concrete changes for next year that come as a result of all the work, the conversations, the data collection, the consultations, the feedback, the recommendations, the surveys and the town halls.  These come from our students, teachers, parents, volunteers, donors, supporters, consultants and the wider world of education and innovation.  We believe that we are prepared to take that next leap forward…and we are blessed to have so many new and returning families joining us on that journey.

The Transparency Files: Annual Parent Survey

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s look at the BIG PICTURE:

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

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

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

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

What jumps out are the ones that fall below 7:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last data point:

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

So there you have it for 2017-2018!

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

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

The Transparency Files: Evaluation of Self

Even though I am adjusting to a more traditional “Northeast” calendar, with later beginnings and endings, it is still startling that we are down to the last eight weeks of this remarkable year!  There are still so many signature events still to come and so much amazing work to do, and yet here we are…the home stretch has officially begun.

And so, I would like to begin my annual series of “Transparency Files” blog posts which begins with my own evaluation, soon moves to reveal the results of this year’s Parent Survey, continues with a discussion on next year’s new initiatives and concludes with a conversation about next year’s faculty and schedule.

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

In future years, I will invite you to begin by reviewing last year’s post.  This year’s self-evaluation is based on goals created for this year (which was done months ago in consultation with the Head Support & Evaluation Committee).  You will not find a complete laundry list of my day-to-day responsibilities.  You will find selected [there are more goals in each area than I am highlighting here] components for the 2017-2018 OJCS academic year:

 Executive Leadership & Organizational Management

Jon’s 2017-2018 Goals

  • Identify appropriate benchmarks and standards across the curriculum.
  • Create and disseminate survey instruments to measure OJCS graduates’ transitions and successes (or failures),
  • Launch planning process to re-imagine teaching and learning at OJCS / innovation process.
    • Develop prototype of a light Makerspace with Jewish content integrated.
    • Purchase and experiment with 3D printer.
    • Amplify use of Google Classroom.
  • Develop collaboratively additional evaluative tools (outside of CAT-4 and curriculum-driven assessments) for measuring academic success and instituting a process for tracking and sharing information over time.
    • Revise exams for Grades 7 & 8 to incorporate all of Jewish Studies.
  • Ensure all in-house professional growth is embedded, ongoing and meaningful.
    • Provide frequent and varied professional development opportunities for all teachers (conferences, workshops, classroom exchanges, etc.).
    • Connect Jewish Studies Faculty to Prizmah.
  • Each teacher will have a Professional Growth Plan with artifacts, deliverables and accountability.
  • Explore the possibility of accreditation through OFIS, CIS and CAIS. (Likely CIS).
  • Work with SJCC, Ganon, Federation, etc. to lay the groundwork for OJCS to initiate JK transition beginning in 2018-2019.

I am pleased to say that we have achieved many of the above (and more)!  Without going through each one individually, as many of my blog posts this year have been about them, let me share some general thoughts…

…the conversation around “benchmarks and standards” has shifted as we, instead, began with work clarifying our core values.  When that work is complete (see the ad below), we can then drill down.  We want to begin asking ourselves questions like, “Do these benchmarks bring us closer to what we believe to be true about teaching and learning or not?”  Please remember (or know) that we are never talking about discarding or ignoring the Ministry of Ontario standards – we are talking about ensuring that they are simply the beginning of the conversation; that they are the floor and not the ceiling of our expectations.

…we are so grateful to our teachers and parents for their willingness to dive deeper into Google Classroom…we believe that open and frequent communication between school and home is the key to a successful school experience.  We also are not sure that Google Classroom is the best platform for what we ultimately wish to do educationally.  Stay tuned.

…we made the decision, but may not have adequately explained, to move our standardized testing window to the fall to come into line with when other private schools in our community take them.  We will have a conversation next year about which tests we take, which grades, why we take them, how the data will be used, etc.

