How Did “Going to School” Become an Act of Courage?

I do not have any media training, but I know a good line.  And after having done more media hits than I ever would have imagined (and I imagined “zero” so it isn’t that many), the one that seems to resonate the most is the one that still seems the craziest no matter how true:

The choice to open up school should not be considered an act of bravery; the choice to send your children to school should not be considered an act of courage.

And yet that is the current state of affairs here in the Jewish Community School in our nation’s capital.  We have parents afraid to send their children to school because of the rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.  We have parents from other local schools looking to move their children to our school because of the rise of anti-Semitism.  We have welcomed new Israeli families forced to leave Israel because of the events of October 7th.  We have all of that at the same time – we are scared to stand together too visibly and we are scared not to stand together so as not to feel invisible.  We are devastated by what is happening in Israel and we are depressed by what is happening around the corner.  We are defiant and we are resilient and we are confused and we are exhausted…so exhausted.

My favourite picture of the month is the one featured above – new Israeli students gazing at this thing called “snow”.  (And they don’t know the half of it.)  Our school is so grateful that it is able to make a meaningful contribution at this time by creating a space for Israeli children to be just that – children.  To gaze in wonder at the frozen water dripping from the sky at least for a small while not having to wonder about the wider world and what comes next.  We are a school, and that is supposed to be a safe place for children.  Canadian Jewish Day Schools are not supposed to be shot at overnight, or receive bomb threats, or be protested.  The eight year-olds at our Jewish school in Ottawa are not orchestrating the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza.  It would never occur to anyone in the Jewish community I know to find a local madrassa in Ottawa and terrorize their children because we are upset at Hamas.  How are we living in a world where it makes sense to attempt to terrorize Jewish children for decisions made by a government thousands of miles away?  You want to peacefully protest Israel?  Go for it.  But making parents afraid to send their children to school?

How do we explain to the children in our school what is happening without traumatizing them?  We use examples from Jewish history and from Jewish text to nourish and to inspire.  We pray and we write letters and we donate and we welcome new Israeli friends.  We teach media literacy and fact from fiction.  We lobby and we advocate.  We stand together.

How do we ensure our children get to be children?  We play and we learn Math and we learn French and we learn Science.  We have assemblies and we have field trips and we have special programs.  We laugh and we sing and we do all the normal things.  We stand together.

I don’t know how long this delicate dance will continue.  Each day we calibrate how much space this should take up at each grade-level.  Each day we muster up the strength to teach and to love our students, even when brokenhearted.  Each day we come prepared for noise, but pray for quiet.  Each week we share news about security hoping it will be the last week it is needed.

The goal of terrorism is to cause terror and I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t had an effect.  But we refuse to stand down or to stand still.  This is an inflection point and our children will be shaped by what we do now.  Am Yisrael Chai is not a hashtag, but an imperative.  Am Yisrael Chai isn’t just the rallies and the marches – however important those things are – it is living a Jewish life in full and in the open.  I’ve never been prouder to run a Jewish day school.  What we do now ensures that the next generation will stand up and stand with Israel when it inevitably becomes necessary.  What we do now helps ensure that there will be an Israel, which with the rise of anti-Semitism reveals itself to be more needed than ever.

It is true that operating a school shouldn’t be an act of courage, but if it is, colour our school courageous – from the admin to the teachers to the office to the security guards to the maintenance people.  And it is true that sending your children to school shouldn’t be an act of bravery, but if it is let Am Yisrael Chai be sending your children to a Jewish school open to receive them with loving arms.  Each day the school bell rings, the doors open, Jewish children enter with smiles, and we participate in the miracle of Am Yisrael Chai.  Today, tomorrow and forever.  Ken y’hi ratzon.

Introducing Goal-Setting Conferences at OJCS

[General Note: It still feels awkward pivoting towards “normal” school conversations when the situation in Israel rages on and we are all still carrying varying degrees of anxiety, pain and sadness about what has happened and what still may be yet to come.  However, part of how we create psychological safety is by carrying forward with as much normalcy as feels appropriate and respectful.  And so it is in that spirit that I share framing thoughts about this year’s inaugural “Goal-Setting Conferences”.]

