Choosing Ottawa Again: Writing My First Second Chapter

Not once in my career have I had the pleasure of welcoming children into school in Kindergarten, watching them grow and mature, creating lasting and meaningful relationships, and then graduating them while shepping naches at what and who they have become.

I have been in the field of Jewish day school since 2005 and the field of Jewish education since 1997.  In those 23 years of full-time work, I spent three years at the BJE-LA, three years at the Old Westbury Hebrew Congregation, two years at Sutton Place Synagogue, five years at the Solomon Schechter Day School-Las Vegas (SSDS-LV), four years at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School (MJGDS), two years at the Schechter Day School Network, one year at Prizmah and I am in my fourth year here at OJCS.

Notice any trends?

I believe deeply in the human need to make meaning through stories and narratives and, thus, have always framed my career (and life) in terms of the chapters I have been able to co-author in the places I have been lucky enough lead.  These chapters have had differing lengths and different degrees of consequence, and those two things are not always so aligned.  I was the founding head of the SSDS-LV (z”l).  That was pretty significant for both me and the school.  My time at MJGDS was an extraordinary time of innovation and change -again both for me and the school.  I was the first – and last – director of an independent Schechter Day School Network (also z”l).  I was part of an amazing team of colleagues who helped birth Prizmah.  The work we are presently doing at OJCS in my first chapter here has been well-chronicled in this blog and thanks to an extraordinary team has exceeded all expectations.

The last time I wrote a “life transition” post, I had described my career as a series of “happy accidents” and I still stand by it, at least broadly speaking.  There is a lot of luck that goes into building a career.  There is also a lot of risk.  I have been fortunate that throughout most of my career, the choices have been mine to make and that when choices needed to be made, wonderful choices were available to choose.  That isn’t always true in this profession and timing is everything.  But to describe my career as a series of “accidents” is also a bit of a dodge.  It absolves me of the choices that I did in fact make along the way and the impact of those choices on the schools/organizations and communities that I left behind, not to mention on my wife and children.

This career didn’t just happen to me.  I largely made it happen and I am responsible for all the good, all the regret, all the accomplishments, all the unmet and unfulfilled expectations, all the extraordinary relationships, all the hurt feelings, and so on.  And that’s just the professional impact.  My children have had to move schools and start over more than once.  My wife has had to reestablish herself in school after school, and here in Ottawa to reinvent herself altogether.

Why have I never stayed long enough to write even a second chapter?

Ego, ambition and wanderlust.

There is value in having an ego and ambition.  They drive you towards achievement and success.  They require you to learn lots and to work hard.  And to be clear, I don’t begrudge anyone – including myself – for having ambition.  When success begets success and that next bigger or more complex opportunity arises, there is nothing wrong with going for it.  However, ego and ambition can also be dangerous, especially when they become ends and not means.  If you are constantly looking towards the next shiny thing, it makes it really hard to appreciate and enjoy what you presently have.  Ego also cuts both way.  It is not a sign of stable ego if you are easily seduced by every new opportunity; it is the opposite.  It is a fragile ego that needs to feel important and who reduces success to simple metrics (How big is the school?  How prominent?  How large the salary?).  It is also a sign of a fragile ego to put your professional ambition ahead of your family’s quality of life.  I have been that guy.  I have chased the ring.  I have picked up the phone.  I have asked my family to sacrifice their peace of mind on the altar of my ambition.

I am also someone who is attracted to the unique challenges of the start-up or the fixer-up, which also explains my career trajectory.  I have only really ever worked in places that were starting up or starting over.  I thrive in bringing order to chaos.  I do less well when order starts to take shape.  The simple truth is that I love to write first chapters.  That’s where a lot of the action takes place and the stories start to take shape.

But I am not the person I was five, ten and fifteen years ago.  What matters to me most and the kind of stories I want to write have (finally) evolved.  And so today, I am thrilled to share with you that after having worked with my board these last few months, that we have chosen here – the Ottawa Jewish Community School, the Ottawa Jewish Community and Ottawa itself – to finally write that second chapter.  For reasons related to my housing situation – and because round numbers are awesome – we will be tearing up the fifth and final year of my current contract and will replace it with a new contract that will keep us here at least five more years.

Why now and why here?

I can give all kinds of personal and family reasons.  My wife and children deserve some stability after 7 moves in 20 years.  My daughters deserve an opportunity to go through adolescence without the added stress of reinvention.  We believe that Ottawa (and Canada) is an ideal place to raise teenage girls in what is already a complicated and sometimes dangerous world.  We have found a neighborhood and support system that facilitates our observant Jewish lifestyle.  We think it will be wonderful for our children (and us) to eventually become dual citizens and for our children to have all the added opportunities (affordable and excellent universities!) that come with it.  We are still just beginning to get to know this city, province and country, but from what we have experienced thus far we feel comfortable and safe and happy here.  For those reasons alone, why wouldn’t we want to stay?

