Progress on “Progress Reports”

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

…Progress Reports.

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

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

And that is the calendar we have followed thus far.

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

In that same post, we said:

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

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

And so…

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously go!  I’ll wait…

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

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

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

The Transparency Files: CAT*4 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 children) over time.  Remember that it is complicated because of four factors:

  • We only began taking the CAT*4 at this window of time in 2019 in Grades 3-8.
  • We did NOT take the CAT*4 in 2020 due to COVID.
  • We only took the CAT*4 in Grades 5-8 in 2021.
  • We resumed taking the CAT*4 in Grades 3-8 in 2022.

In the future, that part (“Part II”) 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).  Because it is really hard to identify trends while factoring in skipped years and seismic issues, unlike in Part II where we went back to 2019 for comparative purposes, we are only going focus on four grades that have multiyear comparative data post-COVID: Grades 5-8 from 2021, 2022, and 2023.

Here is a little analysis that will apply 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.
  • Bear in mind, that the metric we are normally looking at when it comes to comparing a grade is either stability (if the baseline was appropriately high) or incremental growth (if the baseline was lower than desired and and the school responded with a program or intervention in response).
  • In 2023 we took it in the “.1” of the school year and in all prior years in the “.2”.  For the purposes of this analysis, I am to give or take “.1”.

Here are the grade snapshots:

What can we learn from Grade 5 over time?

  • Remember these are different children taking this test in Grade 5.  So even though, say, for “Writing Conventions” in 2022 they “only” scored at grade level and the other two years it maxxed out, you cannot necessarily conclude that something was amiss in Grade 5 in 2022.  [You could – and I did – confirm that by referring back to Part II and checking that cohort’s growth over time.]
  • What we are mostly seeing here is stability at the high end, which is exactly what we hope to see.
  • Now what might constitute a trend is what we see in “Computation & Estimation” where we began below grade level, have worked hard to institute changes to our program and find a trajectory upwards.

What can we learn from Grade 6 over time?

  • Again, because these are different children, we have to be careful, but it will be worth paying attention to “Writing Conventions” and “Spelling” to make sure that that this a cohort anomaly and not a grade trend.
  • We will also be looking for greater stability in “Computation & Estimation”.
  • Overall, however, high scores and stability for Grade 6.

What can we learn from Grade 7 over time?

  • Extremely high scores with reasonably high stability!
  • We’ll keep an eye on “Computation & Estimation” which, although high the last two years, is a bit all over the place by comparison.

What can we learn from Grade 8 over time?

  • Extremely high scores with high stability.
  • We’ll need a few more years of data to speak more authoritatively, but a snapshot of where all our students are by their last year at OJCS has to reassuring for our current parents and, hopefully, inspiring to all those who are considering how OJCS prepares its graduates for high school success.

Current Parents: CAT4 reports will be timed with report cards and Parent-Teacher Conferences.  Any parent for whom we believe a contextual conversation is a value add will be folded into conferences.

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, our CAT*4 scores continue to demonstrate excellence.  Excellence within the grades and between them.

Not a bad place to be as we enter the second week of the 2024-2025 enrollment season…with well over 50 families already enrolled.

The Transparency Files: CAT*4 Results Part 2 (of 3)

Welcome to “Part II” of our analysis of this year’s CAT*4 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 children) over time.  It is complicated because of three factors:

  • We only began taking the CAT*4 at this window of time in 2019 in Grades 3-8.
  • We did NOT take the CAT*4 in 2020 due to COVID.
  • We only took the CAT*4 in Grades 5-8 in 2021.
  • We resumed taking the CAT*4 in Grades 3-8 in 2022.

This means that there are only five cohorts that have comparative data – this year’s Grades 4-8.  And only two of those cohorts have comparative data beyond two years – this year’s Grades 7-8.  It is hard to analyze trends with without multiple years of data, but we’ll share what we can.

