The Transparency Files: (Re)Introducing the 2021-2022 OJCS Faculty

I am looking out my window to an empty and sunny courtyard that will soon be filled with teachers, students and parents (all socially distanced of course!) in the days and weeks ahead.  As I prepare to start my fifth year as Head of OJCS, I look back in awe and gratitude at what we have accomplished thus far and – more importantly – look forward with enthusiasm and joy at all we are going to accomplish together in the years ahead, starting with the one right in front of us.

Thanks to all the parents who replied, asked questions, shared concerns, etc., after last week’s list of FAQs!  Your feedback has been really helpful and clarifying.  Hopefully you read the update on HEPA filtration in your parent email and you can track new questions and answers about all things COVID by checking the COVID FAQ page of our school’s website.

Back in June, we decided to go ahead and share out our annual “Transparency Files” post announcing the “2021-2022 OJCS Faculty” even though we knew (and stated) that it was (more than normally) subject to change.  And we were right!  We are living in complicated times and they have indeed required us to be more creative and strategic in our staffing.  Before proceeding directly to the list, let me make some exciting introductions…

It is our pleasure to introduce the newest members of our team!

  • Oriana Laderoute and Wendy MacPhee are well known to our OJCS students and parents.  This dynamic duo will be partnering to lead our Junior and Intermediate Resource Program, alongside Ashley Beswick, our Primary Special Education Lead, and Sharon Reichstein, our Director of Special Education.  Both Wendy and Oriana have formidable credentials, including their Special Education Specialist qualifications, as well as both having over three decades of teaching experience with local school boards, and internationally.  We feel extremely blessed to be welcoming them back to the OJCS family.  They both hold a deep respect for students and a passion for working with students supported by IEPs and Support Plans.
  • And speaking of worldly educators, our new Grade 5 General Studies teacher, Abby Whitteker, has just returned from several years of teaching internationally in Taiwan and Vietnam as a Lead General Studies teacher. Ms. Whitteker, a fitness enthusiast, will also be teaching Physical Education to Grades 2B, 3, 5 & 6.  She can’t wait to meet her new students and join us in following our North Stars!
  • Another new addition to OJCS, with a bright and sunny disposition is Liat Levy, who will be leading the Hebrew Aleph class at the Grade 6 level for those students who are learning above grade-level Hebrew. She will work closely with Morah Ruthie, who will continue to teach Grade 7 & 8 Hebrew Aleph. Liat, an educator with a decade of teaching experience, recently relocated from Israel with her family. She will also be supporting with Jewish Studies learning in our Lookstein classes for Grades 6-8. Liat is looking forward to meeting everyone soon. She’s also hoping to share her passion for yoga and mindfulness as a Middle School elective.
  • We are also poised to welcome Dana Doron, another Israeli educator permanently relocating her family to Ottawa soon to join our faculty. Dana is a celebrated teacher who found success at many varied schools for over two decades. She specializes in Special Education. Morah Dana looks forward to leading our Grade 4 Jewish Studies program.
  • Joining our French faculty at the Grade One level is Evie Cohen. Evie began her career at OJCS as an Occasional Teacher before moving on to teach French for many years at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. Evie specializes in teaching in French in the primary grades and we welcome her to the OJCS fold. Evie will be collaborating closely with Madame Stephanie, who taught Grade One French last year, until she leaves for her maternity leave in October. Bienvenue, Madame Evie!
  • We are thrilled to introduce our extraordinarily talented Arts specialist, Tashi Farmilo-Marouf, who will be leading our visual arts and drama classes.  Tashi is a published children’s writer and illustrator, as well as professional visual artist. You can peek at her work here: https://www.tashisart.com.  Tashi is beyond excited to lead our students on a creative journey this school year.  She has a passion for teaching children art and some of you may already know her from her role teaching through the Sheltoons program here in Ottawa.

With these amazing newcomers joining our already phenomenal returning cast, let’s take another look at the big picture:

The 2021-2022 OJCS Faculty & Staff

Lower School General Studies Faculty

  • Junior Kindergarten: Susan Wollock (plus French) & Mushki Kurtz (EA)
  • Kindergarten: Andréa Black, Sophie Pellerin (French) & Taylor Smith (EA)
  • Grade One: Ann-Lynn Rapoport & Evie Cohen (French) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Two: Lianna Krantzberg & Sophie Pellerin (French) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Three: Julie Bennett & Aaron Polowin (French) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Four: Faye Mellenthin, Aaron Polowin (Core) & Sophie Pellerin (Extended) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Five: Abby Whitteker, Aaron Polowin (Core) & Dr. Sylvie Raymond (Extended)

Lower School Jewish Studies Faculty

  • Kitah JK: Susan Wollock
  • Kitah Gan: Andréa Black
  • Kitah Alef: Ada Aizenberg [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Bet: Bethany Goldstein [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Gimmel: Sigal Baray [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Dalet: Dana Doron [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Hay: Marina Riklin

Middle School Faculty

  • Science: Josh Ray
  • Mathematics: Chelsea Cleveland
  • Grade Six Language Arts: Mike Washerstein
  • Grades Seven & Eight Language Arts: Melissa Thompson
  • Social Studies: Deanna Bertrend
  • Extended French: Wanda Canaan
  • Core French: Dr. Sylvie Raymond
  • Hebrew: Ruthie Lebovich (Hebrew Alef for 7 & 8), Liat Levy (Hebrew Alef for 6), and Marina Riklin (Hebrew Bet)
  • Jewish Studies: Mike Washerstein
  • Rabbinics: Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy (supervised by Liat Levy)

Specialists

  • Art: Tashi Farmilo-Merouf
  • Drama: Tashi Farmilo-Merouf
  • PE: Susan Wollock (JK), Andréa Black (SK),  Andréa Black & TBD (Grade 1), Abby Whitteker (Grades 2B, 3, 5 and 6), TBD (Grades 2A & 4)  Josh Ray & Abby Whitteker (Grade 6) & Josh Ray (Grades 7 & 8)
  • Library: Brigitte Ruel

Department of Special Education

  • Keren Gordon, Vice Principal
  • Sharon Reichstein, Director of Special Needs
  • Ashley Beswick, Resource Teacher & Behavior Support Coordinator
  • Wendy MacPhee/Oriana Laderoute, (Job-Shared) Resource Teachers
  • Chelsea Cleveland, Math Resource

Education Leadership Team

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

Administration

  • Josh Max – Director of Technology
  • Ellie Kamil – Executive Assistant to the Head of School
  • Staci Zemlak-Kenter – Director of Development
  • Emily Jiang – Chief Accountant
  • Jennifer Greenberg – Director of Recruitment
  • Keren Gordon – Vice-Principal
  • Dr. Jon Mitzmacher – Head of School

As you can see, we have a lot to be enthusiastic about heading into this year. Wishing you a wonderful weekend as you soak up the last rays of summer.

It is going to be a GREAT Year.

#BeExcited

The Coronavirus Diaries: 2021 OJCS Safe Reopening FAQ

Here we are in mid-August and we are eagerly looking forward to welcoming back our teachers and then our students in the weeks ahead!

I am definitely staying out of the prediction business, but we remain hopeful that this year will begin to feel more like normal and that it will – perhaps – be a bit more predictable.  Either way, after the experiences of the last two school years, the Ottawa Jewish Community School is ready to deal with all issues – known and unknown – to ensure that 2021-2022 is a successful and joyous year for all our students, teachers and families.

We do recognize that there can be some churn and angst as the return of school draws closer.  We read the news and study the numbers like you do and it can sometimes feel like we are trying to put a puzzle together with new pieces constantly being dropped in.  As was true last year, we are simply doing our best to stay on top of the health guidelines, to hold awareness of what the public board and other private schools are doing, and to be as transparent as we can about what we have already decided and what remains in play.

We received provincial guidelines for reopening just a few weeks ago and have been working hard to clarify what they will mean for OJCS.

OJCS’ COVID protocols have been determined in consultation with both Ottawa Public Health, as well as the document COVID 19: Ontario Health, Safety and Operational Guidance for Schools.  OJCS will continue to prioritize the health and safety of our school community and to deeply value the importance of our partnership with parents in ensuring students who attend school have followed the protocols carefully.  We have again put together a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for your convenience.  If you do not see your question on this list – or have additional questions or concerns based on any of the answers – please do not hesitate to be in contact with the school for greater clarity.  (Please note that the entire list of FAQ will not only be uploaded to our website, but will remain dynamic so that updates and revisions will live there [not in my blog or email].)

Let’s get started…

How will cohorting work this year?

