Shofar, So Good: First Days & First (Masked) Smiles

What a strange and wonderful week!  Starting school after Rosh Hashanah and being back in school in person?!!

On behalf of the teachers, staff, administration, and board of this school, I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to have actual live human beings again filling our building with their energy, their ruach, and their smiles (we’ve all become experts at seeing smiles beneath masks)!  We have rightfully put so much energy into our COVID safety protocols over the last two school years that it is easy to forget that we are not public health officials, but educators who are in the business of teaching and learning.  I have had ample opportunity to wander the hallways, to be in classrooms, and outside in playgrounds and after just two days of school, I am perfectly able to pronounce that as of now shofar so good!

Here’s just a little taste of what the first two days at OJCS have looked and felt like…

…we began our first day with two “Welcome Ceremonies”.  With Junior Kindergarten returning to OJCS this year, we conducted special “Welcome Ceremonies” for parents in both JK and SK to mark the beginning of their children’s formal Jewish day school journey at OJCS.  We gathered under (socially distanced) tallitot as each grade- level team shared a welcome poem with their students.  We joined together in shehechiyanu and then it was time for hugs, kisses, last photos and goodbyes.  We are always honoured – and never take for granted – when a family chooses OJCS to provide the sacred and holy task of education, and we hope this is just the first of many rituals and moments we share together in the years to come.

…we held our annual Welcome Back Assembly, still virtual for at least one more year, during which we introduced new teachers and celebrated our opening havdalah where we creatively appropriate the ritual of separation to mark the transition from the summer to the start of school.  We were encouraged to think about what from the summer we want to carry forward into school and, considering the season, to think about who we were last year and who we hope to be in the year to come.

…students found their way back to lockers and classrooms that have been waiting for them since last April.

…playgrounds and courtyards were filled with laughter and games and, for Middle School, food as the Outdoor Cafeteria is back and open for business.

…everyone is remembering/learning which entrances and exits and washrooms and water fountains and hallways belong to them, and how to find their way from this to that.

…there is a joyful cacophony of Hebrew, French and English that captures our trilingual nature and is a pleasure to hear throughout the building.

…the OJCS Makerspace is gearing back up for a delayed reopening and you should stay tuned for an exciting announcement about the Makerspace!

 

We have seen over the last two years how amazing our teachers have been during distance learning pivots planned and unplanned and through hyflex engagement.  And we know that our community has been paying attention as our enrollment continues to grow each and every year.  Imagine how extraordinary our school is going to be now that we have planned out each and every scenario!  If you are a current OJCS parent, of course, you don’t have to imagine – you can see it each and every day.

Please save the date for Virtual Back to School Night on Tuesday, October 12th at 7:00 PM.  In addition to all the normal things one discusses at Back to School Night, this year we will also be sharing grade-specific plans for how students who may be kept home from school for different reasons will be able to continue to learn even as we move away from hyflex learning.

Please be on the lookout for updated COVID vaccine policies now that both the Ministry of Education and Ottawa Public Health have shared new requirements and recommendations for private schools.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2021-2022 OJCS Faculty & Staff

Lower School General Studies Faculty

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

Lower School Jewish Studies Faculty

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

Middle School Faculty

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

Specialists

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

Department of Special Education

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

Education Leadership Team

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

Administration

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

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

It is going to be a GREAT Year.

#BeExcited

The Coronavirus Diaries: 2021 OJCS Safe Reopening FAQ

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s get started…

How will cohorting work this year?

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

Where will learning happen this school year?

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

How will Nutrition Breaks work?

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

Will teachers be wearing masks?

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

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

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

How else have you restricted access?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In addition…

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

Can my child receive service from outside specialists?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will IEP meetings be conducted in the fall?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there additional information regarding ventilation in the school?

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

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

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

Will there be a Photo Day this year?

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

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

Enjoy these final weeks of summer!

The Transparency Files: The 2021-2022 Faculty

Happy Monday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2021-2022 OJCS Faculty & Staff

Lower School General Studies Faculty

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

Lower School Jewish Studies Faculty

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

Middle School Faculty

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

Specialists

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

Department of Special Education

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

Education Leadership Team

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

Administration

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

You will see some new names above!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Transparency Files: Annual Parent Survey

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s look at the BIG PICTURE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last data point:

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

So there you have it for 2020-2021!

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

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

The Transparency Files: Self-Evaluation

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

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

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

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

Establish steady and measurable growth of the student population

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

OJCS is a school of excellence

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

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

Here are some things to focus in on…

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

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

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

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

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

Those are just highlights.

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

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.