Here is a little analysis that will apply to all five 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.  [Feel free to refer to prior years’ results for specific analyses of both “COVID Gaps” and “COVID Catch-Ups”.]
  • In 2023 we took it in the “.1” of the school year and in all prior years in the “.2”.  If we are being technical, therefore, “.9” would actually be the truest measure of growth since the time frame is “.1” less.  For the purposes of this analysis, I am going round “.9” up and consider it a “year’s” worth of growth.

Here are the cohort snapshots:

What does this snapshot of current Grade 4s reveal?

  • Huge growth in Reading, Vocabulary and Writing Conventions.
  • Better context for Spelling.  Last week, we shared that Grade 4 Spelling (3.4) was one of only two instances out of thirty-six of scoring below grade-level across the whole school.  Here we can see that despite that (relatively) “low” score that annual growth is intact.  That’s the positive.  On the other hand, in order for this score to fully catch up to our school’s expectations, it will have grow more than one year at a time over the next few years.
  • Better context for Math.  Although both of this year’s current scores are above grade-level expectation, we did not see the growth we would expect.  This is why we take the tests and provide our teachers with not only the results, but coaching on how to use the results.  Our Grade 4 Math Teacher now has the data she needs to help individual students fill gaps and best prepare students for math success in Grade 5.

What does this snapshot of current 5s reveal?

  • That they are crushing it!  Max scores in all, but one category, along with appropriate growth.
  • Better context for Computation & Estimation.  Both scores are well above grade level, almost-appropriate growth from year to the next, and there is still room to grow.  Let’s go!

What does this snapshot of current Grade 6s reveal?

  • Again, overall really strong scores and mostly strong growth.
  • Better context for Writing Conventions.  It may not max out, but we showed more than a year’s worth of growth.
  • Better context for Spelling.  We already knew that Grade 6 Spelling (5.6) was the other of the two instances out of thirty-six of scoring below grade-level across the whole school.  Now we know that it went down.  Hmmm…this could be an anomaly.  This is why we keep anecdotal records; maybe we’ll learn something about when Grade 6 took this section that helps explain the results.  Or maybe it is something.  Our Middle School Language Arts Teacher will be on it.
  • Better context for Computation & Estimation.  Again, it didn’t max out, but we can see huge growth from last year.

What does this snapshot of current Grade 7s reveal?

  • That they and their teachers are crushing it!
  • Better context for Computation & Estimation.  It shows that even though this score is lower than their other max scores, while still being above grade-level, it grew more than a year’s worth from last year.

No analysis of current Grade 8s needed, just appreciation for three years of near perfection.  Not a bad advertisement for OJCS Middle School.

To sum up this post, we have so much to be proud of in the standardized test scores of these particular cohorts over time.  The Math and Language Arts Teachers in Grades 3-8 have now begun meeting to go through their  CAT*4 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.  Parents will be receiving their child(ren)’s score(s) soon and any contextualizing conversations will be folded into Parent-Teacher Conferences.

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.

The Transparency Files: CAT*4 Results Part 1 (of 3)

[Note from Jon: If you have either read this post annually or simply want to jump to the results without my excessive background and contextualizing, just scroll straight to the graph.  Spoiler alert: These are the best results we have ever had!]

Each year I fret about how to best facilitate an appropriate conversation about why our school engages in standardized testing (which for us, like many independent schools in Canada, is the CAT*4, but next year will become the CAT*5), what the results mean (and what they don’t mean), how it impacts the way in which we think about “curriculum” and, ultimately, what the connection is between a student’s individual results and our school’s personalized learning plan for that student.  It is not news that education is a field in which pendulums tend to wildly swing back and forth as new research is brought to light.  We are always living in that moment and it has always been my preference to aim towards pragmatism.  Everything new isn’t always better and, yet, sometimes it is.  Sometimes you know right away and sometimes it takes years.

The last few years, I have taken a blog post that I used to push out in one giant sea of words, and broke it into two, and now three parts, because even I don’t want to read a 3,000 word post.  But, truthfully, it still doesn’t seem enough.  I continue to worry that I have not done a thorough enough job providing background, research and context to justify a public-facing sharing of standardized test scores.  Probably because I haven’t.

And yet.