As per provincial guidelines, classes will remain smaller than typical, and while indoors, students will be housed in one hallway with an assigned entrance/exit.  Students will be masked from Kindergarten – Grade 8 [not JK], and supported through strategic classroom organization and design to maintain distance.  [The province is requiring masking in Grades 1-8; OJCS has chosen to remain consistent with last year’s success and will continue to mask in Kindergarten.]  Students will have contact across their own grade-level when outdoors for recess, where masking will be encouraged for those students who are comfortable.  Parents of twins have had their initial requests regarding class placements honoured.

Where will learning happen this school year?

Each cohort in Grades JK-3 will continue to be assigned a primary classroom where all its learning activities are designed to take place.  General, French and Jewish Studies Teachers for each grade-level will move between these assigned grade-level spaces (with students remaining in their designated classroom whenever possible).  [Students in JK have the same teachers throughout the day.]  Cohorts in Grades 4-8 will be assigned a primary classroom or learning space (i.e. the Library), but students will travel to limited additional spaces during their learning day (i.e. for language learning).

How will Nutrition Breaks work?

We will continue to have students eat supervised within their own classrooms by a strategic and consistent team member.  Middle School students will continue to access an outdoor cafeteria as long as weather permits.  All students will wash their hands or use sanitizer before eating.

Will teachers be wearing masks?

Yes!  Our teachers have been vaccinated, however they will all continue to wear masks whenever supporting students, and access face shields and protective eyewear, as needed.

What parts of the program have been adjusted to allow for a safe reopening?

  • For JK – Grade 5, Art will continue to be taught virtually in the cohort spaces with support from the grade-level team.  Morah Shira will continue to work closely with the classroom teachers.  Middle School students who select Art for their elective, will work directly with Morah Shira, masked and socially distanced.
  • Library workshops will also be taught in-person, with precautions, and all library services will be rendered virtually and contactless.
  • Recess will be scheduled by grade-level, supervised by the strategic and consistent team members, wherever possible, and will take place in scheduled and demarcated outdoor locations which will be cleaned (see below) between usages.
  • Physical Education classes will resume this school year, with masking and distancing in place.  For Middle School students, PE Uniforms will continue to NOT be worn.
  • We will be offering Dramatic Arts this school year in lieu of music, so that our students can resume engagement in meaningful arts-related activities.
  • Tefillah (even in Middle School) will take place in grade-level groupings and with COVID-wise precautions.  [A separate email to Middle School parents with more details is forthcoming.]
  • All assemblies, events, holidays, etc., will be reimagined with any necessary adjustments or virtual components to stay in compliance with guidelines.

How else have you restricted access?

As will be described in greater detail in our soon-to-be revised OJCS Handbook, we have created three different entrances and exits to the school to further separate Junior Kindergarten – Grade 1, Grades 2 – 4 and Grades 5 – 8.  Similarly, we have cohort-specific bathroom access to those groupings.

Last year, I completed an Ottawa Public Health COVID-19 Screening Tool each morning to confirm my child was feeling well.  What is the protocol this year?

We will continue to ask families to access this screening tool EACH and EVERY day: Ottawa Public Health COVID-19 Screening Tool for School or Child Care.  Please be in touch with the school office if the screening tool is indicating that your child should remain at home.

Is there anything special I should be purchasing to best prepare my child for school?

It will be helpful for parents to invest in quality outerwear for each season of the school year, as PE classes will prioritize outdoor activities, and recesses will happen rain or shine (for the most part).  Time outdoors will continue to be prioritized for our students and their wellness.

Also, please try to send your child to school with enough water for them to drink throughout the day (i.e. two bottles of water if needed).  We do have bottle filling water fountains in each designated hallway, however, for health reasons it is best to minimize use as it involves having children touching their bottle tops and then a community fountain.

What kinds of enhanced clearing protocols will be in place throughout the school year?

Working with the Campus, we will have enhanced cleaning both in terms of frequency as well as products.  The Campus will be using a fog sanitizer machine that’s called the Fogger. It can sanitize a classroom in minutes, as well as hallways.  It will be in use during each school day to sanitize outdoor play structures and each evening in every classroom and learning space.  If a child or teacher is sent home due to illness, it will be brought in immediately to that room for a cleaning.  The product is an organic chemical that is safe for humans, animals, plants, etc.

In addition…

  • In accordance with recommendations from Public Health Ontario and Ottawa Public Health, high touch areas will be cleaned and disinfected at least twice daily. This includes door handles, push bars, railings, washroom surfaces, elevator buttons, kitchen surfaces, and light switches.
  • All other spaces will be cleaned and disinfected once per day, including hard floors.
  • In accordance with recommendations from Public Health Ontario and Ottawa Public Health, outdoor play structures will be disinfected during school hours, after each cohort has used the structure.  Protocols for cleaning outdoor play structures during winter months will be determined at a later time, as further research is required as to the safety of doing so in sub-freezing temperatures.
  • Sanitizing machines and stations have been set up in various locations on campus, and will be cleaned and filled as required. All hand sanitizer is alcohol-based.
  • Touchless paper towel dispensers have been installed in many washrooms.
  • All air filtration systems will be cleaned quarterly, and filters will be replaced regularly.

Can my child receive service from outside specialists?

We will continue to limit building access to all visitors due to COVID, as well as a lack of extra space due to our commitment to cohorting.  We will be allowing students who require tutoring with a reading specialist who sees multiple OJCS students in Grades 1-3 to resume service.  However, other specialists and professionals will need to see students outside of the school.  We will not be able, during this phase of reopening, to provide on-site, in-person access to Speech and Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, mental health professionals, etc.  We will try on a case-by-case basis to provide a supervised space for tele-therapy or virtual sessions for students in Grades 4-8.

What do I do if my child is having a particularly difficult time emotionally as the result of COVID?

We are here to partner with you in all ways.  Please let us know if there is anything we should be aware of so we can be as supportive as possible.  The grade-level teams will all be paying close attention to our students and their needs.  We also have a School Counsellor, Jennifer Munroe, available to help with student mental health.  We can arrange for a referral if that would be a helpful layer.

Will students be allowed to use lockers / cubbies this year?

Yes, students will be able to have lockers and cubbies this school year.  We will ensure the lockers are cleaned frequently.

What happens if I need to drop-off or pick-up my child from the school at some point throughout the school day?

The office staff will support with drop-off and pick-up from the front entrance, as parents, guests and visitors will not be able to access the building during this phase of reopening.  Additionally, parents coming to pick up sick children or to take children to off-site appointments will be asked to wait outdoors.  Our Office will be prepared to facilitate all these comings and goings via intercom.  For more information about access to the building, please refer to the OJCS Handbook (when it is released).

How will IEP meetings be conducted in the fall?

Our Director of Special Education, Sharon Reichstein, will be in touch with all families of students with IEPs and facilitating IEP meetings via video conference.

Will families need to provide their children with masks and sanitizer?

Yes, please!  We do ask families to equip their children with hand sanitizer to be kept in their desk, and to come with their own masks so that it is the brands they are most comfortable with.  Every classroom is equipped with hand sanitizer and extra masks as well.

Will there be a Before Care and After Care program this year?

Yes, we will be running our usual Before Care program from the school gym from 7:30 AM – 8:30 AM each day.  We will also be offering a Drop-In After Care program, as the JCC has limited space in their full-year program.  More details to come.

Who do I get in touch with if my family develops COVID or has an exposure to COVID?

Please notify both Ottawa Public Health and OJCS immediately should you discover that you have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.  For more information about our COVID health protocols, please refer to the OJCS Handbook.

Is there additional information regarding ventilation in the school?

All HVAC units have been cleaned, serviced and are all working within specifications.  Campus has increased air flow on HVAC units and new MERV 13 filters are on order and will be installed on all HVAC units.  We will continue to prioritize having windows and classroom doors open to increase air circulation.

Will there be COVID-wise fire drills this school year?

Yes, we have developed a fire safety curriculum that balances fire safety requirements with public health guidance to minimize the risk of COVID transmission.  Each class will participate in age-appropriate programming with their teachers and then practice going outside via their designated exit and lining up outside.

Will there be a Photo Day this year?

Yes, on Tuesday, October 19th. We are moving forward with individual student photos and have liaised closely with LifeTouch to ensure COVID protocols will be in place (i.e. using our vast gym space, one class at a time, nothing to hold or touch in photos, etc…).

As always, if you have any questions or concerns with any of the above, please don’t hesitate to reach out.  The revised OJCS Handbook should go live (and be sent out) soon, as will a final staffing update to close the loose ends from the spring.

Enjoy these final weeks of summer!

The Transparency Files: The 2021-2022 Faculty

Happy Monday!

