The Transparency Files: Budget is an Expression of Jewish Values

We have a saying here at Galinsky Academy: “If you really want to know what we value most, you only have to look in two places – the schedule and the budget.”

And it is true; there are no more valuable resources than our time and our money.  How we decide to allocate them is, therefore, the truest test of our values.  All the rest is commentary, as they say…

I have spent the last couple of months working with our school heads, the synagogue’s executive leadership, and a variety of lay committees on the 2014-2015 budget.  It is as rigorous and exhaustive a process as it to be, because there is nothing more critical to our mission than ensuring the longterm financial viability of our Academy and its schools.  We cannot provide the extraordinary secular and Jewish education that we do from age 1 to grade 12 in our Academy’s four schools – the DuBow Preschool, the Bernard and Alice Selevan Religious School, the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, and Makom Hebrew High – if we become financially insoluble.

Why is it critical that there be a Galinsky Academy?

Ask them:

That video was created as part of this year’s L’dor V’dor Annual Campaign (LDVD).  This is the magical time of year where we are both working hard to close this year’s campaign to fulfill  our current budget expectations AND determining the expectations to satisfy next year’s budget with all it represents for our children and our community.  Why give?


Well, that is one reason.

In an average year, endowments and tuition cover only 80% of the cost to provide each student’s education at Galinsky Academy.  Annual giving provides the crucial margin of excellence that distinguishes education at the Galinsky Academy.

Here’s another:

The budget of Galinsky Academy essentially has four levers that matter: Tuition & Fundraising on the revenue side and Salaries & Scholarships on the expense side.

That’s the budget.

For our stakeholders, I can assure you that our budget has long been trimmed of fat.  We spend as little as necessary without sacrificing the integrity of our schools and trying (but not always succeeding) our best to compensate our teachers as fairly as we can.  As the economy’s impact took hold in our community, we have seen legitimate scholarship need skyrocket and have had to match it with increased fundraising to keep pace so that we do not have turn away students from families who desire a Galinsky Academy education and genuinely cannot afford the full tuition.  All four of our schools have seen this rise in scholarship need and all four of our schools have benefited from LDVD funds to meet it (and at MJGDS a critical annual allocation from Federation).

Any other reasons annual giving is so important?

Here’s a few more:

LDVD will allow the Galinsky Academy to continue building upon several important priorities…

  • Supports the efforts of our teachers, providing them professional growth experiences and ever expanding resources and curriculum.
  • Provides students a chance to experience the integration of technology in the educational process and to understand its relevance to life in the 21st century.
  • Provides a “silent scholarship” for every student by supplementing tuition dollars to develop bold and inspiring programs.
  • Provides meaningful experiential learning and character-building opportunities both in the classroom and in the community.


If we treat our budget as the most honest expression of our Jewish values, then it is critical that the above and more find its way in to all the schools of Galinsky.  As we approach the two-year anniversary of our Academy’s founding, perhaps it is worthwhile to remember who we named our Academy after and why…

Samuel and Esther Galinsky were, by all accounts, modest and unassuming members of the Jacksonville Jewish Center.  They participated in synagogue life and were respected members of the congregation.  They cared about Jewish education, but had no children of their own.  They were, in many ways, like any other couple.  When they died, their friends mourned their passing.  And that should be the end of the story.  But it isn’t.  Because this ordinary couple did something extraordinary.  With no fanfare and no notice, Samuel and Esther Galinsky left the Center amongst the most significant gifts it has ever received – $3 million.  And it was given for one purpose – this childless couple gave their fortune to ensure that Jewish children would be able to have a Jewish education.  Has there even been a more selfless gift?  Have any people ever more embodied the idea of L’dor V’dor?

And so it is in the spirit of this gift – of that remarkable couple – that we officially announce the creation of what will forever now be known as “Galinsky Academy”.

To those who have given to help secure the Jewish future of Jacksonville, thank you.  To those who have not yet given, but plan to, thank you in advance.

To those who typically do not give, but are capable…

Let this be the year you are counted.  L’dor v’dor.