With the forthcoming launch of Annual Grades 9 & 12 Alumni Surveys and the opening of the admissions season for the 2024-2025 school year, it feels fair and appropriate to be as transparent as we can about how well we are (or aren’t) succeeding academically against an external set of benchmarks, even as we are still facing extraordinary circumstances.  [We took the text just a couple of weeks after “October 7th”.]  That’s what “transparency” as a value and a verb looks like.  We commit to sharing the data and our analysis regardless of outcome.  We also do it because we know that for the overwhelming majority of our parents, excellence in secular academics is a non-negotiable, and that in a competitive marketplace with both well-regarded public schools and secular private schools, our parents deserve to see the school’s value proposition validated beyond anecdotes.

Now for the annual litany of caveats and preemptive statements…

We have not yet shared out individual reports to our parents.  First our teachers have to have a chance to review the data to identify which test results fully resemble their children well enough to simply pass on, and which results require contextualization in private conversation.  Those contextualizing conversations will take place in the next few weeks and, thereafter, we should be able to return all results.

There are a few things worth pointing out:

  • Because of COVID, this is now only our fifth year taking this assessment at this time of year.  We were in the process of expanding the range from Grades 3-8 in 2019, but we paused in 2020 and restricted 2021’s testing to Grades 5-8.  So, this is the second year we have tested Grades 3 & 4 on this exam at this time of year.  When we shift in Parts 2 & 3 of this analysis to comparative data, this will impact who we can compare when analyze the grade (i.e. “Grade 5” over time) or the cohort (i.e. the same group of children over time).
  • Because of the shift next year to the CAT*5, it may be true that we have no choice, but to reset the baseline and (again) build out comparative data year to year.
  • The ultimate goal is to have tracking data across all grades which will allow us to see if…
    • The same grade scores as well or better each year.
    • The same cohort grows at least a year’s worth of growth.
  • The last issue is in the proper understanding of what a “grade equivalent score” really is.

Grade-equivalent scores attempt to show at what grade level and month your child is functioning.  However, grade-equivalent scores are not able to show this.  Let me use an example to illustrate this.  In reading comprehension, your son in Grade 5 scored a 7.3 grade equivalent on his Grade 5 test. The 7 represents the grade level while the 3 represents the month. 7.3 would represent the seventh grade, third month, which is December.  The reason it is the third month is because September is zero, October is one, etc.  It is not true though that your son is functioning at the seventh grade level since he was never tested on seventh grade material.  He was only tested on fifth grade material.  He performed like a seventh grader on fifth grade material.  That’s why the grade-equivalent scores should not be used to decide at what grade level a student is functioning.

Let me finish this section by being very clear: We do not believe that standardized test scores represent the only, nor surely the best, evidence for academic success.  Our goal continues to be providing each student with a “floor, but no ceiling” representing each student’s maximum success.  Our best outcome is still producing students who become lifelong learners.

But I also don’t want to undersell the objective evidence that shows that the work we are doing here does in fact lead to tangible success.  That’s the headline, but let’s look more closely at the story.  (You may wish to zoom in a bit on whatever device you are reading this on…)

A few tips on how to read this:

  • We normally take this exam in the “.2” of each grade-level year, but this year we took at at the “.1”.  [This will have a slight impact on the comparative data.]  That means that “at grade-level” [again, please refer above to a more precise definition of “grade equivalent scores”] for any grade we are looking at would be 5.1, 6.1, 7.1, etc.  For example, if you are looking at Grade 6, anything below 6.1 would constitute “below grade-level” and anything above 6.1 would constitute “above grade-level.”
  • The maximum score for any grade is “.9” of the next year’s grade.  If, for example, you are looking at Grade 8 and see a score of 9.9, on our forms it actually reads “9.9+” – the maximum score that can be recorded.
  • Because of when we take this test – approximately one-two months into the school year – it is reasonable to assume a significant responsibility for results is attributable to the prior year’s teachers and experiences.  But, of course, it is very hard to tease it out exactly, of course.

What are the key takeaways from these snapshots of the entire school?