But please don’t think that I am simply settling.  Just because there are compelling personal reasons to stay doesn’t mean that professionally I am simply content to settle.  I may be slightly more mature, but I still carry lots of ambition.  This is not simply a personal decision; this is a business decision as well.

Professionally, I am as happy as I ever have been.  There were lots of challenges behind us and lots of challenges ahead of us (no chance of getting bored here!).  If my first chapter was about helping guide the school from a state of emergency to a state of stability, the next chapter will be about moving from stability to sustainability.  Please don’t think that my ambition about what can be true in Jewish day school has been lowered.  I still believe that Jewish day schools are/can/should be leading the educational (r)evolution and I know that OJCS is on the vanguard.  Our goal here at OJCS is to be the best school and even if we have not achieved it yet, we are definitely on our way.

I am blessed to work with a talented and growing administrative team, a gifted and dedicated teaching faculty, a strategic and nurturing board, supportive and committed donors, collaborative and creative institutional colleagues and a Jewish Federation that works hard to ensure that no one is left off the Jewish Superhighway.  Are there bigger and more prominent schools and Jewish communities?  Yes.  Are there schools with more resources?  Yes.  Does that mean that OJCS cannot become an innovative leader amongst Jewish day schools or Ottawan private schools?  Absolutely not.  The future of education is being written right here.   I am humbled to know that I will have a continuing hand in its authorship.

In the end, when faced with having to make a choice, the choice was clear.

I choose family.  I choose community.  I choose unlimited possibilities.  I choose innovation and excellence.  I choose the Jewish future.  I choose this school with these administrators and these teachers and these families and this board and these donors and these volunteers and this Jewish community.  I choose this time and this place to write a first second chapter.

I choose Ottawa.

Shofar, So Good: Reflections On A First Week Like No Other

Long time readers of this blog know that there is no pun too corny; and that I am good for a “shofar, so good” blog post each year come the Jewish High Holidays.  With our annual (reimagined for COVID) Middle School Retreat taking place next week (!) with its inevitable blog post to follow, it means that I get to use my pun even earlier, albeit a week too soon for Rosh Hashanah.

I have been a head of school for thirteen years across three schools and, like all my colleagues, I have never had a spring like last spring, a summer like last summer, or a first week of school like this one.

So after all the work and the planning and the logistics and protocols and the procedures…how are things going at the end of the first week of the 2020-2021 school year at the Ottawa Jewish Community School?

Shofar, so good!

We have lived a thousand micro-dramas these last few weeks as it is one thing to put protocols into writing and an entirely other thing to put them into practice.  I lived this experience myself as both a parent and a principal on the very first day of school!  My experience of trying to figure out what to do in the grey areas between policy and life is being played out in homes and schools throughout our community, province and country.  Teachers and parents are being called upon to exercise both caution and discretion in the face of unheard of conditions and we will be well-served to give each other space and permission to overcorrect and overcorrect again until we calibrate into our new normal.

But as I tried to express in last week’s post, our school is way more than a collection of COVID protocols and processes!  Of course, safety is our most pressing concern these days, but only a schmidge below is our sacred duty to educate.  And with regard to that holy enterprise, I am so grateful towards and proud of our teachers – especially the many new ones.  The job of being a teacher has never been more complicated and never more important.  Not only must our teachers do everything they had to do before, but they are also called upon to be distance and hybrid learning experts, healthcare workers and mental health professionals – all while taking care of themselves and their families.  And while this is generally true of all teachers, it is especially true at the highest bar for OJCS teachers.  Seeing the time and effort that goes into reaching it, is nothing short of inspirational.

We saw last spring how amazing our teachers were when we needed to make the pivot unplanned.  (And we know that our community was paying attention as our enrollment has grown – and is still growing – despite an economic downturn.)  Imagine how extraordinary our teachers are going to be when we have done nothing, but plan!  If you are a current OJCS parent, of course, you don’t have to imagine – you can see it each and every day.

Other thoughts and musings from the first week…

…you know how you sometimes don’t fully appreciate something until you can’t do it?  I always feel badly that I am not more of a presence in classrooms, but now I crave it!  I can’t wait to be back in classrooms!

…I didn’t think I would miss the Shofar Patrol this much!

…I know I mentioned it above, but it really is true that you cannot know something until you live it.  We have lots of fine-tuning ahead of us as we gain experience!  We appreciate both your feedback and your patience as we learn and our policies evolve.  Our “COVID FAQ” is live for a reason…it will change.

…I love using three entrances and exits this year, but please don’t tell any parents who hate it.