[OJCS Parent Note: Yes, you got a much more detailed version of this via email earlier this week.  Feel free to read this edited version for additional clarity…or…please read this edited version if you feel asleep halfway through the email.]

In June of last year, I blogged out the rationale for us shifting from “trimester” to “semester” and in that post, I shared the following:
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.
And so we shall.
One of the “7 Habits” that anchors a lot of the work in our school is “Begin with the End in Mind” and one of our North Stars is “We Own Our Learning”.  There is a lot of research about the importance of students of all ages learning how to set goals and learning how to create plans to achieve those goals.  Here is an article from this past January that I think frames it well.  One takeaway from the article is that,
Students are people too, and like all people, they benefit from having goals. Learning goals, much like life goals, can help students in a number of ways.
Here is a brief summary of those ways:
  • They help students stay focused.
  • They help students measure their progress.
  • They help make students accountable for their learning.
  • They help to motivate students.
Another article on goal-setting that I really like adds a few more critical points about the benefits of goal-setting on students of all ages:
  • Set a clear path to success.
  • Learn time management and preparedness.
  • Boost self-confidence.
  • Provide challenges.
For all these reasons and more we believe that the time we are spending teaching our children – again, I keep emphasizing at every grade-level because this can be, and is, for students of every grade – what “goals” are, how to set them and make a plan for success, how to measure progress, how to reflect on the learning journey, etc..  It is time well-invested to set our children up to not only do their best in school, but in life.  As parents will see, goals are not only limited to academics, but to all aspects of schooling (art, music, PE, etc.) and life (friendships, self-control, positive mindset, etc.).
Things are already happening and things are set to launch.  Teachers have already begun teaching in developmentally appropriate ways what “goals” are, why they work and how to use them.  Teachers have also begun meeting individually with students to set goals for this year.  Parents are receiving information from teachers with more details about how all of this is working at different children’s grade-levels, and how parents can also contribute by both discussing goals at home and by coming to “Goal-Setting Conferences” with goals that they have for their children.
This pilot is strongly encouraging that parents bring children to school for these conferences.  We’ve finessed the timing and the team nature to allow this to be comfortable and doable at each grade-level.  We will have teachers and support on-site so that parents have a supervised landing slot for siblings.  We also understand that there could be conversations that a parent would prefer to have without their child present and thereto, the supervised locations can come into service.  We additionally understand that virtual conferences were helpful for some families and will continue to offer them, although hoping they will be restricted to just those who could not otherwise participate.  (And even there we encourage student participation.)
We are very much looking forward to this parent engagement opportunity.  Now, more than ever, we feel the value of the strength of our community.  We are partners with parents on the journey of children’s lives while at OJCS and we feel the weight and the joy of that now, more than ever.

10 Innovative Ideas for Any School or Grade Level

[Cross-posted from an interview I did for Prizmah’s December Newsletter.]

10 Innovative Ideas for Any School or Grade Level

by Dr. Jon Mitzmacher, Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network and VP of Innovation, Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools

All schools have different capacities for incorporating innovation into their curricula; however, using new teaching methods and formats for teaching keep the classroom fresh, appeal to learners of all levels, and contribute to a sense of fun in the educational environment. So we quizzed Dr. Jon Mitzmacher about how all schools can infuse more innovation into their students’ daily experience.

Mitzmacher recommended these ten ideas, noting that almost all of them could be applied to any subject or grade level with minimal adjustment. He also pointed to the importance of having what educator George Couros refers to as “the innovator’s mindset” — that teachers and administrators are willing to take chances, learn from failure, have a growth mindset, and a culture that supports innovative approaches.