Advancement

Jon’s 2017-2018 Goals

  • Launch annual campaign
  • Steward major donors
  • Hit the match through MATCH
  • Build capacity with the Development Committee through Prizmah coaching

It is the work we do in this area that determines how much we are able to achieve in all the others.  There is no private school in North America who subsists solely on tuition revenue.  That is why there is no private school in North America who does not have some kind of annual campaign, asking those who can, to do.  And in a Jewish day school where we aspire to ensure that finances not be the reason a child is unable to attend, we need to raise that much more.  And we do. Our lay leaders worked this year and last with a Prizmah Coach to launch this year’s annual campaign.  And I am proud to announce that we raised enough to qualify for matching funds from the AVI CHAI Foundation!  Thanks to all who gave what they could this year!

Next year we hope to increase the percentage of families who participate because we want to show all our donors and supporters that no one cares more about the school than its families.  Even the smallest contribution matters…we look forward to more conversation on this topic next year.

Public and Community Relations

Jon’s 2017-2018 Goals

  • Teach a “Parent University” course to all interested parents/caregivers.
  • Develop a “Parent Ambassador” program which can serve as a way of disseminating information, mentoring new parents, guiding tours, etc.
  • Blog weekly, Carpool line daily, twice-yearly meetings with all parents, meeting/phone calling as needed and as proactively as possible.
  • Be a presence at all our local synagogues/form a Rabbinic Advisory Committee.

I think this has been an area with some big successes and big fails.  I am pleased with how the blogging is going and people’s responses to it – especially as it is new for our parent community.  I am outside each and every morning as part of carpool and glad to be there.  It is the best way to start each day and a critical engagement point.  I have worked hard to be a presence at all our community’s synagogues and enjoyed speaking at most of them at some point during the year.  It is new (for me) working in this kind of communal context and I have stretched myself religiously in order to be present.  It has been worth it in ways big and small.  We have also succeeded in creating a Rabbinic Advisory Committee that is playing a vital role in helping us enhance the “J” in “OJCS”.

The biggest fail in this area has been with “Parent University”. Normally it takes a few years to get sick of me, not a few weeks!  After launching with a robust number of attendees, it began to dwindle down to a number too small to work meaningfully with.  Feedback was much more about timing than content, and figuring out how to engage working parents is a huge issue.  Similarly, although some constructive work was done in further developing our PTA, we were not yet ready to launch a formal “Parent Ambassador” program. Finally, although I think we have had an opportunity to meet with many, if not most, families many times throughout the year, I do think we need to at least formally invite each family in a couple of times each year to really be sure we are meeting needs and hearing concerns.

Finance and Operations

Jon’s 2017-2018 Goals

  • Revise budgeting process to be more proactive, less reactive.
    • Work with Committee to initiate the process earlier.
    • Develop a budget for the school we want to be as a strategic first step.

The paradigm shift – which we are actively in now – is budgeting for the school we dream of being, at least as a first draft, instead of the one we currently are.  We have actively engaged our full administrative team, relevant staff, and board to dream the high dream.  Of course there are fiscal realities we must attend to, but without knowing what we are aiming towards, there can be no plan to get there.  As mentioned above, I’m encouraged by resources being marshaled to deliver on the OJCS promise.

Those are just some highlights; you will also get an additionally honest look at my shortcomings when I share back results from the Annual Parent Survey.  As always, your feedback – whether publicly commented here, privately shared with me through email or social media, or directly shared through conversation – is greatly appreciated.  As I told our teachers, I look forward to getting better at my job and I am thankful for the feedback I receive that allows me to try.

Let’s Talk About the “J” in “OJCS”: The Jewish Studies Town Hall

As promised, we held a Town Hall on Thursday, April 26th 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 to 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 about why this is a pressing issue for our school.

Let’s restate the fundamental issue…

Unlike the work we do in secular education (which is also going through revisiting and re-clarifying), there is no external set of benchmarks and standards that we are required to follow.

There are no universally adopted textbooks or curricular materials shared by all Jewish day schools (or even by traditional groupings of Jewish day schools).  We have to translate our school’s mission-vision-philosophy into self-created (or borrowed) academic benchmarks and standards.

We have to build a schedule around those outcomes. We have to choose curricula based on what we believe to be true about teaching and learning.