Please save the date!  By both parent and teacher request, we are bringing back a traditional “Back to School” on Wednesday, September 23rd at 7:00 PM.  The platform (virtual) may be new-school, but the program will be old-school.  Apparently, my telling you each year that all the information you need as parents (homework policies, behavior management programs, and the curriculum) is simply on the classroom blogs hasn’t satisfied parents or teachers!  So now that I have united you in your disagreement with me…welcome back “Back to School”.

The Coronavirus Diaries: OJCS Safe Reopening FAQ II

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

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

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

To recap…

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

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

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

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

Will my child still receive resource support?  

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

Can the front office administer my child’s medication? 

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

Will there be before and after-care? 

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

Will there be a hot lunch program? 

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

What will we do about supply teachers?

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

What kind of enhanced cleaning protocols will the school use?

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

Additionally…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will the library lending service work this year?

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

Will there be a Middle School Retreat?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lower School General Studies Faculty

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

Lower School Jewish Studies Faculty

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

Middle School Faculty

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

Specialists

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

Department of Special Education

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

Faculty Coordinators

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

Administration

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

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

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

The Coronavirus Diaries: OJCS Plans for a “Five-Day, Full-Day” Safe Reopening

Based on a thorough review of provincial guidelines, an examination of the physical facility, and feedback from teachers and parents, the Ottawa Jewish Community School has announced that it will be able to open after Labour Day with a “five-day, full-day” program for all its enrolled students.  The fundamental idea is to restrict contact to as few spaces and people as is reasonable, while still being able to offer meaningful in-person learning.  OJCS has sought to do this by restricting cohorts to 15 students who will spend the overwhelming majority of their school day in one designated space.

As exciting as this news is, we know there remain lots of questions and concerns about what this means for students, teachers and parents.  To guide our community’s thinking, we have put together a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for your convenience.  [This FAQ will eventually be housed on our school’s website.]   We have also included a list of questions that are still in the process of being adequately addressed.  [If you do not see your question on this list – or have additional questions or concerns based on any of the answers – please do not hesitate to be in contact with the school for greater clarity.]

So you have enrolled or are thinking about securing your spot (while we still have them!) at OJCS for 2020-2021.  What do you need to know?

How will cohorts be created?

At the time of our decision-making, enrollment dictated that we would be able to offer two cohorts in Grades K, 1, 2, 3, and 5 and one cohort of Grades 4, 6, 7 and 8.  The normal rules for “class-splitting” apply with the major exception of keeping twins and siblings together.

Where will cohorts learn?

Each cohort in Grade K-5 will be assigned a primary classroom or learning space (Library) where all its learning activities are designed to take place.  General, French and Jewish Studies Teachers for each grade level will move between their spaces; students will remain in their space.  Cohorts in Grades 6-8 will be assigned a primary classroom or learning space (Makerspace), but students will travel to limited additional spaces during their learning day.

Will students within cohorts be socially distanced in their own classroom? 

Students will be seated at individual desks spaced apart.  Students will not be sharing school supplies, but rather each student will have their own materials and books assigned to them. 

How else have you restricted contact?

As described in greater detail in our soon-to-be-published, updated “OJCS Handbook”, we have created three different entrances and exits to the school to further separate K-2, 3-4 and 5-8.  Similarly, we have restricted bathroom access to those groupings.

Will parents be allowed in the building to pick up and drop off students?

Parents, guests and visitors will not be able to access the building during this phase of reopening.  Normal drop off and pick up procedures will prohibit parents from entering the building.  Additionally, parents coming to pick up sick children or to take children to off-site appointments will be asked to wait outdoors.  Our Office will be prepared to facilitate all these comings and goings via intercom.  

Will students be allowed to use lockers? 

During this phase of reopening, students will not have access to lockers or storage outside of their designated learning spaces.

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

Based on guidelines, we will not offer formal PE in Grades K-3 or Music K-8.  Grade-level teachers (in K-3) will have shared responsibility for supervising recess and other necessary (outdoor) physical activity.  Clubs, extracurricular sports, etc., are on hold as well.

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

Art will now be taught virtually (the Art Teacher broadcast from the Art Studio) in the cohort spaces with support from the grade-level team.  Library workshops will also be taught virtually and all library services will be rendered virtually and contactless.  Snack and Lunch will be eaten in cohort spaces with supervision from the grade-level team.  Recess will be scheduled by cohort, supervised by the grade-level team wherever possible and will take place in scheduled and demarcated outdoor locations which will be cleaned (see below) between usages. 

We are exploring “Outdoor Education” in Grades 4-8 that will take the place of indoor “PE” in those grades, be held fully outdoors (even in Winter) and conducted through social distancing.  [This means that PE Uniforms will NOT be needed until such time as we resume normal PE activities.  It may be helpful for parents to invest in quality outerwear.]  Tefillah (even in Middle School) will take place in cohorts and will launch without singing.  All assemblies, events, holidays, etc., will be reimagined with any necessary adjustments or virtual components to stay in compliance with guidelines.

