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!

Les Fichiers de Transparence: Parlons français à OJCS

OK, I cheated.  My French has barely made it past, “Bonjour,” but I wanted to set the right tone for this conversation and asked for a translation.  You’ll forgive me for conducting this conversation about French in English, but this will sadly be one aspect of the job where I cannot lead by example.  At least not yet…

This blog post marks the third in a series of “Transparency Files” posts designed to lay out the significant conversations we are engaging in this year in order to become the best OJCS we can be. The first was about “transparency” itself and the kind of culture we are creating.  The second was about reimagining and clarifying our Jewish mission and vision.  [Quick update: We held our first Rabbinic Advisory Committee meeting this week.  Pulpit rabbis from across the spectrum participated.  The meeting was serious, engaging and meaningful.  I look forward to offering a more substantial update, including how other stakeholder groups will begin to launch their conversations, soon.)  Here, I want to lay out the beginning of a conversation about French so we can finally put to bed what either is or is not true about French at OJCS, its outcomes, and what it prepares you for, or not, for Grade Nine.

What I find most interesting about this conversation is how frustratingly frequent it has taken place in recent years despite how incredibly knowable the outcomes actually are.  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?

I have spent some time learning a lot more about French education in Ottawa than I ever would have imagined and still have much more to do in order to be as authoritative as I will need to be as the conversation evolves.  But here is what I (think I) know…

Our current French studies program is built upon a public school model that increasingly no longer exists.  The majority of public schools in Ottawa used to operate three tracks for French: Core, Extended and Immersion. OJCS, as a Jewish day school with an entire Jewish Studies curriculum to manage – including a third language – reasonably adopted Core and Extended into its program. Over time, however, as public schools continued to feature greater and greater immersion, the middle track – Extended – began to be dropped.  More and more public schools (writ large) now only offer both a Core and an Immersion track, and there are more public schools who specialize in French immersion. “Extended” is ceasing to function as a meaningful distinction, at least in terms of how French functions in any of the next schools of choice. Graduates of OJCS’ Extended French program may soon only have two choices in high school – Core or Immersion.

And this leaves us with the critical question for families who view French fluency as defined by the ability to pass the bilingual exams in Grade Twelve: Does OJCS’ Extended French program prepare students to successfully transition into a high school’s French immersion track in Grade Nine?

And the answer to that question leaves us with the critical question for OJCS, if meeting the need for French fluency is non-negotiable for a critical mass of Jewish parents: What should OJCS do about it?

Let’s pause for a moment to name some things that feel important.

This is an important issue for the families for whom it is an important issue.  Without current survey data, it is hard to know exactly where to peg the number, but let’s assume it is significant enough to represent an existential threat to the school’s long-term viability.

Our current Core French program is exactly the same (at least in time allocated and curricular benchmarks) as all other schools, with the same outcomes, tracked in the same ways all the way through Grade Twelve.  Families for whom Core French is sufficient are presently having their needs met.

Our current Extended French program isn’t something to sneeze at! It is not an immersion program, but it is an immersive experience. Families for whom Extended French is sufficient are presently having their needs met.

The connection between Grade Four and French fluency is a function of the evolution of French immersion in Ottawa public schools. There are currently programs offering a “Middle Immersion” entry point at Grade Four.  [The other entry points are “Early” (Grade One) and “Late” (Grade Nine).]  There are no guarantees as educational pendulums continue to swing that those will continue to be the (only) entry points.  The fact that for some number of parents the Grade Four entry point has become their critical decision-making window is absolutely important, but not necessarily determinative.  Our responsibility is to be clear about our Grade Eight French outcomes to ensure our current and prospective families have all the options available for Grade Nine, including French immersion.

Our graduates begin their next schools of choice in the French program that we recommend them for.  If we recommend a student graduating out of our Extended French program for French immersion in Grade Nine, that student is in French immersion if they choose to.  That’s a fact.

Let’s return to our two critical questions.

Does OJCS’ Extended French program prepare students to successfully transition into a high school’s French Immersion track in Grade Nine?

Here is where data counts.  There is ample anecdotal evidence to suggest that the answer to this question is “yes”.  I have read years’ worth of testimonials from graduates and have spoken with numerous parents whose kids did, in fact, successfully transition from our Extended French program to high school’s French immersion, stuck with it through Grade Twelve, and earned their bilingual certificate.  And yet, there is a persistent narrative that this cannot be true.  I have spoken with many current parents who share this belief.  They genuinely believe that if we don’t offer an apples-to-apples French immersion program, then you cannot, by definition, successfully function in a high school French immersion program.

So how can we find out?