You may already be engaged in some of these strategies — others may seem like a stretch; but no matter where your school is in terms of innovation, you’ll find something on this list to inspire you. (And two of these ideas relate directly to content we are featuring at #Prizmah17: The Power of Story. So read on, and don’t forget to register today!

1) Escape the Room

Escape rooms are all the rage these days for adults, challenging groups to work together — and use their different skills — to complete the game. Mitzmacher says that schools are experimenting with a classroom version of the escape-the-room concept, designing the experience for the specific class and their curriculum, with clues based on the content they are learning. “It’s a fun way to get kids engaged in a subject,” said Mitzmacher, noting that the concept can be used either as an introduction to certain material, or as a final exam after students have studied it. (Conference fun fact: Breakout EDU ( designs escape-the-room kits for classrooms, and they will be at tjos year’s conference in Chicago! You can buy kits through them, or they will tell you all the tools you’ll need to buy to create your own kit. )

2) Visual Bingo

In a format created by master innovator Darren Kuropatwa, teachers can create their own bingo cards that ask students to photograph various things. In social-media-savvy classrooms, students can also use hashtags to tag related posts. This creates a “visual bingo,” which can be tailored to holidays, events or curricula, and which is a way to teach or expand digital skills. (Conference fun fact: Darren will be present in the Playground, so be sure to stop by for a round of hashtag/Twitter Bingo — make sure to join us there for a live experience of this innovative approach).

3) “Fakebook”

Available at, “Fakebook” allows teachers and students to create imaginary profile pages for study purposes. This can teach students how to use Facebook responsibly, said Mitzmacher, and also permits teachers and students to create profiles for Biblical characters, like the ones in the Hanukkah story.

4) Skype-ortunities

Mitzmacher said that many schools are always on the lookout for new “Skypeortunities,” opportunities to connect with other schools and organizations via Skype. He further noted that this can be a great way to engage and give ownership to students, encouraging them to invite an author of a book they read, a scientist, or a sister school in Israel/or other Jewish community or organization to a Skype interaction.

5) Digital Learning Farm

Alan November, educational innovator, shares the idea of a digital learning farm: a model in which every student has a job to play. All jobs — whether it’s photographer, videographer, notetaker, IT coordinator, or others — are essential to the success of the classroom.

6) “Livestreaming Something….Anything”

Mitzmacher points to livestreaming as an invaluable opportunity “to show people what you want them to see” about the classroom, whether it’s parents who work, grandparents, or other relatives who don’t live in the area. He notes that it’s also an opportunity to engage in tikkun olam projects, like teaching how to be in relationship with people who are homebound.

7) Flipping the Classroom

In this concept — which is already in process in many schools, Mitzmacher notes — teachers send new material with students to learn at home, and then at school check for how well they understood the content. Instead of taking class time to introduce basic material, teachers and students can spend their classroom time going deeper into the material.

8) Mini Makers Space Challenge

Mitzmacher says that some schools have expensive Makers Spaces set up, but those who don’t can still create a smaller version in the classroom. Teachers can collect tools or stuff to play with and challenge students to solve a problem and to think about something in a different way. (For example, around Hanukkah, students could use tools to create the best possible Hanukkiyah prototype.)

9) Blogs and Blogging Challenges

If a classroom doesn’t have a blog, start one. Those who are already set up with blogs can participate in a blogging challenge (a sample is available on EdJewCon). Blogging challenges can include everything from “describe your classroom” to learning how to hyperlink or creating and uploading a 30-second video journal.

10) Speed Geeking

Mitzmacher pronounced this method a “great way for a class to showcase its skills to parents or to the school or other kids.” Children have ten-minute bursts to display their skills to visiting guests, then rotate around the room. Skills may include: how to use Google Docs for organization or using the iPad for photography.

The Power & Promise of Prizmah

094941cb9137479a9360c98e38a8c76bSo…it’s been a while.