The Transparency Files: Teacher-Led Evaluation

MJGDS-LearningTargetWe are into the second year utilizing our school’s new learning target.  I blogged last year, as part of “The Transparency Files,” about why and how we created the target and how it would guide important decisions about how the school runs, what programs the school invests in, and about anything and everything central to questions of teaching and learning.  And so far it has.  Our decision to move to a 1:1 BYOiPad pilot for Grades 4 & 5, helps move us closer to the target.  Creating a “Community of Kindness” position and utilizing the 7 Habits to develop the program, helps move us closer to the target.  Our work in Middle School, developing a new app that will become commercially available in time for Purim, helps move us closer to the target.  Our decision to expand the use of “Student-Led Conferences” to Grades 4-8, helps moves up closer to the target.  Our move to Singapore Math, expansion of the Daily 5, use of blogfolios, our current conversation about homework, increasing the amount of immersion in our teaching of Hebrew – all of these decisions are framed by whether or not it will bring us closer to the target.  That’s the power of having a clear and shared vision for what teaching and learning ought to look like in our school.

So it should have been so surprise that when it came time to re-imagine what teacher evaluation ought to look like…we looked to the target to guide us.

We realized last year that with the success of student-led conferences, that we are actually treating our students with greater ownership of their evaluation process that we were our teachers!  If our students are supposed to own their learning, then our teachers ought to own their professional growth.  And if our students can collect artifacts of their growth, organize them on their blogfolios, reflect on their growth and present to their teachers and parents…

And so we charged our faculty to form a “Teacher Evaluation Committee” to re-imagine the evaluation process for teachers and what they came up with is our new “Teacher-Led Evaluation”.  It reflects what we believe is the most authentic way for teachers (and teaching assistants) to document, reflect and share their professional growth while still allowing for the accountability necessary to ensure expectations are met.  In the spirit of transparency, I would like to share the process and briefly reflect on how it working out so far…

This is what teachers received a couple of months back:

Dear Faculty:

For the fall evaluation, please schedule an appointment with Jon before Winter break. You will need the following:

  • A completed self-evaluation packet (checklist plus narrative)
  • Be prepared to discuss your self-evaluation with Jon
  • Not required at this time: A presentation, artifacts, a video-recorded lesson or peer observation

For the spring evaluation, please schedule an appointment with Jon in April. You will need the following:

  • A completed self-evaluation checklist (narrative not required)
  • A presentation aligned with the Learning Target documenting your professional growth during this school year in a format of your choice, including the following:
  • Artifacts to show evidence of growth
  •  A reflection of your video-recorded lesson
  •  A reflection of your peer observation
  • Goals: Where do I go from here?
  • Be prepared to discuss your self-evaluation with Jon

Teacher Evaluation Committee

The self-evaluation comes straight from the target:



And the narrative prompt:

Please reflect in writing on your growth as a teacher at this point in time. Your reflection should be directly related to the Learning Target. Make sure to address your professional development goals and offer an evaluation of your progress to date. Also consider the following questions: What are my successes? Is there room for improvement? Do I have artifacts as evidence of my learning? What tools or resources do I need to continue my professional growth on the Learning Target continuum?

I have made my way through about a half to two-thirds of the faculty and I am enjoying it immensely.  The conversations have been more focused on growth and less focused on what I (or others) feel is lacking.  The conversations are led by teachers who are experts in who they are and not guided by me who, in the past, would have to play detective in order to have what to present.  The artifacts are fabulous, the discussions are rich and – most importantly – what teachers are working on is astounding.

The accountability is still there – teachers are required to demonstrate growth in areas mutually agreed upon by them and me – but the shift in emphasis has brought a shift in attitude that brought a level of professional development we have never seen before.

All in all, this first go around has been a true success.  I can’t wait to see the fuller presentations in the spring and see how much more growth there is to come!

The Transparency Files: Homework Wars

home-work-close-up-1-1126726-mThis is the 150th (!) blog post of “A Floor, But No Ceiling” and amazingly, to me, in a search of all my blog posts, I cannot find one that deals with “homework”.  I guess denial is not just a river in Egypt…it is a river in Jacksonville, Florida!

Disclaimer: In addition to being the head of school, I am married to a public school teacher and am a parent of a 3rd Grader and an Kindergartner.  “Homework Wars” do not describe my parental situation with homework.  Whether that is a function of my children, their particular teachers, our particular family dynamic, or blind luck, I couldn’t say, but “homework” is not a daily or any other kind of struggle in my household.  (Knock on keyboard.)