Will students or teachers be required to wear masks?

The provincial guidelines do NOT currently require students or teachers to wear masks within their cohorts.  Teachers who teach multiple cohorts and/or grades will be required to wear masks during their day.  Students will be required to wear masks while walking the halls, using the bathrooms or in any other spaces other than their primary cohort space (with the exception of outdoor spaces when socially distanced).  Additionally, students in Grades 5 – 8 will be strongly encouraged to wear masks even in their primary learning spaces.

Will my child need to supply their own masks/hand sanitizer?

We do expect families to equip their children with hand sanitizer to be kept in their desk, and to come with their own masks.

How will IEP reviews look in the fall?  Will I still be meeting with the Director of Special Education?

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

What does this mean for children who receive services from outside specialists?

We will not be able, during this phase of reopening, to provide on-site, in-person access to learning specialists, reading specialists, occupational therapists, mental health therapists, etc.  We will try on a case-by-case basis to provide a supervised space for tele-therapy or virtual sessions for students in Grades 5-8.

Will temperatures be taken each day?

The guidelines do not call for mandatory temperature checks each day for either students or teachers. 

What are the procedures for kids with runny noses/coughs?

We will be proceeding with extreme caution and will be asking parents to keep home children with just about any symptom of illness at all.  We will be erring on the side of sending students home who exhibit any symptoms as well.  We will be treating our teachers the same.

What if a student or teacher tests positive or is exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19?

The decision to operate by cohort allows for a more limited, surgical set of closings in the event of a positive case.  We could send home just the cohort into self-quarantine or the grade-level, depending on the circumstance.  

Who do I get in touch with if someone in my family or community has COVID? 

Please notify both Ottawa Public Health and OJCS immediately should you discover that you have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

If someone in my immediate family travels, are there any protocols we need to follow when they return? 

Our school will remain aligned with all public health guidelines with regard to travel – within Ontario, between provinces and outside Canada.  This means that all requirements for quarantine will be applied to all OJCS families.

Here are the next set of questions that we are in the process of answering:

  • What kind of enhanced cleaning protocols will the school use?
  • What can you tell us about the state of ventilation in the building?
  • How will you handle supply teachers?
  • Will there be before and after-care? 
  • Will there be a hot lunch program? 
  • I’ve indicated my child will be engaging in virtual learning only due to health reasons, how will that work?
  • Will my child still receive resource support?  
  • How will the library lending service work this year?
  • Can the front office administer my child’s medication? 

In addition to the above, there remain lots of smaller, yet still important, programmatic decisions to be made.  Not everything can and should land in an FAQ, however, we are aiming to include as much as we can.  As stated about 1,000 words above, if you find anything above confusing or concerning, please let us know.  If you have a pressing question that you do not see above, please let us know.

Next week, we will provide you with an update on all remaining staffing concerns.  We are just about finished with hiring and have some wonderful new teachers to introduce to you!  We also know that parents are naturally curious to see how portfolios have shifted from what we have previously announced.  Stay tuned!

The Transparency Files: The OJCS 2020-2021 Faculty

We are doing our very best to tie up all our loose ends at the very same time, without getting tripped up!  The school itself has been physically open on Thursday and today for parents to come and drop off library books, used uniforms, etc., and to pick up the contents of desks, lockers, as well as yearbooks.  After all these months of distance it is very weird seeing actual human beings in our parking lot!  At the same time, we have report cards which are being sent home electronically today as well.  Those tasks will functionally close out the 2019-2020 school year.

That sets the stage for us to focus our energies squarely on the 2020-2021 school year to come.  The most important issue, of course, that we are working on is the plan for a safe reopening.  We are finishing up our review of provincial guidelines, I have been participating in calls with the Heads of Toronto Jewish Day Schools (through their UJA), and we are keeping up with best practices in both the private school world (through CAIS) and the Jewish day school world (through Prizmah).  The “good news” so far is that there are no huge surprises.  The threefold path we have already been planning to travel – in-person, distance and a hybrid (or “hyflex”) – is how every school is being asked to plan.  The two simpler paths are easier to conceptualize.  We can imagine what it might look like to have everyone back in the building with some amount of social distancing and with restrictions on activities such as PE or Music.  We would need to make adjustments, change schedules, etc., but we’d figure out how to make it work.  We can do more than imagine what it might look like to have everyone home, because that is what we lived through during the last 13 weeks of the school year.  However, parents should not expect that our OJCS Distance Learning program would look the same in the future as it did in the past.  With more time to plan, with experiences under our belts and with student/teacher/parent feedback, it is reasonable to believe that if we were forced back into a fully remote program, that it would look meaningfully different and increasingly improved (particularly in the youngest grades).

