OJCS Faculty Pre-Planning 2023: Connecting the Dots

We’re back! 

This has been an amazing Faculty Pre-Planning Week that has us poised for our biggest and best year yet!  Our teachers consist of one group of amazing returning teachers, and another group of talented new teachers, and the combination is magical.  A school is only as good as its teachers, so…OJCS is in good hands, with all arrows pointing up.  Enrollment is still coming in, and I can safely say that we will be a larger school than the year before for the sixth consecutive school year.

Do you ever wonder how we spend this week of preparations while y’all are busy getting your last cottage days or summer trips or rays of sun in?  

I think there is value in our parents (and community) having a sense for the kinds of issues and ideas we explore and work on during our planning week because it foreshadows the year to come.  So as you enjoy those last days on the lake or on the couch, let me paint a little picture of how we are preparing to make 2023-2024 the best year yet.

Here’s a curated selection from our activities…

The “Connecting the Dots”  Cafe

Each year (16 years, 7 at OJCS and counting!), I begin “Pre-Planning Week” with an updated version of the “World Café”.  It is a collaborative brainstorming activity centered on a key question.  Each year’s question is designed to encapsulate that year’s “big idea”.  This year’s big idea?  Connecting the Dots!

With a growing school with so many departments, languages, programs, etc., in order to make sure our students, teachers and parents are able to experience OJCS as holistic human beings and to benefit from all we have to offer, we will aim this year to forge the connections, break out of the silos, simplify and streamline where appropriate, facilitate the communication and do less even better.

Here’s what connected collaboration looks like…

Conscious Leadership

Get used to hearing your children locating themselves “above” or “below the line” as we introduced some key ideas from The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership – read this summer by the Admin – to our fuller faculty.  Every now and again we introduce new “frameworks” that provide a shorthand, a vocabulary, and culture that allows our teachers and our students to make sense of themselves and the world.  The big ideas of “Conscious Leadership” are completely anchored in our North Stars, what we believe to be true about children, the way we think and talk about “regulation”, and along with those other values and ideas, will continue to professionalize ourselves and upgrade our engagement with parents and students.  Do you want to learn along with us?  Check out the following and see if and how you might apply it to either your professional and/or parenting lives:

Next time you have to have a difficult conversation, just let us know if we are bringing you “below the line” and we can help make that positive “shift”.

Connecting the Dots: Behaviour Support @ OJCS


This will be big, the focus of attention at Back to School Night (9/19 @ 7:00 PM), and the subject of its own blog post in the weeks ahead, so please just consider this a “teaser”.  But you should also “connect the dots” between what I wrote near the end last year in my post sharing the results of the Annual Parent Survey:

The one metric that I am disappointed to see take a dip down after three straight positive years is the last one, which essentially serves as a proxy for school-wide behavior management.  Four years ago 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, three years ago it came in at 7.65, two years it climbed up to 8.19, and it remained high at 7.85 last year.  6.73 puts at back at square one – even if it rounds into the acceptable range, and even with a small sample size.  Parents at OJCS can expect to see significant attention being paid to overall behavior management in 2023-2024.

“Significant attention” has been and is being paid.  You can see it reflected in staffing and you will see it reflected here.  For now, remember…

…and know that…

…thanks to the hard work of a lot of people, our new framework is poised to make this our best year yet.  Curious?  Want to know more?  Stay tuned!

Did I do one of my spiritual check-ins on the topic of the “Comfort & Community”?  Sure did!

Did Mrs. Reichstein and Ms. Beswick lead a session on “Bringing the IEP to Life”?

Did Mrs. Bennett, Mr. Max, Mrs. Thompson and I provide differentiated instruction on best practices for Classroom Blogs & Student Blogfolios?  Yessiree!

Did the OJCS Makerspace Team facilitate a hands-on creative session for teachers in the Makerspace now that it is becoming a hub for innovation at OJCS?  (This work is a direct result of an Innovation Capacity Grant from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa!)  Yup!

Did Ms. Gordon go over all the guidelines and protocols and procedures and rules and mandates to keep us all in the know?  No doubt!

Did our teachers have lots of time to meet and prepare and collaborate and organize and do all the things needed to open up school on Tuesday?  And then some!

All that and much more took place during this week of planning.  We are prepared to provide a rigorous, creative, innovative, personalized, and ruach-filled learning experience for each and every one of our precious students who we cannot wait to greet in person on the first day of school!

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday weekend and a successful launch to the 2023-2024 school year…

BTW – want to hear from our own teachers about who they are and how excited they are for this year?  Introducing our first podcast of the year… Meet the OJCS faculty!  Give our podcast a listen and reply below to let us know what you are most excited about this year!

Coming Attractions

We are headed into the last two-action packed weeks of the 2022-2023 school year!  WHAT A YEAR!  The theme, coming out of COVID, was “getting our mojo back” and back our mojo has been.  A quick perusal of my weekly blog posts paint a picture of a year where pauses became unpaused, progress was made across a whole host of school systems and processes, and challenges made themselves clear.  That’s what school is all about.  Not everything is perfect, there is more work to do to be our best self, but each year we reach closer to our North Stars.  I am so proud of our teachers, our students and our families for all that we have done this year…and I am very excited for what the next year is scheduled to bring.

