A Middle School Cell Phone Detox

[NOTE: This is an extended version of an email sent this week to all parents in Grades 6-8.  I share it here as it likely will be of interest to our full OJCS community and possibly some of our fellow-travelers on the journey of schools.]

These are busy times indeed and with the rush of special events and the end of year coming into focus, this may seem like an odd time to launch yet another new initiative.  However, for us, it is always the right time to do what is necessary to ensure the wellbeing of our students.  A number of us on our Educational Leadership Team (beginning with Acting Vice Principal Melissa Thompson) have been reading The Anxious Generation and following the discussion on one of its big ideas, “Wait Until 8th“.  Both deal with the negative impacts of constant and chronic use of smartphones, in particular, on young and developing minds.  For those OJCS families continuing into 2024-2025, you can almost guarantee that will be the ONE BIG IDEA for next year – a leading theme of “Back to School Night”, the subject of parent education sessions, and a series of cohorted book groups focused on Grades 2-4.
But even right now, with just weeks left in the school year, our teachers in the Middle School are reporting an uptick in cell phone usage during school hours with resulting negative behaviours and a negative impact on social interactions.  Now, in theory, this should not be a thing.  Our school’s existing policy on cell phones is clear.  No OJCS student is permitted to possess a cell phone during school hours on campus property.  Yes, for those parents who wish for their children to have cell phones to use to safely navigate before or after school activities, they are permitted to have them, but they are supposed to remain in backpacks for the entire length of the school day.
Needless to say, we have not found complete success with enforcement, and both to calm the currents, and to learn for the future, we have moved forward with a full cell phone detox for middle school students at OJCS from May 15-24th.  Here is what it means: All cell phones that find their way to campus are being collected first period, stored in the office during the day, and returned to students last period.  (Any parent who does not want the school collecting their child(ren)’s cell phone(s), are keeping them home during these days.)  For local folk who follow the conversations with the public board or the Ministry of Education, you will notice that they, too, are shifting their policies in a way that is much more closely aligned with our proposed new direction.
Additionally, we have asked parents for their support in two areas: 1) Any student who wears an AppleWatch or any other kind of Smart Watch is being asked to either leave it at home, have it collected along with the cell phones, or have its connectivity disabled while at school.  We are checking on those students to ensure appropriate use.  2) Even with this detox, students still have their laptops/tablets.  Students are not supposed to be texting, emailing, or messaging with their parents during the school day.  This is impossible to 100% oversee, so even as we ramp up our supervision, we have asked for parent partnership in reminding their child(ren) by either not answering messages that come during school hours or – if parents are truly concerned by a message – to please redirect them to their teachers who are there to help them.
We are only a day or two into this experiment and we are grateful to our parents for their partnership in helping us to better enforce our existing policies.  At OJCS, we want children to be free from distraction and distress while they should be safe at school to learn and to engage with their peers in real life.  We’ll see what happens and will report back our findings and recommendations about next steps.
Thanks to all OJCS Parents who took the time to fill out this year’s Annual Parent Survey!  Although there has been a slight uptick in reponses, we are still far shy of a plurality of students/families.  I am going to keep the survey open until May 21st hoping that the holiday weekend provides you with the additional bandwidth to contribute your feedback.  These results do matter and directly impact programmatic choices, so please take the small amount of time it requires and make your voice heard.

“We are reliving our past”: Holocaust education in the shadow of 10/7

[NOTE: This blog post is written by current OJCS Parent and member of our Board of Trustees, Howie Fremeth.]

All other nations that tried to kill us have perished. Yet we have survived. Look at you.

As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, these words from Marie Doduck to OJCS Grades 5-8 students hit me right in the kishkes

Learning about the Holocaust has always been important to me for as long as I can remember. My bubbie towards the end of her life chose me to share details that she didn’t tell anyone else – even her own children – and help her document her story so that it can be passed down to future generations. Now as a parent, I am only beginning to struggle with what I tell my kids about our family history. So when I had the opportunity to attend this week’s Yom Hashoah Assembly, I knew I had to be there to both observe and show my daughter how much it means to me.  

Born in 1935, Marie Doduck was just five years old when the Nazis conquered her hometown of Brussels and was forced into hiding until the end of the war. Her survival, in her own words, was thanks to a mixture of good luck and the goodwill of many non-Jews who took her in. In 1947, she came to Canada as part of the Jewish Canadian Congress’ Orphan War Project that helped foster Jewish children who had lost their parents in the Holocaust.