We are heading into our final week with students and teachers, and somehow, despite it all, we are actually on track to successfully wrapping up this year.  We are also beginning to prepare for, what we have every reason to believe, will be a triumphant return to (perhaps a somewhat new) normal for the 2021-2022 school year.  Here are a few quick thoughts before sharing what you came here to read…

…we are looking forward to seeing actual human beings on campus this week for “Popsicles, Pals & Pickups”!  We know that the timing of when we received the rules from the province, to when we were able to make sense of them for our spaces and times, to when we were able to share them with parents, inevitably put pressure on already stressed working families.  This is regrettable and we are sorry for any extra drama this may have caused.  On the flipside, we can also tell you how incredibly excited we are to see many of our students in person!  If you are an OJCS parent and have any questions or concerns, please do be in touch with your child(ren)’s teacher(s).

…as hinted at above, we have no new information, other than what we shared in last week’s blog post.  What I can promise new and returning parents is that we will be transparently and proactively sharing details about next year’s plans for a safe, in-person return to school as they become clear.  I can also promise you that the information will be shared directly with families by email.  I may also share here, in my blog, but I do recognize that not every parent reads my blog religiously.

…for new and returning JK and SK families, I do want you to know that we are preparing for all circumstances – despite my sunny optimism from three paragraphs above.  My biggest regret from this year is that we (I) were not smart enough to start exploring daycare options so that our SK, dual-working, essential worker families had a landing spot for their children during the extended at-home learning pivots.  Even though the odds are truly small that we will be in this position again, please know that we have already begun exploring institutional partnerships and options so that in that unlikely event, we will have an address and a solution.  Our first priority will be JK and then SK and I look forward to reporting back to those families when I know more.  Your choice of school should not be determined by who gets to stay open and who has to close in a worldwide pandemic.  We are looking forward to the launch of JK done #TheOJCSWay and a smoother year for our youngest students.

…we are thrilled to have TWO Grade 6s next year (that will help you understand what you see below)!

…final caveats: the assignments below are tentative (they always are!) and there are at least two ways they could change: 1) JK and SK are the most likely to continue growing over the summer and, thus, additional sections could open (SK is the more likely).  If that happens, there will be a bit of a domino effect on staff assignments.  2) If the province’s rules for a safe reopening are different from what all schools are planning for, we may have to make a few adjustments as well.

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 2021-2022 OJCS Faculty & Staff

Lower School General Studies Faculty

  • Junior Kindergarten: Susan Wollock (plus French) & Mushki Kurtz (EA)
  • Kindergarten: Andréa Black, Sophie Pellerin (French) & Taylor Smith (EA)
  • Grade One: Ann-Lynn Rapoport & Aaron Polowin (French) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Two: Lianna Krantzberg & Sophie Pellerin (French) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Three: Julie Bennett & Aaron Polowin (French) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Four: Faye Mellenthin, Sophie Pellerin (Core) & Stéphane Cinanni (Extended) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Five: Grade Five Teacher, Stéphane Cinanni (Core) & Dr. Sylvie Raymond (Extended)

Lower School Jewish Studies Faculty

  • Kitah JK: Susan Wollock
  • Kitah Gan: Shira Waldman
  • Kitah Alef: Ada Aizenberg [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Bet: Bethany Goldstein [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Gimmel: Sigal Baray [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Dalet: Jewish Studies Teacher [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Hay: Marina Riklin

Middle School Faculty

  • Science: Josh Ray
  • Mathematics: Chelsea Cleveland
  • Grade Six Language Arts: Mike Washerstein
  • Grades Seven & Eight Language Arts: Melissa Thompson
  • Social Studies: Deanna Bertrend
  • Extended French: Wanda Canaan
  • Core French: Dr. Sylvie Raymond
  • Hebrew: Ruthie Lebovich (Hebrew Alef for 7 & 8), Hebrew Teacher (Hebrew Alef for 6), and Marina Riklin (Hebrew Bet)
  • Jewish Studies: Mike Washerstein
  • Rabbinics: Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy (supervised by Brian Kom)

Specialists

  • Art: Shira Waldman
  • Dramatic Arts: Andréa Black
  • PE: Josh Ray (Middle School) & PE Teacher (Lower School)
  • Library: Brigitte Ruel

Department of Special Education

  • Keren Gordon, Vice Principal
  • Sharon Reichstein, Director of Special Needs
  • Ashley Beswick, Resource Teacher & Behavior Support Coordinator
  • Brian Kom, Resource Teacher
  • Chelsea Cleveland, Math Resource

Education Leadership Team

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

Administration

  • Josh Max – Director of Technology
  • Ellie Kamil – Executive Assistant to the Head of School
  • Staci Zemlak-Kenter – Director of Development
  • Emily Jiang – Chief Accountant
  • Jennifer Greenberg – Director of Recruitment
  • Keren Gordon – Vice-Principal
  • Dr. Jon Mitzmacher – Head of School

You will see some new names above!

We are excited to welcome Ashley Beswick (B.A., B,Ed., M.Ed), as our new Primary/Junior Resource Teacher. Ms. Beswick comes to OJCS with many years of invaluable experience supporting and teaching students with Special Needs at Mindware Academy, as well as through her own business. She is eager to meet our students, and brings much experience with strategic learning support, as well as behavioural and social skills coaching. Mrs. Signer is spending much time with Ms. Beswick to ensure a smooth transition.

We are also thrilled to introduce Madame Wanda Canaan (B. Sc., B.Ed., M.Ed.) who will be joining our French Faculty in the Middle School. Madame Canaan comes to us with almost two decades of teaching experience from all over the world. She is extraordinarily passionate about teaching Francais and looks forward to meeting you all in September.

Susan Wollock (B.A.A., ECE) is a familiar face here at OJCS, as both a parent and having taught with us in the past. She has two decades of ECE experience and will be our trilingual Junior Kindergarten teacher. Morah Shoshana is such a joyful and creative force who worked closely with our school community through the virtual Little Learners program this year.

This fall we will be moving away from music to introducing a new specialist activity across Kindergarten – Grade 5, and as a Middle Elective. We are thrilled to share that a Dramatic Arts program with Andréa Black will be launched and lead to opportunities for students to experience cooperative imagination-based dramatic play, music and movement, media studies that leaps off the page, and more…Morah Andréa has starred in more Theatre Shows than we can count, and we can’t wait for her to inspire our student!

We are already at final interviews for the remaining openings and between our extraordinary returning teachers and the quality of our new teachers, we know that the future is bright at OJCS.

Graduation is this evening at 7:00 PM and we are looking forward to celebrating our amazing Grade 8s who have earned the right to be celebrated considering all that they have experienced these last two years.  Graduation is a rite of passage for the school as much as the students, and we welcome our entire OJCS Community to watch the livestream and kvell along with us!

The Transparency Files: Reasonable Assumptions & Known Unknowns

With report cards largely written, we are squarely in that time of year where we are leaning into joy and celebrating community.  This year more than ever, where people’s bandwidth for online learning is less and less by the day, please know that we don’t just understand (or have plenty of empathy!), but that we are doing whatever we can to provide your children with however many doses of positivity as we can however often we see them.  Today is a great example.  Despite its virtual nature, our Harry Potter-themed “Maccabiah 2021” was a wonderful day of ruach that hopefully makes another day of at-home learning a little more bearable with summer achingly within reach.

As we prepare for the final seven-and-a-half days of school, in addition to online joy we hope to spark, please be on the lookout for your child(ren)’s cohort(s)’s announcement about “Popsicles, Pals & Pickups”!  This is our response to the province’s allowance for a final in-person gathering for all grades.  We have received our guidelines and we will be creating a schedule for each cohort – most likely during the final week – to come back to school, to spend time together in person to properly wrap up the year, to return library books and other school materials, and to pick up yearbooks and personal belongings.  More details will come from your teacher(s), stay tuned!

Here, in my little slice of the blogosphere, I, too, am winding down for summer.  Today, I would like to share with you some preliminary thoughts about how we are preparing for next year.  That leaves with me two additional posts before I go on a bit of a hiatus for summer.  I will share out my words to this year’s graduating class and I have one final “Transparency Files” post in which we will announce the 2021-2022 OJCS Faculty & Staff.

We have received very little questioning about next year, which could be for all kinds of reasons.  No need to speculate here.  But I thought it would be helpful for parents to be aware of what reasonable assumptions we are using to plan for next year and what are our “known unknowns”.  If either leave with you with questions or concerns, as always, please do be in touch.

Reasonable Assumptions

  • With the reasonable expectation that every adult who works in the building will be fully vaccinated by the start of the school year, we are not planning for either a hybrid or hyflex learning program next year.  We expect to fully return to in-person learning.
  • It may be true in some grades for some subjects, however, that a child who is home sick next year could participate virtually or work asynchronously on planned lessons.  However, our teachers will not be expected to produce fully hyflexed schedules and assignments at all times.
  • We are planning for the return of regular PE and Tefillah as they would no longer constitute “high risk” activities.
  • We assume enhanced cleaning protocols will carry over in some fashion.