Speaking of…

This will likely be my third-to-last weekly blog post before moving into summer mode.  I will take next week off as it is my pleasure to accompany our Grade 8s on their GRAD Trip to NYC.  During our last week of school, I will share the content of my charge to our graduates and – as always – share what we know to be true about who our amazing 2023-2024 faculty and staff will be and what they will be doing (including any openings to be filled).  So what does that leave for this week?

This will be the third of my updates on all things next year.  Two weeks ago, I provided an important update on the building renovation.  Last week, I shared the news of our transition from trimester to semester and why.  This week, I will move into rapid-fire mode, with a bullet-pointed list of things to know or to keep an eye out towards as we head into summer.

Here’s what to know in literally no particular order…

  • We have had so much success this year with launching the internationally recognized French DELF certification process for our Grade 8 Extended French students and look forward to extending it further to our whole Grade 8 cohort next school year.  Students who pass will enter high school with a confirmed level of irrefutable functioning and gain access to the programs they have their eyes set on.
  • We will restore the Middle School schedule on Fridays so that we are better able to run Jewish Studies as per normal on the weeks we don’t have an amazing “Mitzvah Trip” planned.  This will ensure that we are only sacrificing academic time when the activity is worthy, which will make the Mitzvah Trips more meaningful and minimize and mitigate loss from other Jewish Studies coursework.
  • Speaking of “Mitzvah Trips” we have a VERY EXCITING NAMING ANNOUNCEMENT coming this fall that will – FOR SURE – warm your heart and make you proud to be part of our special community.  Stay tuned!
  • Speaking of “Jewish Studies coursework”, as part of a long-term goal to increase the rigor and the opportunity to engage with rabbinic text, we will transition our Rabbinics Course from a three-day-a-week to a five-day-a-week course and transition our Jewish Ethics & Values Course in reverse.  This will be better aligned with the content and our priorities.
  • As shared by email, we have updated our Acceptable Use Policy for Technology to account for VPNs to ensure our students are only able to access safe and appropriate websites, apps and platforms while at school.
  • We will hire an additional resource teacher next year to make meaningful progress towards relieving the stress on our system.  This is the #1 issue raised by both parents and teachers and although this move may not fully resolve the issue, it is a significant step in the right direction.  We’ll have more to share on this as the Special Education Department finishes a needs assessment based on next year’s enrollment.
  • In order to be better aligned with the “Science of Reading” and with where Canadian schools are heading, we are moving away from STAR Reading as one of our primary assessment tools and will be training our teachers on Amplify.  Parents will definitely notice the difference and not just come progress report/report card/parent-teacher conference time.  In addition to the Amplify platform, our teachers will continue to use a Structured Word Inquiry approach also supported by the Science of Reading for reading and spelling instruction. Our primary teachers (K-2) will also be trained using the UFLI Foundations program to enhance and solidify phonemic awareness skills in our youngest students.
  • We are working through an entire reorganization of the systems in our school that deal with behavior management and classroom discipline.  It will include different roles for both the Principal and the Head of School, as well as a different allocation of responsibilities within and outside the Special Education Department.  It will continue to be anchored in our North Stars and aligned with the 7 Habits, and the continued work we are doing within the framework of Collaborative Problem Solving, but redesigned to be more clear, more streamlined and, most importantly, better set up our students and our classes for success.  This is the #2 issue raised by parents and by teachers and making significant progress next year is a necessity.
  • The Jewish Studies Faculty will continue to have access to a consultant from Hebrew at the Center so that we can progress on our goal of putting in writing a full set of benchmarks and standards for Jewish Studies at OJCS.  This is a multiyear project (to do it correctly) and this will be Year Two.  We are eager to put in parents’ hands more detail about what they can expect their children to be learning in Jewish Studies and welcome the accountability that such specificity invites.

Is there more than this?  Of course, but we can’t give away all the excitement and surprises here!  (Plus I could use a few topics for blog posts during the dog days of summer.)

Feel free to follow the fun on social when OJCS Takes Manhattan next week!

2>3: Moving from Trimester to Semester (and Why It Matters)

Why is the OJCS calendar organized into trimesters?  What difference does it make?

The answer to the first question is simple.  The answer to the second question is meaningful.

Why trimesters?

Well, when I arrived at OJCS, we were technically operating on a semester model, but when one looked at how and when teachers were reporting on academic progress to parents, it kinda looked like trimesters with the distinction failing to find meaning.  Technically, parents received a “progress report” about a third of the way into the school year and then had two report cards and two rounds of parent-teacher conferences.  The “progress report” and the “report cards” were not entirely the same, but they were not different enough to warrant the difference.  So…if we were offering feedback three times a year anyway…why not simply divide the year into thirds and keep it simple?  And so we did.

Is there anything educationally more significant for a JK-8 to operate by trimester?  Does it matter how you divide up the year?  Why not operate by semesters?

Good questions!

Let’s begin with the end in mind.  Beginning in 2023-2024, OJCS will operate by semester.  Partly why we haven’t (yet) given out the full calendar is that we are working with the teachers to clarify what that will or won’t exactly mean by way of parent engagement.  But even as we work to clarify and disseminate by the end of the school year, let’s name what will and won’t be true next year.

