The Transparency Files: Annual Parent Survey

This is it…the last…the very last…

this version of the Annual Parent Survey will be put to bed.  Faithful readers will recall that last year’s was going to be the last, but October 7th and the relocation/renovation rendered that a bit of a bridge too far.

So, yes, this is it.  This Annual Parent Survey has served me and my school(s) well these last 15 years, but the people have spoken – er, rather, I guess, the people have not spoken, or at least have not been willing/interested in completing this survey in this format and so we will finally bid it adieu

We have found ourselves in this fascinating cycle where each year the enrollment goes up and the participation rate in the Annual Parent Survey goes down.  This year, although 47 individual surveys were turned in, only 36 individual surveys provided data on the main sections.  That means this survey only represents 19% of the students in our school.   It simply defeats the purpose of gathering feedback in service of making decisions that impact students if 1/5 of students are sharing that feedback.  Whether we move to a third-party vendor, a new format for surveys, focus groups or some combination therein, we will cast a different and a wider net to ensure we truly capture the feedback we need – and your children deserve – to aim closer to our North Stars; to be the best version of ourselves we can.

But that’s the future…for now, one last time, let’s thank and lean into 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.]

Not surprising to be clustered so low…it does make questions about “high school readiness” less helpful with such little representation from Grades 7 & 8.

Without knowing how representative this fifth of students is, this year’s data set is lighter 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.  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 to 7.53.  Although it is a tick up from last year, the difference is statistically insignificant.

Overall, this seems to be a good news story, but let’s dig deeper…

Almost every one of these numbers are up from last year!  And the only number that is below the “acceptable range” is trending upwards…

Again everyone one of these is higher than last year!  And, again, the only one that is below the “acceptable range” is also trending upwards…

So far, same trend.  Every number is up and the OVERALL number and the Science number are as about as high we’ve ever had.

Here we hit our first trouble spot.  The less-than-great news is that these numbers, at least for those families who filled it out, are all (still) below the acceptable range.  The not-as-bad news is that numbers are fairly flat.  “French reading” is down pretty significantly and “French PE” in its second year took a dip as well, so there continues to be meaningful work ahead.

Overall these numbers are mostly flat with a few small dips.  Again, anything in those “high sixes” are targets for improvement.  [I’m looking at you Tefillah which I take the most personally since I teach it!]

Work to be done!  Although we think the transition we made in Art and the addition we made to Music (not yet represented in the survey) has brought significant improvements to our program.  There are variables here that are not entirely within our control, but this entire section is worth our thinking more deeply about and identifying a few changes for next year.

These scores are mostly down as well.  Pairing this with comments, we know we have work to do when it comes to the transition to semesters, the way we weave in progress reports, how we approach goal-setting, etc.  We believe we have a clear path forward and fully expect to see these numbers grow next year.  The one score we want to better understand is how parents view “provides regular opportunities for parents to be involved in student learning”.  We do this, or we think we do, so part of what has to be sussed out is whether we are providing the right or preferred opportunities.

These numbers are almost all higher than the prior year.  The two that are below the acceptable range (relevant learning for parents) and (student code of conduct) are both up, if not yet where we prefer them.  Considering how much energy we put into new behavior systems this year, I would liked to see that number jump higher, but we will keep working to improve.

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 to 3.92.  This one actually doesn’t jive with the rest of the results which almost universally had higher ratings than the prior year.  Could be that this data point, which is supposed to rate Net Promoter Scoring (for those who are familiar) is not well understood.  Either way, the trend line is concerning…at least for the minority of families who are represented in this year’s results.

So there you have it for 2023-2024!

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 change our model next year to ensure we get better data from more families.  That way, we can make sure that without a ceiling, we aim to reach higher each year…

A Time to Be Counted

Here are the words I shared with Kitah Bet this morning in celebration of their Chaggigat Ha’Torah:

There is a time to count, like one does when counting one’s blessings, and there is a time to be counted, like one does when showing up for oneself, one’s family, and one’s community.  Today is a rare opportunity to do both.

Today we celebrate the gift of Torah and in this week’s reading of it – in Parashat Bamidbar – we read about the census of the Israelites in the wilderness.  This detailed counting of each tribe and individual highlights the significance of every member within the community.  Each person’s unique role and contribution are recognized and valued. This notion resonates deeply with us today, as we witness the power of Jewish unity and collective strength in the face of recent challenges.

The tragic events of October 7th tested and continue to test our community in unimaginable ways.  Yet, amidst the darkness, we have seen an extraordinary outpouring of support, solidarity, and resilience.  There have been times when we have huddled together and counted our blessings, but also times when we have stood up and been counted as we rally and publicly #StandWithIsrael.

When we come together to celebrate our children’s first accomplishments in the study of Torah with the gift of Torah, we are not only honoring their individual achievements, but also reinforcing the bonds that tie us together as a community.  Your choice to provide your children with a Jewish day school education is a powerful statement.  It connects your children to the generations who came before, and to those yet to come.  Your choice joins your family story to the larger Jewish story, honors our past, and secures our future through the learning and experiences you have made possible for their Jewish present.  This choosing to be chosen, the unique nature of Jews who both have to and get to choose to be Jewish, feels so much more powerful this year in light of the world around us.