Known Unknowns

  • We have no current guidance as to whether or not the province and/or public health will have any masking guidelines (in any grades) or social distancing requirements.
  • We cannot yet say whether or not multigrade experiences, whether they be as simple as recess or as complicated as the “Sukkah Hop” –  with everything in between (like assemblies) – are returning next year.  Ditto for the Middle School Retreat, the Grade 8 Trip, and field trips.  We are planning for them all to return, but we don’t know yet for sure.
  • We don’t know if we will need to continue to utilize three different entrances and maintain separate access to washrooms and water fountains.

These are just initial thoughts as we wait for the province to provide us with the official guidelines for safe reopening.  As was true last year, we will – of course – send a detailed email to all our parents when we have a clearer picture.  But for now, as we do our best to put at-home learning to bed for the 2020-2021 school year, we can also look forward to a return to in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year…and that feels great!

While we wait to announce the full faculty for next year, we do – here – want to share out that our own Linda Signer will be retiring after many years of quality teaching at OJCS when this school year closes.  It has become a recent tradition to publicly celebrate retiring teachers with a “Retirement Tea” where we bring back former teachers and students, as well as inviting current staff, families and students to share in the moment.  We don’t believe this lends itself properly to a virtual context, so we will be celebrating Ms. Signer’s retirement at the end of next school year when we can do it properly.  However, those of you who know her and want to wish her well as she prepares to enjoy the next phase of her life are more than welcome to do so over these next weeks.

The Transparency Files: Annual Parent Survey

Looking out my daughter’s bedroom window – as this is where I now work from, when I work from home – at the empty sunny streets, is both a reminder of what is presently true and a foretaste of what we all hope will shortly become true, the first stirrings back towards normalcy.  As atypical as this year has been, we do find comfort in familiar habits and experiences.  And so if it is mid-May, it must be time to share the results of this year’s Annual Parent Survey.  If you would like to see a full comparison with last year, you can reread those results or have them open so you can toggle back and forth.  In this post, I will try to capture the highlights and identify what trends seem worth paying attention to.

The first thing to name, which does not come as a tremendous surprise considering the times we are living through, is that we continue to have a less-than representation.  The only good news here is that we have at least stabilized a bit.  We have gone from 81 students to 84 students to 54 students to 58 students.  With increased enrollment, it essentially holds steady from last year, with the survey representing no more than a third of our student population.  As the survey is per student, not per family, it runs the risk of being even less representative than that.  (In the service of anonymity, we have no way of knowing how many families the survey actually represents.)  We had set a goal of 50% and we have a long way to go.  If you have feedback on what might incentivize greater participation, please drop it in the comments or email it to us directly.

Of course, this is definitely not an “all things being equal” circumstance.  This is definitely not a year for drawing any meaningful conclusions about participation rates.  Whereas it is common wisdom that folks with concerns are usually more likely to fill out these surveys, there is no common wisdom when it comes to pandemic times.  So for what we hope is just one more year, instead of worrying about the motivations for why families did or didn’t fill out surveys, let’s celebrate the parents who did participate and try to make meaning of what they are telling us.

Interestingly, we have more spread than normal.  It is more typical to have a big cluster in the youngest grades with diminishing returns as you get older.  This year, we have a healthy distribution across most of our grades.

Without knowing how representative this third of students are, this data for sure lines up with what is true – that we have had the fastest and most successful re-registration in recent history!  The percentage who replied “yes” is up and the “nos” are always complicated to unpack because we have no way of knowing who of the “no’s” represent graduations or relocations, as opposed to choosing to attrit prior to Grade 8).  What continues to be true is that the overwhelming majority of families – regardless of their feedback – stay with us year after year.  This continues to say a lot about them and a lot about us.

Let’s look at the BIG PICTURE:

The first chart gives you the weighted average satisfaction score (out of 10); the second chart gives you the breakdown by category.  I will remind you that for this and all categories, I look at the range between 7-9 as the healthy band, obviously wanting scores to be closer to 9 than to 7, and looking for scores to go up each year.  In terms of “overall satisfaction”, we have now gone from 7.13 to 7.20 to 8.17 to 7.91.  Although it is just a tick down from last year, the difference is statistically insignificant.  Interestingly, this is the first time that no families graded the school a 1, 2 or 3.  Of course, we always want to see numbers go up, and not down, but based on how we survey it is hard to get much higher.

This continues to be a good news story, but let’s dig deeper…

[Please note that if it is little blurry, it is how I have to cut-and-paste-and-scan the data.  Hopefully, you can zoom in a bit more if you need.]

  • The topline number – probably the most important – like our overall satisfaction is barely down from 8.0 to 7.91 and a very positive outcome.
  • I am very pleased to see that every single category is essentially unchanged from last year’s all-time highs and that for the first time each score is in the healthy range!
  • I am thrilled to see that relationships with faculty comes in with the highest score (8.18) in this block, especially when you factor in all the challenges this year of pandemic have created.  Kudos to our teachers!
  • Our lowest score (again) is again in “Homework” but it continues to climb from 6.56 to 6.91 to 7.0, putting it inside the healthy band for the first time.  Progress has been slow, but we are seeing steady improvement in the full implementation of our new Homework Philosophy.

  • We have seen steady growth on the topline number, which again is so critical to our school from 6.61 to 6.97 to – finally! – jumping up to 7.58!  I wonder if having a higher percentage of families with older children and/or a percentage of families joining OJCS from other schools moves the needle?  It could verify that parents’ perceptions of their child(ren) as being well prepared for high school grows higher as they get closer (which would be good) to graduation.
  • The metrics for Spec Ed are a bit of mixed bag with the communication score dipping down a bit, but the satisfaction score for those who have IEPs jumping up meaningfully.  The numbers remain strong and of all the things to suffer during the pandemic, it is not surprising to see it impact our most vulnerable students.  Kudos to Sharon Reichstein, our Director of Special Needs Education, and her team for all their work this year!

  • Thrilled to see that our topline number continues to remain over 8!
  • Very happy to see that every metric in General Studies is well into the healthy band and each one is essentially unchanged.
    • Math: 7.09 to 7.60 to 7.67.
    • Science: 7.09 to 7.72 to 7.61.
    • Social Studies: 7.41 to 7.96 to 7.95.
    • Reading: 6.93 to 8.0 to 7.85.
    • Writing: 6.51 to 7.07 t0 7.41.
  • The biggest movement, which I am very pleased to see, is in “Writing” where we have, not coincidentally, a number of teachers spending what bandwidth for professional growth they have available on increasing rigor in our writing program.  This is a clear example over time where parent voice, aligned with teacher and student voice, leads to meaningful action.  (Fill out those surveys y’all!  We really do pay attention.)

  • I am so pleased to report that (if you allow for just a hint of rounding) not only are all our metrics up, but French at OJCS has finally fully entered the healthy band!  That’s fantastic news!  Our OVERALL metric went from 5.66 to 6.54 to 6.85.  French reading grew from 5.58 to 6.36 to 7.07.  French writing went 5.35 to 6.07 to 6.95.  To what can we attribute this growth?  Two things leap out: 1) The addition of three new, high-quality French Teachers and, 2) The impact of our final year of consultancy with TACLEF.  When you factor in how hard it has been to integrate the work of the consultancy to hyflex and distance learning, it makes the achievement all the more significant.  There is still room to grow, of course, but four years in, perhaps we can finally say that the narrative around French outcomes at OJCS has finally shifted.  Bon travail to the French Department!
  • Sticking with the theme of this section, it is not surprising with all the protocols that were in place that we’d see dips in both Art and PE.  We’ve made it hard for those teachers to deliver their usual excellence and in that context, their scores can be interpreted to be quite positive.  We know that even with a rigorous, trilingual curriculum, that we need to continue to offer the kinds of high-quality PE/Music/Art experiences that make a well-rounded education.  Look for these numbers to go back up next year.

  • We are again thrilled to see all our Jewish Studies metrics continue to hold strong for another year.  We are especially pleased to see the OVERALL metric essentially hold steady from 7.29 to 8.08 to 7.91.  Considering, that we went forward without filling the “Dean of Judaics” position and all the additional COVID-related challenges, this is especially encouraging.  Kol ha’kavod to the Jewish Studies Department!
  • We have tried really hard not to let COVID be the excuse throughout the course of the year, but when it comes to the rest of the categories in this chart, it is hard not to.  These scores are way lower than normal, but unless they stay there again next year, I am inclined to view them a COVID blip.
  • Similarly with “Hot Lunch,” between COVID and the change in status for Creative Kosher, one expects us to be better prepared next year and I’ll look for this score to return to normalcy.

