The Calm Before the Calm

As I sit in my office on the Friday before our teachers report for what will surely be an enthusiastic and inspiring week of “Pre-Planning”, I can’t help but think that as we enter our third year together on this shared journey that the old canards no longer apply.  It would be normal to joke at this moment about how this is the “calm before the storm” – the last moments before teachers and students fill our rooms and the school year officially begins.  And like most jokes, there is often an uneasy truth hidden within.  That, of course, the whole point of having schools is to have students and teachers, but boy it sure has been calm not having y’all here over the summer…

But when I self-scan or talk with our administrative team and the many teachers who have been in touch over the summer, the ping of anxiety that often accompanies the pang of excitement just isn’t there.  Without getting too metaphysical, I almost feel more strongly the absence of worry than I do the joy of anticipation.  I think it is an apt signpost of where this school is and where it is going to suggest that what we are enjoying at this moment is actually the calm before the calm.

This does not mean that we lack an ambitious agenda for the upcoming year or the years ahead!

We have added a dynamic new Head of Jewish Studies, Dr. Avi Marcovitz, who is going to deepen and expand the work we have done revitalizing Jewish learning and living at OJCS.  We have added an exuberant Development Director, Staci Zemlak-Kenter, who is already building relationships and thinking about alumni engagement.  Our work as the first private school in Ontario to partner with the Centre Franco-Ontarien de Ressources Pédagogiques (Franco-Ontarian Centre for Educational Resources) or CFORP to implement the TACLEF program begins next week.  (We are also prototyping a French-language after-school art program.)  We will be taking the critical step of translating our new Homework Philosophy into an implementation strategy.  We will be deepening our work with blogs and blogfolios.  We will open up the OJCS Makerspace.  We will continue to build on our prototyping culture.  And so on…

We are neither content nor satisfied.  We still have lots of work to do!

But I do think something has shifted.

Perhaps “stability” is not as “sexy” as change, but it beats “crisis” every day of the week!  Partly why we aren’t engaging with a major consultancy this year (except in the French Department) is that we need to give everyone – students, parents, teachers, etc. – time to lean into all the change initiatives we have already launched over the last two years.  Our work with NoTosh has left us with powerful “North Stars” to aim ourselves towards, strategies to move us from here to there and a prototyping culture to develop the innovative tactics of the day-to-day work.  Our work with Silvia Tolisano has left us with a cohort of teachers who have increasing skill in “now literacies” that continues to spill over from their classrooms to the school as a whole.  Our work with blogs and blogfolios is going to take a huge leap forward this year with additional teachers eager to explore these platforms for learning, writing, sharing, amplifying, reflecting and connecting.

[TEASER: Please be sure to join us on September 25th at 7:00 PM where we will be doing some hands-on learning, exploring and subscribing that will help you know exactly how to find the information about your child(ren)’s class(es), including homework/quizzes/tests/projects, you want and need to be wonderful partners and advocates.]

Lest you think that the days of major change are behind us, don’t worry!  As we have stated before, our first years have focused almost exclusively on the “hows” and “whys” of education.  As a private school, however, we have the luxury/responsibility/opportunity to also determine the “what”.  While always being cognizant of what is required at our graduates’ next schools of choice, a true belief in a “floor, but not a ceiling” requires us to determine for ourselves what academic outcomes to reach for.  For example, if we believe that Ontario’s math standards are less than (we do!), then we have a responsibility to aim higher (we will!).  To do that work well – to truly map our curriculum across each grade and every subject – is a significant project that requires significant expertise.  So, yes, more change (and more consultants!) are in our future.

The work of being the best school we can is as endless as the work of being the best selves we can.  Schools are organizations with learning at their hearts, and growth-seeking in their souls.  Schools are only as good as their teachers and only as successful as their students.  We simply can’t wait to open the doors on Monday to our terrific team of talented teachers and the following Tuesday to our super squad of spirited students.  Our compass is pointed squarely at our North Stars and our team is eager to guide us on our shared journey.

For those of you squeezing every last drop of summer to be had, we hope you check every last item off your summer bucket list!  For all of us, as they say, enjoy the calm before the calm…

[MAJOR TEASER: We are scheduling a major announcement in the next couple of months on how we plan to secure the long-term future of our school.  It is very exciting and will be a big moment for us and our community.  Stay tuned.]

How We Are Spending Your Summer Vacation (2019)

Happy Summer!

We hope everyone is enjoying the beginning to middle of summer!  While our teachers are cycling in and out, vacationing and thinking about the future, and while our administrative team is also taking some downtime and ramping up for the next school year, I wanted to take an opportunity to share some updates and exciting news.  (If all you are interested in is the hiring updates, you can scroll straight through to the bottom!  You will be getting updated handbooks and relevant information later on in August.)

Building Learning Communities Conference

Last week, I had the privilege of taking a team of OJCS Teachers to Boston for the the Building Learning Communities Conference.  It was equal parts validation and inspiration to see how far our school has come.  Our teachers had an opportunity to see just how innovative OJCS currently is, while being exposed to thinkers and ideas that will continue to propel us forward.  If you want a taste of what we learned and how we thought about it, I invite you to scroll through my Wakelet below:

Makerspace Update

Yes, we are still building the Makerspace!  And, yes, it has come with some of the inevitable delays of construction.  We will unlikely be ready to open on Day 1, but are working hard to get it done as quickly as we can.  We are planning to open with Science in a different space (TBD) and will provide updates as we get closer to the start of school.

OJCS & CBB

I am looking forward on Thursday to my annual visit to CBB to say “hi” to our OJCS students and alumni.  I’ll post pictures on social media.

Hiring Update

We are pleased to share with you an update of new hires as we are almost completely staffed up for 2019-2020!  We are thrilled that these new administrators are joining our amazing team of returning administrators and teachers to make next year our best yet!

  • Dr. Avi Marcovitz will be joining our Administrative Team as our new Head of Jewish Studies!  Avi comes to us with extensive administrative and organizational leadership education and experiences, including prior day school teaching and administration.  He additionally carries rich subject matter expertise, a passion for Jewish day school, alignment with our “North Stars” and an enthusiasm to help us on our journey to becoming the school we want to be.  He has already begun and looks forward to meeting everyone soon!
  • Rabbi Howard Finkelstein is being re-introduced as our Dean of Judaics Emeritus!  This is not merely an honorific, but a way of meaningfully engaging Rabbi Finkelstein as both advisor and rabbinic presence in the years ahead.  While he is still in town and even after he makes aliyah, we look forward to Rabbi Finkelstein’s wisdom and participation in relevant conversations as we move forward.
  • Staci Zemlak-Kenter will be joining our teams as our new Development Director!  Staci is a trained social worker with years of development experience in the Atlanta Jewish Community who is coming into this half-time role with lots of ideas about how to make our fundraising dreams come true.  She will begin on August 1st and she looks forward to meeting everyone as well.
We are finishing up with final interviews and contracts for a Grade 6 EA, an additional Core French Teacher and a part-time Music Teacher, so stay tuned!