By doing some research – both quantitative and qualitative.  We are going to survey our graduates in both Grades Nine and Twelve to see how many of the students we recommend for French immersion…

…opt to stay in French immersion.

…feel prepared to be successful in French immersion.

…are successful in French immersion.

…earn their bilingual certificate in Grade Twelve.

We are going to explore whether there are other key variables which may impact a successful path from here to there such as…

…coming from a French-speaking home.

…participation in French-langauge extracurricular activities.

…use of a French tutor either during their time at OJCS or in high school.

We have also begun direct conversations with high schools.  I have met with the heads of Sir Robert Borden High School and Ashbury College (to begin with) and they are providing us with data about our French outcomes.  I have meetings scheduled with a variety of other schools as well.

The bottom line is that this question is eminently answerable.  Our graduates are either capable (with or without conditions) of transitioning into French immersion in high school or they are not. They are either successfully prepared or they are not.  We can and will answer the question.

If it turns out that the answer is, “yes,” then we have a serious responsibility to improve our marketing.  Schools are only as good as the stories they tell and the stories told about them.  And right now the story of OJCS is that it lacks adequate French to achieve fluency with all that that means in Ottawa.  If that isn’t the story, then we better start telling the true story as loudly and as often as possible.

If it turns out the answer is, “no,” then we have a serious responsibility to revisit our school’s mission and vision.  There are French immersion Jewish day schools in Montreal, I’ve been to see a few.  If it turns out that we actually cannot provide adequate French to achieve fluency, then we better figure out what that means so we can be transparent with families about what you can and cannot expect from your OJCS education.  And we’ll have to decide what kinds of French programs we need to have in order to remain viable.

This is an urgent issue and we are addressing it with due urgency.

The research is ongoing and the deliverable is intended to be shared out in writing when complete and discussed in a Town Hall setting that we are looking to schedule in January/February for current Grades Two-Three families and any Francophone family for whom this is an important discussion.  Stay tuned.

In the meanwhile, we have an incredibly talented French department who pour their hearts and souls into our Core and Extended French programs.  They take great pride in their work and in the accomplishments of their graduates, as should we all.

Can OJCS answer the critical questions about its French outcomes? Will OJCS effectively share the answers to those questions with all its stakeholders?  Are current, former and prospective families invited to share their feedback with us as we do our work?

As they say…J’en mettrai ma main au feu!

The Transparency Files: Let’s Talk About the “J” In OJCS

How amazing it is to have five full days of school in a week!

As joyous as the holiday season is – both here in school and at home – it is a lovely thing to be able to resume the regular rhythms of school.  This time of year it almost feels like a second beginning to the school year as we are now able to fully inhabit schedules and string together sufficient contact time to bring meaningful projects to life.  It is also wonderful to have put behind us much of the business of carpool lines, Google Classroom, hot lunch, parent communication procedures, PTA structure, behavioral expectations, care of the physical facility – so many of the preconditions for the transformational work ahead are sliding into place that we can take a collective breath and move forward.

We have discussed in prior posts as well as through many public and private forums of the need for OJCS to clarify its “Jewish mission and vision”.  Let’s take a few minutes to unpack what that means…

Doesn’t OJCS currently have a Jewish mission/vision?

Yes.

From our Parent Handbook:

Vision Statement: 

The Ottawa Jewish Community School is dedicated to enriching the life of its students along with strengthening their character and instilling their love for Israel. Inspired by Jewish values and heritage, a love of learning, and guided by teaching excellence, students reach for their potential, in order to become the leaders of tomorrow, and responsible citizens of the world.

Mission Statement 

The Ottawa Jewish Community School is an all day, trilingual elementary school that aims to develop academic and personal excellence in its students, in an inclusive, caring, and pluralistic environment that is based on Jewish religion, culture and values.

The school’s mission is summarized in the OJCS community themes;

RESPECT, RESPONSIBILITY, REACHING FOR EXCELLENCE. 

CORE VALUES 

Talmud Torah / Love of Study: Lifelong learning rooted in Jewish and secular studies, emphasizing critical thinking, problem solving and creativity.

Kevod HaBriyot / Respect for Humanity: Living and learning in ways defined by decency, kindness, respect for oneself and others, and honouring diversity.

Ahavat Yisrael / Love of Israel: Centrality of the State of Israel to Jewish identity, and a deep connection to its people, land, and history.

Chashivut HaIvrit / Importance of Hebrew: Recognition of Hebrew as a living language, integral to Jewish life, and an essential link to Jewish texts, prayer, and modern Israel.

Tikkun Olam / Repairing the World: Instilling social responsibility and an engagement with the global community built upon the foundation of tzedakkah (charity), chesed (good deeds), compassion, and courage.