From this year’s experimental section, we yield these two data points (and two sets of meaningful commentary).  As we cannot predict the future, even with wholehearted hope of a return to year-round, in-person learning next year, our ability to navigate situations like this with minimal disruption and maximal academic progress – not to mention the continuance of meaningful Jewish experiences – will likely continue to be powerful value-adds for OJCS in the years ahead.

  • These are wonderful scores, all a bit higher than last year and all well into the healthy band!  We know that we have Ellie to thank for a lot of those high scores!
  • After having to take a COVID pause, I will be interested to see what the impact of “Student-Led Conferences” will be on the “parent-teacher conferences” metric once finally launched.

  • I have already shared my thoughts on my own job performance in my prior “Transparency Files” post.  I will simply state here my pleasure in seeing all these numbers climb from the prior year.
  • It is especially heartwarming to see the highest score we have ever registered, 8.89 (!), for providing a safe environment.  That, more than anything, is the story of the year.
  • The one metric that I am very pleased to see continue to climb is the last one, which essentially serves as a proxy for school-wide behavior management.  Two years we scored a 6.69 and I stated that, “we are working on launching a new, school-wide behavior management system next year based on the “7 Habits” and anchored in our “North Stars”.  I will be surprised if this score doesn’t go up next year.”  Well, last year it came in at 7.65 and this year it climbed up to 8.19.

Last data point:

Remember this question was scaled 1-5.   Our score remains consistent from 4.44 to 4.34.  I said last year, that I truthfully don’t know how much more there reasonably is to grow this, but we’ll keep doing our best to find out!

So there you have it for 2020-2021!

Thanks to all the parents who took the time and care to fill out surveys!  In addition to the multiple choice questions, there were opportunities for open-ended responses and a couple of experimental sections.  Your written responses added an additional layer of depth; one which is difficult to summarize for a post like this.  Please know that all comments will be shared with those they concern.  (This includes a full set of unedited and unredacted results which goes to the Head Support and Evaluation Committee of our Board of Trustees.)  As you can see, we really do use this data to make enhancements and improvements each year.

We very much wish to continue into next year, this year’s trend in increasing positive outcomes and satisfaction.  To mix school metaphors, each year simply becomes the higher “floor” we stand upon to reach towards our North Stars.  With no ceiling, we aim to reach a little closer each time.

The Transparency Files: Self-Evaluation

With all the unpredictability of a pandemic year, the one thing that you can be sure of as the calendar turns to May and June, is that I will deliver you a series of “Transparency Files” blog posts.  OJCS Parents have just received their link to our Annual Parent Survey, so I will again begin with a self-evaluation and will continue with the sharing of results of that survey, the results from our Annual Faculty Survey (which is shared directly with them) and will conclude with a discussion of next year and an introduction of the 2021-2022 OJCS Faculty.  [The world being what it is, these posts may not follow week-by-week.]

We are in that “evaluation” time of year!  As Head of School, I have the responsibility of performing an 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.  Our Annual Parent Survey presents current parents with an opportunity to do the same (as part of a much larger survey of school satisfaction).  Please know that the full unedited results of both are sent onto the OJCS Board of Trustees Head Support & Evaluation Committee as part of their data collection for the execution of my annual performance review.

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

This year’s self-evaluation is based on goals created for this year (which was done at the beginning of the year in consultation with that same Head Support & Evaluation Committee).  You will not find a complete laundry list of my day-to-day responsibilities.  [I typically focus in this blog post on more of my “principal’s” responsibilities, and not as much on my “head of school’s” (i.e. fundraising, marketing, budgeting, etc.)]   This means that you are only going to see selected components [this represents about 50% of my annual goals; there are both more overall goals, and more goals in each area than I am highlighting here] for the 2020-2021 OJCS academic year:

Establish steady and measurable growth of the student population

  1. Reimagine recruitment and retention events in a COVID context.
    1. Develop a strategy and a calendar of virtual and/or socially distanced recruitment and retention calendar for the school year.
    2. Refine success criteria (i.e. will virtual tours yield the same rates of admissions as in-person tours?).
    3. Identify at least one new target audience (ex. Israelis) for recruitment and plan accordingly.
    4. Build upon successful marketing of hyflex learning during this year of pandemic.
  2. Introduce data-driven metrics for Admissions work in 2020-2021.
    1. Create templates for all required metrics (i.e. inquiries, tours, applications, enrollment, etc.) and back-fill three years of data.
    2. Introduce three-year rolling averages into all recruitment and retention predictions.

OJCS is a school of excellence

  1. Build capacity (in students, teachers and parents) in hyflex learning.
    1. Beginning in Pre-Planning, provide teachers with external resources (webinars, direct PD, links, etc.) to ensure teachers are capable of delivering a hyflex program.
    2. Prioritize self-directed learning skills in students at the beginning of the year.
    3. Partner with PTA to deliver parent education sessions to help parents be better (and feel better about being) partners when students have to learn from home.
  2. Prepare to launch OJCS JK for 2021-2022.
    1. Building upon work done with a consultant in 2018-2019, clarify a vision (and a curriculum) for JK at OJCS.
    2. Recruit and hire an excellent JK team, and prepare them for success.
  3. Facilitate CAIS Accreditation application
    1. Meet with CAIS leadership to better understand application requirements.
    2. Collect and create all reports needed for a successful application.

For a second consecutive year, it would neither be fair nor true to blame any unfinished business or any unaccomplished goals on COVID-19; in fact in some cases it may have actually accelerated our path.  But it is both fair and true to name that it surely was and is a complicated factor.  Nonetheless, I am pleased to say that we managed to hit many of the above goals and are on our way to hitting the rest!

Here are some things to focus in on…

again (see last year) we identified unaffiliated Israeli families as a desired target audience.  And again, other than recruiting and leveraging current Israeli families as allies and using “Israeli Facebook” our programs were paused.  But there is always next year!  When it comes to admissions, it should be noted that we have had the fastest and most successful re-enrollment in recent memory.  So whatever roadblocks COVID threw our way in terms limiting our recruitment and retention planning, something really positive is happening.  We thank Jennifer Greenberg, our Admissions Director, for her work (especially for becoming so data-driven!) and we thank all of our alumni and current parents who provide us with the most important admissions work – positive word of mouth.

…hyflex learning has been the main focus of professional growth this year at OJCS and I am very pleased with what we have been able to accomplish.  I encourage a review of relevant blog posts as evidence of this work, and I want to name the extraordinary work that our Coordinator of Teaching & Learning, Melissa Thompson, has done in this area.  The next exciting conversation is about what from hyflex learning ought to be carried forward post-COVID.

…when it comes to self-directed learning skills, we essentially treated the first few months of school as a boot camp for hyflex/distance learning (particularly in the youngest grades) to prepare for the inevitable pivots.  We even went so far in SK and Grade 1 to role play distance learning from school so that teachers could problem solve and prepare.  Feedback from parents (so far!) indicates that this was successful.  Enhanced self-directedness bodes well for future student success!

…we are so excited to be launching JK next year at OJCS!  Led by our Vice Principal, Keren Gordon, and the current SK team, we have already created a vision statement, sample schedules and curricular broad strokes to set up JK for success.  And although we cannot share with you yet, we do believe we have identified the team for next year (stay tuned!) and believe strongly that they will be well-positioned to hit the ground running.

…we are pleased to be in process for CAIS accreditation.  We will have a lot more to say about this in the months ahead as CAIS accreditation is the gold standard for private school accreditation in Canada and a very small number of Ottawa schools qualify.  We began meeting with CAIS in the Fall and the work began.  However, we were informed by CAIS that they are experiencing a serious COVID delay and, thus, we have paused our activities until next Fall where we believe we’ll be able to resume the process and start to really move towards accreditation.

Those are just highlights.

If you have already contributed feedback through our surveys, thank you.  Your (additional and/or direct) feedback – whether shared publicly, privately through email or social media, or shared through conversation – is greatly appreciated.  As I tell our teachers, I look forward to getting better at my job each year and I am thankful for the feedback I receive that allows me to try.

The Transparency Files: Long Range Planning

Today is our second “PD” (Professional Development, although in our internal language we prefer “Professional Growth”) Day of the school year.  Like the prior one, most of the time is being given over to our teachers in light of the high bandwidth that hylex teaching and learning requires.  A lot of the day will be spent catching up and working on second trimester report cards.  We, will, however be spending a little time in both horizontal (grade-level) and vertical (subject matter) conversations around what I am calling “Curriculum Mapping – Year Zero”.