Why the disclaimer?

I guess because I want to be sensitive to any unconscious biases I may bring to the table in this conversation.  We have excellent teachers who do not have children of their own.  But I think it would be dishonest to suggest that lacking a parent’s perspective never has consequences for teachers who have not lived at home the impact of schooling.  There are some things you can only learn through experience and if not through experience, through the willingness to learn from other’s experiences.

So I admit that as a parent, I am presently satisfied with the amount and the quality of homework being brought home by my children.  That does not make it objectively true.  As a head of school of a K-8, however, I am well familiar with concerns and complaints about both the amount and the quality of homework.  And the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School is in an excellent position to tackle the subject…

Important Segue:

I have used this blog to document our school’s 21st century learning journey and all the associated initiatives we have taken on to get from there to here to the future.  For anyone who has not been along for the ride, in celebration of my 150th blog post, here is my starter’s collection to be fully caught up with who we are and where we think we are going:

The MJGDS 21st Century Learning Journey in 13 Blog Posts

Standardized Testing
Financial Sustainability
Gaming Theory
Habits of Kindness
Reflective Practice
Learning Target
Second Language Acquisition
Experiential Education

…here in year four of our work together.

It is reasonable to conclude that there are various philosophies about what the purpose of homework ought to be and that there is ample research to be found supporting just about them all.  For our school, however, the conversation comes with a context.  Considering who we are and what we believe to be true about teaching and learning, what ought to be the role of homework here?

Like all preceding vital conversations, this one has begun with our 21st Century Learning Team and will continue on with our teachers, parents and students before being concretized in final form.


What is our current policy?

We have a simple 10 minutes per grade level (outside of reading) formula for estimating the appropriate time it should take a typical student to complete his or her homework.

Part of the impetus for taking this on is that not only does that policy seem not to hold true often enough, it fails to address the why’s and what’s of homework.  It only speaks to, “how much?”  We can do better.


The purpose of the MJGDS Homework Policy, once re-imagined, will be to provide guidelines for teachers, provide for consistency through the grades, and to educate parents who have questions about homework.  A school policy regarding homework, along with clear expectations for teachers as to what constitutes good homework, can help to strengthen the benefits of homework for student learning.

This policy will need to address the purposes of homework, amount and frequency, and the responsibilities of teachers, students, parents, and administrators.

The MJGDS Homework Policy will be based on research regarding the correlation between homework and student achievement as well as best practices for homework.

Without having had all the conversations we will be having, I do think based on the conversations we have had, that there are philosophical conclusions consistent with who we are that we can put up front that will inform the policy once complete.

The philosophy at the Martin J Gottlieb Day School regarding K-8 homework is that homework should only be assigned that is meaningful, purposeful, and appropriate. Homework will serve to deepen student learning and enhance understanding.  Homework should be consistent with the school’s “Learning Target” and strive to incorporate creativity, critical thinking, authenticity, and student ownership.

We understand today’s busy schedules and demands on parent and student time.  Most learning is done in school, but as is the case with our learning of a foreign language and learning to read, reasonable and age-appropriate practice and repetition is exceptionally beneficial in other certain subject areas.

There are also some commonsense practices we believe will help to increase the benefits of homework while minimizing potential problems.  Homework is more effective when:

…..the purpose of the homework assignment is clear.  Students should leave the classroom with a clear understanding of what they are being asked to do and how to do it.

… does not discourage and frustrate students.  Students should be familiar with the concepts and material.

… is on a consistent schedule.  It can help busy students and parents remember to do assignments when they are consistent.

… is explicitly related to the classwork.

… is engaging and creative.

…..part of the homework is done in class.

… is authentic.

… is given.  Follow-up is necessary to address any comprehension issues that may arise.

… is differentiated.

… reviews past concepts to help retention over the course of the year.


This is not to suggest that we are not presently trying to live up to the above in our current practice.  But it is to suggest that our written policy fails to provide teachers, parents or students with sufficient guidance to insure that all students in all grades are doing appropriate homework – appropriate quality, appropriate content and appropriate length.