For more than an hour, the students had an opportunity to hear Marie’s story. She was particularly keen to spend most of the time answering questions.  I was amazed by how much more the students knew about the history of the Second World War and the Holocaust than I thought they would. They wanted to know everything from details about her daily life routine to her views on the Nazis. 

But it was one student’s question that folded the past into the present: What do you think about the massacre of Israelis on October 7th and the current rise of antisemitism in Canada?    

Marie didn’t hesitate in her response. She said she thinks she’s reliving what happened to her some 80 years ago. She recalled that the violence began with words, so we must call out hate speech before it turns violent. But she did say there was one crucial difference from then and now. 

Today the Jewish people have a country to call our own. She told the students that if Israel existed before the Holocaust, that’s where European Jews would have gone for sanctuary. We now have a place to go if we must leave Canada – a thought that none of us would’ve even imagined a few months ago. But she also said we won’t leave or turn the other cheek like we did when she was a girl in Belgium. We will fight back both here in Canada and in Israel. 

She reminded the students that Israel has one of the most powerful militaries in the world. Her message paralleled something I heard Israel’s Ambassador to Canada Iddo Moed often say in media interviews: we will win this war because we have to win the war. 

I walked out of the assembly thinking how precious it is that my daughter had the opportunity to hear directly from a survivor. While I’m grateful they were able to meet, my daughter was not even five when my bubbie passed away. Thankfully we have a self-published photo album recounting her family history and a translation of her diary – written in a mixture of Yiddish, Russian and Polish with a few of her own drawings throughout the pages – that offers a first-person account of her survival. Yet none of this can compete with hearing directly from a survivor who can also situate the past into the present. 

At a time when protesters distort the Holocaust, chant the genocidal “River to the Sea” slogan and call on Jews to “go back to Europe,” Marie’s story empowers the great grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. It offers meaning for why we continue our traditions – despite the trauma, the costs, and threats we face as they are reminded every day when they see police parked outside their school.  

I know there will be a time soon when we won’t have any more living survivors. Until that day comes, it is incumbent on all of us to hear their stories and ensure that young Canadians from all faiths and backgrounds share in this opportunity. 

Before I conclude, I want to thank our incredible staff and faculty – especially Michael Washerstein – who organized this special experience for our children. 

[Back to Jon:]

I look forward to sharing results from the Annual Parent Survey later this month.  If you have NOT yet contributed and you want your results included, please fill yours out by Monday, May 15th.  Please and thank you!

Teacher Appreciation Week 2024

It feels like each year there is something from the outside world that warrants an explanation as to why this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week is worthy of your added attention.  Whether it was COVID in prior years or October 7th in this one, the job of being a teacher has only gotten more complicated…and more important.  And, of course, here at OJCS what with the relocation and the renovation underway, this year all the more so…

Teachers are not infallible.  Teachers make mistakes.  Teachers can do the wrong thing.  A hopeful return to giving teachers the benefit of the doubt won’t mean blind faith.  Giving teachers the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t advocate for their children.  Giving teachers the benefit of the doubt doesn’t meant that sometimes parents don’t have a better solution to an issue than their teachers.  The best of schools foster healthy parent-teacher relationships explicitly because of these truths.  Both partners are required to produce the best results.  But somewhere in between my time as a student to my time as an educator, the culture changed.  Respect for teachers went from being automatic to being earned to being ignored.

How about this year, let’s assume the best of our teachers – even when they have difficult truths to share.  Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt – even when they don’t communicate as well as they could.  Let’s treat them as partners – even when they make mistakes.  Let’s not simply tell our teachers that we appreciate them; let’s actually appreciate them.

Looking for ideas?

Here is what we will be doing for our teachers as a school:

How about you?

Pump up this great “Teacher Appreciation Week” playlist, pick an item from below (aggregated from lots of blog posts) and make a teacher’s day:

  • A personalized note or email
  • A homemade craft
  • Caffeine
  • A hot meal
  • Gift cards
  • Plants
  • A personalized thank-you sign
  • Small treasures
  • Something special that reminds a teacher of his/her student(s)
  • Alcohol (but check first!)
  • Show up for school!
  • Spa treatment
  • Experiential gifts (like a remote yoga or dance class)
  • Donations to a dream project
  • Year-Round Advocacy

I look forward to sharing results from the Annual Parent Survey later this month.  If you have NOT yet contributed and you want your results included, please fill yours out by Monday, May 15th.  Please and thank you!