If you read this blog – or know me – then you already know that I tend to think in terms of stories and narrative arcs.  And in living and telling the story of OJCS, I have tried to make explicit what chapters we are in and how those chapter come together.  For example the financial story of the school has been moving from “Crisis” to “Fragile Stability” on our way towards “Sustainability”.  When it comes to the educational product – what matters most to students, parents and teachers – we have documented in my blog and lots of other places the story of our journey.  Without revisiting all that territory, with the extraordinary contributions of three different consultancies, we have…

…2017-2018: Embraced transparency, clarified our value proposition [NoTosh consultancy / North Stars], defined our Jewish mission/vision and named our challenges around French outcomes.

…2018-2019: Built faculty capacity around “NOW Literacies” [Silvia Tolisano consultancy], aligned our classroom management program and our homework philosophy to our North Stars.

…2019-2020: Was supposed to be a year to PAUSE and let everyone catch up with all the changes, with the exception of launching our TACLEF Consultancy to impact French outcomes and a task force to help align our teacher evaluation process with our North Stars.  And then COVID…

The story of those three years (my first ones at OJCS) was largely about the HOWS and WHYS of teaching – what does OJCS uniquely believe to be true about teaching and learning and, then, what does “excellence” look like?

This year was supposed to begin a transition to an equally important topic – the WHATS of teaching.  As a private school we have freedom (and I would argue an obligation) to only use the provincial standards and benchmarks as the “floor” not the “ceiling”.  To make that true, we have a responsibility to be very clear about what our benchmarks and standards are for each subject in each grade.  The shorthand for that process is often called “curriculum mapping”.  In a non-COVID year, 2020-2021 would have been the first in a two-year curriculum mapping consultancy, the end result being a clear and detailed description of the “whats”.  And because I like round numbers, it would have meant that after five years, this chapter of the school would be complete and we’d be ready to start writing the next exciting one.  But still COVID…

In order not to lose momentum, however, we did this year ask our teachers to commit to putting on paper their long range plans for the year.  Before you can have a conversation about what should be, it is helpful to all be on the same page with what is.  That brings us back to today.  Today, our teachers are sharing with their grade-level teams and their subject matter teams the results of their long range planning.  Their discussions will focus on the following questions:

  1. What have you noticed in your own plans now that you have had a few months to reflect on the gap between what you planned and what actually happened?  How is your pacing with regard to meeting all of your learning expectations over the span of the whole school year?  Does anything need to be adjusted to meet those outcomes?
  2. Do you notice any gaps in your own plans?  What do you think needs to be added?  Are there opportunities to offer more detail?
  3. Do you notice any overemphasis or overlapping in your own plans? What do you think needs to be trimmed, cut or adjusted?
  4. Do you notice any gaps in the collective plans?  Is there content or learning skills that are critical for your students that don’t live in anyone’s (JS/FS/GS) plans?   Is there content that is critical for your students that doesn’t live in any grade’s plans below yours? Are there learning skills that are critical for your students that don’t live in any grade’s plans below yours?
  5. Do you notice any redundancies in the collective plans?  Is there content or learning skills that are duplicated across your plans?  How might you better collaborate and/or assign those goals/skills/experiences across the team?  Is there content or learning skills that are duplicated across your plans?  How might you better collaborate and/or assign those goals/skills/experiences across the grades?

We are grateful to have a day of conversation and collaboration.  We are excited that the work our teachers will be doing today will have real impact on teaching and learning at OJCS in the years ahead – COVID or no COVID!

One more dot to connect!

About 600 words or so ago, I mentioned a task force to align what we now believe to be true about teaching and learning with our evaluation process of teachers.  I also mentioned that we now had a clearer picture of what “excellence” in teaching and learning truly is.  Those things are connected.  The first deliverable from the task force was the creation of a new “Learning Target” for OJCS.  This “Learning Target” is the instrument of alignment – meaning we can now make big and small decisions based on whether they bring our school closer to the target or not.  If our “North Stars” represent unchanging aspirational endpoints of our educational journey, our “Learning Target” functions as a map and a compass.  I am very pleased to share it with you here for the first time:

We have a separate document providing detailing each cog in greater detail, which I will be happy to share upon request.

The Transparency Files: We Do More Than Plan For COVID

[NOTE: I wrote most of this post prior to our school’s first direct experience with COVID yesterday.  I considered delaying or rewriting this post because I do not wish to appear cavalier or tone deaf when so many families and teachers are carrying anxiety into our first day of in-person school.  However, as real – and as sad – as this “new normal” may be, it is our new normal.  And I believe that part of making that true means that we will need to resume talking about things other than COVID.  So without further adieu…]

There is obviously nothing more important than the safety of our students, teachers, families and community.  That being said, it has been wonderful to be reminded this week why we are investing so much time and energy and so many resources to be able to both safely reopen for in-person learning and provide high-quality educational, social and spiritual experiences for distance learning.  It is because we love to teach children!

So, for one blog post at least, let’s take a break from COVID safety procedures and protocols…

You may recall that despite the challenges that last spring brought us, we learned a lot through being forced into distance learning.  We summarized those gleanings in a blog post that became a slogan: “Don’t go back to school; Come forward to OJCS”.  You can see evidence of that growth by looking at how we are planning for 2020-2021.  Let’s spend just a little time sharing what our amazing OJCS Faculty has been learning about and working on during our annual “Pre-Planning Week”.   Hopefully it will leave you not only feeling comforted that your children will be safe, but feeling excited that your children will be inspired to learn, to grow and to become their best selves.

Here’s a curated selection from our activities…

The Hyflex Cafe

Each year (13 years, 4 at OJCS and counting!), I begin “Pre-Planning Week” with an updated version of the “World Cafe”.  It is a collaborative brainstorming activity centered on a key question.  Each year’s question is designed to encapsulate that year’s “big idea”.  To no one’s surprise, this year’s big idea?  Hyflex Learning!

We call it “hyflex” because we are not simply offering a “hybrid” of both in-person and distance learning; we are preparing for the flexibility of students (and teachers) switching from one to the other in both a planned and unplanned fashion.  The “flex” stands for “flexibility” and that is as good an adjective for this year as any other.

“Getting Started With Hybrid Learning” with Emma Pass

Thanks to a generous grant from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, we have been able to bring in some outside experts to work with our teachers during this week of planning.  One extraordinary expert is named Emma Pass.  Leaving aside the whole hybrid/hyflex thing, her session was an hourlong tour de force of all things hybrid learning that really set the table for the week.  Or as our Teaching & Learning Coordinator Melissa Thompson put it:

Speed-Geeking Critical Platforms for Hyflex Learning

After having spent some time exploring the big picture, here we began to explore some critical platforms that OJCS teachers are becoming more familiar with in order to succeed in hyflex learning contexts.  What do we love about speed-geeking at OJCS?  That the sessions are led by our own teachers!

Let’s check out them out!

Classkick

In this session, our Kitah Alef (Grade One) Jewish Studies Teacher Morah Ada shared about Classkick.  Classkick is an app that gives a teacher maximal flexibility to incorporate audio, text, video, picture into a shared document that students and teachers can edit and work on seamlessly.  For example, a teacher can record herself giving video instruction, embed a PDF and ask students to record their responses all in one document.  Teachers can also take pre-prepared documents (like an alef-bet chart) and designate individual letters as student manipulatives.  Meaning that a student could drag an “alef” around the document and place it where it belongs.

Primary teachers can import critical documents like their calendars or job charts.  Teachers can easily customize and personalize different assignments.  The most exciting part of the session was the conversation between teachers.  One of the goals we have as a school is to find more opportunity for our students to use their languages.  Classkick makes it really easy for teachers to record themselves giving oral prompts (personalized if needed) and for students to record themselves responding.  This will be a great way to build in more authentic contact time with Hebrew and French!

Flipgrid

Flipgrid is not new to OJCS, although it may be new to our new teachers.  [We made heavy use of it during last year’s PIVOT, especially in the primary grades.]  In this session our Grade Two General Studies Teacher Morah Lianna caught us up on all things Flipgrid.  Flipgrid essentially allows students to record 90 seconds of video in response to all kinds of prompts.  A teacher could ask the class to tell her all about their summer vacations, and each student would record themselves in response.  Flipgrid gives you both public and private options for maximal flexibility.  Flipgrid also is a great global connector since it is heavily used around the…globe!  With a sea of platforms available, one question that our teachers always have to ask is which platform makes sense for which lesson or unit or subject or students?  And how can we make choices that don’t overwhelm students (or parents)?  (How many logins can anyone manage?)

Nearpod

Nearpod is a platform we are eager to begin using at OJCS because of how easily it allows us to factor in both synchronous and asynchronous learning.  As explained by our Middle School Hebrew I Teacher Morah Ruthie, Nearpod, is a little like Classkick, but even moreso, and is intended to be a “one-stop shop” for teachers.  Nearpod allows a teacher to create lessons that can be delivered by the teacher, or can be done in-class either in groups or individually, or done at home.  Lessons can be guided by the teacher or offered to students to do at their own paces.  And, critical for these times, lessons can be offered synchronously or asynchronously.

