The Transparency Files: MJGDS 2013-2014 Faculty, Part I

It has been a VERY busy week!

We were very proud to honor Liat Walker this week at our annual PTA Teacher Appreciation Dinner with the Jacksonville Jewish Center’s Men’s Club Martin J. Gottlieb Brit Hinukh Award, “given each Spring to one Teacher in the Center schools who best represents the life commitment necessary to bring a quality learning experience to Jewish children.”  It was a well-deserved honor and a fun evening.

I am very appreciative of all the kind words and warm wishes I have received about my future plans.  I have been thinking and reflecting about it all week and when I am ready, I will share my thoughts and feelings here in this space.

This weekend we are celebrating our annual L’dor V’dor event – this year honoring our retiring Youth Director, Gayle Bailys with a special Shabbat morning service and a Sunday event during which she will receive the 2013 Rabbi David Gaffney Leadership in Education Award.  We are looking forward to an incredible weekend!


In the spirit of transparency, because we are a small community prone to well-meaning whispers and whatnot, I decided to split my my annual “Transparency Files” blog post with next year’s faculty assignments into two parts because I do want to make transparent a few issues of import that have become final and public this week.

As you may have already heard, MJGDS will be saying goodbye to a few veteran teachers this year.  We have already publicly acknowledged that Silvia Tolisano, Susan Burkhart, Deb Kuhr and Jo-Ann Kagan will be leaving at the end of this school year.  We are also saying goodbye to Cathleen Toglia, Marissa Tolisano, Megan DiMarco and Sara Luettchau.  Each has contributed much to our school and each will be missed.

We have filled almost all the lead positions and are working to fill the assistant positions as well.  I will lay out the entire new structure and composition of the faculty once it is complete, hopefully next week.  But suffice it to say, that this has presented us with an opportunity to re-imagine our entire staffing structure in order to best meet our school’s needs.  And I would like to take this opportunity to share a few key changes.

Stephanie Teitelbaum will be moving to the Middle School where she will become our new Middle School Language Arts Teacher.  Having successfully introduced elements of the Daily 5 in Grades 4 & 5, as well as important advances in how to integrate 21st century learning into language arts instruction, she will now stabilize and secure excellence in Language Arts instruction for our Middle School.  In addition to her new teaching responsibilities, she will join our 21st century learning team, providing coaching and support to our faculty, focusing primarily on our “Community of Kindness” initiative. We are confident that this is an important long-term decision which will benefit our entire school community.

When faced with the task of replacing Mrs. Teitelbaum, we were very cognizant of the high expectations she has left us with, as well as the new expectations we have created for pioneering 1:1 iPad usage in class.  This is why, after having reviewed a number of resumes and having met with select candidates, we decided that the only way we could responsibly fill the position was to transition Andrea Hernandez back to the classroom where her successful career began.  We have the Daily 5 because Mrs. Hernandez brought it to our school.  We have become a leader in 21st century learning because Mrs. Hernandez pioneered the path.  We would not be ready to go 1:1 with iPads if not for her expertise.  If we can’t have Mrs. Teitelbaum, who better to jump in than the teacher who has been coaching her?

Mrs. Hernandez, having been a highly successful classroom teacher prior to coming to MJGDS, is very excited about returning to the classroom and being able to work more directly with students and parents to implement the creative and innovative programs she has been introducing through our faculty these last years.  She is also excited to partner with Mrs. Zavon in this different structure, having worked with her as a coach.

These decisions have only become clear and final this week and this is the first opportunity I have had to share them publicly.  I recognize that change – even positive change – can cause anxiety and that parents may have questions.  I welcome those questions.  Please feel free to email, call or drop in.  We want you to be as excited about these changes as we are.

And we will share the rest of our faculty news next week.


journey thru jewish holidays2.pdf

As mentioned last week, we have now tallied the winners of our first (annual?) “Journey Through the Jewish Holidays” and would like to take this space to congratulate them.  We will be handing out the Adventure Landing passes next week and the Jaguars tickets next fall.

We hope this incentive program was meaningful for the families who participated and, perhaps, could inspire more families to participate in the future.  We would very much like to have your feedback on this program and whether or not it inspired your family.


The following students attended 5 out of the 10 days school was closed during the Pilgrimage Festivals (Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot) and will receive a free pass to Adventure Landing:

  • Kitah Gan: Morgan N.
  • Kitah Alef: Lily D., George S., Jacob M. & Maya L.
  • Kitah Bet: Aleeya S. & Saylor S.
  • Kitah Gimmel: Samantha L. & Isa Z.
  • Kitah Dalet: Samantha Z. & Arin N.