  • Looking at six different grades through six different dimensions there are only two instances out of thirty-six of scoring below grade-level: Grades 4 (3.4) and 6 (5.6) Spelling.  This is the best we have ever scored!  Every other grade and every other subject is either at or above or way above.
  • For those parents focused on high school readiness, our students in Grades 7 & 8 got the maximum score that can be recorded for each and every academic category except for Grade 7 Computation & Estimation (7.6).  Again, our Grade 8s maxxed out at 9.9 across the board and our Grades 7s maxxed out at 8.9 across the board save one.  Again, this is – by far – the best we have ever scored.

It does not require a sophisticated analysis to see how exceedingly well each and every grade has done in just about each and every section.  In almost all cases, each and every grade is performing significantly above grade-level.  This is a very encouraging set of data points.

Stay tuned next week when we begin to dive into the comparative data.  “Part II” will look at the same cohort (the same group of students) over time.  “Part III” will look at the same grade over time and conclude this series of posts with some additional summarizing thoughts.

Exam Evolution

Once upon a time all the high schools in our community – both public and private – gave formal exams in Grade 9.  And so it was not only natural, it was an advantage for students at OJCS to take a series of exams during the Grades 7 and 8 years.  It checked (at least) three meaningful boxes:

  1. Our students learned valuable note-taking, study and organizational skills by going through the process of preparing for an exam.
  2. Our school learned valuable information about what our students did (or didn’t) learn as they were preparing to exit OJCS.  Exams that were able to stretch back across grades allowed OJCS to know not just what students learned that trimester or year, but what they learned while at OJCS.
  3. Our students gained real-world experience that they could utilize in service of the exams they would be taking in Grade 9 (and beyond).

And then…say it with me…COVID.

And ever since, the public high schools have not offered exams in Grades 9 & 10 and do not seem to be on a path towards doing so again.  Private schools in our community do offer exams in Grade 9.   And to the degree that context matters, we did some digging and it is additionally true that other independent schools in our community do offer exams in Grade 8 (or even earlier) and so if that is the water we are swimming in, perhaps it is that simple.  But part of being “independent” is that we get to make the decision for ourselves, and so it begs the question about what ought we do at OJCS if one of our three boxes no longer applies?  Do the other two warrant the energy (and for some students the anxiety) for OJCS to continue to offer exams, and if so, in which grades and subjects?

Zooming out, there are lots of skills and experiences we teach and provide at OJCS that are not necessarily formally carried forward to high school.  I have learned this firsthand as a parent of two OJCS graduates, one now in university and one still in high school.  Those skills – whether they be technological, organizational, public speaking, self-advocacy and many others – may not have had direct application to this (high school) class or another, but have definitely served them well as students.  If we were deciding whether or not to use iPads, or host hackathons, or a million other things based on what will be true in public school in grade nine, we might as well be public school ourselves.  So we feel very comfortable suggesting that whether or not our graduates going on to public schools do or don’t have formal exams in grade nine, it ought not determine what we do.  So much for “Box #3”.

Boxes #1 & 2 still feel very valuable.  While always managing and paying attention to student anxiety and their version of “school/life balance” – and always honouring IEPs and Support Plans – we definitely believe that the process of preparing, studying and taking formal exams is a value add for our students as they prepare for the added rigours of high school.  Grit and resiliency can only come about through authentic experience; sometimes you have to be a little uncomfortable, suffer a little adversity, be a little anxious.  So there’s “Box #1”.

Box #2 is interesting and at least for this year (and likely next) determinative.  We have lots of opportunities to utilize external benchmarks and standardized testing to provide data on what students who are graduating OJCS have (and haven’t) learned.  We have the most data on Math and Language Arts by virtue of the CAT-4, Amplify, IXL, etc.  If we wanted to gather similar results for Social Studies and/or Science we could decide if and when to add those modules to our CAT-4.  The two places where we could benefit from better knowledge is in Jewish Studies and French.  We have made significant progress in knowing what is true in French with last year’s introduction of the DELF Exam, but it only targeted the highest achieving students.  No such external standard exists for Hebrew / Jewish Studies.