If you think of the year with a narrative arc for parent engagement, it would look like this…

  • 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)

On the one hand, this represents the same quantity of opportunity, even if distributed differently.  However, there are four things to pay attention to with this proposed shift:

  1. We love the idea of bringing parents (and possibly students) together in late October-early November to share the goal-setting that we have done with our students.  It is a great opportunity to strengthen and clarify the school-family partnership, to personalize the learning, to build in student accountability and to set students up for success.
  2. Moving to a semester model increases the odds of our successfully making the switch in (some) grades from traditional Parent-Teacher Conferences to Student-Led Conferences.  More time to prepare, more artifacts to collect and an easier connection to goal-setting, all lend themselves to our students better “owning their own learning” (North Star Alert!) by playing a more active role in giving and receiving feedback.
  3. 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.
  4. We have not yet clarified the timing/structure of either the “goal-setting” or the Parent-Teacher (or Student-Led) Conferences.  We are actively working with the teachers on doing so since we need to provide parents with all partial and/or full school closures with proper notice.  But with more students than ever and a greater desire for engagement, the way we have allocated time for these conversations may shift if they are going to be meaningful.

We are looking forward to using the process to clarify the quantity of parent engagement to amplify the quality of parent engagement.  We will share out soon (this June) the calendar implications.  We will share out later (August?) the additional educational implications once decisions have been made.  We look forward to strengthening our partnership with parents and setting up our students for success through better engagement.

Consider this the second brief (for me!) blog post (last week’s update on the building being the first) in a small series attempting to name and clarify important updates and changes as we begin the gentle pivot towards next year.  More to come in the weeks ahead…

A Floor AND a Ceiling (and furniture and tech and paint)

So…it is June and you are probably wondering where are all the signs of pending construction if this project is scheduled to begin the first week in July?  That is a reasonable question and one I’ll answer here.

Let’s first dip back in time to when we first made the announcement of a $1.5 million gift to transform classrooms and learning spaces at OJCS.  Ever since, we have been working hard with our friends at Figurr on design and costing.  There is no question as to which of those two has been more fun!  COVID, time and inflation have not been on our side as we only have limited windows of time for construction and costs have gone up.  Heading into 2022-2023, we believed that we were on track for this project – now split into two phases and with $2 million pledged from the extraordinary, generous and anonymous donor – with Phase I ready to begin this summer.  We finalized the base building needs, the overall design, and much of the tech and furniture; we hired a general contractor, secured permits and bid out the work.  We even figured out contingency planning for when the work (inevitably) goes long and classes need to be held in alternative locations.  We got close to being able to pull it all together to trigger construction on July 1…but not close enough.

As we were finalizing all the “this needs to be true”s for Campus, the school, teachers, families, etc., it became clear that trying to rush for a July 1 start date left too many opportunities for mistakes on a project too important not to get completely right.  And so that means what you might imagine it means.  Mostly.

Instead of launching Phase I – which is intended to include a complete transformation of the first floor, lobby and hallways, as well as classrooms, ceilings, walls, lighting, and lockers AND furniture, tech and paint across the whole school – the first week in July and planning for the first floor to relocate for this August and September, we are now planning to launch Phase I in May 2024, relocating classes for (possibly) part of May and June so that it is completely ready by the first day of school in 2024-2025.  (Phase II would look to launch the summer of 2025.)  We’ll have much more detail about this “relocation” and what it means once we get into next year.

Are we disappointed?


How will we mitigate that disappointment?

Partly by doing a much better job sharing high-quality renderings of the work around school and on our website.  Partly by investing students and teachers in the furniture and tech selection now that we have more time to work with.

Should we anticipate future delays?

We can’t completely predict the future, but certainly when it comes to “Phase I” I do not anticipate additional delays.  There is no reason to believe that we will not begin this project on the new timeline in the way I have described.

As much as it would have been nice to start our 75th Anniversary Year in partially new digs, there is also a nice symmetry to launching our renovation as a capstone to our 75th Anniversary Year and a bridge to what we hope will be our next 75 years.  We know that most important learning is what happens inside and outside the walls, not the wall themselves.  We also know that schools in disrepair are the ones who make those claims.  Our students deserve a physical learning environment on par with the excellence we provide and aspire towards in every other part of our program.  And they will have it, and have it soon.

Just not as soon as we had hoped.

We will do a better job keeping you updated on this project, including what to expect come next May when we formally launch.  In the meanwhile, you will have greater access to designs and samples and should you have any questions, concerns, feedback or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to be in touch.  I look forward to a North Star that is not just about floors with no ceilings, but floors with ceilings, hallways with appropriate lockers and learning nooks, classrooms with appropriate furniture and technology, and a school that looks as innovative as it educates.

The Transparency Files: Annual Parent Survey

It is that time of year again…but, perhaps, it may not continue to be “that time of year” – at least in this format – into the future…

As our enrollment continues to increase and our participation in the Annual Parent Survey continues to flatline – our survey has gone from covering 81 students to 84 students to 54 students to 58 students to 52 students and this year, the majority of questions were only answered by families covering 45 students.  That barely captures one quarter of our student population and it is only fair to ask, at this point, whether or not this continues to be the best way to solicit meaningful and actionable data.  Because that is the reason we do this – to learn how to continue to grow as a school.  Without three-quarters of the students accounted for, the data can only be so meaningful.  Without casting any aspersions about who is, or who is not, more likely to fill these surveys out, the odds of this 1/4 mapping onto the opinions of the remaining 3/4 seems long at best.  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.)

Our goal of 50% seems more and more unrealistic each year.