A certain pause seemed perfectly appropriate.  When last we spoke, I was tying up (or at least naming) the loose ends of an independent Schechter Day School Network winding down in preparation for the launch of Prizmah.  (At that time, you may remember her best as our old friend “NewOrg”.)  The time between then and now has flown by in a blur of activity.  The list of tasks and projects necessary to bring Prizmah from launch to stratosphere continues to ebb, flow, morph and grow.  To even be where we currently stand strikes me as a bit miraculous, even if I have firsthand experience of the heroic work it took.

The larger story of Prizmah is not mine to tell (alone).  Neither is the smaller story of Schechter schools, although I maintain a passionate interest.  Our CEO, Paul Bernstein, speaks for Prizmah using his unique voice.  Our School Advocate for Schechter Schools, Chaya Friedmann, speaks with Schechter schools (and all our schools) with her unique voice.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a story to tell…

I hoped to have a meaningful role to play in realizing the promise of Prizmah when joining my former colleagues in a leap of faith from our prior organizations.  Having been part of the collective who drafted Prizmah’s first business plan, I had a general sense of what might be and how I might be of service.  And I was wrong.

Innovation is bringing an idea, practice, or object perceived as new to an individual, a team, an organization, or community in order to meet important learning needs (Rogers, 2003).

Paul’s vision for Prizmah is not only to meet the needs of the here and now, but to prepare for the what may be.  It should be noted that meeting the needs of the here and now for a diverse field of Jewish day schools is in and of itself requires extraordinary talent, resources, programs, conferences, networked learning, etc., etc.  It rightfully occupies the bulk of what Prizmah does day to day.  But the ability to learn and to inspire others to learn is part of how innovative organizations thrive.  That’s why Prizmah was created with a Department of Innovation.  My story continues as its first leader.

Our mission?

Prizmah believes in the power of innovation to transform teaching and learning in Jewish day schools.  We know that many of you are currently investing in innovative practices and many more are considering how innovation can impact your students, families, schools and communities.  Prizmah is committed to the work of fueling the research and design work that will secure the future as well as sharing and amplifying the extraordinary work Jewish schools are doing at present.  Prizmah’s Innovation Department was created to be a hothouse, a clearinghouse, a laboratory and an R(research)&D(design) engine.  

Our goals?

We shave three overarching goals for Prizmah’s Innovation Department:

  1. To identify, showcase, share, leverage innovation that already exists within Jewish day schools.
  2. To identify, showcase, share, leverage innovation that exists in the larger world of education and in the innovation sector and bring it to the field of Jewish day school education.
  3. To help Prizmah function as – and model – an innovative organization.

Our philosophy?

We have developed a philosophical model for understanding our work based on the classic innovation process.  Highlights include:

  • Prizmah’s Innovation Department building its capacity to be an engine for R&D for Prizmah.
  • Prizmah’s Innovation Department developing a method to help Jewish day schools build their capacity to be an engine for R&D for their schools.
  • Prizmah’s Innovation Department performing R&D for Jewish day schools.
  • Prizmah developing unique products to pilot, implement, scale, etc., in Jewish day schools.   [edJEWcon (blogfolios) is one such product.]
  • Prizmah playing a catalyzing role to pilot, implement, scale, etc., products developed outside Prizmah that are of interest to Jewish day schools.  Examples could include Makers Space, Robotics, multiage classrooms, etc.
Top 10 Innovation & Collaboration Thoughts
Top 10 Innovation & Collaboration Thoughts

What are we starting with?

Well sure we have some ideas of our own, which include…

…but we exist to serve schools, not to create programs.

So how are we really going to do it?

We’re going to ask you.

Yesterday we sent a survey to all Prizmah heads of school to begin the conversation…let this blog post officially declare that the office is open.

Saying “L’hitraot, Not Shalom”. Again.

What was a typical workday in the life…

So here we are again.  Sooner than anyone could have expected, but with great excitement about what is yet to come, it time again for me to pause, prepare and repurpose this blog for the next chapter of my journey.

Two years and nearly sixty blog posts later, my time at the Schechter Day School Network – and the existence of the Network itself – draws to a close.