Next Year In…Jerusalem? Preparing for Passover Post-October 7th

Not the WhatsApp I wanted to receive.  Not the history I was hoping to repeat.

In May of 2021, I wrote a blog post with a similar text from my older daughter during her semester of Grade 10 studying abroad in Israel.  As worried as I was then, those seem like the good old days compared to now.

I know that it is becoming commonplace to ask, “How X is different post-October 7th?” and clearly a holiday that is synonymous with “How is this night different from all other nights?” lends itself to that exact formulation.  Tack on the “Next Year in Jerusalem” that – again – may spark questions or conversation in a “normal” year and the idea of preparing to lead a “Post-October 7th Passover Seder” seems…well…like something I wouldn’t mind passing…over.  I don’t know how any of us are doing it.  We are running model seders and preparing for Passover while drones and missiles are flying towards Israel.  We are emotionally exhausted from the trauma of the last six months – while still not recovered from the trauma of the last three years.

love the Passover Seder.  It is pedagogical perfection and I enjoy thinking about which new readings and tunes and discussion prompts and parody songs to incorporate.  For years and years, we have spent Passover in Las Vegas (where better than a desert?) celebrating with, first, with my parents and, now, with my mother.  I typically spend the flight out finishing my preparations and looking forward to the seders with great anticipation.  This year?  We are going to synagogue the first night and keeping it small the second.  We will have one eye on the Haggadah and one eye towards our phones which would otherwise by away for the chag, but this year need to be nearby God forbid.

I have never had the pleasure of spending a Passover in Israel.  I am blessed that come this year, both my daughters will have at least once in their lives been able to not just say, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” but to actually do it.  Even this year, even now, I am more grateful than scared.  I feel more blessed that Maytal is having this experience than concerned.  I know the small dose of empathy this experience is providing me with as my daughter is tucked in her cocoon of safety in Jerusalem does not compare with those whose worries for friends and family are more serious and more present.

This is the part of the blog where typically I push out a pre-Passover blog post that shares (updated) thoughts about how one goes about planning a proper seder.  And if you have the bandwidth and headspace to take that on this year, I encourage you to click here and take what is meaningful.  But if you don’t…if kashering and gathering and pulling out the Maxwell House or Haggadah-Of-Your-Choice is the best you can do under the circumstances then let this be one of those years where good enough is truly good enough.

I typically encourage the addition of a “Fifth Question” as a way of ensuring the conversation around the seder table is more than script-reading, but this year, I carry but one unanswerable question in my heart: When will peace come to our beloved Israel?

Next Year in Jerusalem?  Yes, of course.  But right now I am worried about next week and next month…

Chag kasher v’sameach.  Chag Pesach Sameach.  Am Yisrael Chai.

Progress on “Progress Reports”

With it being all things relocation and renovation during these last weeks before Passover Break, let’s take this opportunity to offer a brief update on something scheduled to go home next week that you may not have been expecting…

…Progress Reports.

Almost a year ago, we shared with parents our scheduled change from being a school based on trimesters to a school based on semesters.  As part of that change, we committed to the following set of parent engagement opportunities:

  • PTA Back to School BBQ
  • Back to School Night (September)
  • Goal-Setting Meeting (October-November)
  • First Semester Report Cards & Parent-Teacher Conferences (January-February)
  • Second Semester Report Cards (June)

And that is the calendar we have followed thus far.

We heard lots of feedback from families about what went well, and where there was room to grow, by introducing a “Goal-Setting Evening” and we are (already) looking forward to what that evening will look like next year.

In that same post, we said:

We may need to build in an engagement point between late January-early February and June.  Whether that comes in the form of (true) “progress reports” or updates from “goal-setting” or something entirely new, it may be true that we cannot reasonably go that long without formal parent engagement.

Well, what we had anticipated as a may need has turned into a need.  Part of the feedback we received from parents regarding “Goal-Setting” is that the gap from October to February is too long for parents to go without receiving feedback on academic progress.  (Even though, yes, it is reasonable to assume that significant issues don’t wait for official engagement events to be communicated.)  This we had somewhat anticipated.  The additional catalyst we received this year was the need for graduating students applying to specialized high school programs requiring academic reports before we were scheduled to issue first semester report cards.  That invited us to create simple progress reports, which were well-received by both teachers and families.