So, after this year, we are going to have a think.  We could incentivize families to fill this out, as some parents have suggested.  We could consider moving to a model where we do focus groups some years and surveys other years.  Perhaps if we hired a third-party vendor to issue the survey, analyze the data and share the report, people would be more comfortable believing it is as anonymous as it is (it is!), or have more faith in an unbiased deliverable.  Either way, I think it is time to acknowledge that this methodology is no longer serving its intended purpose and the goals of receiving feedback and sharing it transparently likely require a new approach.

But that’s for next year…for now, instead of worrying about the motivations for why families did or didn’t fill out surveys, let’s thank the parents who did participate and try to make meaning of what they are telling us.  [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.]

For a third straight year, 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.  Again this year, we have a healthy (if low) distribution across most of our grades.

Without knowing how representative this quarter of students is, this year’s data set is heavier on the “no’s”.  Of course the “no’s” are always complicated to unpack because we have no way of knowing who of the “no’s” represent graduation or relocations, as opposed to choosing to attrit prior to Grade 8.  [If a higher percentage of the small number who attrit are represented in these results than in prior years, it would provide added context for the results.]  However, 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 breakdown by category; the second chart gives you the weighted average satisfaction score (out of 10).  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 to 8.0 to 7.44.  Although it is a tick down from last year, the difference is statistically insignificant.

The one thing that jumps out here that will continue throughout all the data is that the “standard deviation” is much higher than in prior years.  Meaning, we have higher concentrations on both ends than normal – which combined with the low engagement probably explains the most about the data above and below.  This 1/4 of the student population could capture more families with the strongest feelings than in a typical year.

However, overall, this continues to be a good news story, but let’s dig deeper…

  • The overall theme, which I have been suggesting above and will carry forward is that almost every single category is slightly down.  That is not a trajectory that pleases us, even with all the possible caveats and contexts.  We like numbers to go up; we don’t like when numbers go down.  However, because they are consistent all across the board, it is a bit challenging to identify one issue, program or idea to work on.  I’ll have more to say below.
  • It remains true, however, that even with this disappointing trend line, all data points (here) round into the acceptable range.  So we don’t like the way the arrow is facing, but this constitutes a challenge, not a crisis.




  • I won’t repeat the same comment each time – each score being slightly down, but mostly in the acceptable range.
  • The one thing that jumps out from this, which we know, is that the school has been trying to provide the same level of quality in terms of “resource” with the same staffing structure spread across +40 students.  Meaning, during my six years at OJCS, we have over 40 more students in our school and the same number of personnel allocated to providing resource support – whether that is direct services to students, coaching and support for teachers in making accommodations, or even the customer service of reporting back and forth with parents.  We keep trying to do more with less, and if this data yields anything actionable it is this – even leaving aside potential differences in philosophy; we are not yet adequately staffed to deliver on our promise to parents.

Action to follow.  Watch this space.





  • Now this data set is revealing.  This is the first section that does not indicate a meaningful dip.  Despite the concerns above, this same set of parents has given us very high marks for General Studies.
  • With a full year in the Makerspace, with having done meaningful PD on the “Science of Reading”, and an overall return to business as usual, it is nice to find all our scores in the acceptable range (especially in a “down year”) in the category that most parents would deem paramount.





  • I would like these numbers to be higher, of course, but they are fairly in line with prior years.  One would have hoped that the added emphasis this year – the DELF, the investment in new curricular materials, etc., – would have yielded higher results, but the anonymity makes it hard to know how many students represented in this survey are in Core French, Extended French, etc.  I do know how hard our French Faculty work, so bon travail to the French Department as we continue to raise the bar each year.
  • I am very pleased with a baseline 6.79 for the first year of French PE – that rounds into the acceptable range with lots of room to grow.






  • We are pleased to see all our Jewish Studies metrics continue to hold strong for another year.   Considering, that we have transitioned away from a “Head of Jewish Studies” model (for now), this is especially encouraging.  Kol ha’kavod to the Jewish Studies Department!
  • Last year I said that, “I am taking the slight dip in “Tefillah” as a personal challenge!  It is my favourite subject to teach (students) and to coach (teachers) and I am going to make it my mission to push prayer past 7.0.”  Mission accomplished!
  • Last year, I said that, “I am also going to – assuming a return to normal – encourage our community’s rabbis to resume a greater role in Jewish life at OJCS.”  Well, it went up…but we could and will do more.





  • Great job Mr. Ebbs for keeping our Art Program moving in the right direction!
  • Coming out of COVID, it is nice to see that both Extracurricular and Athletics have ticked up a notch!
  • Hot Lunch and After School Programming have ticked down a bit – these are areas where we work with partners and we’ll be carrying these results to them in order to see where we can improve for next year.

  • These are mostly wonderful scores, all just about the same and well into the healthy ranges.  We know that we have our teachers and Ellie to thank for a lot of those high scores!
  • We will be making meaningful changes next year to our academic calendar – which will include when and how we schedule Parent-Teacher Conferences.  We are excited to share this with you soon and think that will have a positive impact on how parents receive feedback on their child(ren)’s academic progress.  Stay tuned!