Mi Dor Le Dor / From Generation to Generation: Fostering Jewish continuity and instilling Jewish identity and a sense of peoplehood by transmitting traditions, participating in rituals, and engaging with the Jewish community at home and around the world.

 

So what’s the problem?

Let’s take a closer look…

Chashivut HaIvrit / Importance of Hebrew: Recognition of Hebrew as a living language, integral to Jewish life, and an essential link to Jewish texts, prayer, and modern Israel.

There are many ways OJCS could seek to live this value.   What does “recognition” really mean?  Does it mean that all students should learn to speak, read and write modern Hebrew?  Does it mean that all Judaics classes should be taught with Hebrew as the language of instruction?  What are the outcomes for Hebrew literacy that parents should expect through this core value?

Without further clarification, it is hard to know.

…pluralistic environment that is based on Jewish religion, culture and values.

What does OJCS believe to be true about “pluralism”?  What is a “pluralistic environment”?  Does it mean recognizing the diversity of our students as an audience?  Does it mean the responsibility for creating experiences reflective of each denominational affiliation (as well as unaffiliated)?  Are we a melting pot?  A stew?  Individual bowls?

Without further clarification, it is hard to know.

OK, so we go ahead and clarify our values.  Is that the task?

Not entirely.

Time is a zero sum game.  So even if/when we clarify each value and/or add new ones…how do we know what to prioritize by way of our time and outcomes?

For example…

Is Hebrew the most important academic subject within Jewish Studies?  You might think so by virtue of its mention in the overall mission as a “trilingual” school.  But is it?  And should it be?  It is likely true that our school would look very different, especially at the K-5 level, if Hebrew literacy was the highest value.

What else?

Where does tefillah live in all of this?  It is interesting in and of itself that it is not explicitly named in the mission, vision or values. And yet from our conversations with parents and rabbis, there is clearly a felt need that students who attend a Jewish day school should come out with basic prayer and synagogue fluencies.  If that is true, it will need to wind up as an explicit value with a specific curriculum and schedule.  (In the meanwhile, as we have shared, it has been restored to the daily schedule.)

What does this have to do with the day-to-day teaching and learning?

Great question, hypothetical question-asker!

Unlike the work we do in secular education (which will also require 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-philsosophy 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.  Etc.

But the school is 69 years old.  Surely it already has all of those things.

Kind of.

Like we have discussed in prior posts, the school has frequently added layers of program on top of program…it has done a great job of cluttering…not the best job of de-cluttering.  So, yes, there are written descriptions of different strands of our Jewish Studies curriculum, but there really is not one coherent document – either for internal or external purposes – that actually describes what we do.  And that’s a problem.

By the way, it does not mean that excellent teaching and learning isn’t happening in each of our grades in Jewish Studies!  No one should think that this is some kind of lost year.  We have talented and dedicated teachers working hard to provide a high-quality rigorous Jewish academic education and meaningful Jewish experiences.  Good things are happening.  But we need to move from “good to great”.

How will the work of clarification take place?

That’s where you (will) come in.

There are a number of critical stakeholder groups that we will call upon to contribute to this work.  They include our community’s rabbis, soon to be invited to an Ad-Hoc Rabbinic Advisory Committee.  They include our Jewish Studies Faculty, already beginning to do its due diligence on what was, what is and what could be.  They include our institutional partners, synagogues, our pipeline schools and Federation.  And they include our families – current and prospective.  Vehicles will be created to onboard the feedback and recommendations from all these critical stakeholder groups.

The process through which these groups form and do their work will be shared and transparent.  The feedback and recommendations will ultimately go to the OJCS Board of Trustees who, ultimately as charged by their role, will (re)establish the Jewish mission and vision for OJCS.  That, too, will be proudly and transparently shared out with our full community.  With that clarification will come the charge to the administration and faculty to bring that mission and vision to life.  And, surprise, that will also be transparent.

If we are passionate about this, what can we do in the meanwhile?

Talk about it!  Share your thoughts!  (Comment on this blog post.) Make an appointment to come see us.  What can be better than talking with people who are invested in our Jewish mission and vision?  What topic can be more important for us to discuss?

At the end of the day…there is no reason for this school to exist if not for the “J”.  We realize that that doesn’t necessarily mean that the “J” is everyone’s first priority.  But, still.  There is no reason for OJCS to be a Jewish day school, if not to be Jewish.  Not Jew-ish. Jewish.

What does that mean?  We’ll find out together.

The Transparency Files: OJCS Teacher Pre-Planning

I regret all the snarky things I ever said about traditional starts to the school year after Labour Day (you see how I spelled that Canada?).  I am so happy we (all) have a wonderful holiday weekend to rest up for the start of an amazing school year here at OJCS.