And so…

…recognizing that parents would like to receive a progress report at the midpoint of a semester, and…

…knowing that we had already prototyped a progress report template…

OJCS Parents can look forward to receiving “Third Quarter Progress Reports” on Monday!

🙂

Now please bear in mind that these are Progress Reports and not Report Cards.  There is less information, it is presented more simply and there will be far fewer comments.  We are aiming for “short & sweet”.  But it is designed to help you understand your child(ren)’s progress at this approximately midpoint to the Spring Semester and it may invite follow up questions or conversations.  It is also one of our famous “prototypes” which means that we will solicit feedback from you (and from teachers) knowing we will look to improve upon it in the future.

We hope parents appreciate these snapshots and, if so, we will look to add both Fall & Spring Progress Reports as appropriate mid-semester checkpoints to round out our year of parent engagement opportunities.

Remember – JK-3 Parents: Virtual Town Hall on the Relocation is Monday, April 15th at 6:30 PM.  If you are having trouble getting the link, just let us know!

A Winter’s April Trip Around the OJCS Student Blogfolio-Sphere

Yes, it is April and, yes, it is snowing.

If you can’t call a snow day and cuddle up with a good book in front of the fire, you could do the next best thing…cuddle up with a great set of student blogfolios and let the fire of their inspiration warm your soul.

I have not done this is a while, but because blogs and blogfolios do makeup the spine of which much else is built around; and because they are outward facing – available for you and the general public to read, respond and engage with – I do want to make sure that I keep them top of mind by seasonally (even when the seasons are all mixed up!) putting them back in front of parents, community and fellow travelers on the road of education.

For a significant portion of my professional life, I had two children in (my) schools where they maintained blogfolios.  I subscribed to them, of course, but I am not going to pretend that I read each and every posting, and certainly not at the time of publication.  So whenever I do this, please know that it is never about shaming parents or relatives whose incredibly busy lives makes it difficult to read each and every post.  As the head of a school where blogfolios are part of the currency, I try to set aside time to browse through and make comments – knowing that each comment gives each student a little dose of recognition and a little boost of motivation.  But I am certainly not capable of reading each and every post from each and every student and teacher!

When I am able to scroll through, what I enjoy seeing the most is the range of creativity and personalization that expresses itself through their aesthetic design, the features they choose to include (and leave out), and the voluntary writing.  This is what we mean when we talk about “owning our own learning” and having a “floor, but not a ceiling” for each student.  [North Star Alert!]

It is also a great example of finding ways to give our students the ability to create meaningful and authentic work.  But, it isn’t just about motivation – that we can imagine more easily.  When you look more closely, however, it is really about students doing their best work and reflecting about it.  Look at how much time they spend editing.  Look at how they share peer feedback, revise, collaborate, publish and reflect.

Our classroom blogs and student blogfolios are important virtual windows into the innovative and exciting work happening at OJCS.  In addition to encouraging families, friends and relatives to check it out, I also work hard to inspire other schools and thought-leaders who may visit my blog from time to time to visit our school’s blogosphere so as to forge connections between our work and other fellow-innovators because we really do “learn better together” [North Star Alert!]

So please go visit our landing page for OJCS Student Blogfolios.  [Please note that due to privacy controls that some OJCS students opt for avatars instead of utilizing their first names / last initials which is our standard setting.  That may explain some of the creative titles.  Others opt for password protected accounts and a small number remain entirely private.]

Seriously go!  I’ll wait…

English, French and Hebrew; Language Arts, Science, Math, Social Studies, Jewish Studies; Art, Music, PE, and Student Life and so much more…our students are doing some pretty fantastic things, eh?

I will continue to encourage you to not only check out all the blogs on The OJCS Blogosphere, but I strongly encourage you to offer a quality comment of your own – especially to our students.  Getting feedback and commentary from the universe is highly motivating…

I was happy to be a guest on a colleague’s podcast last week and it just so happened that blogs and blogfolios became a big part of the conversation!  If you are interested…check it out:

OJCS Celebrates Innovation Day 2024

Yes, if you are a current parent in our school, you know that we celebrated “Innovation Day” before we celebrated Purim, but my blog has flipped the order.  (I really wanted to get my Purim post out before Purim.)  That does not mean that we didn’t have an AMAZING “Innovation Day” worth sharing more broadly with our community.  The opposite…we had a GREAT day.