  • I have already shared my thoughts on my own job performance in my prior “Transparency Files” post.  I will simply state here my numbers, like all the above are largely the same, with the same across-the-board dip.  The one data point that I will be reflecting on is my “responsive/accessibility” – I’d like to see this trend upwards in the year to come.
  • The one metric that I am disappointed to see take a dip down after three straight positive years is the last one, which essentially serves as a proxy for school-wide behavior management.  Four years ago 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, three years ago it came in at 7.65, two years it climbed up to 8.19, and it remained high at 7.85 last year.  6.73 puts at back at square one – even if it rounds into the acceptable range, and even with a small sample size.  Parents at OJCS can expect to see significant attention being paid to overall behavior management in 2023-2024.

Last data point [Remember this question was scaled 1-5.]:

Our score remains consistent from 4.44 to 4.34 to 4.34 to 4.14.  Considering the overall results, this is a fairly positive data point, even if the trend line is not what we would prefer.

So there you have it for 2022-2023!

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 I said at the beginning, without meaningful data we don’t know how high to put the “floor” we stand upon to reach towards our North Stars.  We will likely look to change our feedback loop to ensure we hear more from more families.  That way, we can make sure that without a ceiling, we aim to reach higher each year…

“Remember” With Your Mouth; “Don’t Forget” In Your Heart

This week we commemorated Yom HaShoah – the day set aside on the Jewish Calendar for remembering (and not forgetting) the horrible events of the Holocaust.  And we are urged Zachor! – Remember! – because it is understood that through remembrance we help ensure the other commonly used expression for this holiday, that events like the Holocaust are Never Again! – not just for the Jewish People, but for humanity.  We must Not Forget! what took place.

I’ve always struggled with the curious distinction Judaism makes between the command “to remember” and the command “to never forget”.   In Deuteronomy 25:17, we are commanded to “Remember what Amalek” did to the Israelites.  In Deuteronomy 25:19, we commanded to both wipe out Amalek’s descendents and to “not forget” Amalek’s atrocities.   Isn’t “remembering” and “not forgetting” the same thing?  Why does the Torah choose different words for expressing the same idea?

And then I came across this explanation from the Mishneh Torah

מִפִּי הַשְּׁמוּעָה לָמְדוּ זָכוֹר בַּפֶּה לֹא תִּשְׁכָּח בַּלֵּב
The Oral Tradition teaches, ‘Remember’ with your mouths; ‘Don’t Forget’ in your hearts. – Mishneh Torah, Kings & Wars 5:5

According to this text, the difference between “remembering” and “not forgetting” isn’t definitional, it is pedagogical.  And bearing witness to how our current students and alumni commemorated Yom HaShoah this week, in our school, in our community, and in Poland, reinforces once again the unique responsibility and opportunity Jewish day school represents in the lives of our students and families.

Our Grade 8s study the Holocaust as part of their curriculum, but it is not an exclusively academic pursuit.  As part of the program, they regularly engage with survivors and the children of survivors throughout the year.  That is infinitely more powerful than any one-time ceremony, but knowing that did not diminish the power of watching them participate in our community’s Yom HaShoah Commemoration on Monday night by helping facilitate the candle-lighting ceremony.  While there, I bumped into a parent with both alumni and current students.  She shared with me that her daughter, along with two other alumni in her grade, are currently on the March of the Living.  She also shared that those three, all of whom had leadership roles in their small Jewish day school while in Grade 8, are poised to have leadership roles in their large secular private school while in Grade 11.  She attributed both those developments – March of the Living and student leadership – to, yes, the home as primary educator, but also to the school where those ideas and actions are nourished, encouraged, and experienced.

And as much as I hate to use my own children as any kind of example (I almost NEVER do), I must say that on Tuesday, while our OJCS Grade 8s led our school’s Yom HaShoah Assembly, and our entire Middle School bussed to Israeli Embassy for our nation’s Yom HaShoah Commemoration, and then bussed back for a special interview with a local survivor, my older daughter was leading the first-ever Yom HaShoah Assembly at the public high school she attends.  That assembly’s existence is entirely due to my daughter’s having lobbied her school’s administration.  Her ability to advocate with her principal and her ability to facilitate an assembly are both directly attributable to what she gained by attending Jewish day school(s).

Remembering with our hearts is something that happens inside of us.  We learn, we experience, we reflect and we feel.  Not forgetting with our mouths puts action into the world.  We speak, we do, we lead and we make something happen.  Both are required to perfect the world.  The Talmud states, “Great is study for it leads to action” (Kiddushin 40b).  But is the reverse not true as well?  Is it not true that action leads to study?  And isn’t both at the same time the most ideal?  And isn’t that what Jewish Day School is about at its most aspirational?  That our students study and then put their learning into action to make the world a better place?  That our students have lots of opportunity to make the world a better place and are then inspired to learn more?

I know that one primary audience for this blog is (always) current parents in my current school, but there are others.  And I know that Jewish Day School will never be the preferred destination for all.  And I know that not all my current students began their journeys at the beginning, and not all will stay in Jewish day school through graduation.  And I know that there are all kinds reasons why that is true.  And I know that each time I come out swinging too hard, I run the risk of reading as preachy or judgy.

And yet.

I also know why I implore families to attend an OJCS Graduation long before their children reach Grade 8.  It is the same reason why I encourage families to read blogs and blogfolios of children in older grades.  It is the same reason why we invited alumni to speak to Grade 5 Families this year.

It is why I will forever share my heart and use my voice in the service of Jewish day school.  Weeks like this one and the ones to follow are why we should both remember and not forget the gifts that Jewish day schools give their students – gifts that give back to families, to schools, and to community.