As with every other initiative or project we undertake at MJGDS, our conversation and conclusions about homework will be done collaboratively and transparently.  We look forward to our local conversations, to doing the work, and to sharing it out when done.

My First Twitter Cloud

Every now and again, I find it refreshing to focus my blog post around a visual image – sometimes it is a picture that explains better than any words I could choose about a powerful experience taking place in our school.  But it sometimes is a word cloud.  A “word cloud” takes any piece of written text and represents it graphically in a way which highlights frequently-used words.  It is a fantastic device for visually summarizing the essence of a written text.  Many of the programs that create word clouds allow you to enter a website, a blog, etc., and it will go ahead and create a word cloud visually summarizing which content mattered most over a bounded period of time.

I have used Wordle to create word clouds of this blog and analyzed the results.

I have used Tagxedo to create a word cloud of our Parent Handbook and analyzed the results.

Today, I want to use Tweet Cloud to create a word cloud of my Twitter feed.


Because I use Twitter exclusively for professional development and I am interested and seeing what it reveals about what I have been interested in since the beginning of this school year.

So…what does my Tweet Cloud (“t” is for “Twitter”) look like?

Tweet Cloud

What do I notice?

“Habits” and “Kindness” are big ticket items.  This reflects not just what we are doing internally about this, but what I have been reading professionally and asking my professional learning network about – the two primary things I use Twitter for.

What do you notice?  Anything surprising you see?  Anything surprising that you don’t see?


Next week, I am off to Camp Ramah Darom for our annual Middle School Retreat.  The last few years I have been able to stay awake long enough on the Friday to edit my video and publish.  I hope to do the same next week!

Shofar, So Good!

K & 8 HavdalahThe very first thing we do at the beginning of each school year is gather together as a school community and celebrate the ceremony of Havdalah.  Havdalah literally means “separation” and is the ceremony that marks the transition between Shabbat and the weekday.  Because of its length (short), melody, and prominence in Jewish camping, Havdalah is a relatively popular ritual even with those who are less ritually observant.  Part of what makes any ritual powerful is its ability to infuse the everyday with transcendent meaning.  My small way to lend transcendence to the typical “Back to School” assembly is to use the power of Havdalah to help mark the transition between summer and the start of school.

And so this past Monday morning, the students and faculty of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School marked the transition between the summer that was and the school year that is presently unfolding with a heartfelt Havdalah.

9552597393_cde60ed76bI told my faculty during “Pre-Planning Week” that I had never been this excited for the start of a school year in my 9 years as a head of school.  All the work of the last three years combined with a cast of talented, dedicated, loving, enthusiastic returning and new teachers has led us to this point.  We are as ready as we have ever been to deliver on the the promise of “a floor, but no ceiling”.  And this first week has more than lived up to my expectations.

It has been wonderful to walk the school, to feel the positive energy oozing through the9552603425_0aec85d685 walls and see the smiling faces of our students and parents.  As we say this time of year, “Shofar so good!”

Our newest faculty members are acquitting themselves with great aplomb and our returning teachers have plenty of new tricks up their sleeves to mix with their tried and true excellence.  We are focused on ensuring that we take the time at the beginning of the year to create classroom communities of kindness under the leadership of our new Community of Kindness Coordinator Stephanie Teitelbaum.  We are paying extra attention to lunch and recess to make sure the good work of the classroom teachers don’t full through the cracks of unstructured time.

The first week of our new 1:1 iPad program in Grades 4 & 5 has been a success (with the normal amount of confusion newness brings) and the addition of a full-time K-8 Science Teacher has already raised the bar for science education at MJGDS.  And in my meetings with faculty to discuss their professional development plans for the year, I can see the impact their summer reading is already having on their practice.


I don’t think I am alone in this, but I will admit that in the eight prior years of being a head of school, that whenever I had the time to do a school walk-through, in addition to all the positive things I was hoping to see…a part of me was always steeled for the possibility of the things I was hoping not to see.  If a principal is honest, s/he knows which teachers s/he has concerns about, which students s/he is worried about, and, yes, which parents s/he has difficulty with.  We don’t share that information with anyone, but in our hearts we know the score.  And we go into each year optimistic that those problem areas will improve, but realistic that there will inevitably be fires to be put out.