There are also no norms for Community Day Schools on how to meet the needs of a diverse Jewish population.  If there was a “best model” out there for a school of our size with a population such as ours…we would be happy to borrow it!

What does Jewish Studies currently look like at OJCS?

  • K:       10/40 Periods in Hebrew
  • 1-3:   5/40 Periods in Hebrew & 8/40 Periods in Jewish Studies
  • 4-5:   Core: 5/40 Periods in Hebrew & 8/40 Periods in Jewish Studies (w/English as the language of instruction; Extended: 13/40 Periods in Jewish Studies (w/Hebrew as the language of instruction.)
  • 6-8:   5/40 Periods in Hebrew & 8/40 Periods in Jewish Studies

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

  • Grade 9 Alumni Surveys
  • Grade 12 Alumni Surveys
  • Annual Parent Surveys
  • Conversation with Synagogue Partners
  • Anecdotal Testimonials
  • Exit Interviews (pending)

What have we learned thus far?

We know that the questions we have historically asked don’t give us much data on answering the hard questions.  Two difficult truths we have to acknowledge about the recent history of our school:

  • Most graduating students don’t speak fluent Hebrew.
  • Our children are not entirely well-prepared for B’nai Mitzvah (regardless of denomination).

For many of the parents who shared critical feedback, these were the issues most flagged as being of concern.

What couldn’t wait for process?

We felt that some things simply couldn’t wait for the fuller discussion to unfold, so we immediately restored brachot and tefillah to the best of our ability and launched Extended Hebrew pilots for Grades 4 & 5 at the beginning of this academic year.

Hebrew we will get to below, but in order to work on tefillah in a school such as ours, we needed to engage our wider community:

We invited our entire community’s pulpit rabbinate to join an ad-hoc “Rabbinic Advisory Committee” (RAC) of our board to help us tackle the challenge of revisiting our Jewish Studies mission and vision, to strengthen the relationships between our school and our community’s synagogues and to help us think through the challenge of meeting the spiritual needs of a diverse Jewish community.

We were blessed with full participation, rich conversations, respectful disagreements, sage advice and collective wisdom across our three meetings, thus far.

The end result of our work so far with our RAC, with the input of our Jewish Studies Faculty, and board, is the proposed re-launch of meaningful tefillah next year.

The OJCS Tefillah Prototype

Prologue

There are two really important things to keep in mind…

We are committed to the idea of not letting the “great” get in the way of the “good”…our prototype for next year is not great.  There is a lot still to be figured out and we are open to ongoing critical feedback to help it eventually get great.  But we believe it is good…and that good is at least one step further ahead than our current location.

There are very few Community Day Schools left in North America that view their Jewish missions to extend to the furthest reaches of its community.  We did a lot of research and in most communities of our size, particularly when there is an Orthodox Day School, the Community Day School simply aims towards the center of the population that exists from the perceived edge of the Orthodox school through to the left.  It is really important to know that The Ottawa Jewish Community School remains committed to klal yisrael and believes we can and will continue to be a home for all Jewish families. Doing so both makes the work more challenging and more vital.

Schedule

With budget and schedule being the leading indicators for value, we intend to restore tefillah to our formal schedule next year by recapturing at least 30 minutes (daily) out of the current schedule and repurposing them for tefillah.  This will be a net gain of at least 30 minutes of Jewish Studies “time” without impacting other academic time.  In the Lower School (K-5), timing would be more flexible (during a larger JS academic block).  In the Middle School (6-8), timing would be fixed (likely mid-morning) and shared to provide opportunities for full Middle School participation.

We will additionally look to schedule more opportunities to bring families in for special services, like Friday Kabbalat Shabbat, or Middle School Shacharit.

Staffing

With support of qualified administrators, the teaching and facilitation of tefillah at OJCS will remain with its Jewish Studies Faculty. We could explore additional mentoring/support from our local clergy (including hazzanim) once we are clear on matbeah and nusach/tunes.  We could also partner with clergy if/when we introduce targeted sessions on ta’amei ha’mikrah.