As we are currently in the throes of admissions, where we have every reason to believe that we will see our school grow for a sixth consecutive year; where we move forward with our journey towards CAIS accreditation (joining only Elmwood and Ashbury from the Ottawa independent school community), where we stand poised this summer to execute the first phase of a (now) $2 million renovation to help make our physical facility as innovative and excellent as our program – let me close by thanking all the parents who entrust us with their precious children; our teachers who pour their passion into their sacred and holy work; our volunteers who give of their most valued commodity, time; our community led by our most important partner and donor the Jewish Federation of Ottawa; and our donors who give of their treasure in addition to their time and wisdom.  Special thanks to all those who have joined our Life & Legacy Circle, who have ensured their legacies through securing our school’s.

The roller coaster of this holiday season has its ups and downs; may the trajectory of our school, thanks to so many, continue l’eilah u’leilah – higher and higher.

What Is The Impact of ChatGPT on Jewish Day School Education? [M. Night Shyamalan Spoiler Alert]

As an AI language model, ChatGPT has the potential to revolutionize the field of education, including Jewish day school education.  Jewish day schools are institutions that provide both general and Jewish education to Jewish students.  These schools aim to foster a strong Jewish identity, community, and religious practice among their students.  ChatGPT can have a significant impact on these schools in several ways.

One of the most significant ways ChatGPT can impact Jewish day school education is by providing personalized learning experiences.  With its ability to understand and analyze vast amounts of data, ChatGPT can create individualized learning plans for each student based on their strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles.  This will help teachers to design and deliver effective and engaging lessons that cater to each student’s unique needs.

Moreover, ChatGPT can help students learn Hebrew and Torah more efficiently.  Hebrew and Torah are fundamental aspects of Jewish education, and learning them requires a lot of practice and repetition.  ChatGPT can provide students with virtual flashcards, quizzes, and interactive exercises to help them learn these subjects more efficiently.

Another way ChatGPT can impact Jewish day school education is by providing students with instant feedback.  ChatGPT can evaluate student assignments, essays, and quizzes and provide immediate feedback to students, helping them to identify their mistakes and improve their performance.  This feature will help teachers to monitor students’ progress and provide feedback in real-time, saving them time and effort.

Lastly, ChatGPT can improve communication between teachers and students. With its natural language processing capabilities, ChatGPT can help students ask questions and receive answers in real-time. This feature will help students to clarify their doubts, and teachers to provide assistance promptly.

One of the main challenges that Jewish day schools face with AI is maintaining a balance between technology and human interaction. AI has the potential to enhance student learning by providing personalized instruction and adaptive assessments.  However, it cannot replace the importance of human interaction in the learning process.  Jewish day schools must be mindful of how they integrate AI into the curriculum and ensure that it does not detract from the importance of relationships between students and teachers.

Another challenge presented by AI is its impact on Jewish values.  As Jewish day schools incorporate more technology into the classroom, there is a risk of losing the emphasis on ethical behavior, communal responsibility, and human connection that are central to Jewish values.  Educators must find ways to integrate technology into the curriculum while still emphasizing these values.

In conclusion, ChatGPT has the potential to transform Jewish day school education by providing personalized learning experiences, helping students learn Hebrew and Torah more efficiently, providing instant feedback, and improving communication between teachers and students.  AI presents both opportunities and challenges for Jewish day schools.  While AI has the potential to transform education and enhance student learning, it also raises concerns about the impact on Jewish values, human interaction, and ethical considerations.  Jewish day schools must navigate these challenges and find ways to incorporate technology into the curriculum while still emphasizing the importance of relationships, ethical behavior, and communal responsibility.

If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you might have (you should have!) caught onto the big reveal…that I did not write any of the above.  But if you didn’t read closely, or are not as familiar with my voice…you may not have known at all.  I simply asked ChatGPT to write a 500-word blog post on, “What Is The Impact of ChatGPT on Jewish Day School Education?” and voilà.

Terrifying?  Exciting?  Confusing?


Luckily, if you are a parent at OJCS, you can at least know that we are already working to better understand all the ways in which this is already impacting teaching and learning.  We have already blocked access from our local wifi so that students’ work can only be their own while done at school.  We have provided our teachers with free AI detectors which allows them to run submitted work to see if it was created by AI.  Our amazing librarian, Brigitte Ruel, has already cranked out a really helpful blog post with background and additional links that you should really check out.  She is also preparing a workshop for students.

Like all technology, there are both good and bad, appropriate and inappropriate, passive and active, and meaningful and less-meaningful uses.  They are tools and our job as educators is to determine if and how they are useful to furthering a student’s learning journey.  It is also our job to prepare students (and parents) for the world in which they live and will keep learning in, and thus we have a responsibility to teach them how to navigate technology – even AI – in alignment with our Jewish values.

Whether you are just finding out about this now, or have already been worrying about what it means, know that we are already working hard and have more work ahead of us.  We’ll look forward to sharing more – in our own original words and voices – in the not-too-distant future.

Let’s Talk About the Future…Again: The “Sneak Peek” Town Hall 2023

As discussed, connected to our larger theme this year of “Getting Our Mojo Back”, last night we held the third of our three critical conversations this year, that both hearkened back to give everyone equal footing and dreamed forward to give everyone an equal stake.  Last night’s “town hall” was dedicated to the school’s learning journey over the last few years and to share a “sneak peek” about where our journey is headed into our next chapter.  Thank you to the many parents who joined us!