I took my first walk-through of this school year yesterday.

9555387218_1761fe3553I visited each classroom.  I saw every facet of our curriculum.  I saw each teacher.  I saw every space.  It took me about a half-hour before I could put my finger on what was different this time around.  And then I realized that the small sinking feeling of the possibility of something going wrong that typically accompanies me on my walk-through’s was absent!  Room after room, teacher after teacher, activity after activity, student after student…it all looked…like how it was supposed to.  It has taken us four years, but it just might be possible that we have finally begun to become the school we have all worked so hard and with such positive energy to become!

I am no pollyanna.  Things are going to go wrong during the course of the year.  We will still have behaviors to correct, programs to improve, teachers to grow, parents to connect, lessons to be learned, and yes, probably a few fires (metaphorical ones this year!) to put out.  But if the next thirty-nine weeks go as well this one, the 2013-2014 school year will, indeed, be a very special one.

To everything there is a season…


Life does move on…

A friend who came last week to pay a shivah call who had recently lost a parent of his own, shared with me that although you would think the goal of shivah is to provide the mourner with ample quiet time to grieve, reflect and reminisce; that, in fact, it is to exhaust the mourner to such a stark degree that any return to normalcy is welcome.  I do not believe that explanation is sourced in Jewish tradition, but I do second the emotion.

And so I have returned to school, to work, to synagogue and to life.  Return is bittersweet – I am glad to be home and welcome the opportunity for meaningful work to fill the void grief left behind.  But it also makes it way too easy to forget that I am still grieving.  I am embracing Jewish grieving rituals – continuing to wear the keriah after transitioning from the shivah to the sheloshim, attending minyan daily to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish, refraining from participating in overly social or joyous occasions, etc., – because they provide opportunities to remind me that I did, indeed, lose my father and to reflect upon all that that means.  And after sheloshim comes the rest of a year of mourning…and I will explore how I intend to commemorate that phase when I enter it a few weeks hence.  But now it is time to turn my attention back to matters at hand and what is at hand is the beginning of an exciting school year at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School as faculty and staff prepare to return on Monday (!) for an action-packed “Pre-Planning Week”.

 The Transparency Files: Pre-Planning Week

At the beginning of the summer, I blogged about our expectations and plans for faculty to use their summertime for professional growth.  I blogged about my summer reading and how it has impacted my thinking heading into another year.  In the spirit of transparency, I would like to share with you what we will be thinking about and working on next week – a week dedicated to ensuring the first day, week, month, etc., of the 2013-2014 school year is full of wonder, discovery, meaning and success for our students.

Here’s the scoop:

Monday, August 12th

9:30 – 10:00 AM                                 Continental Breakfast & Welcome Activities

10:00 – 11:00 AM                                Team-Building Activities – The Transition Cafe

11:00 – 12:30 PM                                Work in Classrooms

12:30 – 2:00 PM                                  PTA Preschool & Day School Lunch & Teambuilding

2:00 – 3:30 PM                                    Lower School & Middle School Faculty Meetings


Tuesday, August 13th

8:45 – 9:00 AM                                    IT

9:00 – 9:30 AM                                    Student Advisory

9:30 – 11:30 AM                                  “7 Habits”

11:30 – 12:30 PM                                 Student Advisor Meeting & New Faculty IT

12:30 – 1:30 PM                                  Lunch & Learn w/Rabbi Olitzky

1:30 – 2:00 PM                                    HR w/ DuBow Preschool Faculty

2:00 – 3:30 PM                                   Work in Classrooms


Wednesday, August 14th

8:30 – 9:30 AM                                   Brunch & Learn w/Rabbi Lubliner

9:30 – 10:30 AM                                  Summer Book Club Groups

10:30 – 11:30 AM                                “Square Peg” Alum & Mom

11:30 – 12:30 PM                                 Lunch [JS Faculty Working Lunch]

12:30 – 3:00 PM                                  Hebrew Faculty Webinar  

12:30 – 3:30 PM                                  Work in Classrooms


Thursday, August 15th

8:30 – 9:30 AM                                   How to talk to parents about “Square Pegs”