Gender

OJCS is committed to the idea that both boys and girls will have the same academic requirements for tefillah and have the same opportunities for religious performance.

This represents a logical extension of the status quo.  For example, we will continue to require boys to wear kippot and continue to offer support for girls who express an interest to do the same.  When engaged in morning minyan, we would honor each child’s sense of personal obligation to wear tallitot and don tefillin regardless of gender.

This extends to the leading of brachot, birkat ha’mazon, Shabbat rituals, etc.  We believe as a rule of thumb that we should continue to employ more of a developmentally appropriate, unspoken egalitarianism of this nature (assigning co-leaders, co-hazzanim, equal distribution of brachot and rituals, etc.) in the Lower School and more of an intentional egalitarianism of this nature (checking with students and likely parents about comfort levels) in the Middle School.

On a final note, we should, perhaps, as a next phase of this work extend the conversation to address hetero-normative, gender-normative and LGBT perspectives as we serve children from all kinds of families.  The images and language that we use, even something that can feel as benign as a weekly “Abba & Ima” can feel exclusionary for children being raised by a single parent or same-sex parents.  Their spiritual wellbeing is worthy of our consideration as well.

Structure

We imagine that most tefillah in the Lower School will take place at the class/grade level and that most tefillah in the Middle School will take place as a middle school.  The goal in the Middle School would be to offer two daily, halakhic minyanim: Traditional Egalitarian and Traditional Non-Egalitarian.

What do we believe to be true about Jewish Studies at OJCS?

  • 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 a Judaism that looks and feels like theirs will satisfy and we will have to figure out what that means – for those families and for OJCS.
  • We need to ensure that we don’t overly focus on structure and lose sight of why we want our children to engage in meaningful Jewish experiences in the first place!
  • We will need to dedicate time and resources to ensuring that joy, music, Jewish camping wisdom, creativity, student ownership, etc, receive as much attention as the formal learning.  They are all required for the outcomes we collectively hope to achieve.

Pivoting back to the larger questions, what can we do next year?

  1. We will increase the rigor and immersive experience of what contact time with Hebrew we presently make available.  We will move K-5 to an “ivrit b’ivrit” model (with next year’s Grade 5 grandfathered out) and explore additional streaming in Grades 6-8 to increase contact with Hebrew during “Judaics” classes.
  2. We will be able to adjust our schedule to add contact with Jewish Studies (without coming at the expense of other academic time) to build tefillah back into the schedule.
  3. We will wait until the Middle School Retreat to launch the new Middle School minyanim so as to lay the proper ground for our students to be set up for success.
  4. We will provide additional extracurricular contact time with Hebrew through clubs, lunch, etc.
  5. We will look to launch prototypes around parent engagement and social justice.
  6. We will work with parents, faculty, board and Rabbinic Advisory   Committee to explore additional areas of our Jewish Studies program in need of exploration, re-imagination and innovation.  Next up?  Our Middle School Jewish Studies Curriculum!

We had in attendance at the “town hall” our full administration, our Board President and several board members, and a good mix of parents who represented different age groups, different views on the school’s Jewish mission and vision, 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:

  • Although turnout on a weeknight was good, there was a real desire to see the school invest more resources in engaging parents in this conversation.  We need more voices and more buy-in as we move the work forward.  We will have to look towards additional forums (including virtual ones) to onboard more folk on this journey.
  • There were questions raised about how the school values religious diversity among its administration, teaching faculty and board.  And though the status quo (in all three) does reflect denominational diversity, it is a fair question about whether that was strategic or happenstance, and how to embed that value moving forward.

So…here we are 1,800 words or so later.

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 know 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 Jewish mission and vision – next year and in the years ahead.

By the way…if you like Town Halls (and you know you do!)…

Stay tuned for a Town Hall later in May where we will share back the results and the plans we’ve been working on to clarify our value proposition and how it will impact the 2018-2019 school year!

If you have not filled out your Annual Parent Survey (and 70 already have as of today!), please do so by April 30th if you want your feedback included in the report.

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!