And so for all of the above reasons, here is what will be true this Spring at OJCS.  Students in Grade 8 will take two exams.  They will all take a Jewish Studies Final (which is completely consistent with past and present practice) and they will take either a French Final or the DELF (the “French Final” being an in-house exam offered at both the Core and Extended (if needed) levels).  We’ll see how that goes, check results, solicit feedback and make any adjustments if needed for future years.

And with this totally normal little blog post in the middle of what is still a very complicated world and time…Winter Break.  See you 2024.

The Transparency Files: The 2023-2024 Faculty

Happy Friday!

Here we are on literally the last day of school – for teachers – and before we head into Canada Day Weekend and the true start of summer, it is my sincere joy and pleasure to be able to share a picture of the amazing human beings who will be teaching our children and leading our school into the 2023-2024 school year at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.

The quickest of words before I unveil the list…

…the first is to remind you to revisit my last three blog posts where I shared updates about next year’s renovation, our change from trimester to semester, and important ideas and initiatives that will anchor next year.

……the second is to share with you the overarching idea that has animated our two days of what we call “Pre-Pre-Planning” – these two PD days that essentially mark the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year because they focus our teachers on how to set themselves up for a successful summer in service of a successful start to school.  We are focusing our energy on “Connecting the Dots”  – how will we do a better job connecting teachers to each other, teachers to administrators, students to each other, students to teachers, teachers to parents, etc.  One of our North Stars is that “We Learn Better Together” and whether that constitutes academic learning, behavioural outcomes, or Jewish experiences; ensuring we have the structures, systems, processes, protocols, time, relationships and attitude to leverage the excellence, enthusiasm and expertise in our school will be a big part of making next year an amazing year for our students, teachers, families and community.

……the third is to please pay attention to the updated calendar!  We have done a much better job populating our calendar with events much earlier and with a change to semester comes new events like our “Goal-Setting” meetings or changes to the timing of when you might expect “Parent-Teacher Conferences”.  The fact that so many Jewish Holidays will fall on weekends next year allows for more flexibility and creativity including the addition of a third PD Day.  In short, please be sure you not only have the “Year-at-a-Glance” handy, but that you subscribe to the school’s Google calendar off the website.  That’s where all new and updated information will land.

…the fourth is a gentle reminder that the assignments below are tentative as they always are.  Things sometimes can and do change, although we believe this should be much less of a factor this summer, but sometimes we do have to make adjustments.  If an update is required, of course, it will be sent either directly to the impacted grades or in a blog post.

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

The 2023-2024 OJCS Faculty & Staff

Lower School General Studies Faculty

  • Junior Kindergarten: Susan Wollock & (EA)
  • Kindergarten: Andréa Black, French Teacher (French) &  (EAs) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade One: Julie Bennett & Efi Mouchou (French) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Two: Ann-Lynn Rapoport & Efi Mouchou (French) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Three: Lianna Krantzberg / General Studies Teacher & Aaron Polowin (French) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Four: Faye Mellenthin, Chelsea Cleveland (Math), Aaron Polowin (Core) & Dr. Sylvie Raymond (Extended)
  • Grade Five: Charles Watters, French Teacher (Core) & Dr. Sylvie Raymond (Extended) [TWO Classes]

Lower School Jewish Studies Faculty

  • Kitah JK: Susan Wollock
  • Kitah Gan: Jaqui Gesund Kattan [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Alef: Ada Aizenberg [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Bet: Dana Doron [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Gimmel: Sigal Baray [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Dalet: Orya Klein
  • Kitah Hay: Marina Riklin [TWO Classes]

Middle School Faculty

  • Science: Josh Ray
  • Mathematics: Math Teacher (Grades 6 & 7) & Josh Ray (Grade 8)
  • Language Arts: Jess Mender
  • Social Studies: Michael Washerstein
  • Extended French: Wanda Canaan
  • Core French: French Teacher (Grade 6) & Dr. Sylvie Raymond (Grades 7 & 8)
  • Hebrew: Jaqui Gesund Kattan (Hebrew Alef), Liat Levy (Hebrew Bet for Grade 6) & Ruthie Lebovich (Hebrew Bet for 7 & 8)
  • Jewish Studies: Mike Washerstein
  • Rabbinics: Corinne Baray