I want to be super clear and name that not only did I have virtually nothing to do with the planning and facilitation of this day, I also had virtually nothing to do with the documentation of this day as well.  It is my pleasure to use my blog to showcase the work of those who did.

The primary drivers of Innovation Day at OJCS were Josh Ray, who serves as our Makerspace Lead and Middle School Science Teacher, and our Lower School Science Teachers.  Everything that you are going to see below is the fruit of their labours – with photo collages captured by Lianna Krantzberg, who dabbles in social while serving as our Student Life Lead.   Together with other special events such as Global Maker Day, the JNF Hackathon, the Global Student Showcase, along with regularly scheduled lessons in our Makerspace, Innovation Day shows how OJCS serves as an incubator of innovation for it students (and teachers!).

So.  What was this day all about?

Grade 8 – Simple Machines Project

We often say that doing something with a machine requires less work. In this design challenge, you will be responsible for helping design a new sled for students at OJCS to use. Using as many of the six simple machines you learned about in class, your task is to use the design thinking process to design, test, and build a simple machine sled prototype that students can safely use. You will give your innovative sled a name and create a pitch to market your sled to potential investors. May the best sled win!

Your Goal: Working on your own or with a partner, decide which simple machines will be part of your sled design. After researching the six different types of simple machines and realistic DIY sled builds, create a plan for your prototype. Determine what materials you will need and the size and quantity of materials. You may use any materials from home and supplement any other necessary materials from Home Depot. Then, plan how you will proceed. All sections will be presented as part of a 5-minute product pitch that must include the following 5 sections (Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test). The pitch will include all information displayed on a tri-fold board presented in front of investors (judges) and will be graded based on the judging rubric.

Grade 7 – Animal Structures Project

All animals, like people, require shelter to protect them from the harsh elements of nature as well as predators. In this design challenge, you will take on the role of an engineer and be responsible for helping design an innovative structure for an animal of your choosing. Using the information about stability, forces, symmetry, and structure types you learned about in class, your task is to use the design thinking process to design a new shelter prototype that animals can safely use using the CoSpaces VR program. You will give your innovative shelter a name and create a pitch to market your structure to potential investors. May the best structure win!

Your Goal: Working on your own or with a partner, decide which animal you would like to build a house/shelter for. After researching stability, forces, symmetry, and structure types as well as the current animal shelters for your chosen animal on the market, you will create a plan for your prototype. Using the Five Freedoms as a guide, determine what structure type you are going to construct, what materials your structure will need, and what strategies you will use to provide stability. You will also need to determine what forces (internal/external) your structure will need to withstand and describe what techniques you used to provide strength and avoid structural failure. You will include this information in your structure design using the virtual reality CoSpaces program for potential investors to see. All sections of the Design Thinking Process will be presented as part of a 5-minute product pitch that must include the following 5 sections (Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test). The pitch will include all information displayed on a tri-fold board presented in front of investors (judges) and will be graded based on the judging rubric.

Grade 6 – Electricity Project

Your Goal: In this project, you will build a series circuit that lights a bulb using a power source and conducting wires. Then predict what will happen to the brightness of your bulb if you add more bulbs or batteries to your series circuit, and test your prediction.

All sections will be presented as part of a Google Slides (or equivalent) presentation with each slide representing each step in the Scientific Method.

Grade 5

Using the design thinking framework, the students answered the question: How can we provide electricity to community outdoor spaces in an energy efficient way that still maintains the safety and “fun” aesthetic of the space?

Grade 4

Grade 3

We have jumped right into our Strong and Stable Structures unit in preparation for Innovation Day: 1.) Assess effects on society and the environment of strong and stable structures. 2.) Assess the environmental impact of structures built by various animals, including structures built by humans.

  • We worked with Marshmallows and Toothpicks to learn about strong shapes and building strong structures!
  • We have taken the information we learned from this activity and applied it to the designing and building of newspaper bridges!

Will the bridges be able to hold up THREE heavy textbooks!?

Grade 2

Grade One

Students are keeping busy with their projects for Innovation Day. They are really putting in the effort, collaborating and designing their projects to make them the best they can be. Building something from scratch can be a real challenge, but it’s also a great opportunity to learn new skills and collaborate with others.