Of the three platforms we explored, Nearpod clearly has the most maximal utility for our teachers.  They can pull content from a ton of sources, including virtual reality presentations, YouTube, Google Slides, PDFs, and just about anything and anywhere you can imagine.  Teachers can use materials that they have already created, of course.  Part of what makes Nearpod so powerful, however, is that it has a full and growing library of lessons across every (general studies) subject and each grade-level.  You can even select lessons benchmarked according to (US) national and state standards.   You can embed polls, quizzes and activities to keep students engaged and accountable.  Finally, the teacher can not only track student progress, but also provide ongoing assessment.

Proficiency Approach to Hebrew Language

Here is the second place we are utilizing grant funding from JFO.  As you know, we are in the middle of a major consultancy with our French Language Faculty that we call TACLEF.  One thing that we have learned through that experience is how much we would like to give our Hebrew Language Faculty a similar experience.  While we cannot (yet) invest in a consultancy of that magnitude, we have begun working with Orly Lavi Travish.  We will work with her on the “proficiency approach” to Hebrew language instruction.  Proficiency is…

…the ability to use language in real world situations in a spontaneous interaction and non-rehearsed context, and in a manner acceptable and appropriate to native speakers of the language.  Proficiency demonstrates what a language user is able to do regardless of where, when, or how the language was acquired.  The demonstration is independent of how the language was learned; the context may or may not be familiar; the evaluation of proficiency is not limited to the content of a particular curriculum that has been taught and learned.

Just like with French, we want our Hebrew outcomes to be real, spoken, authentic language.  We want to both teach and assess language proficiency in this way.  We are way farther ahead in using this approach in French (although not as far as we would like to be) than in Hebrew, but this session will hopefully be the beginning of an exciting Hebrew journey.

Did I do one of my spiritual check-ins on the topic of hitlamdut (mindfulness)?  Sure did!

Did Mrs. Thompson do a great session on use of classroom blogs and student blogfolios?  Yup!

Did Mrs. Bertrend and Mr. Ray take us all outdoors and show us all the ways we can use our outdoor space for recess, outdoor education and learning?  Absolutely!

Did Mrs. Reichstein lead a session on creating a caring and nurturing classroom during these COVID times?  You bet!

Did Mrs. Gordon go over all the guidelines and protocols and procedures and rules and mandates to keep us all safe?  100%!

Did the PTA sponsor a yummy breakfast and lunch?  Yes!

Did our teachers have lots of time to meet and prepare and collaborate and organize and do all the things needed to open up school on Tuesday?  And then some!

All that and much more took place during this week of planning.  But at nearly 1,500 words, even I need to stop writing.

Needless to say, we are prepared to do way more than create a safe learning environment.  We are prepared to develop a rigorous, creative, innovative, personalized, hyflex and ruach-filled learning experience for each and every one our precious students who we cannot wait to greet (in-person and virtually) on Tuesday morning!

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday weekend and a successful launch to the 2020-2021 school year…

The Coronavirus Diaries: OJCS Safe Reopening FAQ II

The 2020-2021 school year is shaping up to be every bit as unique as the 2019-2020 school year wound up, but we are hopeful that this year will be safer, happier and – perhaps -a bit more predictable.  It is wholeheartedly bittersweet to share out that we have now closed out two of our grades, with a couple of others trending towards closure.  (It is a Jewish day school head’s dream to have a waitlist, but there is little joy since it took a global pandemic to help make it happen.)  We also recognize that there is a great deal of churn and angst as the return of school draws closer.  It feels like the rules of the game change daily; it is like trying to put a puzzle together with new pieces being dropped in.

Here at the Ottawa Jewish Community School, we are simply doing our best to stay on top of the health guidelines, to hold awareness of what the public board and other private schools are doing, and to be as transparent as we can about what we have already decided and what remains in play.  As I shared directly in an email with returning, new and prospective families last week, we have not received any new guidelines since we made our original announcement to safely reopen with cohorts of 15 students or less.  The announcement last week of Ontario’s return to school without class caps (but with teachers and students [grades 4-8] masked) came as a surprise, but did not come from a change in health guidelines.

So although it is logical for anyone to ask if we are going to align with the public board’s plan, in the absence of new guidelines, we continue to feel comfortable with the caps we have put in place.  We are considering aligning our student masking policy as we are always happy to err on the side of additional safety.

To recap…

…three weeks ago, I blogged out our first round of questions and answers in a kind of FAQ, as part of our initial announcement of a “five-day, full-day” safe reopening.

…two weeks ago, I blogged out an updated list of our faculty that is both now complete and updated for our new, COVID-adjusted schedule.

…last week, I emailed out a revised Parent Handbook (downloadable from our website) that added lots of additional layers and details.

Now that you are all caught up, it is time to share the next bunch of questions and answers, also in the form of an FAQ.  (Please note that the entire list of FAQ will not only be uploaded to our website, but will remain dynamic so that updates and revisions will live there [not in my blog].)

Will my child still receive resource support?  

For students learning in-person or at home, any student with an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) will continue to receive the support and resources required.  Sharon Reichstein, Director of Special Education, is available (s.reichstein@theojcs.ca) to discuss any questions you may have around the delivery of services, if needed. 

Can the front office administer my child’s medication? 

As per the recently published OJCS Handbook: For this phase of our re-opening, our personnel will not be administering any medications.

Will there be before and after-care? 

In a recently sent email, we indicated that we are leaning strongly towards NOT offering “Before Care” at this stage of our reopening.  We are fielding feedback from working parents and will soon clarify our position.  (If you have not yet informed us that you will need this, please do so!)  We have worked with the SJCC and can share that their Aftercare Program will mirror our larger grade-level groupings (K-2, 3-5 and 6-8) to maximize health and safety.  They have also pledged to keep non-OJCS students in a separate group.  Please contact Gail Lieff (glieff@jccottawa.com) for information and to register.

Will there be a hot lunch program? 

The added challenge of safely preparing and delivering hot lunch during this phase of our reopening (along with the challenge of no longer having a kosher restaurant on campus) has led us to pause our hot lunch program until after the Jewish High Holidays.  We will look to resume a modified hot lunch – possibly focusing on our Tuesday/Thursday “meat days” – using both our PTA (Hot Dog Days!) and the local community.

What will we do about supply teachers?

We will inevitably require supply teachers from time to time (it is possible that teachers can do some teaching from home with creative in-school supervision).  We are looking to narrow our circle of supply teachers to a group who will commit to substituting only at OJCS to reduce the risk for community spread.  However, like all OJCS Faculty, supply teachers will be required to be masked and socially distanced while teaching at OJCS.

What kind of enhanced cleaning protocols will the school use?

Working with the Campus, we will have enhanced cleaning both in terms of frequency as well as products.  The Campus will be using a fog sanitizer machine that’s called the Fogger. It can sanitize a classroom in minutes, as well as hallways and lockers.  It will be in use during each school day to sanitize outdoor play structures and each evening in every classroom and learning space.  If a child or teacher is sent home due to illness, it will be brought in immediately to that room for a cleaning.  The product is an organic chemical that is safe for humans, animals, plants, etc.

Additionally…

  • In accordance with recommendations from Public Health Ontario and Ottawa Public Health, high touch areas will be cleaned and disinfected at least twice daily. This includes door handles, push bars, railings, washroom surfaces, elevator buttons, kitchen surfaces, and light switches. 
  • All other spaces will be cleaned and disinfected once per day, including hard floors.
  • In accordance with recommendations from Public Health Ontario and Ottawa Public Health, outdoor play structures will be disinfected during school hours, after each cohort has used the structure.  Protocols for cleaning outdoor play structures during winter months will be determined at a later time, as further research is required as to the safety of doing so in sub-freezing temperatures.
  • Sanitizing machines and stations have been set up in various locations on campus, and will be cleaned and filled as required. All hand sanitizer is alcohol-based.
  • Touchless paper towel dispensers have been installed in many washrooms.
  • All air filtration systems will be cleaned quarterly, and filters will be replaced regularly.

OJCS is working with Campus to determine whether or not an additional OJCS-dedicated housekeeping staff person will be required to meet the above and other COVID-specific cleaning protocols. 

A detailed list of the disinfectants to be in use is available upon request.

Will water fountains be in use or turned off this year?

Water fountains can safely be used to fill water bottles (and cups) only.  We will ensure through either signage, physical blockage or manual shut-offs that students are unable to use the water fountains by mouth.This last grouping are not applicable to all families/students, but we think it is helpful to share here as well.

I’ve indicated my child will be engaging in virtual learning only due to health reasons, how will that work?