The Courage to Finish: My Charge to the Class of 2019

We had an amazing graduation last night at the Ottawa Jewish Community School – and I am not just saying that because I had a child in the class!   I was so proud of our students, our families, our school and our community.  It was really something special.  And, yes, I did say last week that I was kinda done with the weekly blogging for the summer.  And, yes, it does feel like I have delivered a speech a day these last few weeks.  And, yes, it runs the risk of being overly self-serving to say that a number of people asked if I could post my speech.

But they did.

And so I will (paraphrased because not everything translates into writing).

“There are many heroes in the story of a Jewish day school journey…

There are the teachers who put in untold hours of love and talent not only to nourish your brains, but your souls as well.  Our teachers are not just here to inspire a love of learning.  Our teachers recognize that our students are, in fact, our most important subject matter.  There is very little we can ever do to show our proper appreciation for our teachers, but we can directly prove the adage it takes a village and show our proper respect.  I’d like to ask every teacher who taught any of our graduates in any capacity over their years to rise…

 

There are the students who come to school each and every day (or at least many days) ready to learn and eager to lead.  And we have and will rightfully spend most of our time tonight celebrating you each…

 

But for me, tonight, I want to spend a little time celebrating who I think may be the most important heroes of the story, and that…is our parents.  And I think the adjective that best describes these heroes is “courage”.

Courage to Choose

In today’s world, we are all, in a sense, Jews by choice.  Choosing to be Jewish is counter-cultural by definition; choosing to attend Jewish day school is almost revolutionary.  We all chose Jewish day school for different reasons: some of us are alumni of Jewish day schools (including this one!), others were seeking the comfort of the family environment, some had a desire for personalized attention, others had a deep commitment to Jewish Studies, there were some who simply went where everyone else was going.  But each parent with their own unique constellation of reasons had the courage to choose Jewish day school.

Courage to Sacrifice

You have each sacrificed in many ways to be here this evening.  For many, it has been a financial sacrifice.  Jewish day school is not yet as affordable as we may wish it to be, and there are those in this room who have forgone both luxuries and necessities to be here.

You have all sacrificed your most precious gift – time.  Between the normal schlepping and carpools, you have volunteered at events and at PTA and in innumerable ways big and small.

Courage to Finish

In talking with the kids in New York [on our Grad Trip], I realized that for many of them – and you – I am the fourth head of school you have had on this journey; five if you count Mr. Friedman twice.  Each person, I am sure, had their own ideas of what makes a Jewish day school excellent and, I am sure, those ideas may not have always aligned.

With each new administration you had to choose and choose again, and for whatever complicated set of reasons you chose to come, you chose to stay and that, too, is a profile in courage.

The largest class I have ever graduated was 23 and the smallest was, but 4, but what I can tell you with 100% certainty is that not one parent on graduation night ever regretted the decision to finish.  And looking around this room tonight – and as one myself – I am confident that this remains true.

You have already given us the greatest gift we can have – the sacred and holy task of educating your child – let me give you the only gift tonight that I can, a brief gift of time.  To take just a brief minute or two not to document this experience, but to be in this liminal moment in our children’s lives.  I’d like to invite the graduates to rise and face your parents…

 

Returning to our graduates, my prayer for you as you graduate and head out into the world is that you come to experience and embody our school’s North Stars.  I pray that you continue to point in their direction as you continue to grow and develop into high school and beyond…

“Have a floor, but not a ceiling” – be your best self.  Have high expectations at a minimum and unlimited aspirations at a maximum.  We hope you learned at OJCS to be comfortable in your own skin and to carry that confidence with you when you head out into the wider world.

“Ruach” – be joyful.  School – and life – is supposed to be fun, even when it may seem hard or have difficult moments.  We know you had many moments of joy at OJCS and know that you have many more moments of joy ahead of you in the years to come.

“We own our own learning” – learning isn’t something that happens to you, it is something you choose.  We hope you take the sense of ownership for your learning that we strive towards at OJCS into your next schools of choice and that you not merely be satisfied with gathering information, but that you take a growing sense of responsibility for what you learn and how you learn.

“We are each responsible one to the other” – make the world a better place.  Take what you’ve learned (Torah) and do great deeds (Mitzvot); do great deeds and be inspired to learn more.

“We learn better together” – we are stronger and more successful together than we can be alone.  Judaism has always been communitarian in this way and what is old is new again as we live in a world where collaboration is not simply advantageous, but required.

“We are on our own inspiring Jewish journey” – keep choosing Jewish.  One can argue that the next years of your Jewish lives are more important than the ones you are celebrating tonight.  In your own ways – continue.  Whether that is in formal Jewish learning, youth group, summer camps, Israel, synagogue attendance, social action – you are no more fully formed Jewishly at your Grade 8 Graduation than you were at Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  We pray that you build on this foundation and that you embrace the Jewish journey that continues after tonight…

 

You each are blessed more than you realize.  My blessing for you is that you never be content to merely count your blessings, but that you always be someone who makes their blessings count.”

The Transparency Files: The OJCS 2019-2020 Faculty

I realize that I may have squeezed out five blog posts over the last two weeks, but that for many of you, this is the annual post you have been waiting for…

It is amazing to note that we have reached this point in the calendar and that the final two weeks of school are in front of us!  It has been such an extraordinary year here at OJCS and we are already busy planning for the next one.  I can appreciate that no one – including me! – wants to wish their summer away, but we are so excited about what is in store that we almost cannot wait to begin again!

Speaking of next year…

As you hopefully have already heard, we are saying goodbye to Rabbi Finkelstein and Noga Reiss who will be retiring at the end of this school year after long and distinguished careers at OJCS. [Hopefully you are planning on attending their Retirement Tea on Sunday, June 23rd at 3:00 PM here at the school.  Email the office to RSVP.]  These two faculty members have contributed much to our school and each will be missed.

The search process to fill Rabbi Finkelstein’s and other existing and new positions is underway and we will continue to update you as we make hires between now and the beginning of next year.

Looking back at last year’s post, I am struck by how many new structures and departments we introduced and that here, a year later, how much more stable we have become.  Last year, we introduced new schedules, increased contact time with both Hebrew and French, a new Department of Special Education, and a new Educational Leadership Team.  This year, we are simply letting you know who the key ingredients to the meal we are cooking together will be…

It does not mean that we are content or don’t have lots of work still ahead of us in order to become the school we seek to become!  In order to reach those “North Stars,” our teachers are looking forward to a year to live them more fully, to make sure the strategies we have developed (such as “prototyping”) are understood, to give us all a chance to better understand the whys and hows of classroom blogs, to implement a new homework philosophy, to truly strengthen the “J” in OJCS, to open our makerspace, and to launch a powerful new partnership to enhance French language education.  This will be more than enough to keep us joyfully busy into next year and beyond…

Finally, you will see below a few places where we have decided to absorb the cost of splitting classes, not just because enrollment in those classes may be going up, but because our promise to parents of personalization requires us to staff according to need, not to numbers, and we intend to deliver on those promises.