What is less easy to imagine, of course, is the hybrid or hyflex model and this is where we are doing the greatest amount of planning.  Guidelines that cap class cohorts at 15 students or seek to limit the amount of teachers who engage with a cohort are understandably tricky for a trilingual school with class sizes that average 15-20.  We have both physical and programmatic challenges to overcome to land in the right place.  We also have to have a better handle on parent needs and wants, which is why a parent survey will be sent out within the next couple of weeks.  We look forward to sharing more about our thinking and our proposed model as it comes into focus.  We appreciate your patience as we go about our work and we stand ready to answer any question or address any concern you may have in the meanwhile.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us directly.

This extended caveat – why not just tell us who the teachers are! – is necessary because what follows is a bit more tentative than it otherwise would be.  It is possible that the adoption of a hybrid model could require a different assignment for a teacher here or there because some classes (Art, Music, PE, etc.) may not take place (in the same way) or some grades may not be split the same way in a hybrid model than in a full in-person model.

So with that in mind, please 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 2020-2021 OJCS Faculty & Staff

Lower School General Studies Faculty

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

Lower School Jewish Studies Faculty

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

Middle School Faculty

  • Science: Josh Ray
  • Mathematics: Chelsea Cleveland
  • Language Arts: Mike Washerstein
  • Social Studies: Deanna Bertrend
  • Extended French: Stéphane Cinanni
  • Core French:  Dr. Sylvie Raymond
  • Hebrew: Ofra Yfrah  (Level I) & Ruthie Lebovich (Level II)
  • Jewish Studies: Mike Washerstein
  • Rabbinics: A Rabbinics Teacher

Specialists

  • Art: Shira Waldman
  • Music: TBD (due to COVID)
  • PE: Josh Ray, Faye Mellenthin (Grades K, 1, 2 & MS Girls) & Brian Kom (3)
  • 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

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

You will see two new names in the above list.  We are pleased to introduce Ofra Yfrah, a new Jewish Studies Teacher, who will be coming to us, with her family, from Israel with teaching experience and a passion for children.  We are additionally pleased to introduce Dr. Sylvie Raymond, a new French Teacher, who comes with a wealth of teaching expertise and enthusiasm for all things French.

We are moving full steam ahead with candidates for a new Head of Jewish Studies and a K-1 French Teacher, and between our extraordinary returning teachers and the quality of our new teachers, we know that the future is bright at OJCS.

This likely ends my weekly blogging for the season.  I will blog through the summer if and when there is what to share – obviously including all our thoughts and plans for a safe reopening.  Our office remains open, of course, but administration will take staggered vacation throughout the summer to make sure we are refreshed and recharged for 2020-2021.

Happy Summer!

The Transparency Files: Annual Parent Survey

I took advantage of the holiday weekend (Victoria Day, my American friends) with little opportunity to do much other than enjoy the weather at great (social) distance, to go through the results of this year’s Annual Parent Survey.  If you would like to see a full comparison with last year, you can reread those results or have them open so you can toggle back and forth.  In this post, I will try to capture the highlights and identify what trends as seem worth paying attention to.

The first thing to name, which does not come as a tremendous surprise considering the times we are living through, is that both the number and percentage of students captured in this year’s survey is markedly down from the prior two years.  We have gone from 81 students to 84 students to 54 students.  This represents about 32% of our student population.  (Even less where not each survey is fully filled out.)  As the survey is per student, not per family, it runs the risk of being even less representative than that.  (In the service of anonymity, we have no way to actually know how many families the survey actually represents.)  Last year, we were at about 40% of students represented with a goal this year of hitting 50%.

Of course, this is definitely not an “all things being equal” circumstance.  We are still navigating distance learning and it is doubtful that drawing any meaningful conclusions about participation rates is worthwhile.  [We saw a similar decline in percentage in this year’s Annual Faculty Survey and it aligns with fieldwide data.]  Whereas it is common wisdom that folks with concerns are usually more likely to fill out these surveys, there is no common wisdom when it comes to pandemic times.  So instead of worrying this year about the motivations for why families did or didn’t fill out surveys, let’s celebrate the parents who did participate and try to make meaning of what they are telling us.

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.  This year, we see less Kindergarten than normal, for what that’s worth.

The percentage who replied “yes” is largely unchanged from last year (and always compounded by not knowing who of the “no’s” represent graduations or relocations, as opposed to choosing to attrit prior to Grade 8).  What is different this year is that the percentage of “undecideds” is larger than the “no’s” for the first time.  An increase of uncertainty certainly seems reasonable during a time of pandemic, although we have no way to tell the difference between correlation and causation.  What continues to be true is that the overwhelming majority of families – regardless of their feedback – stay with us year after year.  This continues to say a lot about them and a lot about us.