Kindergarten

Thank you so much to everyone who was able to join us for Innovation Day in KA and KB on Wednesday!!  The students worked so hard to create their flying machines and to learn about the 4 forces of flight.   They were so proud to share what they had learned and created with you.  You can watch and listen to the “What Makes Airplanes Fly?” song here and check out the pictures of the process of creating and testing their bamboo helicopters, hovercrafts, and hoop gliders…

Junior Kindergarten

A huge ‘kol ha’kavod’ to JK for their first innovation day! What a fun morning! Thank you to all of our guests for popping in to experiment with us!

Leading up to this morning, JK was heavily invested in learning about what makes objects sink or float. They learned about density, and even conducted an eggsperiment – no, wait, an experiment – to change the density of water so that an object that sank (an egg haha) was now able to float! Check out the booklets your children brought home in their backpacks to re-create the experiment at home! Their main challenge was to build a popsicle stick raft to get their dinosaur across the water table. As the joke goes… Why did the dinosaur cross the river? To get to the other side.

   

Did our students have an amazing day putting all their passion, talent, knowledge and creativity to good use?

I’d say “yes” – this was a great day of learning at OJCS!

Public Displays of Judaism: Purim After 10/7

Judaism sometimes still feels like a miracle and the Jewish calendar still feels like a time machine capable of connecting past to present to future.  This is what I am thinking about as we prepare to celebrate the holiday of Purim in a post-October 7th world…

On Thursday, coinciding with the Fast of Esther, our school hosted a variety of dignitaries and staff from our country’s Israeli Embassy in order to participate in the Worldwide Kriyat (Recitation of) Shema.  Our older students gathered in the Gym to watch the livestream from Jerusalem and to participate; younger students gathered in classrooms or simply paused at 11:30 AM to add their voices to the global Jewish voice for unity.  It was brief and it was heartbreaking, but it was also cathartic and, as has been the case throughout these months, it does feel good to be able to do something.

On Friday, to ensure all our students have an opportunity, we welcomed Rabbi Idan Scher from Congregation Mahzikei Hadas to lead our students in an abbreviated, child-friendly Megillah-reading.  On Monday, we will continue the celebration into Shushan Purim with our normal Purim Carnival and the launch of Ruach Week at OJCS.  That leaves you, of course, with the weekend of Purim itself…

How much joy and silliness feel appropriate while hostages remain, a war continues and a humanitarian crisis unfolds?  Do we dial it down out of respect?  Do we amp it up out of defiance?  Do we simply try to keep things “normal”?  I cannot answer those questions for you, but I can tell you that I am leaning towards “normal” with a hint of extra out of defiance.  You don’t have to think that is right or right for you, but it is an honest appraisal of where I locate myself today.  What I would encourage you to do is have the conversation…with your children, with your family and with yourself.  The story of Purim mapped onto current events is a doctoral thesis, not a blog post, but for the more serious-minded I wonder if that is the work of this weekend.  To read Megillat Esther with 10/7 eyes will likely unlock new meanings and surface new questions.  Lean in.

And for those who do want to go a bit extra…

…instead of asking, “What shall I dress my children as this year for Purim?”

…ask, “What are we going to dress as for Purim?”

Too often as parents we treat Judaism the same way we treat Disneyland – as something that we sacrifice for in order to give our children an “experience”.  We scrimp and we save and we sweat in line so that our children can go on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.  We also scrimp and save and sweat over paperwork so that our children can receive a Jewish education and go to camp and have a bar/bat mitzvah.  But what about us?

Purim is a holiday of reversals and opposites, of mask-wearing and mask-shedding.  You can be anyone you wish in service of being your truest self.  If you think that wearing a costume is childish, what do you have to lose this year?  If you are typically shy about booing Haman with all your gusto in a crowd, there are plenty of Hamans worth booing.  Take advantage of the opportunity to do something silly as a family tomorrow night and Sunday.  Not only should you not let your children have all the fun, your silliness makes a very serious statement about what it means to be Jewish – every year, but especially this one.

From my family to yours…chag Purim sameach.