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 2019-2020 OJCS Faculty & Staff

Lower School General Studies Faculty

  • Kindergarten: Janet Darwish, Dora Scharf (French) & Taylor Smith (EA)
  • Grade One: Ann-Lynn Rapoport & Dora Scharf (French) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Two: Lianna Krantzberg & Dora Scharf/Aaron Polowin (French) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Three: Faye Mellenthin & Aaron Polowin (French)
  • Grade Four: Julie Bennett, a French Teacher (Core) & Aaron Polowin (Extended) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Five: Melissa Thompson, a French Teacher (Core) & Aaron Polowin (Extended)

Lower School Jewish Studies Faculty

  • Kitah Gan: Shira Waldman
  • Kitah Alef: Ada Aizenberg [TWO CLASSES]
  • Kitah Bet: Bethany Goldstein [TWO CLASSES]
  • Kitah Gimmel: Sigal Baray
  • Kitah Dalet: Yardena Kaiman [TWO CLASSES]
  • Kitah Hay: Gonen Sagy

Middle School Faculty

  • Grade 6 Educational Assistant: An Educational Assistant
  • Science: Josh Ray
  • Mathematics: Chelsea Cleveland
  • Language Arts: Mike Washerstein
  • Social Studies: Deanna Bertrend
  • Extended French: Stéphane Cinanni
  • Core French:  French Teacher
  • Hebrew: Gonen Sagy  (Level I) & Ruthie Lebovich (Level II)
  • Jewish Studies: Mike Washerstein
  • Rabbinics: A Rabbinics Teacher

Specialists

  • Art: Shira Waldman
  • Music: A Music Teacher
  • PE: Josh Ray, Faye Mellenthin (Grades 1, 2 & MS Girls) & Linda Signer (K)
  • Library: Brigitte Ruel

Department of Special Education

  • Keren Gordon, Vice Principal
  • Sharon Reichstein, Director of Special Needs
  • Linda Signer, Resource Teacher
  • Brian Kom, Resource Teacher
  • Chelsea Cleveland, Math Resource
  • Shira Waldman/Sigal Baray, Hebrew Resource*
  • French Teacher, French Resource*

Education Leadership Team

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

Administration

  • Josh Max – IT & Technology Support
  • Ellie Kamil – Executive Assistant to the Head of School
  • Head of Jewish Studies – Head of Jewish Studies
  • Development Director – Director of Development*
  • Jennifer Greenberg – Director of Recruitment
  • Keren Gordon – Vice-Principal
  • Dr. Jon Mitzmacher – Head of School

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

*New position for 2019-2020.

This likely ends my weekly blogging for the season.  I will be away with our Grade 8s next week on their GRAD Trip to NYC (follow us on social media!) and then it is OJCS Graduation, Last Day of School and Faculty Pre-Pre-Planning (our PD days where we pivot towards the next year).  I will blog through the summer if and when there is what to share.  Our office remains open, of course, but administration will take staggered vacation throughout the summer to make sure our saws are fully sharpened for 2019-2020.

The Transparency Files: Evaluation of Self

Although the weather outside is only finally warming up, it is actually June and we have reached our final month of this amazing 2019-2020 school year!  It is hard to believe how much has happened this year and how much we still have on tap for the final weeks!  Circumstances led me to switch up the order of my annual series of closing “Transparency Files” blog posts.  This year, I began with the results of the Annual Parent Survey and the results of the Annual Faculty Survey (shared directly with Faculty), am now moving here to my self-evaluation, and will finish with a discussion of next year’s new initiatives and conclude with an introduction of the 2019-2020 OJCS Faculty.

So let’s lean in…

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.

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 am focusing here on more of my “principal’s” responsibilities, not as much on my “head of school’s” (i.e. fundraising, marketing, budgeting, etc.)]  You will find selected components [there are more goals in each area than I am highlighting here] for the 2018-2019 OJCS academic year:

Establish steady and measurable growth of the student population

  1. Establish and drive a recruitment plan to promote the school and attract new students.
    1. Develop a recruitment strategy with the Admissions Director by December 1st.
    2. Review and track recruitment effectiveness and make adjustments as required (ongoing, but December – April is the key period).
  2. Design and execute a retention strategy and plan.
    1. Develop a “moves management” database for all current families and launch weekly retention meetings with Admissions Director by first week in December.
    2. Annual Parent Survey is taken each May, shared with families and utilized in plans for the following years (when appropriate).
    3. Complete exit interviews/surveys with students and parents to better understand reasons for leaving are done as decisions become final in the Spring.
    4. Parent Ambassador for all new OJCS families to launch the first week of school.
  3. Strengthen pipeline with Ganon & Early Beginnings.
    1. Meet with directors to share updates and solicit feedback twice-yearly (December & May).
    2. Schedule engagement opportunities for Ganon and Early Beginnings JKs w/OJCS K for November.
    3. Develop a plan for the ongoing transition of Ganon’s JK to OJCS by February.
  4. Deepen relationships with synagogues.
    1. Re-launch the Rabbinic Advisory Committee in November with a goal of identifying concrete engagement opportunities for OJCS and each synagogue.
    2. Meet with each Rabbi by January to identify a specific engagement opportunity for Jon (speaking, Shabbat dinner, etc) and a select group of prospective parents.

OJCS is a school of excellence (through our work with NoTosh we aspire to be “the best school in Ottawa”)

  1. Translating our “North Stars” (“The OJCS Way”) into a strategy document.
    1. Work with NoTosh to revise final strategy document by December 1st.
    2. Translate the strategy document into a slide-deck for presentation to teachers/board/parents by January.
    3. Create parent collateral to help drive external identification of “The OJCS Way” with “excellence”.
  2. Connecting the dots between our work with NoTosh and our work with Silvia Tolisano.
    1. Meet with members of the NoTosh Design Team and the Silvia Cohort to keep everyone on the same page (ongoing).
    2. Encourage at least 10-15 prototypes through the prototype protocol.
  3. Clarify what role the CAT-4 plays in evaluating academic “excellence”.
    1. Analyze CAT-4 results with teachers to evaluate how useful they are in shaping instruction.
    2. Based on data and “The OJCS Way” blog out results while holding individual parent meetings (as needed).
  4. Create a technology plan for teachers, students and school.
    1. Work with Technology Director to develop plans for current and desire technology in the school.
    2. Work with teachers – and then parents – to decide which devices students will need to have (both in school and at home) in which grades.
  5. Develop a comprehensive Professional Development (PD) plan.
    1. Ensure that each teacher has a signed Professional Growth Plan (PGP) by November.
    2. Work with new Coordinators to see what common themes arise from PGPs and decide where and how to address over the course of the year (PD days, faculty meetings, conferences, resources, etc.).
  6. (Constantly) improve faculty morale.
    1. Launched “Positive Notes” prototype in January
    2. Results from the Annual Faculty Survey indicate success.