Let’s look at the BIG PICTURE:

The first chart gives you the weighted average satisfaction score (out of 10); the second chart gives you the breakdown by category.  I will remind you that for this and all categories, I look at the range between 7-9 as the healthy band, obviously wanting scores to be closer to 9 than to 7, and looking for scores to go up each year.  In terms of “overall satisfaction”, we have now gone from 7.13 to 7.20 to 8.17.  This year marks a meaningful jump in the right direction and you can see by the second chart that it is explained by the extremely high percentage of families who graded the school an 8, 9 or 10 and the extremely low percentage of families who graded the school a 1, 2 or 3 (in fact no families graded the school a “1” or “2”) – both of those things were not (as) true last year.  This is surely good news, but let’s dig deeper…

A few things jump out…

  • The topline number is up, fairly significantly, from 7.11 to 8.0.  This marks the first time we have reached that threshold.
  • Both learning “LEVELS” and learning “STYLES” have also crossed the threshold from the less healthy high 6’s into the mid 7’s.  It would be nice to know how much of this is attributed to improvement in general and how much to how the school has responded to distance learning, but we will have that same question to answer with almost all the data.
  • I am very pleased to see that every single category is up from the prior year and that all, but one, in this section are now firmly in the healthy 7-9 range.
  • I am thrilled to see such a high score (8.25) for “creative and critical thinking skills”.
  • Our lowest score (again) is again in “Homework” although it has climbed from 6.56 to 6.91, putting it just outside the healthy band.  As I wrote about in my self-evaluation, it is hard to know if the full implementation of our new Homework Philosophy was hindered by COVID-19, but we will look to see if this score goes up with another year of implementation under our belts.

  • Hereto, every metric is higher than last year and we still want to see each one climb a little higher.
  • The topline number has moved from 6.61 to 6.97, which is so close to being a 7, but for such an important metric, I would really like to see it closer to 8.  It would be interesting to peg this question to the grade of the student captured in the data (which I cannot do in order to protect anonymity) to see if parents’ perceptions of their child(ren) as being well prepared for high school grows higher as they get closer (which would be good) to graduation.
  • So thrilled to see all three of our metrics that deal with resource and IEPs to have grown and to all enter the healthy band!  Kudos to Sharon Reichstein, our Director of Special Needs Education, and her team for all their work this year – work that I believe has proven even more valuable during this time of distance learning.  This is a clear example over time where parent voice, aligned with teacher and student voice, leads to meaningful action.  (Fill out those surveys y’all!  We really do pay attention.)

  • Thrilled to see that our topline number has moved from 7.24 to 8.17!
  • Very happy to see that every metric in General Studies is well into the healthy band and each one is up from the prior year:
    • Math: 7.09 to 7.60
    • Science: 7.09 to 7.72
    • Social Studies: 7.41 to 7.96
    • Reading: 6.93 to 8.0
    • Writing: 6.51 to 7.07
  • I would happily attribute the meaningful increase in reading to all the work our Language Arts Teachers have done with STAR Reading / Accelerated Reader, incentivizing reading in general with the “Annual Reading Challenge” and the Scholastic Book Fair, and better integrating our Library with the Classrooms.

  • I am of two minds when it comes to our French metrics.  The positive is that all three metrics are HIGHER than they were last year at this time.  That’s good news!  Our OVERALL metric went from 5.66 to 6.54.  French reading grew from 5.58 to 6.36.  French writing went 5.35 to 6.07.  Those are all meaningful jumps in the right direction.  The negative, of course, is that they all still fall below the healthy band.  However, another year of growth like this one would put all those categories firmly there.  That should be great cause for optimism since this year’s growth can fairly be attributed to the first year of our consultancy with TACLEF – a year that got truncated by a third due to COVID-19.  Immediately before we pivoted to distance learning, we posted an update on the progress we had made this year due to TACLEF.  Knowing that we have another full year of consultancy ahead of us, should inspire greater confidence that our French outcomes will soon be on par with the rest of General Studies.  That will be quite an accomplishment considering the narrative around French outcomes that the school has been working to flip during the last three years.  Bon travail to the French Department!
  • Sticking with the theme of this section, all three of our specialty classes are up as well!  Congrats to the PE Teachers for leading PE from 6.84 to 7.75, to Morah Shira for lifting Art from 7.20 to 8.33, and to new Music Teacher, Mr. Goddard, for guiding Music from 6.80 to 7.56.  It is good to know that even with a rigorous, trilingual curriculum, that we continue to offer the kinds of high-quality PE/Music/Art experiences that make a well-rounded education.