What I’d like to do here, is provide a kind of annotated guide to the slides that were presented – layering in a bit of my own commentary.  Parent voice is critical to our ability to dream big dreams, since you, our parents, are our most important stakeholder community and partner.  Please add your voice to the conversation in whichever way is comfortable for you – comment on this blog, shoot me a private email, or make an appointment to come in.

This takes the village.

The initial set of slides were intended to level-set; to ensure that whenever a family joined their journey to the school’s, that we share a common view and a common language about where we have been and where we are headed.  One of our “North Stars” is about “owning our learning”.  Another way of framing that is to say that we “own our own stories” – and the degree to which parents are able to share in our larger narrative is a sign of health.

Let’s start with our “what”…

It is always nice to be reminded of our “why”…

And along with our “what” and our “why”…comes our “how”…

And nice reminder about our “who”…

And a important reminder of “why now”…

What about our “where” you may ask?  We’ll get there…

We then pivoted to highlight the big takeaways from our two prior “Critical Conversations”.  You can revisit the “Let’s Talk About the ‘J’ in OJCS…Again” Town Hall here; you can visit the “Let’s Talk About French…Again. L’assemblée de Français 2022” here.

Moving forward, we leaned into two big-ticket items that are already generating excitement in their “soft launches” with so much more to come…

Up first…The OJCS Makerspace!

And this is just the beginning…

Next up?  “Mitzvah Trips”!

What other big dreams to we have?

Oh…and that “where” we mentioned earlier?  Here are the first glimpses of what will be coming to OJCS as soon as next school year:

Stay tuned for a full set of drawings and renderings…and timetable.

And, finally, again, a reminder of what this is all about…

Need to be even more excited about the future of OJCS as enrollment for 2023-2024 has opened up?  (And “thank you” to all the families who have already applied/enrolled!)  We have two important events on the calendar:

  • SK Information Night, February 16th @ 7:00 PM
  • Middle School Information Night, March 2nd @ 7:00 PM

For more information about either, or to simply schedule a tour, please contact our Admissions Director, Jenn Greenberg, at [email protected].

The Transparency Files: CAT4 Results Part 3 (of 3)

Welcome to “Part III” of our analysis of this year’s CAT4 results!

In Part I, we provided a lot of background context and shared out the simple results of how we did this year.  In Part II, we began sharing comparative data, focusing on snapshots of the same cohort (the same group of children) from 2019 to 2021 (with bonus data from 2018’s Grade 3).  Remember, based on which grades have taken the CAT4 when, we were only able to compare at the cohort level from 2019’s Grades 3-5 to 2021’s Grades 5-7 to 2022’s Grades 6-8.  [Remember, that we did not take them at all in 2020 due to COVID.]  In the future, that part of the analysis will only grow more robust and meaningful.  We also provided targeted analysis based on cohort data.

Here, in Part III, we will finish sharing comparative data, this time focusing on snapshots of the same grade (different groups of children).  We are able, now, to only provide data on Grades 5-8 (from 2019, 2021, & 2022, with bonus data from 2018’s Grade 6), but in future years we’ll be able to expand this analysis downwards.

Here is a little analysis that applies to all four snapshots:

  • Remember that any score that is two grades above ending in “.9” represents the max score, like getting a “6.9” for Grade 5.
  • We are no longer comparing the same children over time, as when it comes to analyzing a cohort, therefore we aren’t looking for the same kinds of trajectories or patterns in the data.  You could make a case – and I might below – that this part of the data analysis isn’t as particularly meaningful, but we go into it open to the idea that there may be patterns or outliers that jump out and warrant a thoughtful response.
  • As we have mentioned, the jump between 2019 and 2021 might have been the place one would have expected to see a “COVID Gap” (but we largely did NOT) and between 2021 and 2022 one might expect to see a “COVID Catch-Up”.

Here are the grade snapshots:

What do these grade snapshots reveal?

  • Again, keeping in mind that we are not tracing the trajectory of the same students, outliers like “Spelling” and “Computation & Estimation” for Grade 7 in 2021 help us understand that whatever is happening there is more a function of the cohort than the grade, which means that the remedy or intervention, if needed, has less to do with the curriculum or the program in Grade 7 and more to do with better meeting the needs of that that particular cohort of children.  [And you can see how that played out and with what results by cross-checking with the cohort data in Part II.]  To be clear we aren’t suggesting that the only explanation for their outlier status is about them that it is the children’s fault!  The deeper dive into the data helps clarify that this is not a “Grade 7” issue, it doesn’t absolve us from better understanding or applying a remedy.
  • You can see a little of the reverse by looking at “Computation & Estimation” in Grade 6.  Now, in this case we are only dealing with being at grade-level or above, but you can see that Grade 2021’s relatively higher score (7.7) is an outlier.  If the goal was to have each Grade 6 score nearly a grade-and-a-half above – which is certainly doesn’t have to be – you would look at the data and say this is a Grade 6 issue and we’d be looking at how students come out of Grade 5 and what we do in the beginning of Grade 6.  Again, this is not about intervening to address a deficit, but I use it to point out how we can use the data to better understand outliers and patterns.
  • To the degree that this data set is meaningful, the trajectory that feels the most achievable considering we are dealing with different children is what you see in Grade 5 “Computation & Estimation” – small increases each year based on having identified an issue an applying an intervention.
  • The bottom line is essentially the same as having viewed it through the cohort lens: almost each grade in almost every year in almost each area is scoring significantly above its grade-level equivalencies.