OJCS inspires Jewish journeys in its students, families and community.

  1. Deepen and develop personal relationships with holiday and Shabbat experiences.
    1. Invite children’s classes to house for Sukkot (September).
    2. Begin rotating families through for Shabbat dinners.
    3. Prototype at least one holiday workshop with PTA.
  2. Expand holiday family experiences.
    1. Make sure each grade has at least two Kabbalat Shabbat experiences at school.
    2. Grow our annual Chanukah and Passover celebrations to deepen family engagement.
    3. Coach a few teachers who have family engagement as part of their PGP to maximize their prototypes.
  3. Thought-leadership.
    1. Make sure blog has appropriate balance, including connections between the way Judaism is lived in school and how it could be lived at home.
    2. Work with local synagogues on Shabbat and holiday programming.

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…

…we just recently met with our friends at the SJCC and Ganon Preschool to deliver preliminary plans for the next two years of transition of JK from Ganon to OJCS and we are holding meetings this month between JK and SK teachers to launch new initiatives in 2019-2020.

…we are pleased to be cosponsoring a Shavuot program this week with Congregation Beit Tikvah and co-facilitating a Shavuot program with Kehillat Beth Israel.

…we are meeting with PTA leadership this week to pass along feedback from the Annual Parent Survey and to explore ways to engage more parents in holiday workshops or other parent education opportunities.  This is an area we are desperate to improve in next year.

…we have drafted a BYOD (bring your own device) policy for Grades 4-8, which will be sent to parents later on this month.

…the schedule kinda got away from us, but we do have a final K-5 Kabbalat Shabbat on June 21st at 3:00 PM!

Those are just some highlights!  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.

My Charge to Kitah Bet Upon Receiving the Gift of Torah

I was very moved after this morning’s Mesibat He’Chumash that a number of parents asked that I post the dvar I shared with the families before giving each student the gift of Torah.  You may find it below…

“Before calling each student up by name to give them the symbolic gift of Torah, I just wanted to take a minute or two to say a few words…I know that I am the only thing keeping you from cake, so be assured I will be as brief as I am capable of being…

Have you noticed that our social media is eager to share memories with us? It seems like each day, a picture from years ago appears unprompted asking us to take moment to remember. Why? Why does Facebook organize itself with a timeline and Instagram by stories?

Because they know what we do – that human beings are hardwired to respond to stories.

We are storytellers by nature because that is how we make meaning of our lives. We weave together memories and events to create the narrative arc of our lives. As parents, we have the awesome responsibility for authoring the experiences that set that arc into motion. We provide them with the moments that shape their narratives and help them make meaning. As they get older, of course, they begin to write their own stories and – if we are lucky – they will continue to look to us for editing.

What is true for us as individuals is also true for us as a Jewish People. We are a collection of stories that extend backward to Creation and through our collective authorship of the present, serve as a bridge to the future. We are the People of the Book because we acknowledge our spiritual heritage and take responsibility for moving our part of the story forward…

That’s what makes a day like today special. Your decision to provide your children with a Jewish education gives them moments and experiences that will shape the narrative arc of their lives even when they assume primary authorship. Today is one of those moments. And by linking it to the gift of Torah – as we prepare to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates our original receipt of Torah – we link our children’s stories to the story of the Jewish People.

As was true with the Siddur they received at the end of Kitah Alef, the Chumash they receive at the end of Kitah Bet is not a trophy to sit upon a shelf, but a tool to continue the Jewish journey they are just beginning. It is our hope and our prayer that the work we have begun together as partners – parents and teachers; home and school – continue in the years ahead to provide our children with Jewish moments of meaning and Jewish experiences of consequence so that they can write the chapters of their lives and that of the Jewish People that they are intended to – uniquely their own, infused by a love of Judaism, informed by Jewish wisdom and aligned with Jewish values.

Thank you.

Thank you to the parents who have sacrificed in ways known and unknown to give your children the gift of Jewish day school. Thank you for your schlepping and your partnership. Thank you for entrusting us with the sacred responsibility of educating your children. It not something that we take for granted.

Thank you to the teachers who give of their love, their time and their talent each and every day. On a day like today, special thanks to Morah Batya who has poured herself into your children and into this day. Our teachers play a significant role in shaping our children’s stories and we are grateful for the care they attend to that holy task.

Thank you to the students who show up each day as authentic selves. Your passion and enthusiasm for learning and for Judaism is why we wake up each day at OJCS with a spring in our steps and a smile on our faces. We can’t wait to see who you will become!

And on a final note, I know you don’t need me to tell you quickly time flies. But. For some of you this is your first Mesibat Chumash and for some it is your last. You have given us the gift of your children and we have together given your children the gift of Torah. Let me give you the gift of time, just 30 seconds, to soak in the moment. Not to document it, but to be in it. Because as a parent of a child who will be graduating from this school in just a few weeks, I could swear it was just yesterday that she received her chumash in Kitah Bet.

Pause

It is now my pleasure to invite our teachers to join me as we celebrate each of our students…”

Chag sameach…

Habits of Kindness: Sharpen the Saw

We introduced the LAST of our 7 Habits of Kindness during our OJCS Maccabiah (it fell on Rosh Chodesh Sivan) yesterday and it may have gotten a little lost in all the Maccabiah excitement (congratulations to us all for having gone past our $10,000 high dream for the student fundraising component and for an amazing day of ruach at OJCS!).  So let me take a moment to revisit…

When our school introduces a new Habit of Kindness, I take it upon myself to blog about the new Habit.  (Last month was “Synergize“.)  We have been enlisting our Knesset to prepare and present the new Habit at our monthly Rosh Chodesh Assemblies.  (You can stay on top of all our Community of Kindness activities by checking out its blog.) They have been very creative!  But with all the work being put into the Maccabiah, let’s turn this month and see what it says from the “Leader in Me: 7 Habits for Kids” page (which was shared with the students during the opening ceremonies):

Habit 7 — Sharpen The Saw

Balance Feels Best

I take care of my body by eating right, exercising and getting sleep. I spend time with family and friends. I learn in lots of ways and lots of places, not just at school. I find meaningful ways to help others.

So you can think of what it means to “sharpen the saw” as being divided into three categories: “Spiritually Fit”, “Mentally Fit”, and “Physically Fit”.