Almost two years to the day, I wrote my last blog post as the head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School in which I reflected on what had been and looked forward to what was going to be…a task made easier by my knowing with greater clarity “what was going to be”.  To be transparent, that is not a luxury I yet have, at least in terms of my personal professional situation, but it diminishes not one bit my enthusiasm for Schechter’s future.

The first post I wrote as the Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network was entitled “Schechter: Becoming the Adjacent Possible for Jewish Education”.  In it, I wrote of my hopes for a reborn Schechter:

That’s how I see what is happening in Schechter schools – an adjacent possible for the future of education.  That’s what role I see for Schechter in the field – learning from and contributing to a larger adjacent possible for the future of the Jewish people.  Let our ability to serve as incubators of innovation catalyze the field.  Let our thirst for the new and the better stimulate and foster healthy collaborations with our sister networks of schools, foundations, federations, stakeholders, supports and friends, both in the Jewish world and beyond.

“[L]earning from and contributing to a larger adjacent possible for the future of the Jewish people.”

Having had the blessing of visiting over forty of our schools, I can say with confidence that Schechter schools are contributing to the future of the Jewish people each and every day. Our schools broadly share assumptions about standards, innovation, excellence, rigor, integration, Zionism, Hebrew language acquisition, centrality of prayer, and much more which simply cannot be reduced to policy or schedule or a prayerbook.  They are big tent schools who serve diverse communities.  They produce Jewish communal leadership in unprecedented numbers ensuring there is a future to reach towards.

“Let our ability to serve as incubators of innovation catalyze the field.”

I am proud of the growing impact of edJEWcon on the field as a result of the stage Schechter has been able to set for its ongoing evolution.  I am staggered by how many of our schools are leading innovation and inspiring the field.  Robotics, STEAM, Coding, Makers Space, Project-Based Learning, 21st Century Learning – pick any slice of the innovative educational future and I can give you 3 Schechter schools who are leading the way.

“Let our thirst for the new and the better stimulate and foster healthy collaborations with our sister networks of schools, foundations, federations, stakeholders, supports and friends, both in the Jewish world and beyond.”



We are proud of this brief, but critical chapter of Schechter’s proud history that we have helped write.  We are excited about the next chapter of Schechter to be written as part of the story of NewOrg.  And we look forward to both knowing and sharing who the authors of that story will be…

As for me?

Well, I hate to end the season and head off to summer on a cliffhanger…

…but it wouldn’t be authentic or transparent to suggest that I know more than I do.  And as of this writing, there isn’t much more I can say other than, “Stay Tuned”!

I can say for sure that when my future becomes more clear, you’ll be able to read all about here on “A Floor, But No Ceiling”.  This blog will again be reborn with new challenges to explore, new opportunities to share, and new issues to grapple with.  I look forward to resuming our journey together soon…

Pausing For Gratitude As A Chapter Begins to Close

[Reprinted by request from our final Constant Contact to Schechter stakeholders.]

Dear Friends,

The emails and updates are coming fast and furious and are coming more and more from OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANewOrg and less and less from us as the transition from what was to what will be grows closer each day.  Critical information about “Membership”, “Conference”, “Fee For Service”, “Staffing”, etc. – the stuff you really need to know in order to better understand your engagement with NewOrg next year and beyond is finally making its way to the field.  And not a moment too soon (and maybe a few moments too late) considering our earliest schools are already beginning to close for the summer.

I am incredibly proud of the work our staff and lay leaders have done over the last six months along with our colleagues from the other legacy organizations to get to this point.  There is clearly much more to do and to come.  Here at Schechter, we will continue through June pushing out information and being available to answer questions and concerns.  I will also be publishing closing blog posts where I have more space to be expansive about what I think these last three years have meant.

But now, I prefer to pause for gratitude.

Without going into the laundry list here, I will simply say that what we have accomplished together during our brief run as an independent network of amazing schools is almost inconceivable.  And it didn’t happen by accident.