The following students attended 8 out of the 10 days (including 1 day of each holiday) and will receive a free pass to Adventure Landing and 2 free Jaguars Tickets:

  • Kitah Gan: Zach H. & Sadie H.
  • Kitah Alef: Hallel S., Lucy G. & Evan W.
  • Kitah Bet: Eva G., May A., Moses J., Daisy H., Alon S., Ariel O., Anna F., Eliana M. & Yisrael A.
  • Kitah Gimmel: Lial A. & Benjamin D.
  • Kitah Dalet: Elad O., Zach M. & Eliana J.
  • Kitah Hay: Elior L., Itamar L. & Benjamin C.
  • Middle School: Jake G., Josh F., Lily H., Max M. & Ryan M.

Congratulations to all!  (And if there are any errors, please do let us know!)



The Transparency Files Bonus Edition: Head of Academy Self-Evaluation

First a little housecleaning…

Thanks very much to EJewishPhilanthropy for publishing this week an article I wrote entitled, If We Can Do It, So Can You!  One Small School’s Journey to the Center of 21st Century Learning.  And thanks to everyone who commented, tweeted, liked or otherwise made mention.  It is a great credit to the faculty and staff of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School that edJEWcon was born from our pioneering work.  And it is an even greater credit to our stakeholders for giving us the trust, space and resources to do it!

Our “Journey Through the Jewish Holidays” was completed on Shavuot.  We are in the process of tallying the data and look forward to announcing the names of students who earned prizes for excellence in synagogue attendance as well how and when those prizes will be given out.  There is no question that it had some impact – especially on Sukkot. We had increased attendance and, as a result, increased programming on these special holidays.  It takes time to change culture, so we will evaluate this year and decide whether or not to continue, expand, tweak or adjust this program for next year.  We would love feedback from parents as to whether or not these kinds of incentives are meaningful for you and your children.


We are not only finishing up the school year at MJGDS, but celebrating the successful close to the first year of Galinsky Academy!  Here are some of the big accomplishments from Year One:

  • Creation of “Community of Kindness” Initiative – although there is LOTS more work to do, we did take important first steps.  I will have an important update on this in the next few weeks!
  • Extension of 21st Century Learning to all Academy Schools.
  • Consolidation of LDVD Annual Campaign & hiring a Development Director.
  • Establishing clear and consistent Parent Communication vehicles.
  • Branding Initiative for the Academy and all its Schools.
  • Rebranding of DuBow Preschool
  • Better integration between Academy and the Center/between our educators and our clergy.

In the ongoing spirit of transparency, I would like to share my self-evaluation of my first year serving as “Head of Academy”:

As Head of Academy, I have the responsibility for performing evaluation of school heads each November.  I also have responsibility for all Academy governance, marketing, budget and development activities.  Much of my work in these areas has been led by the Three-Year Strategic Plans that govern all the standing committees and communities of the Academy: Preschool, Religious School/Makom, Day School, Budget & Finance, Development, Marketing, Committee on Trustees, and Head Support & Evaluation.

We have had tremendous success with governance.  All of our committees and communities have been profiled and we have begun to address gaps as we finish the process of fleshing out all the committees and communities for the next two years.  Strong chairs are in place as well strategic plans, governing principles, and a strong Committee on Trustees to manage the system.

Goal: In 2012-2013, I attended each meeting of each committee, community, Cabinet and JJC Board.  While it was a necessary and worthwhile investment to get off the ground, it is not healthy (for anyone) for the big picture.  I will be looking to strategically draw back next year so that I may place my time and energy in other areas of need.


We have professionalized our budget oversight and completely revised our Financial Aid process.


  • Feedback from committees requires us to ensure all committee members are aware of how the budget works and are updated more frequently throughout the year.
  • I would like to find ways to move the financial aid process up a couple of months so that we can assess our maximal need before drafting our budget and to ensure that the process can be as compassionate and customer-friendly as possible.


We have dramatically increased annual giving through our L’Dor V’Dor Annual Campaign for Galinsky Academy.


  • With a new Development Director we have an opportunity to better steward donors, maximize the Head of Academy’s role in development, motivate volunteers, etc., and create new benchmarks for annual giving.
  • Explore all aspects of development beyond annual giving, including endowments, capital giving, naming opportunities and planned giving.
  • Work to pool Admissions and Development to maximize strengths and opportunities – move towards an “Advancement” model.