“Why so tired, you ask?”

It is the best kind of tired.  The kind of tired that comes from having had two amazing days with our talented and passionate teachers. The kind of tired that comes from having fully shown up and being surrounded by others who fully showed up as well.  The kind of tired that comes from emotional investment and spiritual nourishment. The kind of tired that inspires dreams of what we will accomplish together in this year of change.

“Wow.  Must have been quite the two days.  What did y’all do?”

OJCS Faculty Pre-Planning

Wednesday, August 30th

8:30 AM Continental Breakfast & Welcome Activities

9:00 AM  The Transparency Cafe 

  • Here is the protocol.
  • Here is the question: “How does transparency impact teaching and learning in our school?”

10:00 AM Break/Work in Classrooms

10:30 AM The “Non-Discussible”

This was a positive and powerful conversation that will respectfully remain private.  But I encourage any school, any organization, any company to see how it might improve the health of your culture.

12:00 PM Lunch/Work in Classrooms

1:00 PM Policies & Procedures 

2:00 PM Responsive Behaviour Management

3:15 PM Break/Work in Classrooms

3:45 PM L’hitraot

Thursday, August 31st

8:30 AM Spiritual Check-In

  • Introduce the concept of “spiritual chevruta”
  • Provide the text and guiding questions: Lamentations 5:21: “Turn us to you, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.”
  • How do you handle change?
  • What anchors you in times of change? How do you stay connected to a larger sense of purpose?
  • How do you think about your own core values and sense of who you are through times of change?
  • In what ways does change enhance who you are?
  • What are differences (if any) between how you react to changes you have initiated vs. those you are experiencing?


9:15 AM Google Classroom 

  • The Big Idea
  • We believe teachers are learners just like students and, thus, deserving of personalization.  We will treat Google Classroom like a ladder…everyone needs to be on the first rung with all the training and support they need to get there.  But you can climb as high as you like/can!
  • K-4 Begin Work on Shared Google Classrooms (merge, create new, etc.)
    • General & Jewish Studies Teachers
    • French
    • Art/Music/PE
  • 5-8 Begin/Revise Work on Individual Google Classrooms
  • Mini Google Classroom Checklist – Aim for the First Week of School
    • Fixed Pages
      • About Me
      • HW Policy
      • Behavior Management Policy
      • Daily Schedule
    • First Posts
      • Welcome!
      • Warm Fuzzy

PSST!  Why am I giving you so much detail about Google Classroom? Because it is where you will need to be.  We’ll talk more at Back to School Night.

11:15 AM Break/Work in Classrooms

12:00 PM Lunch & Learn – Curricular Integration

1:00 PM Team Meetings

  • Grade Level IEP/ Support Plan Reviews 
  • General/Jewish Studies Meetings 

2:30 PM Break/Work in Classrooms

3:00 PM Who owns the learning?  Who owns professional growth?

5:00 PM Welcome Back BBQ

Thanks to PTA for sponsoring our largest Welcome Back BBQ in years! Thanks to Jennifer Greenberg, our Recruiter (Admissions Director for you Americans) for all the time and hard work getting it organized.  Thanks to Aaron Smith, our current Board President, and Trevor Smith who served as Grill Masters.  Thanks to the JCC, Federation, Maintenance, Housekeeping and everyone who pitched in to make it so special!

And that is why I am the best kind of tired.

As we head into a holiday weekend, let me share with you what I shared with our dedicated, loving, enthusiastic and oh-so-ready-to-go teachers:

We start to tell the next chapter of the story of OJCS on Tuesday morning.  Let’s hold ourselves and our parents and our students accountable to the highest standards.  Let’s show up and be present.  Let’s unleash our passion and our talent.  Let’s be the best version of ourselves – the school we are capable of being and the one our children deserve.

Rest up.  Be ready.  Be on time.  Be excited.  It is go time.

Best. Year. Yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

…introduce our new teachers.

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

Transparency as a Core Value

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

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

Hebrew Pilot Program for Grades 4-5

Speaking of transparency…

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

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

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

Does this solve Hebrew fluency at OJCS?  Nope!

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

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

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

Introducing New Faculty

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

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

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

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

 

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

The 2017-2018 OJCS Faculty & Staff

Kindergarten

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

Grade One

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

Grade Two

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

Grade Three

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

Grade Four

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

Grade Five

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

Grade Six

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

Grade 7

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

Grade 8

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

Administration

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

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

See you soon!

O Canada? My Serendipitous Return to the Headship

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

I’m not going to lie.

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

I was not unhappy.

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the simple truth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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