It took the vision of Dr. Steven Lorch, Rabbi Jim Rogozen, Jane Taubenfeld Cohen, Dr. Susan Kardos, Rabbi Shelly Dorph and Dr. Elaine Cohen.

It took the leadership of Dara Yanowitz and our founding (and closing) Board of Trustees.

It took the wisdom and advice of our Professional Advisory Board.

It took the partnership of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Camp Ramah, USY, and the American Jewish University.

It took the generous capacity building support from the AVI CHAI Foundation and an anonymous foundation to launch us, and the programmatic support of the AVI CHAI Foundation, the Alan B.  Slifka Foundation, Crown Family Philanthropies, and Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah to help us soar.

It took the excellence, the openness, the hospitality, the candor and the magic of our schools.

But more than anything else?  It took the blood, sweat and tears of our staff.

Our Associate Director Ilisa Cappell, who essentially ran Schechter as “Acting Director” our first year, was the only partner I could ever have imagined going on this journey with.  I have never worked with anyone who complemented me better and who I should have complimented more.  Hiring Ilisa was the best thing I did as Executive Director.

Followed very closely by the hiring of everyone else!  Pearl Mattenson has provided us with wisdom and warmth.  No one is more aptly named than “Pearl”.  Working with her has taught me more than most of my graduate school classes.

Alisha Goodman inherited an organization with no Business Manager, HR Manager, or Development Director and she has managed to wear all those hats and more with tireless effort and dedication.  Her speed at Excel spreadsheeting is only surpassed by her wit.

Andrea Hernandez and Silvia Tolisano are probably more responsible for my career than anyone!  Our work together as school leaders forever changed my beliefs about Jewish education and to be able to continue the work together at Schechter and beyond remains a daily joy.

And of course there is Doree Greenfield who stepped into our most transitory position and very quickly mastered not only the work, but the relationships.  She has been invaluable during her tenure at Schechter.

the-futureWe don’t know exactly what or who the future will bring.  But we know what the past and present has meant.  On behalf of the staff and the board of the Schechter Day School Network, let me thank all our stakeholders one last time and to be clear that we are not saying shalom, but l’hitraot.

This is not goodbye…because we will see you later.

Shining the “Schechter Spotlight” – Volume 3

Slide1Believe it or not, as we sit here in the midst of the Jewish holiday rollercoaster this season brings, we have schools who are now counting weeks, not months, of the remaining school year!  As with our schools, so is true of our network.  Except with summer comes not an end, but the beginning of a new chapter in a NewOrg.  While we look forward to exciting updates about the field, we definitely want to keep the focus on schools.  So…let’s take another opportunity to “shine the spotlight” on Schechter schools!

As a reminder…

…each of our schools was asked to share in their own words examples of programs and initiatives of what they think makes their school unique, special, excellent, and innovative. We promised to batch and share out as they came in.  The first volume was published in early March and the second a few weeks later .  It is my pleasure now to introduce you to three more of our amazing schools…


kadima_logo_sm_glowName of School: Kadima Day School (West Hills, CA)


Area of Strength/Passion/Specialty: Differentiated Hebrew Program

Brief Description of Current Work/Projects: Kadima’s Hebrew program is designed to meet the variety ability levels of our students.  Currently the school offers advanced and grade level courses throughout the elementary, in addition to ulpan as necessary.  In the middle school, the program is able to differentiate even move by combining learners from a variety of grade levels.

Links to Photos/Articles/Videos of Current Work/Projects: 5th Grade Student Weather Report – Click Here & Click Here – Video 2

Area of Strength/Passion/Specialty: Character Education

Students being recognized for dedicating themselves to the value of "Protecting the Earth, Shmirat Ha'adamah" and helping to raise over $1000 to plant our self sustaining Kadima orchard.  
Students being recognized for dedicating themselves to the value of “Protecting the Earth, Shmirat Ha’adamah” and helping to raise over $1000 to plant our self sustaining Kadima orchard.