We hopefully do our best to encourage all of those kinds of fitnesses in our school.  Certainly being a Jewish day school provides plenty of opportunity for spiritual fitness, which is one of its many benefits.  Despite our challenging schedule, we continue to hold on to three-days-a-week PE in the Lower School and five-days-a-week PE in the Middle School, as well as recesses and a robust intramural sports program.  We do our best to offer healthy options with our hot lunch program, but do struggle with the amount of sugar and snacks that the many birthdays and holidays bring with them.  This is something we plan to revisit next year.

Of course mental fitness goes along with schooling, but one advantage to being a leader in innovative learning is that it provides tons of opportunity for kids to “learn in lots of ways and lots of places, not just at school”.  We agree!

Part of my goal of blogging about the habits is not just to demonstrate how the school attempts to foster them, however, but to model my own attempts to foster them.  So how am I doing?

I have loved the opportunity our new Tefillah curriculum in the Middle School has provided me to re-engage with daily, morning prayer.  As challenging (and rewarding) as it may be to get middle schoolers psyched for prayer, it is been great for my own spiritual fitness.

Mental fitness?  If I reinterpret the language for children into workaday life, mental fitness here would mean that I find opportunities to learn outside of what I am required to learn or think about to perform my job.  For years (many years), my graduate work and my dissertation-writing were more than sufficient to ensure mental fitness.  But for the last few years?  Outside of many robust games of Words with Friends, my mental fitness may be lacking!  I love the opportunity Shabbat affords me to be with family and friends, but they are also my only hours to read and I would hate to have to choose between those two!  Plus, by the time we finish cleaning up from Shabbat dinner, I’m asleep before my kids.  So I definitely need to “Be Proactive” and do some goal-setting for future mental fitness.

That leaves physical fitness…

I shared back in a blog post about Habit #3, Putting First Things First,

I have made two commitments to wellness this year that are a constant source of teasing…

…I purchased a mini-standing desk for laptop users.

…I purchased a seasonal affective disorder lamp.

I have seen the articles all about how “sitting is the new smoking” and if that is even partly true, I am sadly stage something with sitting.  So I am now standing a few hours a day at my desk and we’ll see what happens!

It is dark when I get to school and dark when I leave school. And for fun, for about half the year it is pretty dark while I am at school too!  So I have decided to see if one of these SAD lights will keep me un-SAD during the long winter months.

Well, did they make a difference?  I can definitely say that they did not not make a difference!  I definitely think the standing desk has helped and I am thinking about getting a standing mat to go with it next year so that I can comfortably stand for even longer.  My SAD light helped during the long winter months (I am only going by “light” and not “temperature,” otherwise, I would be tempted to still call it “winter”).  My wellness goal for the summer is to ride my bike to work each day.  My physical fitness goal for next year is to add some weight training or a sport to whatever cardio I can manage at home.

So that’s how plan on sharpening my saw…how about you?

The Transparency Files: Annual Parent Survey

This is probably a couple of weeks later than I had hoped, but I am pleased to share with you the results of this year’s Annual Parent Survey!  If you want a full comparison with last year, you can reread those results or toggle back and forth.  What I will try to do here, is to capture the highlights now that we have a baseline for comparison.

The first thing to name is that the percentage of students represented in this year’s survey is lower than last year, even if it captures slightly more students.  Last year’s survey covered 81 students and this year’s covers 84.  Also, the survey is per student, not per family, which means that it is even less representative than that.  In the service of anonymity, we have no way to know how many families the survey actually represents.  Finally, for most of the sections below, only 70 students – or roughly 40% of the school – is represented in the results.  (Surveys of 14 students did not include data outside the opening and closing questions.)  We would love to see that number at 70% or higher in the future to be more sure that the results are valid, but as always, we believe that all data is valuable data.

Whereas it is common wisdom that folks with concerns are usually more likely to fill out these surveys, the truth is that it would only strengthen these numbers, because by and by they are pretty good!  More than being worried about the motivations for why families do or don’t fill out surveys, we are most concerned that our families feel that they have an opportunity to provide us with feedback and, even more important than that, that the school factors in parent voice as it makes decisions.  We can only hope that we prove to families each year that we do take voice seriously, we do lean into healthy critique, and we do want to hear from them.  We will revisit when we give the survey, how long we keep the survey window open and how we could incentivize folks to fill them out.  We will aim for over 50% next year and 70% in the years to come.  In the meanwhile, let’s celebrate the parents who did participate and try to make meaning of what they are telling us.

As was the case last year – and is usually the case everywhere – it is the parents of our youngest students who are the most invested with decreasing participation as the years go on.  It is, however, a bit more representative than last year’s group.

This percentage is higher than last year and is confounded a bit by the fact that families who are moving out of Canada for example, or who are graduating would sit in the same “No” with families who attritting before Grade 8.  That the percentage is higher has some logic because our attrition rates are down again heading into next year, but I cannot unpack the “No” box while maintaining anonymity.  All of this to say is, if it is true that our most critical parents are filling out this survey, the overwhelming majority intend to continue at OJCS.  That says a lot about them and about us.

Let’s look at the BIG PICTURE:

So I will remind/tell you that for this and all categories, we look at the range between 7-9 as the healthy band, obviously wanting scores to be closer to 9 than 7, and looking for numbers to go up each year.  Last year, our score was 7.13 and this year it is 7.20.  Is it healthy?  Absolutely, although still closer to the low end of the band than we would prefer.  Did it go up?  Yes, although not as much we would like considering how much better a school we have become by a variety of other measures.  Is there a disconnect between what the school believes is true and what parents see and believe?  Is this a failure of communication?  These will be important questions for us to chew on.  Let’s dig deeper…

A few things jump out…

  • The topline number is essentially unchanged (7.17 to 7.11), while remaining lower in the healthy band than we would like to see.
  • Unlike last year, the score for “learning LEVELS” and “learning STYLES” is exactly the same, which leads me to wonder if people understand what we’re actually asking about (are these actually good or clear questions).
  • Even the ones that are below the healthy range (in the 6s) are actually all up from last year, which hopefully means they will enter that range soon.
  • I am pleased to see parents have pushed the question about individualized attention into the healthy range (7.09) as it is a core value of the school.
  • Our lowest score (6.56) is connected to homework, which we had already identified as a critical concern.  We hope that the new Homework Philosophy we shared out just a few weeks ago will help see that score rise when it is implemented next year.

  • So here is where having comparison data is actually helpful.  Each score in this section is lower than we want it to be and each score in this section is higher than it was last year.  (Remember that we think 7-9 is the healthy range; a “5” still means “satisfied” on the scale).
  • The topline number is still below a 7 and that still remains unacceptable.  It may round up, but next year it has to get there on its own.
  • The biggest improvements in this section are connected to our ability to meet the needs of students with IEPs and we know it is connected to our having hired a Director of Special Education this year.  We also know that it is not yet where we want it to be, but this is a clear example of where parent voice, aligned with teacher and student voice, leads to meaningful action.  (Fill out those surveys y’all!  We really do pay attention.)