A Floor AND a Ceiling (and tech, and furniture, and paint, etc.) – Renovation Update Part I

Last June, I blogged out the bittersweet news of the need for delaying the renovation of our school from what was supposed to be last July – October to this May-August.  Today, I am blogging out (and sending in a separate email to ensure every current parent receives it…although shouldn’t they be reading my blog each week?) the exciting update – yes this is really happening!  Before jumping to all the categories of things you (if you are a current parent) may be wondering / worrying about, let me at least start with the end in mind…

Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of an anonymous donor in our community who is providing $2 million, we are on the cusp of providing our students and teachers with classrooms as innovative and as excellent as they deserve.  Phase I of this project focuses on the classrooms themselves, with an extra emphasis on the first floor.  Every classroom in OJCS is getting all-new furniture (student desks, teacher desks and tables), flooring, ceiling, lighting, paint and technology).  Every classroom on the first floor is additionally getting all new millwork for a fully finished space.  The hallways will receive a bit of attention as well (painting, new door signs, upgraded plaques, etc.).  [Future phases will extend the new millwork to the remaining classrooms, a complete redesign of the hallways (including lockers), the lobby and perhaps the offices and teachers’ lounge as well.]  I have included a rendering of the first floor classrooms above and here is a rendering of the second floor classrooms (when fully finished):

All of this is amazing and as much as I do not want to wish away the rest of 2023-2024, I cannot wait to see everyone’s faces when they see our new digs for 2024-2025.  But, you might be wondering, “Wait, did you say ‘May’?!  What does that mean?!”.

Yeah.  Us too.

In order for all of this to be ready for teachers and students to report back to school, it will require us to fully relocate the entire JK-3 for the months of May & June…and if you look at a calendar, it really means being ready to go by the time we reach Passover Break.

Deep breaths.

Naturally, our teachers and families will have LOTS of questions, and perhaps, a few concerns about how all of this is going to work.  The first and most important thing to know is that we are not trying to do this on our own.  We are coordinating with Campus and a variety of community partners to work through the logistics, the details and to help us make it happen.  (And, yes, there may be a place for parents to volunteer their time – and trucks.)

My goal in this, the first of two posts, is to try to set your mind at ease that we are in fact considering all the things necessary to relocate our JK-3 and to continue to run our 4-8 safely, and that all our students are able to continue to learn in safety and with integrity.  I am going to lay out for you all the things we are currently working on figuring out so that you know that we know.  And then, soon, I will return and provide the answers and plans to all those things.  (And if I missed anything, I’m sure someone will let me know!)

Here, and I am sure this is not in order of priority, are all the things that need to be true as we enter “reno time”:

  • We are relocating JK-3 to Kehillat Beth Israel.  They have the space and the proximity and they are willing and generous partners.
  • Furniture, technology, curriculum books, – all the stuff that teachers and students will need to finish out the year – will be carefully labelled by our classroom teachers and find its way over.
  • Drop-off & Pick-up plans (but one imagines a double process for those with kids in both places will be needed).
  • What will be true for before care?  How will children who are enrolled for aftercare and/or after school programming back to the JCC?
  • Security
  • Fire Drills and Emergency Contingency Planning
  • Either Keren/Jon present at KBI each and every day
  • Spec Ed Team / Resource Teachers present at KBI each and every day
  • Hot Lunch (that’s the easiest one as it is currently prepared at KBI under OVH supervision)
  • Recess / PE / Outdoor Spaces
  • Amping up wifi
  • Daily Communication b/w locations; Emergency Communication for KBI
  • Assemblies, Special Programs, Holidays, etc.
  • Adjusting 4-8 functioning to a building under renovation

Yes, that’s a lot, and I’m sure there is more.  The good news, again, is that we are committing the resources necessary to manage this project effectively and although there will be inconveniences, our hope is that they will simply be that – inconvenient.  I realize that the answers are important and it is our intent to push those out as soon as (enough of them) are ready to share.  In the meanwhile, don’t be shy about asking any questions you have or expressing any concerns you are holding.

As we pivot towards all the amazing events that constitute the end of 2023-2024, while we launch the beginning of celebrating our 75th Anniversary Year, and with 2024-2025 gearing up to be our biggest and best year – with whatever inconveniences this renovation will inevitably create – I am so proud to be heading this school at this time.  What better way to launch the next 75 years of excellence, of Jewish community and commitments, of helping secure the future of Jewish Ottawa than this.