  • We are again thrilled to see all our Jewish Studies metrics continue to climb higher after another year.  We are especially pleased to see the OVERALL metric move from 7.29 to 8.08.  With another year’s commitment to immersive Hebrew pedagogy, another year of meaningful prayer experiences, the leadership of Dr. Avi Marcovitz as our new Dean of Judaics, greater engagement of our community’s clergy, etc., we are clearly headed in the right direction.  Kol ha’kavod to the Jewish Studies Department!
  • We are pleased to see our extracurricular activities and athletics climb into the healthy range this year!  We are pleased to see field trips go up, with the hope to see it over 7 in the year to come.
  • Although our hot lunch program and our after school metrics trail behind the others, they are both UP significantly from the last year.  We will continue to work with our partners and vendors and look forward to continued growth in the year ahead.

From our experimental section, we yield these two data points (and two sets of meaningful commentary).  As we see it as almost an inevitably that schools will be required to pivot back and forth from school in a bricks-and-mortar building to school through distance learning, our ability to navigate that pivot with minimal disruption and maximal academic progress – not to mention with the continuance of meaningful Jewish experiences – will be powerful value-adds for OJCS in the years ahead.

  • I noticed that I did NOT include this section (Communications) in last year’s analysis (even though I am pretty sure the questions were asked), so we will let this year’s data serve as a baseline from which to judge future metrics.
  • All of these scores are high into the healthy range!  I like to see our “open and welcoming atmosphere” come in at 8.60, our regular communication at 8.73 and the front office’s responsiveness to concerns at an 8.80 – all of our highest scores.  I think we all know that we have Ellie to thank for a lot of those high scores!
  • I will be interested to see what the impact of “Student-Led Conferences” will be on the “parent-teacher conferences” metric once launched.

  • I have already shared my thoughts on my own job performance in my prior “Transparency Files” post.  I will simply state here my pleasure in seeing all these numbers climb from the prior year.
  • The one metric that I am very pleased to see climb is the last one, which essentially serves as a proxy for school-wide behavior management.  Last year we scored a 6.69 and I stated that, “we are working on launching a new, school-wide behavior management system next year based on the “7 Habits” and anchored in our “North Stars”.  I will be surprised if this score doesn’t go up next year.”  Well, it came in this year at a 7.65.

Last data point:

Remember this question was scaled 1-5.  Our school has climbed from last year’s 4.14 to this year’s. 4.44.  I truthfully don’t know how much more there reasonably is to grow this, but we’ll keep doing our best to find out!

So there you have it for 2019-2020!

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

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

The Transparency Files: Self-Evaluation

Although it feels like COVID-19 is the only thing we experienced this year, it will -at most – constitute a third of our school year.  So even though we continue along with our Distance Learning Program, even though things continue to be unpredictable, it is still true that when the calendar turns to May and June, you can count on me to deliver a series of “Transparency Files” blog posts!  This year, I am beginning with a self-evaluation, and will continue with the sharing out of results from this year’s Annual Parent Survey, results from this year’s Annual Faculty Survey (which is shared directly with them), and will conclude with a discussion of next year’s new initiatives and an introduction of the 2020-2021 OJCS Faculty.  [Things being what they are, these posts may not follow weekly.]

So let’s lean in…

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

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

This year’s self-evaluation is based on goals created for this year (which was done at the beginning of the year in consultation with that same Head Support & Evaluation Committee).  You will not find a complete laundry list of my day-to-day responsibilities.  [I typically focus in this blog post on more of my “principal’s” responsibilities, and not as much on my “head of school’s” (i.e. fundraising, marketing, budgeting, etc.)]   This means that you are only going to see selected components [there are more goals in each area than I am highlighting here] for the 2019-2020 OJCS academic year:

Establish steady and measurable growth of the student population

  1. Leverage parlour meeting(s) w/host families.
    1. Meet ahead of scheduled parlour meetings with host families to discuss an invitation strategy as well as salient points that better target the invited families.
    2. Meet after with host families to discuss follow-up strategy with a goal of converting 95% of attendees into scheduled tours.
  2. Work with Admissions Director to introduce a more data-driven approach to the entire admissions cycle.
    1. Explore data management programs (analogous to development) to  better collect and sort relevant data for the entire admissions cycle (inquiries, tours, applications, follow-ups, admissions, etc.).
    2. Introduce metrics (i.e. “touches”) into the regular moves management process.