We have spent 2012-2013 on a Branding Initiative for the Academy.  We have created all new collateral, a new brochure, and an MJGDS curriculum guide and are finishing up on new websites.  We developed a new social media strategy and employed parent ambassadors.  Besides what has already been stated about admissions, one goal for next year is to ensure our new marketing plan comes to life.

The most significant challenge of this new position is assuming responsibility for the supervision of the heads of the other schools that make up the academy, one goal for next year is to create an assessment tool that measures the impact of leadership on the schools including how to factor in all the variables that determine whether a school is “successful” – especially when the normal variables don’t apply.


Overall, I believe it has been a very successful first year with a whole new paradigm.  There is a lot of work to do and a long road ahead.  Our strategic plan provides a roadmap.  I look forward to coaching and mentoring from the Head Support & Evaluation Committee, and to working with all our lay leaders, senior leadership of the Center, my fellow school heads, colleagues and the entire faculty and staff of Galinsky Academy to help get us there.

The Transparency Files: Standardized Testing

This is our third year of publishing the “Grade Equivalent Scores” for the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or ITBS – the standardized test we take annually at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School.  We did not have comparison data the first year we published results.  I also blogged that year about our overall philosophy regarding the proper context for standardized testing.  Last year we able for the first time to graph out comparison data and provided an analysis of our findings.

There was, and continues to be, some confusion about the proper understanding of what a “grade equivalent score” is and, more importantly, is not.  I am happy to refer you to a thorough explanation, but if you want the quick summary:

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 scored a 7.3 grade equivalent.  The seven 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.  That’s why the grade-equivalent scores should not be used to decide at what grade level a students is functioning.

This year, I blogged about our firm belief that “reflection leads to achievement”.  In that post, I attempt to peg our pioneering work in 21st century learning to academic success. All the blogging, reflecting, technology, project-based learning, flipped classrooms, etc., we not only do because we believe it leads to the best outcomes…we do it because it does lead to the best outcomes.

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!

Our graduates the last three years have successfully placed 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 and programs they qualified for.

And for three years running, despite all the qualifications and caveats, our ITBS scores continue to demonstrate excellence.  Excellence within the grades and between them. And let’s be clear, this academic excellence comes with an inclusive admissions process.

That’s the headline…let’s look more closely at the story.

First up is “Language”.

MJGDS ITBS 2013 - Language


Remember…in order to track a class you have to compare 2012 to 2013.  For example, in 2012, the Language Grade Equivalent of Average for Grade Two was 3.4.  In 2013, those kids are now in Grade Three and scored 4.9.  That class “grew” 1.5 from last year to this. (Also, the scale stops at 13…it is the highest score available.)

The positive, of course, is that each grade is functioning at an extremely high level!  There are dips up and down, but when both the averages and the diversity level is high, it hard to find much to point to.  One data point to explore is that although most classes grew at least one grade equivalency, Grades One and Two did not.  They still have high averages, but this is worth looking at further.  This is also the benefit of not teaching to the test…it can sometimes uncover gaps in curriculum or teaching.

Let’s move onto “Reading”.

MJGDS ITBS 2013 - Reading


Here the news is all positive!  Each class grew at least one grade equivalency (technically Grade One grew .9) and all are functioning at very high levels.  One possible influence that we will be looking to track is the growing impact of the Daily Five, which we began piloting in Grades 4 & 5, but also had influence on other grades.

Let’s take a look at “Math”.

MJGDS ITBS 2013 - Math

Again, the overwhelming news is positive.  This marks the second year we are using Singapore Math, the first year for a few of our teachers, and the first year of departmentalization in Grades Four & Five.  The only trend worth noting is the relatively flat growth in the youngest grades.  The grade averages, even in those grades, are appropriately high and the class averages still show growth.  It is the rate of growth we will need to explore.  It could be that our students are covering more than the curriculum in Kindergarten – where the curriculum is the most sparse – and it takes until Grades Two or Three before the curriculum jumps.  [NOTE: It takes a lot of courage for teachers to work under this level of transparency.]  We have noted in the past that the curriculum tends to start out slow and build…and if that is the case, we may need to think about how to supplement in Kindergarten and Grade One.


To sum up, despite our focus on individual growth, our average growth continues to significantly outpace national percentiles and grade equivalency scores.  Does “reflection lead to achievement” at MJGDS?  Does being a 21st century learning pioneer translate into high academic success?