As was the case last year, there are no huge bombshells, but there are some things worth pointing out…

  • The topline number is essentially the same (7.27 to 7.24).
  • Our lowest scores (and we added two new sub-questions in this category) deal with French and we are excited to see those numbers begin to approach healthy levels as we move forward next year with the intense professional development for our French Faculty that we announced earlier this week.  We are a bit disappointed that the added contact time and rigor have not yet registered, but we know they were steps in the right direction.  Our newest families have the same high expectations of us that we have for ourselves, and now it is time for the school to deliver on its promises.  This is another clear example of where parent voice, aligned with teacher and student voice, leads to meaningful action.  (Fill out those surveys y’all!  We really do pay attention.  We even wrote it twice to be sure you noticed!)
  • From the comments in the experimental section on French outcomes, it is very clear that we do, in fact, have three populations at OJCS.  We have families who are satisfied with what we presently offer with a “Core” and “Extended” program.  We have many families who want to see the quality of those programs increase, especially the ones who are counting on our ability to graduate students out of “extended” into Grade 9 immersion programs.  We also, however, have families who would like to see us – at least as an option – provide an analogous immersion experience to the public board.  This conversation, as we said, is just beginning.
  • We noted last year that we were counting on Art, Music and PE to be improved by assigning them teachers who could focus more exclusively on these specialties and we are pleased that each score has gone up!

  • With regard to Jewish Studies, we are very pleased that all our numbers are significantly up from last year and have entered the healthy range (one score needs a little rounding to get there, but still)!  Reading last year’s results, I said that, “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.”  Well…we made those changes and it is wonderful to see that they landed with our families.
  • We clearly have work remaining to bring our hot lunch program, our field trips (both quantity and quality), and helping our friends at the JCC with feedback about after-school programming to bring those scores into the healthy band…speaking of after-school programming…

From our experimental section, we gain this data point.  If we have at least 40 students, as is indicated, expressing interest in a French after-school experience, we have a responsibility to figure out the how and the what.  Stay tuned.

  • I will hold most of my comments on my own scores for an upcoming “Transparency Files” with my full self-evaluation.  Here, I will simply say that I am relatively pleased with stable scores in the healthy range.
  • My lowest score is in providing learning for parents…and I agree!  I am legitimately struggling to figure out how to do this better with the busy lives of our parents.  Last year I tried to teach a weekly class, but we couldn’t carry a critical mass week-to-week to make it viable.  I’m open to suggestion (like, please do) on how to do this better.  Help me to help you to help me.
  • Our lowest score in this area (ticked slightly down from last year’s 6.97) is about our “code of conduct” and we are pleased to share 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.

Last data point:

Remember this question was scaled 1-5.  Our score is interestingly unchanged at 4.14.  I’m not sure how much more room to go up there is, but it is a windmill we will gladly tilt at.

So there you have it for 2018-2019!

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 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 as you have seen that we really do use this data to make enhancements and improvements each 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”.

In the next few weeks, I will look forward to sharing my self-evaluation, an exciting enrollment update, and to introducing the 2019-2020 OJCS Faculty!

OJCS & CFORP Launch 1st Private School Partnership

As a follow up to the announcement OJCS recently made to invest nearly $50,000 to enhance French education, we promised to share back once we actually signed the contract to let our families and community know how we plan to spend that investment.  It took a little longer than anticipated to dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s”, but now that everything is signed, we are thrilled to let you know that the Ottawa Jewish Community School will be the first private school in Ontario to partner with the Centre Franco-Ontarien de Ressources Pédagogiques (Franco-Ontarian Centre for Educational Resources) or CFORP to implement the TACLEF program.

CFORP will introduce TACLEF, La Trousse D’acquisition de Compétences Langagières en Français (loosely translated as a “French language acquisition ‘kit'”) to the French teaching staff at the Ottawa Jewish Community School and to offer individual mentoring in its use for a period of two school years.  This approach strengthens team building and permits a better understanding of a skills-based teaching/learning approach as it develops language proficiency in French language learners.

Here are the highlights from the contract:

The plan entails a gradual implementation of TACLEF covering two school years that targets the use of the resource tool through the two processes presented on the TACLEF website:

  • la précision initiale des acquis langagiers (Initial Assessment of Language Proficiency)
  • la planification des interventions ciblées (Planned Intervention)

Implementation supposes:

  • a detailed implementation plan for the school,
  • graduated training sessions for staff,
  • individual coaching sessions for each teacher using the resource tool in his or her classroom (focus on skills such as use of resources, planning and choosing strategies based on data, communicating outcomes, curriculum alignment, etc.),
  • an open dialogue based on commitment, strategic planning of learning outcomes, data analysis, reflective practices and professional dialogue.

At the end of the consultancy, the OJCS will have built the staff’s capacity to assess, support and guide French language learners in the development of their French language skills and in improving outcomes in all subjects taught in French.

Approach

The following steps will ensure the efficient implementation of TACLEF:

  • initial planning session between project leader and the school’s leader and/or administrative staff to determine details;
  • technical integration of the website into the school’s system with the CFORP;
  • two full day training sessions during the first school year;
  • on site coaching for each teacher attending the training sessions;
  • follow up meetings between the project leader and school leader (on or off site) to assess needs during implementation;
  • coaching follow-up (on or off site) according to assessment,
  • year-end meeting between project leader and the school’s leader to review success of implementation, modify according to needs and plan the next steps.

Deliverables

  • detailed implementation plan;
  • two training sessions on the use of the resource tool: (September – October or according to school calendar);
  • individual coaching for each teacher attending the training session:
    • year 1: ½ day following each session and the equivalent of ½ day during the rest of the year (on or off site); total of 1½ scheduled days per teacher,
    • year 2: equivalent of one full day during the year, scheduled according to the second-year plan, total of 1 scheduled day per teacher,
    • follow up support with curriculum planning and resource selection as they pertain to the skills and strategies used during the implementation of TACLEF;
  • planning session at the end of year one (May 2020);
  • activity report during implementation (June 2020);
  • identification of benchmarks and key performance indicators;
  • final report at the end of the contract (June 2021).

 

To take it out of jargon, what is most important to us is that this consultancy provides two years of professional development for OJCS French Faculty from the same folk who train the immersion and Francophone programs in the public boards, including multiple in-person observations and direct training.  It gives us shareable tools for benchmarking and tracking individual students over time.  We will end the consultancy with new and updated French curriculum and with the tools to build individualized paths forward for high achieving students from the OJCS “Extended” program to full immersion programs at their next schools of choice.  These tools, the curriculum and the paths would be ours after the consultancy and would become part of the budget moving forward.