9:30 – 10:15 AM                                  “Wonder”

10:15 –12:00 PM                                  Work in Classrooms / MS Faculty Meeting

12:00 – 1:00 PM                                  Lunch

1:00 – 3:30 PM                                    LS “Meet the Teachers” & MS Work in Classrooms


Friday, August 16th

8:00 – 9:00 AM                                    Final Nuts & Bolts

8:30 – 11:45 AM                                  Middle School Orientation

9:00 – 9:30 AM                                    Final Fine Tuning

9:30 –12:00 PM                                   Work in Classrooms


A few things jump out at me…

You can see that Square Pegs has taken on a life larger just one of the books from the Summer Book Club.  A number of teachers and administrators have read it and we believe its message has great resonance for our school.

You can see our belief that the 7 Habits may provide a common language for students and teachers to continue our 21st century learning journey .

You can see in “Student Advisory” the first tangible fruit of having an in-house Community of Kindness Coordinator.

You can see our ongoing commitment to Jewish learning through our “lunch and learn’s”.


But more than anything, I hope you can see our dedication to lifelong learning, our desire to be our very best, our devotion to our craft, our love for children, our passion for education, our acknowledgement of our sacred responsibility to teach, our respect for the whole child, our emphasis on personalized learning, and our promise to deliver “a floor, but no ceiling” for each child we have been entrusted with.

I say it each year, but only because I sincerely mean it.  This year is going to be our best year ever.  And that is because of who comes walking through the door Monday morning.

Welcome back MJGDS Faculty & Staff.

When One Door Opens Another Door Opens

Open DoorsFor those of you who are members of our local school, academy, synagogue or Jewish community and who read my blog regularly (and I thank you if you do!), you may be wondering why I have been so conspicuously silent about what has been known locally for an entire month – namely, my decision not to renew my contract when it expires in order for me to assume leadership of the Schechter Day School Network.

At the time, my desire was that the national announcement should be the place where people not living in Jacksonville should hear about it for the first time, but with that announcement still pending for another week or so and with leaks mounting on Facebook and Twitter, it no longer seems necessary to wait.  Additionally, I have had a full month or so to process and reflect on this future transition and, thus, feel better able to share a little about how this decision is impacting my thinking and planning.  [My focus, here, is on my current headship.  I will have other opportunities and spaces to explore my thinking about Schechter, and when I do, I will be sure to link to them, but this blog is dedicated to my work here and now.]

First, let me take an opportunity to share what was sent to our stakeholders:


May 28, 2013

Dear Galinsky Academy Families and Members of the Jacksonville Jewish Center,

We are very fortunate to have Dr. Jon Mitzmacher leading our efforts toward achieving excellence in all of our Center schools.  As he concludes his first year as Head of the Galinsky Academy, it is clear we are on the right track with a bright future that lies ahead.

In the spirit of transparency, Dr. Mitzmacher and the Schechter Day School Network Network (of which the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School is a member) have engaged in open and candid discussions with the Center’s leadership regarding the Schechter Network’s interest to retain Dr. Mitzmacher as their Executive Director upon the conclusion of his current contract, which would be July 1, 2015.  Since this would be after Dr. Mitzmacher has fulfilled all of the obligations and duties of his current contract, it is with great appreciation that we are receiving a full two years notice of his future plans.

Dr. Mitzmacher has indicated his strong desire that he and his family remain in Jacksonville, as the Executive Director position does not require him to relocate in the immediate future.  As a member of the Schechter Network, the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School will benefit greatly from having the “head of the network” living and working in our Jacksonville Jewish Community and his children attending the Galinsky Academy.

The Schechter Network has assured the Center of their strong desire to ensure a smooth transition for our Day School and the Galinsky Academy.  According to Jane Taubenfeld Cohen, “The Martin J. Gottlieb Day School is a flagship school in our network.  With a rich history of over 50 years, it is a shining example of what Day School education is all about.  We are committed to the ongoing success and positive transition for the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School and in no way would we ever want to detract from the great strides the school has made in recent years. ”

Going forward, it is business as usual.  We are very confident that Dr. Mitzmacher is extremely focused on the task at hand.  He is committed to the ongoing success of the Jacksonville Jewish Center’s Galinsky Academy and the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School.  We are fortunate to have him leading the way for the next two years.