Brief Description of Current Work/Projects: Kadima Day School is committed to helping our students navigate through both the social and academic journeys of elementary school. Our emphasis on character education is rooted in our mission, helping students build an identity that is based on core Judaic values.  Each grade will tackle the foundations of character develop and grow in their understanding of “The Kadima Way.”

In order to create a cohesive program, the school has identified the following components to be implemented on an annual basis:

  • Value of the Month
  • Visual Cues to help students self monitor (posters in classrooms / hallways)
  • Grade Level Mitzvah Projects
  • Rosh Hodesh Mitzvah Award – monthly award teacher to student


logo_60thName of School: Perelman Jewish Day School (Melrose Park/Wynnewood, PA)


Area of Strength/Passion/Specialty: STEAM

Brief Description of Current Work/Projects: Perelman’s inquiry-based learning fosters critical thinking skills and empowers students to wrestle with complex issues using traditional texts and new technologies.  We teach an authentic Jewish legacy while preparing students to compete in the digital age.  This educational approach establishes a superior intellectual and emotional foundation for future education – and for life.

Our STEAM program connects individual disciplines as access points for guiding students to take thoughtful risks, engage in experiential learning, persist in problem solving, innovate and create.  

Fifth graders are engineers, working in teams to build a boat and bridge using a standard set of materials.  Fourth graders are entrepreneurs, developing their own business plans with advice from students at the Wharton School of Business at University of Pennsylvania.  All levels experiment with coding and learn to create their own QR codes. Students become experts on a particular system of the human body, presenting its function to their peers and a team of doctors, defending why it’s essential to our survival. They integrate science with language arts and research skills in a non-fiction reading unit about biomes.  Art education is also integrated into science, as students learn about the solar system by studying an atmospheric phenomenon called the Aurora Borealis – Northern Lights – a fantastic light show in the night skies when solar energy erupts from the surface of the sun.

In the coming weeks Perelman will open an even more innovative classroom, one where kids will be writing on the white-board wall, posting sticky notes, thinking, designing and building.  This will occur in our new MakerSpaces, where diversity and cross-pollination of activities are critical to the design. These innovation labs will accommodate a wide range of activities, tools and materials, and provide hands-on, creative ways to encourage students to design, experiment, build and invent, as they deeply engage in science, engineering and tinkering.

Our curriculum empowers teachers to take risks so that they too become agents of change. The silos of teaching and learning are interdependent as our students speak up, own their learning, ask questions and design the future.


AcademiesLogoName of School: Academies at Gerrard Berman Day School (Oakland, NJ)


Area of Strength/Passion/Specialty: STEAM

Brief Description of Current Work/Projects: September 2015 marked the launch of Untitledthe GBDS Science Academy, with the goal of employing hands-on , inquiry and project-based learning and experiments at all grade levels.  This innovative curriculum integrates the Next Generation Science Standards, the Engineering Design Process, and environmental awareness.  A partnership with PicoTurbine/STEAM Rocks! has led to 3D design enrichment programs during school breaks.

Some notable examples of student projects are:

  • Building drawbots using small hobby motors and legs made using markers
  • Utilizing squishy circuits to make “hamantaschen” for Purim, with filling lit up with LEDs
  • Testing water quality of streams in the 40 acre Great Oak park adjacent to the school
  • Investigating cell growth in different conditions through guided inquiry
  • Building Rube Goldberg machines
  • Employing an earthquake shake table to test building codes
  • Designing and testing parachutes (with action figures not people!)
  • Participating in NJ Makers Day

Area of Strength/Passion/Specialty: Leadership & Environmentalism

Brief Description of Current Work/Projects: The Academies at GBDS is proudly Untitledthe only Leader In Me Jewish Day School in NJ. Based on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, our Leadership Academy gives our students the 21st century skills needed for both professional and personal success. Several new initiatives have developed as a result of adopting the Leader in Me culture: the Middle School students created a Wax Museum exhibit called “Through the Eyes of a Leader,” and this year’s theme for the school play is “Robin Hood and the Leader in Me.” Additionally, at the end of the 2015-2016 school year, a premiere Leadership Day will celebrate our many successes. Please visit our school’s Leader in Me Blog for updates about how our school thrives using “The 7 Habits”.