I’d like to give a lot of credit to our current French faculty who invested a lot of time and energy researching growth opportunities and have shown a willingness for honest reflection that is both rare and refreshing.  It takes strength to make yourself vulnerable and to be open to critique.  It is a quality we have to model if we are to ask it of our students, and here, with a topic that can elicit strong emotion, I am proud to have a school where we can name we are a work in progress – and, more importantly, chart a path towards greater excellence.  We look forward to walking that path towards greater excellence in French education, informed by parent voice, in the years ahead.

I did want to take a moment to provide a bit more data with regard to how the hours of French instruction are divvied up at OJCS and the French immersion programs that our graduates of “Extended French” are eligible to transition into when they get to Grade 9.  There were, understandably, a lot of questions from parents (particularly parents at the younger grades) at our last gathering and, disappointingly, we did not have all the answers at the time.  We have spent (a surprising amount of) time on websites and on the phone to confirm both the hours and how they are spent and just so folk can have accurate data upon which to inform opinions, we did want to report back.

Our understanding, if we want an “apples to apples” comparison, is that students in French immersion at SRB in Grades 7 and up have 750 weekly minutes in French allocated as follows:

  • French 200 min
  • Physical Education / Dance 200
  • Health 40
  • Science 150
  • History / Geography 150

In comparison, students in “Extended French” at OJCS in Grades 7 and up  have 400 minutes in French allocated as follows:

  • French 240 min
  • History / Geography 160

Clearly, 750 is more than 400, and no one is making an educational argument that when it comes to language acquisition that more isn’t better.  However, if we are looking to see how to close the gap and/or what best prepares our graduates for success in the high schools that 90% or more of them will attend, what jumps out is “Science” and “PE” for different reasons.  We have always understood that use of PE, Music, Art, etc., could provide an easy opportunity for additional language support and could provide an easy way to close the French gap.  (Even if we haven’t always capitalized on the opportunity.)

Science is more complicated (both because we appear to offer more contact time in Science than SRB and because it would require additional staffing/tracking), but knowing that it is essentially science vocabulary that our students are lacking to bridge the gap may, through the consultancy, open up solutions that don’t automatically require us to reinvent the school.

What remains clear – and I’ll have more to say when I share back the Annual Parent Survey data – is that we actually have three groups of parents when it comes to French education.  There remains parents for whom this is not their most pressing issue and remain satisfied with “Core French”.  There are parents who are primarily invested in seeing their children be successfully prepared for Grade 9 French immersion in their next school of choice.  That has, up until now, been the stated goal and that outcome has been the one that has perennially been questioned.  In many ways, this consultancy was originally conceived to address that challenge.  But what came through in the French Town Halls (and survey data) is that we additionally have parents who are as concerned, if not more, by French outcomes arguably more significant than high school readiness.  Meaning, that although it might be necessary that our graduates be adequately prepared for high school, it may not be sufficient for the French education they believe their children should receive.

Part of our desire to use this consultancy is because of the work they do with Francophone schools in our province.  We will have the opportunity to better understand what we presently do and to chart a path forward to wherever we believe we should be headed.  This conversation is just beginning and we are excited to see where it goes…

Postscript: This will not be my only blog post this week!  The promised post on the Annual Parent Survey is still coming out.  I thought it important to close this loop, as promised.

The Transparency Files: NEW OJCS Homework Philosophy

In January, I blogged about what was then a pending conversation our faculty was going to have in order to revisit and realign our school’s homework philosophy with our “North Stars”.  In that post, I suggested some likely ideas that I imagined would make their way in, based on all the work we have done these last two years making our beliefs about teaching and learning more explicit.

We created a “HW Task Force” consisting of both teachers and administrators.  We surveyed parents, teachers and students to better understand what currently is and what each stakeholder group is looking for in the future.  We examined current research.  We met multiple times and then drafted a document for the full faculty to review and edit, which they have now done.

So without further adieu, I am pleased to share out…

OJCS Homework Philosophy & Guidelines

  1.  Introduction
  2.  Philosophy
  3.  General Homework Principles
  4.  Homework Guidelines in Lower School Grades
  5.  Homework Guidelines in Middle School Grades
  6.  Characteristics of Effective Homework Practice
  7.  Parent, Student, Teacher, and Administration responsibilities
  8.  Homework Philosophy & ‘7 Habits’
  9.  Implementation Strategy [To Be Created]

1.   Introduction

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

This policy addresses the purposes of homework, amount and frequency, and the responsibilities of teachers, students, parents, and administrators.   

The OJCS Homework Policy is based on research regarding the correlation between homework and student achievement as well as best practices for homework. 

2.  Philosophy

The philosophy at the Ottawa Jewish Community School regarding K-8 homework is that homework should only be assigned that is meaningful, purposeful, and appropriate.  Most learning will take place during the school day (except when utilizing an explicitly “flipped pedagogy”). Homework will serve to deepen student learning and enhance understanding.  Homework should be consistent with the school’s “North Stars” and strive to incorporate creativity, critical thinking, authenticity, and student ownership.

Legitimate academic purposes for homework include:

  • practicing a skill or process that students can do independently, but not fluently,
  • elaborating on information that has been addressed in class to deepen students’ knowledge,
  • enabling students to finish classwork that they were unable to complete in class, and
  • providing opportunities for students to explore topics of their own interest. 

Non-academic purposes for homework include:

  • developing better study habits and skills,
  • developing independent problem-solving skills and better time organization, and
  • greater parental appreciation of, and involvement in, schooling.

We understand today’s busy schedules and demands on parent and student time.  Most learning is done in school, but like learning a foreign language or learning to read, reasonable and age-appropriate practice and repetition is exceptionally beneficial in certain subject areas.  We also recognize that in the 21st century the barriers between bounded times and spaces for learning are ever-shifting and, so, we remain flexible to new ways to provide our students with authentic opportunities to learn and to explore.

3.  General Homework Guidelines for all Grade Levels

  • Homework is not to be used to teach a new skill (with the exception of explicitly “flipped pedagogy”).
  • Teachers may not assign regular homework if it is not purposely enhancing their program expectations.  
  • An average amount of daily homework – not including nightly encouraged reading, but including daily/weekly homework assignments, preparing for quizzes/tests/exams and work on long term projects – should not exceed:
    • 20 minutes for Kindergarten
    • 30 minutes for Grades 1 – 3
    • 45 minutes for Grades 4 & 5
    • 60 minutes for Grades 6 – 8.
  • Homework should be purposeful and meaningful to students.  Legitimate purposes for homework include practicing a skill or process that students can do independently but not fluently, elaborating on information that has been addressed in class to deepen student knowledge, and providing opportunities for students to explore topics of their own interest.
  • Reading is an integral part of learning should be encouraged separate, above and beyond required homework.
  • Practicing second-language and third-language skills is a consistent part of homework in a trilingual school.
  • Homework will reflect the accommodations and modifications of curriculum that are stated in a student’s IEP or Support Plan.
  • Homework will not be assigned over holidays.
  • Teachers should distinguish for students (and parents) between homework that is required and work that is recommended to support learning.