Our act of giving these sifrei torah to our children today is more than a ceremony; it is a reaffirmation of our commitment to Jewish continuity and resilience.  Each time we gather as a community to study, read and celebrate Torah, we engage in a public act of Judaism that is itself a living expression of Torah.  By showing up, by being present and publicly Jewish, we live our own torah and are counted within the Jewish People’s shared destiny of meaning.  We demonstrate to our children that Judaism is not just a private faith, but a public declaration of who we are and what we stand for.  Each act of Jewish learning, and each celebration we share is a thread woven into the fabric of our collective Jewish identity.

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

Ken y’hi ratzon.

Public Acts of Judaism Are a Prayer We Answer Ourselves

Here are the words I shared with Kitah Alef this morning in celebration of their Kabbalat Ha’Siddur:

One of the most profound gifts we can give our children is the sense of being part of something greater than themselves.  The Hebrew word “siddur” comes from the root samech-dalet-reish, meaning “order.” The siddur represents the structured prayers that have connected generations of Jews throughout history.  In the act of teaching our children to pray in Hebrew, we are linking them to a chain that stretches back to the beginning of the Bible and forward to future generations.  Each day we do tefillah we help make l’dor v’dor a reality…

The events of October 7th have left an indelible mark on our community and our sense of security.  In such times, the importance of community and the shared rituals that bind us become even more vital.  The Torah teaches us, “And you shall teach them diligently to your children” (Deuteronomy 6:7). This mitzvah underscores our responsibility to pass down our traditions and values.  Our act of giving these siddurim to our children today is more than a ceremony; it is a reaffirmation of our commitment to Jewish continuity and resilience.

Each time we gather as a community to celebrate our traditions, we engage in a public act of Judaism that is itself a form of prayer.  By showing up, by being present and publicly Jewish, we answer our own prayers for a shared destiny of meaning.  We demonstrate to our children that Judaism is not just a private faith, but a public declaration of who we are and what we stand for.  Each act of Jewish learning and each celebration we share is a thread woven into the fabric of our collective Jewish identity.

Each day, our children present us – their parents and their teachers – with an opportunity to secure the Jewish future through our partnership.  For parents, this is the sacred obligation we take on when deciding to have children.  For teachers and schools, this is the holy task we are entrusted with when parents take the leap of faith to provide their children with a Jewish education.  It is a responsibility that we do not take lightly or for granted.  It is why a Kabbalat Ha’Siddur – why a celebration of receiving a siddur gifted by the school, decorated by the parents, and instructed by the teachers is so appropriate to mark this stage of our journey.

One of our school’s North Stars is that “we are all on inspiring Jewish journeys,” and the Kabbalat Ha’Siddur is just the next stop on a journey that, for many, began together under the chuppah on the first day of Kindergarten.  My prayer for this class is that in the same way that the siddur we give them today is not a trophy to be admired on a shelf, but a tool to be used for discovery and meaning.  Let today’s simchah not simply be an oasis of Jewish joy in a desert of a Jewish year, but confirmation of our collective indomitable spirit and a commitment to celebrate the next stop and the stop after that in the extraordinary and unpredictable Jewish journey of this remarkable group of children and families.

Ken y’hi ratzon.

OJCS @ 75: A Miracle Built Through Teachers

Good afternoon, fellow teachers…

As we gather today to celebrate the incredible milestone of 75 years of the Ottawa Jewish Community School, formerly known as Hillel Academy, I am overwhelmed with a deep sense of gratitude and pride.  This celebration is not just about the passage of time but about the enduring legacy of commitment, passion, and excellence that has brought us here.

I believe deeply in stories and narrative, and that both lives and organizations are best understood as such.  This school was born from founding visionaries who told a story of what could be and each generation of the board, administration and faculty has taken its place to co-author each chapter of the school’s narrative up until today.  Those of us lucky enough to currently hold the pen owe a debt to all of you in the room who held the pen before us, and owe our commitment to pass the pen forward to those who will write chapters when our time is done.  Our collective story can be read through the lives of the students and families who came through our doors, and it echoes throughout our community, both Jewish and otherwise.  You simply cannot tell the story of Jewish Ottawa without our school, and our story could not have unfolded without the collective contributions of those in this room, and all those who contributed throughout the decades.

To our school’s extraordinary teachers, your dedication and tireless efforts are the foundation of our success. For seventy-five years and counting, day in and day out, you inspired and continue to inspire our students, nurturing their minds and souls. Your passion for teaching and your unwavering commitment to each child’s growth were and are truly remarkable. Teachers are the heart of OJCS, and it is your spirit that shapes the future of our community.

To my fellow devoted administrators, your leadership and vision have been instrumental in guiding us through challenges and triumphs alike. You work behind the scenes, ensuring that our school remains a place of excellence and innovation. Your strategic thinking and dedication to our mission have paved the way for our continued growth and success.

As it says in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” This powerful teaching reminds us that while we may not see the completion of our efforts, our responsibility is to contribute, to build upon the work of those who came before us, and to pave the way for those who will follow.

Our more recent achievements, such as the remarkable $2 million reimagination of our classrooms, seven consecutive years of enrollment growth, and the creation of the Rabbi Bulka Kindness Project, are just the most recent testament to what we can accomplish when we come together with a shared purpose. We have introduced cutting-edge technologies, embraced new teaching methodologies, and expanded our curriculum to ensure our students are well-prepared for the future. These advancements are a direct result of your hard work and commitment both past and present.

As we embark on the next chapter of our journey, we are filled with hope and excitement. I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to each one of you. Thank you for your commitment, your passion, your talent and your dedication. Together, we have built, not just a special school, but a unique and thriving community.

Here’s to the next 75 years.

Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek.

(From Strength to Strength May We Be Strengthened.)

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.

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.