Current Parents: CAT4 reports will be coming home this week.  Any parent for whom we believe a contextual phone call is a value add has, or will, be contacted by a teacher.

The bottom line is that our graduates – year after year – successfully place into the high school programs of their choice.  Each one had a different ceiling – they are all different – but working with them, their families and their teachers, we successfully transitioned them all to the schools (private and public) and programs (IB, Gifted, French Immersion, Arts, etc.) that they qualified for.

And now again this year, with all the qualifications and caveats, and still fresh out of the most challenging set of educational circumstances any generation of students and teachers have faced, our CAT4 scores continue to demonstrate excellence.  Excellence within the grades and between them.

Not a bad place to be as we open the 2023-2024 enrollment season…

If you want to see how all the dots connect from our first Critical Conversation (Jewish Studies), our second Critical Conversation (French), our CAT4 results, and so much more…please be sure to join us for our third and final Critical Conversation, “The ‘Future’ of OJCS” on Thursday, February 9th at 7:00 PM.

The Transparency Files: CAT4 Results Part 2 (of 3)

Welcome to “Part II” of our analysis of this year’s CAT4 results!

In last week’s post, we provided a lot of background context and shared out the simple results of how we did this year.  Here, in our second post, we are now able to begin sharing comparative data, focusing on snapshots of the same cohort (the same group of children) from 2019 to 2021 (with bonus data from 2018’s Grade 3).  In other words, for now based on which grades have taken the CAT4 when, we can only compare at the cohort level from 2019’s Grades 3-5 to 2021’s Grades 5-7 to 2022’s Grades 6-8.  [Remember, that we did not take them at all in 2020 due to COVID.]  In the future, this part of the analysis will only grow more robust and meaningful.

Here is a little analysis that will apply to all three snapshots:

  • Remember that any score that is two grades above ending in “.9” represents the max score, like getting a “6.9” for Grade 5.
  • Bear in mind, that the metric we are normally looking at when it comes to comparing a cohort over time is whether or not we see at least one full year’s growth (on average) each year – here we are factoring an expected two full year’s growth between 2019 and 2021.  As we discussed last year, that might have been the place one would have expected to see a “COVID Gap” (but we largely did NOT) and between 2021 and 2022 one might expect to see a “COVID Catch-Up”.

Here are the cohort snapshots:

What does this snapshot of current Grade 6s reveal?

  • They consistently function a full grade if not not more above the expected grade level.
  • That even with COVID we consistently see at least a year’s worth of growth each year across almost all the topics.
  • Technically, there is only six month’s worth of growth “Mathematics” (6.9 to 7.5) from 2021 to 2022, but that is already significantly above grade level.
  • The one domain, Computation & Estimation, where they are barely below grade level (6.0), we can now properly contextualize by noting that they grew from 4.4 in 2021 to 6.0 in 2022 – more than a year’s worth of growth in a year (the year we would expect a bit of “COVID Catch-Up”.  This means, that they should be more than on track to match all the rest of their scores being significantly above grade level when they take the text in 2023.

All in all…excellent news and trajectory for our current Grade 6s.

What does this snapshot of current Grade 7s reveal?

Not much!  This cohort has maxed out their scores in almost every domain in almost each year!  And in the few places they did not, they were still above grade level – like “Spelling” (4.9) and “Computation & Estimation” (5.5) in 2019 – and grew at least a full grade level each year so that by now, in Grade 7, it is max scores all across the board!  That is pretty awesome to see.

What does this snapshot of current Grade 8s reveal?

This class had a bit of stranger trajectory, but essentially ends where we would like.  “Spelling” took a strange path, beginning way above grade level, plateauing with a dip where we should have seen two years worth of growth, and now fully rebounding to grade level.  “Computation” had a more normal curve, but went from being consistently a year below grade level before completely catching up and now being well above.

To sum up this post, we have a lot to be proud of in the standardized test scores of these particular cohorts over time.  The two areas (Spelling and Computation & Estimation) that were worthy of prioritization the last couple of years (this year’s Grades 6 & 8) were indeed prioritized.   We began providing professional growth opportunities for language arts teachers in our school on Structured Word Inquiry as part of larger conversation about the “Science of Reading”.  [Please check out our Director of Special Needs, Sharon Reichstein’s recent post on this issue, which I’ll also have more to say about in Part III.]  With regard to Computation & Estimation, we discussed it during last year’s November PD Day which focused on “Data-Driven Decision Making” and it has continued to be a point of emphasis.  The results indicate that these efforts have borne fruit.

The Math and Language Arts Teachers in Grades 3-8 have now begun meeting to go through CAT4 results in greater detail, with an eye towards what kinds of interventions are needed now – in this year – to fill any gaps (both for individual students and for cohorts); and how might we adapt our long-term planning to ensure we are best meeting needs.

Stay tuned next week for the concluding “Part III” when we will look at the same grade (different students) over time, see what additional wisdom is to be gleaned from that slice of analysis, and conclude this series of posts with some final summarizing thoughts.