We expect the following broad principles will guide the distant learning program for the upcoming school year:

  • Teachers will plan and share schedules of weekly classes and assignments in advance, which will give you an opportunity to plan for synchronous (live) and asynchronous (on your own time) learning, as well as printing of any required materials. These will be housed on the class blog.
  • Teachers will record and archive lessons, either in advance or after delivery, and will link to any useful resources. These, too, will be housed on the class blogs. 
  • Students will be responsible for attending some live sessions as part of larger class activities, as well as one-on-one with teachers and remotely working with peers on group projects, if any. 
  • Students will be encouraged to be more self-directed and self-motivated to complete assigned tasks, and explore areas of personal interest. 
  • Teachers will support students to prioritize their tasks by clearly distinguishing between required and supplementary assignments, with flexibility in the ways students can complete their work from home.
  • Teachers will continue to closely monitor students’ work and hold them accountable for their performance with high expectations. 
  • Any student with an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) will continue to receive the support and resources required. Sharon Reichstein, Director of Special Education, is available to discuss any questions you may have around the delivery of services, if needed. 

How will the library lending service work this year?

We will be operating the Library through the online management system we installed a couple of years ago.  This site includes our entire catalog, searchable and customizable, and allows students, teachers and families to check books out of the Library.  (This is different from our Library Blog, another valuable source for library, literacy, research and informational media needs at OJCS.  Each site links to the other.)  Through this site, we will be able to continue basic Library services in a safe and touchless form.  For more information, please contact Brigitte Ruel (b.ruel@theojcs.ca).

Will there be a Middle School Retreat?

There will NOT be a formal Middle School Retreat at Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa as has been the case the last couple of years.  There will, however, be a scheduled Retreat on September 15th – 17th here on Campus.  The goals remain to build relationships within and between grade-level cohorts, to team-build, to create community, and to set the tone for a successful Middle School year at OJCS.  We may incorporate field trips into the program, but needless to say, all activities will include adherence to all relevant health protocols.

Will there continue to be electives for the Middle School students?

Yes, we will be offering Middle School electives this year, and they will be contained to grade-level cohorts (i.e. each grade will have their electives once per week within their classroom or outdoors).  More information to follow.

As was the case before, if you have any questions or concerns with any of the above, please don’t hesitate to reach out.  If between FAQ I, FAQ II and the Parent Handbook, you continue to have unanswered questions, please let us know and we can add it to our lists.  In the absence of significant new information, I will likely pause the blogs (and mass emails) so we can focus our energy these next few weeks on preparing for our faculty’s return on August 31st.

Enjoy the beautiful weather and these last weeks of a most unusual summer…

The Coronavirus Diaries Transparency Files: (Re)Introducing the OJCS 2020-2021 Faculty

I guess it should come as no surprise that a summer like no other requires a higher frequency of blog posts…

Thanks to all the parents who replied, asked questions, shared concerns, etc., after last week’s first list of FAQs!  Your feedback has been really helpful and clarifying.  We have added some of your questions to the list of unanswered questions at the bottom of last week’s post and it is our plan to share out next week our next round of answers.

Two weeks ago, we decided to go ahead and share out our annual “Transparency Files” post announcing the “OJCS 2020-2021 Faculty” even though we knew (and stated) that it was (more than normally) subject to change.  And we were right!  Our plans for a safe reopening have indeed required us to be more creative and strategic in our staffing.  Before proceeding directly to the list, let me update you on a few items…

…Janet Darwish – Morah Yaffa – will be taking a year away from OJCS out of caution due to COVID-19.  We are pleased to share that Andréa Black will be joining our OJCS family as our Kindergarten General Studies teacher.  Morah Andréa has over a decade of early years teaching experience and knows many of our families from both Ganon and Camp B’nai Brith.  She is a stellar addition to our Kindergarten Team.

…we are overjoyed to welcome back Stephanie Lebhar who will be taking on the Grade One French Studies portfolio.  Madame Stephanie was a wonderful addition to our team last year and looks forward to reuniting with our students in the fall.

…we are also thrilled to introduce Sophie Pellerin, who comes to us extraordinarily passionate about French language learning and ready to join our French Department.  Madame Sophie will be teaching both the Kindergarten and Grade 2 portfolios.

…with all the challenges of conducting a thorough search process for a position as critical as “Head of Jewish Studies,” we have decided to delay this hire for an additional year.  This position is too important to our school not to get it as right as we can.  What it means for 2020-2021, is that the component pieces of this position will have to absorbed by others.  I will be assuming direct responsibility for supervising and supporting the Jewish Studies Faculty.  Elements of ruach will be absorbed by Deanna Bertrend, our Student Life Coordinator, supported by me.  Celebration of Jewish Holidays will be a shared responsibility of the Jewish Studies Faculty.  The one element that cannot be absorbed by an existing administrator, is the teaching of Jewish Studies.  Here, I am pleased to share, we will be prototyping use of the Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy:

Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy is an award-winning, accredited online school for Jewish studies. We bring quality online Jewish education to Jewish students everywhere, regardless of geographic location or ideological orientation.

We have contracted through Lookstein for Grades 6-8 Jewish Studies (I will share directly the exact course descriptions and scope and sequences with those families.)  These classes are three-days-a-week and will consist of two live experiences (with the teacher from remote) and one asynchronous experience (with activities prepared by the teacher).  The quality and rigour of the courses is high and we will have a live, certified teacher of our own – Mr. Brian Kom – physically present to support at all times.  We believe that our students’ experiences of distance learning – along with the likelihood of additional distance learning at times next year – have well prepared us for a successful experience.  (Any middle school parent who has questions or concerns, should not hesitate to reach out.)

This leaves us with just one position, a second Kindergarten EA, to fill and we are nearly done with that search process.

And it is now my pleasure to (re)introduce…

The 2020-2021 OJCS Faculty & Staff (COVID Safe Reopening)

Lower School General Studies Faculty

  • Kindergarten: Andréa Black, Sophie Pellerin (French), Taylor Smith (EA) & Educational Assistant [TWO Cohorts]
  • Grade One: Ann-Lynn Rapoport & Stephanie Lebhar (French) [TWO Cohorts]
  • Grade Two: Lianna Krantzberg & Sophie Pellerin (French) [TWO Cohorts]
  • Grade Three: Julie Bennett & Aaron Polowin (French) [TWO Cohorts]
  • Grade Four: Faye Mellenthin, Sylvie Raymond (Core) & Aaron Polowin (Extended) [ONE Cohort]
  • Grade Five: Faye Mellenthin, Melissa Thompson, Sylvie Raymond (Core) & Aaron Polowin (Extended) [TWO Cohorts]

Lower School Jewish Studies Faculty

  • Kitah Gan: Shira Waldman [TWO Cohorts]
  • Kitah Alef: Ada Aizenberg [TWO Cohorts]
  • Kitah Bet: Bethany Goldstein [TWO Cohorts]
  • Kitah Gimmel: Sigal Baray [TWO Cohorts]
  • Kitah Dalet: Yardena Kaiman [ONE Cohort]
  • Kitah Hay: Yardena Kaiman & Ofra Yfrah [TWO Cohorts]

Middle School Faculty

  • Science: Josh Ray
  • Mathematics: Chelsea Cleveland
  • Language Arts: Mike Washerstein
  • Social Studies: Deanna Bertrend
  • Extended French: Stéphane Cinanni
  • Core French:  Sylvie Raymond
  • Hebrew: Ofra Yfrah (Level I) & Ruthie Lebovich (Level II)
  • Jewish Studies: Mike Washerstein
  • Rabbinics: Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy (supervised by Brian Kom)

Specialists

  • Art: Shira Waldman
  • Music: There will be no formal “Music” (COVID)
  • PE: Josh Ray: [Will become “Outdoor Education” for Grades 4-8 (COVID)]
  • Library: Brigitte Ruel

Department of Special Education

  • Sharon Reichstein, Director of Special Education
  • Linda Signer, Resource Teacher
  • Brian Kom, Resource Teacher
  • Chelsea Cleveland, Math Resource

Faculty Coordinators

  • 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
  • Sharon Reichstein –  Director of Special Needs
  • Emily Jiang – Chief Accountant
  • Staci Zemlak-Kenter – Director of Development
  • Jennifer Greenberg – Director of Recruitment
  • Keren Gordon – Vice-Principal
  • Dr. Jon Mitzmacher – Head of School

Thanks to all the wonderful word of mouth that so many of you have been contributing to, I am pleased to share that the first few of our cohorts and grade levels are nearing closure with waitlisting to begin.  We wish we had unlimited space and teachers to accommodate all, but we are thrilled to be welcoming so many new families to OJCS in 2020-2021!

If you or someone you know is interested in enrolling at OJCS next year, please do not wait to inquire about availability or to get the process started.