“Radical Candor” is Good for Schools, Parents & Children (Or “What I Learned This Week @ DSLTI)

In the bustling world of education, the role of a school leader is multifaceted.  Beyond the daily operations and academic management, there lies an essential task: the continual growth and development of leadership capacity.  Just as students benefit from ongoing learning and enrichment, school leaders too must invest time and effort into honing their skills and expanding their knowledge base.  While this may occasionally necessitate their absence from the school, it is a valuable investment that ultimately enhances the school’s overall effectiveness and long-term success.  So, while it may create temporary inconveniences, parents can rest assured that their school’s leader is actively working to strengthen the institution’s foundation for the benefit of every student and family.

I had the opportunity this week to facilitate a Day School Leadership Training Institute (DSLTI) Retreat with the theme of “Conversations.”  This retreat served as a valuable opportunity for me to enhance my leadership skills and gain insights into fostering meaningful dialogue within our school community.  The topic of “Conversations” resonated deeply with me, especially the work we did on Radical Candor—a concept that emphasizes open, honest, and empathetic communication.  Just as we strive to cultivate a culture of Radical Candor among our staff and faculty, we also recognize its significance in nurturing strong parent-school partnerships.

As we navigate another exciting admissions season at OJCS, I thought I would try to connect some dots through one of my favourite blogging formats…the good ol’ “Q& A”:

Q: What role does parent partnership play in enrollment retention at the Ottawa Jewish Community School?
A: Parent partnership is crucial for enrollment retention at our school.  By fostering strong relationships between parents and educators, we try to create a supportive community where families feel valued and engaged. We hope this leads to higher and higher retention rates as parents are more likely to continue choosing our school for their children’s education.

Q: Can you explain the concept of Radical Candor and its relevance to parent partnership?
A: Radical Candor, as described by Kim Scott, emphasizes the importance of open, honest, and empathetic communication. In the context of parent partnership, this means creating opportunities for transparent dialogue between parents and faculty.  By embracing Radical Candor principles, we can strengthen our relationships with parents and enhance their trust in the school community.

Q: How does the Ottawa Jewish Community School implement parent partnership strategies?
A: We implement various parent partnership strategies, including Goal-Setting Conferences, Parent-Teacher Conferences, a PTA, opportunities to volunteers, Town Halls, blogs and blogfolios, “office hours”, open doors and – when necessary – even exit interviews are a reflection of partnership.  These initiatives provide opportunities for parents to voice their opinions, share feedback, and actively participate in decision-making processes.  By involving parents in these initiatives, we demonstrate our commitment to partnership and collaboration, which ultimately contributes to enrollment retention.

Q: What are some benefits of parent partnership for both the school and the parents?
A: Parent partnership offers numerous benefits for both the school and the parents.  For the school, it leads to higher retention rates, improved parent satisfaction, and a stronger sense of community.  For parents, it provides opportunities to be actively involved in their children’s education, build relationships with teachers and staff, and contribute to the school’s growth and success.

Q: Can you provide an example of how Radical Candor principles are applied in, say, parent-teacher conferences?
A: During parent-teacher conferences, we encourage open and honest communication between parents and faculty. Teachers provide feedback on students’ progress, challenges, and areas for improvement, while parents have the opportunity to share their insights and concerns.  By embracing Radical Candor principles, we create a supportive environment where both parties feel heard, valued, and empowered to work together towards the best interests of the child.

Q: How does the Ottawa Jewish Community School ensure continuous improvement in parent partnership efforts?
A: We are committed to continuous improvement in our parent partnership efforts.  This includes seeking feedback from parents through surveys, conducting regular evaluations of our initiatives, and actively listening to concerns and suggestions from the community.  By staying responsive to the needs and preferences of our parents, we can adapt and refine our parent partnership strategies to better serve our school community.

Q: In what ways does the school demonstrate its commitment to learning and improvement, even when faced with challenges?
A: As stated, the Ottawa Jewish Community School conducts exit interviews as part of its commitment to learning and improvement.  These interviews provide valuable insights into the reasons behind a family’s decision to leave the school.  By listening to parents’ feedback, whether positive or negative, and taking actionable steps to address any concerns, the school demonstrates its dedication to continuous growth and enhancement of the educational experience.

As the calendar continues to steamroll forward, I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the many parents who have re-enrolled their children at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.  Your continued support and partnership are invaluable to us, and we are grateful for the opportunity to work together in shaping the future of our students.  For those families who have not yet made the decision to re-enroll, I invite you to engage in open dialogue with us.  Let’s have conversations that inspire growth, foster collaboration, and strengthen our bonds as a community.  Together, we can achieve extraordinary things and create a learning environment where every child thrives.