Three years in a row may not be conclusive, but it carries weight.

As with last year, all receiving teachers will have prior years’ data and be charged with making the next year even better.  They have been up to the task these last three years and we look forward to more learning, more growth and more excellence in the year to come.





The Transparency Files: Annual Parent Survey

After making transparent the results of my own evaluation by both myself and my faculty, it is time to turn to our other annual survey: the Annual Parent Survey.  [For comparison sake, you are welcome to explore last year’s reflection.]

I will try to highlight any trends I see over the years as well as indicate anything of import in this year’s survey.

The first trend is that each year far fewer parents (22 vs. 39 vs. 64) filled out surveys!

Possible explanations?

Families could be thrilled with what’s going on.  Families could be resigned that the results are not taken seriously enough to invest the time in.  There could be a certain amount of apathy.  Or perhaps we are not marketing the surveys enough.

Regardless, the lower the rate, the possibility of strong validity is reduced.  But in the spirit of hoping to learn from whatever there is to learn…let’s move on to the results.


Parent Survey Graph #1


This is more even than last year, but still skewed a bit towards the younger grades, as expected in school surveys.  Let’s look at the BIG PICTURE:



The score is still promising.  On a  scale of 1-10, our average score wound up being an 8.0 Last year we scored an 8.3.  The year prior we scored 7.7.  It is a fairly stable score – especially considering the sample – but still leaves us some room to grow.  Let’s dig deeper.



When it comes to communication, we continue to have high marks.  Each one has gone up (except the first, which is virtually the same)!  The biggest jumps come in providing opportunities for parents to be involved in student learning (which was the lowest one the prior year).  Hopefully this indicates growth on our part from what we learned. Another big jump was in parent-teacher conferences, which I would like to attribute to our piloting Student-Led Conferences.  I am pleased that the biggest jump came in front office attitude, and I have shared that pleasure with those people.  The place to keep working appears to be ongoing communication about children’s academic status, which could be a concern about our current system in the Middle School or lack of a system in the Lower School.



I know it is a little crowded, so let me break down some of the highlights.

Let me unpack the non-subject specific areas first:

  • Most important increase!  The education offered at our school is high quality: 8.4 vs. 8.28 (last year) vs. 7.72 (the year before last year)
  • EVERY category in this section is up – most importantly questions that deal with “teaching in different styles”, “teaching to different levels” and “satisfied…(with) individual attention”.  All these categories blend with “21st century learning”.

General Studies:

  • The big picture is great!  The OVERALL rating has gone to 8.3 from last year’s 7.97 from the prior year’s 7.19. That is a trend in the right direction.
  • Based on that it makes sense that all General Studies scores are up from last year, with one exception.  The impact of Singapore Math continues to positively impact as does, we hope, the influence of the Daily Five on Language Arts.
  • But there is still room to grow.  Science took a drop – and that is despite dedicating time and an instructor in the Lower School for the first time.  It is impossible to know because of how the survey is done whether or not to attribute the drop to dissatisfaction in Grades K-2 (where there is time, but no teacher), Grades 3-5 (where there is time and a new position), or Middle School (which is the same).  Regardless, this is something very important for us to explore.  There is no “21st century learning” without high-quality Science instruction.

Jewish Studies, Resources and Extracurricular Activities:

  • The marks in these areas are, again, all slightly down from last year.  Not dramatically so, but still noticeable.  With renewed emphasis on language immersion, we really do believe our program is stronger, but for whatever reason it has not translated to parent satisfaction (at least from the sample).  It is possible that we have set a higher bar and the distance from it is now more noticeable.  We have pledged to post more video of our students engaged in authentic Hebrew speech and this will hopefully contribute to higher marks in the years to come.
  • Our weakest area has consistently been “After School Activities”.  It is hard to know if this is a referendum on the quality of what we do offer or on the quantity of what we do not offer.  We have added more club sports and a Chess Club on top of an Enhanced Kindergarten Program and partnership with the JCA.  We might wish to do some parent surveys to unpack this one more fully.

So there you have it for 2012-2013!

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.  They added an additional layer of depth; one which is difficult to summarize for a post like this.  But please know that all comments will be shared with those they concern as we use this data to make enhancements and improvements headed into next year.  By the by, we are very pleased with how well satisfied our parents are with how the school is going…but be assured, just like with everything else, we expect to see growth and progress in a school where there is “a floor, but no ceiling”.