4.  Homework Guidelines in Lower School (K-5)

In these grades, with the exception of reading and being read to, there is little proven correlation between homework and achievement.  

  • In the primary grades (K-3), homework should consist primarily of reading, plus a limited number of independent exercises to reinforce previously taught basic skills.
  • At the upper grades (4-5), homework may additionally consist of completing, practicing, preparing, or extending core academic skills and is designed to build independent study habits.
  • It is recommended that homework assignments in the Lower School be given out on a weekly basis for the following week.  (For example, the week’s assignments are given on a Monday and are due the following Monday.) This allows families to coordinate schedules and identify the blocks of time for homework that make sense.
  • Except for reading, homework at the elementary level should not be given over holidays or extended school breaks.
  • Long-term assignments should be limited in number and duration.  Project-based assignments should primarily be undertaken and completed in the classroom. These tasks should not require significant assistance from parents or costly materials.  These assignments should include clear checkpoints to monitor progress toward completion.
  • If your child is becoming frustrated or not able to independently complete the homework, please indicate this in an email to the teacher so that additional support can be offered the following day.
  • Please note that in order for homework to be authentic, to be meaningful, personalized, etc., that the amount of homework will likely ebb and flow naturally during the year.

  5.  Homework Guidelines in Middle School Grades (6-8)

In the Middle School grades, in addition to reading, research indicates that there are benefits to a moderate amount of meaningful, specific and deliberate homework to develop independent work habits, cultivate a sense of responsibility and help reinforce and enhance learning expectations.  

  • Homework should be assigned during the school week on a regular basis.
  • Teachers should coordinate scheduling of tests and projects.
  • Long-term assignments for Middle School grades should be limited in number and duration. These assignments should include clear checkpoints to monitor progress toward completion.  All deadlines will be posted on the class blog.
  • When assigning group projects, teachers should allow in-class collaboration time with specific tasks to be completed independently; however, these tasks should not require significant assistance from parents or costly materials.  [We recognize that projects like STEAM Fair and/or Genius Hour can sometimes inspire a desire to do more. Our commitment is to manage expectations with students to keep this within reason.]
  • Except for reading, daily/weekly homework at the middle school level should not be given over holidays or extended school breaks.  [There is some discretion for students to use breaks towards longer term projects, but without any expectation of work being done on religiously proscribed days.  This is especially important for group projects.]
  • Adjustments to a homework program can be made for middle school students preparing for their b’nei mitzvot as they are spending (at least) 10 minutes per night during the year leading up to their b’nei mitzvot and more than that in the month prior.
  • Study Hall, with teacher support, will be offered during Nutrition Breaks as an added support, should it be needed.

  6.  Characteristics of Effective Homework

This section addresses practices to help increase the benefits of homework while minimizing potential problems.  Homework is more effective when…

  • …the purpose of the homework assignment is clear.  Students should leave the classroom with a clear understanding of what they are being asked to do and how to do it.
  • …it does not discourage and frustrate students.  Students should be familiar with the concepts and material (unless it is an explicitly “flipped” pedagogy, i.e. Math).
  • …it is on a consistent schedule.  It can help busy students and parents remember to do assignments when they are consistent.  (Of course, it must be necessary and not just because “it’s Wednesday”.)
  • …it is explicitly related to the classwork.
  • …it is engaging and creative.
  • …part of the homework is done in class.
  • …it is authentic.
  • …feedback is given.  Follow-up is necessary to address any comprehension issues that may arise.
  • …it is differentiated and, ideally, personalized.
  • …it reviews past concepts to help retention over the course of the year.
  • …it provides student choice (when applicable) and distinguishes between required homework and recommended homework.

7.  Responsibilities

Students are responsible for:

  • knowing where to find homework on the blogs and sharing with parents.
  • ensuring understanding of homework expectations and asking for clarification or help when needed before leaving the classroom.
  • keeping track of what is expected through an organization strategy (agenda book, e-agenda, calendar, etc.)
  • regularly completing assigned homework in a timely manner.
  • managing time by staying focused, on task, and planning effectively for long-term projects.
  • bringing home all necessary materials
  • putting forth their best effort to produce quality work.
  • completing or making up missed assignments and tests if required by the teacher.
  • contacting a teacher in advance of a due date to request an extension and to provide a valid explanation.

Parents/Guardians are responsible for:

  • helping to oversee what is for homework as child develops habits (this could be checking their agendas, e-agendas, classroom blogs, etc.).
  • being an advocate for their child, while encouraging the child to advocate for himself/herself.
  • encouraging reading, which might involve accessing audiobook to accompany the book, at all grade levels.
  • providing an appropriate environment, including necessary supplies, for homework to be done.
  • providing a healthy balance between homework, extra and co-curricular activities, and family commitments.
  • contacting the teacher if their child is not consistently able to do the homework by himself/herself within the time guidelines, or if challenges or questions arise.

Teachers are responsible for:

  • sharing expectations for homework with students and parents early in the school year.
  • designing homework assignments that clearly articulate their purpose and expected outcome, allowing for student questions and planning.
  • providing timely feedback to students.
  • ensuring any homework assigned is directly related to the classroom instruction and consists of clear, purposeful, and authentic activities.
  • assigning homework that is appropriate and differentiated as needed.
  • teaching the skills necessary for the students to complete the homework and become successful independent learners.
  • being careful not to assign too much homework or homework that frustrates or discourages the students.
  • communicating with other teachers of the same grade to be mindful of their overall workload.

Administrators are responsible for:

  • monitoring homework quality and quantity.
  • communicating homework expectations with parents.

8.  The OJCS Homework Philosophy & Stephen Covey’s ‘7 Habits’

At OJCS, we want to empower students with key leadership and life skills through our continued adoption of Stephen Covey’s ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’.

The chart below outlines how our homework policy and philosophy is aligned with each habit:

  9.  Implementation Strategies

And this section was – and still is blank.

Why?

Because this is the hard part!  It is easy(-ish) to write out a philosophy and guidelines.  Putting it into practice in a way that is consistent and clear to all?  That is hard work!

This is why the task force is still moving forward!  Our goal is to finalize an implementation strategy in time for it to be shared with our faculty as part of preparing for the 2019-2020 school year, along with additional information for parents.  The conversations so far have been especially rich and I am looking forward to seeing how the project comes to conclusion.

Watch this space…