Please join us in congratulating Dr. Mitzmacher on being recognized as an outstanding educator and visionary in Jewish Education.  It is this type of leadership that the Schechter Network desperately needs and will be of benefit to all member schools, including our own.


Michael DuBow                             Alyse Nathans                                                               President                                        VP of Education & Chair, Galinsky Academy Cabinet


One month later, I am still very grateful to Michael, Alyse, and all my other lay leaders for working with me and the Schechter Network as we prepared for, announced and now plan for a healthy and smooth transition.  I continue to be inspired the by care and nurturance the Jacksonville Jewish Center provides its professional staff.

One month later, I am still very grateful to Schechter for working with me to re-imagine what leadership can look like in order to allow me to continue to live in this amazing community and send my children to this amazing school.

Typically opportunity requires you to close one door so that you may open the next.  And sometimes, life is such that a door is closed for you and opportunity requires you to open the next.  Rarely does one have an opportunity to reach for the next open door while the current door remains (in some ways) open!  But that is the blessing the Schechter Network and the Jacksonville Jewish Center has afforded my family and we are humbled by it and grateful for it.

As I shared at our annual L’Dor V’dor event a week after the announcement was made,

Last year, I closed with one of my favorite quotes from the Mishnah: “Lo alecha ha’mlacha legmor…” – “It is not incumbent on you to finish the work, neither are you free to exempt yourself from it.”  (Mishnah: Avot, 2.16).  This year, those words – for me – are charged with new emotion as I prepare to transition over the next two years from my current position to my new position as head of the Schechter Day School Network, which was announced to our community this week.  There is something very appropriate about this timing as it is only because of L’dor V’dor that we have been able to raise the bar at our schools and it is only because of the opportunity and support of this community that the Schechter Network took an interest in our school and in me.  None of this happens for me if I had not been blessed to wind up in this nurturing and special place.  My commitment to Galinsky Academy does not expire when my contract does.  While I am the proud head of the of the Galinsky Academy and when I become the head of the Schechter Network, proud to call MJGDS one our flagship schools, I will remain inspired to do my part – with you – to carry this dream forward into the years ahead.

And so in addition to the typical summer planning one does as a head of school, I have begun thinking about what I need to do over the next couple of years to ensure that not only will the chapter of our school and academy’s history that I will have helped shape be as excellent as it can be, but – perhaps more importantly – that the next chapter continue and better the story.  They say the most important leadership task is paving the future for what comes next…

I can assure you that I will never take a task more seriously.

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

It is hard to believe that we are headed into our last week of school!  (At least for our students that haven’t already left for Camp Ramah Darom – a schedule quirk we have addressed for the future.)  We had a beautiful graduation yesterday evening; I shared with our graduates what I believe to be true of all our students – that we are much prouder of who they are becoming than any accomplishment they have achieved.

Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown visits the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School
Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown visits the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School

So now our attention turns from the wonderful year that was to the wonderful year that will be, the 2013-2014 school year.

Last week, in Part I, I identified the teachers who we are saying goodbye to and began to identify the structure and personnel that will make up next year’s faculty.  This week, I want to highlight a few additional and connected decisions, and then simply lay out the entire faculty and staff with however many openings we have left to fill.

The first is connected to the decisions we announced last week.  Namely, if Silvia Tolisano is headed international and Andrea Hernandez is headed into the classroom…who will constitute our 21st Century Learning Team?  Here, we are pleased to announce that we have expanded the roles of three of our outstanding teachers so that they will be able to provide the coaching and resources necessary to keep us moving forward.  Karin Hallet, our amazing Library & Media Specialist, will now go full time.  Shana Gutterman, our amazing Art Teacher, will now go full time and brings extraordinary 21st century learning skills to our team.  They join Stephanie Teitelbaum, as discussed last week, in her new expanded role as heading up our “Community of Kindness” initiative, to create a dynamic and innovative 21st century learning team prepared to pick up the baton and move us forward.  And, with Andrea in our building and Silvia a mouse-click away, we will always have our original “dream team” available for support and advice.