  • Art/Drama/Music/Dance: Andy Sued
  • French Language PE: Stéphane Cinanni & Aaron Polowin
  • Library: Brigitte Ruel


  • Makerspace: Josh Ray
  • Mitzvah Trips: Michael Washerstein
  • Student Life: Lianna Krantzberg

Department of Special Education

  • Keren Gordon, Principal
  • Sharon Reichstein, Director of Special Education
  • Ashley Beswick, Student Support Coordinator
  • Melissa Thompson, Grades 4-8 Resource Teacher / Teaching & Learning Coordinator
  • Faye Mellenthin, Grades 5-8 Resource Teacher
  • Chelsea Cleveland, Grades 1-8  Math Resource Teacher
  • Reading Teacher, Reading Resource Teacher
  • Orya Klein, Jewish Studies Resource Teacher
  • Corinne Baray, Jewish Studies Resource Teacher
  • French Teacher, French Resource Teacher
  • Efi Mouchou, French Resource Teacher


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

You will see some new names and some new categories…

…the most important thing you should notice, especially in light of recent conversations, is the simplification of teaching portfolios in the service of the expansion of resource teaching.  Not everyone housed in “Resource” is allocated to it half or full-time, but if they are listed there, it is because a meaningful allocation of time, with a specification, has been assigned to an excellent teacher.  This was the number one issue flagged by parents and by teachers and we are thrilled to have addressed it so significantly.

…we are so excited to welcome Melissa Thompson back from maternity leave!  She technically joined us this week and we can already feel her energy and her presence as we prepare for an amazing year next year.

…yes, I am aware that Staci Zemlak-Kenter is moving with her family to New Jersey, but as we continue our search process – and Staci begins her search process – the status remains quo as Staci works remotely to ensure our critical development work continues unimpeded.

Now let’s segue into the introductions…

Please welcome Jaqui Gesund Kattan to OJCS…and to Canada!  Morah Jaqui comes to us from Mexico City where she has been a Hebrew and Humanities Teacher at the Bet Hayladim Middle School.  She has a Montessori background and a wealth of experience working in Jewish Youth Movements in Mexico.  She is excited to be moving to our OJCS and Ottawa Jewish Community and she brings a ton of energy and enthusiasm to our Jewish Studies Faculty.

Andy Sued is thrilled to join our Faculty with a diverse portfolio.  She will be creating and leading our Arts/Drama/Music/Dance programs, as she comes to us by way of Ecuador, Argentina, Israel and Camp Ramah of the Berkshires.  Andy is an artist with a wealth of experience teaching art, drama, singing and Israeli folk-dancing to students of all ages and we welcome her and her family to Ottawa this summer.  Andy is ruach personified and we can’t wait to see how she infuses and integrates the arts with her rich Jewish Studies background and love for Israel.

Orya Klein is moving from Israel to Ottawa with her family after a successful teaching career in Israel where she taught both Mathematics and Jewish Studies in both Middle and High School.  Morah Orya [that’s catchy!] is beloved by her colleagues and they have assured us what a gift we are getting with her natural talents for relationship-building, kindness, creativity and collaboration.

We are thrilled to introduce Charles Watters, our new Grade 5 General Studies teacher, who began his career as a Naval Officer with the Canadian Armed Forces, and as a second career then became a teacher, who always prioritises cultivating strong relationships.  He has managed to collect all kinds of varying teaching experiences thus far, including working in a Forest School setting, as well as an alternative independent school.  We look forward to making formal introductions at the end of summer.

If you see an open position, it truly means that we have not yet signed a contract with a finalist (not that we are simply beginning to search) as we have been blessed this season with excellent candidates (as you can see above).  I will provide an updated and final faculty roster later on during the summer.

Please note that I intend to take a pause from weekly blogging as we head into summer.  Of course, should the spirit move me, or an issue arises that warrants it, I will blog intermittently, until resuming my weekly routine a week or so before our teachers return for Pre-Planning Week 2023.

Happy summer!

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…

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…