OJCS is a school of excellence

  1. Working with French Faculty to integrate TACLEF training (year one of two).
    1. Assign a veteran teacher to shepherd the process and calendar all relevant training sessions.
    2. Meet with French Faculty after each round of training to see how teachers are faring.
    3. Encourage use of diagnostic tools as part of the process of preparing for both report cards and parent-teacher conferences.
    4. Share out with families (whether in a meeting and/or blog) updates of the work and its impact on the schools.
  2. Prototyping student blogfolios in Grades 5 & 6.
    1. Work with IT to establish the blogfolios.
    2. Work with the Educational Leadership Team (ELT) (Mrs. Thompson in particular) to help the Middle School Team understand the value of student blogfolios and how to best utilize them.
    3. Engage in proactive parent education with the families in Grade 5 (Grade 6 families began this last year) to best prepare them to be active partners.
    4. Aim for Grade 5 to prototype Student-Led Conferences for the Spring (b/c/ they tie naturally to student blogfolios).
  3. Actualize new HW Philosophy across K-8.
    1. Prepare and present new HW Philosophy (focusing on implementation strategies) to faculty during Pre-Planning Week.
    2. Facilitate a session on “Homework” at Parent Night.
    3. Work with the ELT to address ongoing issues through the implementation phase.
    4. Solicit feedback from parents, students and teachers as to how the new philosophy and policies are working.
  4. Launch new behavior management program anchored in 7 Habits / North Stars.
    1. Prepare and present new behavior management program (focusing on implementation strategies) to faculty during Pre-Planning Week
    2. Facilitate a session on “Behavior Management” at Parent Night.
    3. Work with the ELT to address ongoing issues through the implementation phase.
    4. Solicit feedback from parents, students and teachers as to how the new philosophy and policies are working.

Public  & Community Relations

  1. Introduce “Parent Workshops” (instead of “Town Halls”) around areas of intent interest (i.e. use of technology).
    1. Solicit feedback from parents as to what kinds of workshops would be meaningful to invest parental energy in participating in.
    2. Launch 1-3 Parent Workshops (either scheduled at multiple times and/or w/virtual options to accommodate busy schedules).
  2. Prototype family educational experiences.
    1. Gather feedback from parents and teachers as to what kinds of family experiences (whether in school like a “Family Kabbalat Shabbat” or outside of school like a “Family Retreat” would be meaningful.
    2. Launch 1-2 Parent Family Experiences.

 

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

Here are some things to focus in on…

…we regard to Admissions, we were in the middle of a new outreach initiative to the Israeli community (championed by current OJCS Israeli parents) and had an event scheduled to bring new Israeli families to OJCS for a Lego Robotics activity, but it got canceled due to COVID-19.

…with regard to TACLEF, in addition to what I posted right before we had to pivot towards distance learning, with the (small) sample of (strategically selected) students who were used to train the teachers on the diagnostic tools, data was used not only for report cards and parent-teacher conferences, but also to navigate questions about French level placement.  If not for COVID-19, there should have / would have / will be a French Town Hall with more concrete findings and next steps.  Our last in-person training session for this year has been postponed into the already planned second year of this consultancy.

…with regard to Student Blogfolios, work was done with the ELT, but we did not get as far with the full Middle School Team as we would have liked.  Use of blogfolios in Grade 6 was pretty scattershot until we were forced into our Distance Learning Program.  Use increased out of necessity and we look forward to a carryover effect when we return to normal schooling.  Working with the Grade 5 Team, we successfully onboarded Grade 5 Parents – at least more successfully than the last cohort.  We were headed towards a prototype of a Student-Led Conference, although it is possible we may not have gotten all the way there, before COVID-19, but now this too must wait until next year.

…with regard to the new Homework Philosophy, I think, as expected, that implementation has been the trickiest part.  We will need to continue to spend meaningful time with faculty to ensure a shared understanding of how the philosophy ought to live across grades and subjects.  It is also going to be hard to know how the shift towards Distance Learning for the last third of the school will color feedback on this (and the next one below).  We will get some sense from Faculty and Parent Surveys, but not as targeted as it otherwise might have been.

…with regard to the new behavior management program, as with the new homework philosophy, implementation is the trickiest part.  We had greater success in the Lower School than in the Middle School, but good progress was being made right up until COVID-19.  More work will need to be done into next year.  Hereto, it is going to be hard to know how the shift towards Distance Learning for the last third of the school will color feedback.  As above, we will get some sense from Faculty and Parent Surveys, but not as targeted as it otherwise might have been.

…and, finally, with regard to parent and community relations, this still feels like an area for growth.  We held one workshop on “Technology” and then the move towards Distance Learning led to additional workshops specific to the pandemic.  Our virtual Family Kabbalat Shabbats and PTA virtual experiences have played a meaningful role during this time of distancing.

Those are just highlights.

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

Radical Transparency: Finding Wellness Through Brazen Vulnerability

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

Here’s what I did not talk about:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a new school.

In a new state.

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

How I ever met a friend is an enduring mystery…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Transparency Files: 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.