The second is both a staffing and a programmatic change.  With both Mrs. Burkhart and Mrs. Kagan retiring, we found ourselves with the opportunity to re-imagine what science education could look like at MJGDS and are pleased to announce the hiring of Mrs. Karianne Jaffa are our first-ever K-8 Science Instructor!  Mrs. Jaffa is an experienced Middle School Science Teacher who, since moving to Jacksonville, has taught in St. Johns County since 2006.  She will not only teach in our Middle School, but our Lower School as well, helping us deliver on the promise we made last year to expand and upgrade science education for all our students.

The third is to make two more faculty hire announcements which will finalize our entire lead teaching team for the next school year.  (I am presently searching for four assistant teachers, but expect to fill them in the weeks ahead.  Resumes look promising and interviews have begun).  Mrs. Amy McClure will be joining the Middle School Math Team.  Mrs. McClure currently teaches in our DuBow Preschool, but is an experienced Middle School Math Teacher, having taught Middle School Math here in Jacksonville for over five years.  Mr. Evan Susman will be joining us as our new Music Teacher.  Mrs. Jeanine Hoff, our current Music Teacher, has taken full-time work at the Jewish Federation of Jacksonville and we wish her all the best in her new venture.  Mr. Susman is an accomplished musician and teacher who brings song-leading expertise to MJGDS.

With all the announcements and explanations out of the way, it is my pleasure to introduce the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School 2013-2014 Faculty & Staff:

Lower School General Studies Faculty

  • Kindergarten: Mrs. Arlene Yegelwel & Mrs. Carla Bernard
  • First Grade: Ms. Pamela Lewis & Mrs. Shannon McVearry
  • Second Grade: Ms. Amy Stein & (A second teacher to be hired soon!)
  • Third Grade: Mr. Seth Carpenter & (A second teacher to be hired soon!)
  • Fourth Grade/Fifth Grade Language Arts: Mrs. Andrea Hernandez & (A second teacher to be hired soon!)
  • Fourth Grade/Fifth Grade Mathematics & Social Studies: Mrs. Shelly Zavon & (A second teacher to be hired soon!)

Lower School Jewish Studies Faculty

  • Kitah Gan: Morah Edith (Ita) Horovitz
  • Kitah Alef: Morah Robin (Rachel) Morris & Morah Hannah Bendit
  • Kitah Bet: Morah Rivka Cohen
  • Kitah Gimmel: Morah Liat Walker
  • Kitah Dalet: Morah Rivka Cohen
  • Kitah Hay: Morah Liat Walker
  • Kitah Bet-Gimmel Resource Teacher: Morah Rivkah Ohayon
  • Kitah Dalet-Hay Resource Teacher: Morah Mazal Spalter
  • JS Assistant Teacher: Morah Ilana Manasse

Middle School Faculty

  • Science: Mrs. Karianne Jaffa
  • Social Studies: Mrs. Judy Reppert
  • Language Arts: Mrs. Stephanie Teitelbaum
  • Middle School Mathematics: Mrs. Lauren Resnick & Mrs. Amy McClure
  • Hebrew: Morah Rivka Ohayon
  • Rabbinics: Morah Edith (Ita) Horovitz
  • Bible: Rabbi Jonathan Lubliner, Rabbi Jesse Olitzky, & Hazzan Holzer

Resource Teachers

  • Science: Mrs. Karianne Jaffa
  • Music: Mr. Evan Susman
  • Art: Mrs. Shana Gutterman
  • PE: Coach Jared Goldman
  • Jewish Music & Tefillah: Hazzan Jesse Holzer

21st Century Learning Team

  • Library & Media Specialist: Mrs. Karin Hallett
  • Visual Literacy Specialist: Mrs. Shana Gutterman
  • Community of Kindness Coordinator: Mrs. Stephanie Teitelbaum
  • Technology Coordinator: Mrs. Kim Glasgal

MJGDS Administrative Team

  • Administrative Assistant: Ms. Valerie Santiago
  • Executive Assistant: Mrs. Robyn Waring
  • Admissions & Marketing Director: Mrs. Talie Zaifert
  • Middle School Vice-Principal: Mrs. Edith Horovitz
  • Head of School: Dr. Jon Mitzmacher

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.