The Academies at GBDS is committed to promoting practices that make the school more environmentally conscious and sharing those practices with the community. A school-wide recycling initiative, through our partnership with TerraCycle and Preserve Products,  is bringing the school closer to the goal of sending zero-waste to landfills.  This initiative was launched by constructing a large permanent mural,  using plastic waste diverted from the cafeteria waste stream,which is displayed in our multi-purpose room.

This year, inspired by the Leader in Me,  the Middle School students are planning, building, and maintaining a greenhouse and garden, thanks to a grant from Project Learning Tree. The 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students are in charge of all aspects of the project, including designing and building the raised bed gardens, and selecting, planting, and maintaining the gardens. The students will also design and print hydroponic gardening equipment using the 3D design program TinkerCad, eventually leading to year round gardening.

What Exactly Is A Schechter Education Anyway?

One of the clearest goals that I set for myself when becoming Executive Director was to visit each of our full members by the end of my second year.  I had no way of knowing, of course, that the end of my second year would also be the end of my last year.  These visits have surely been the highlight of my brief tenure.  They have also been deeply clarifying in our thinking about what Schechter really is…a question that only grows more important as we look forward to a new future within a NewOrg.

wrote at quite some length a few weeks back about how Schechter’s (r)evolution these last few years matches up nicely with the thought process which led to NewOrg.  In that post, I wrote explicitly why I thought that the creation of NewOrg represented a “win-win” not only for Schechter, but for Conservative Judaism.  What I only touched upon, but want to go deeper on here is the question of what makes Schechter “Schechter”.  This isn’t an academic question.  However permeable the boundaries, in order for Schechter to live and breathe within NewOrg; in order for the larger Jewish community to make sense of the different kinds of schools; in order for schools themselves to know who they are and why, now seems like the perfect time to have the conversation.

A Philosophy of Definition

When one seeks to define something, one wants the definition to state the necessary and sufficient conditions for that thing (Dorff, 1970).  One has stated the sufficient conditions when anything that fits the definition is included; and one has stated the necessary conditions when everything in one’s definition is required (i.e. when nothing extra is demanded).  For example, to define a table as a flat surface would be necessary (a table must have a flat service), but not sufficient (there are other flat surfaces).  Most things do not lend themselves to such definition.  And if it is difficult to define clearly what a “table” is, how much the harder to define a particular kind of Jewish day school experience.  To put it another way, in order to precisely define Schechter, one would have to ask, “What are the necessary and sufficient conditions to be a Schechter school?”

I could try to list out the necessary and sufficient conditions, but inevitably I would soon be faced with challenges to both kinds of conditions.  For example, if a condition of a Schechter school was that forty percent of the day is dedicated to Jewish Studies (a commonly identified Schechter condition), it would neither be necessary (there are Schechter schools who spend both less and more time of their day in Jewish Studies) nor sufficient (there are other kinds of Jewish day schools who spend forty percent of the day in Jewish Studies).  Even something like, a Schechter school has a Conservative rabbi who serves as its religious authority, is a condition that is neither necessary (there are Schechter schools with other religious authority models) nor sufficient (there are are other kinds of Jewish day schools who may have a Conservative rabbi as its religious authority).

Ludwig Wittgenstein, a twentieth century philosopher, suggested that when we define something we “often state the ‘family characteristics,’ as it were, either because we cannot do any more than that, or because that is all we want or need to know in the first place” (Dorff).  Even though there are other objects that have four legs and a flat surface, we know that both “four-leggedness” and “flatness” are critical family characteristics of “tables”.  We know that certain things are true of virtually all the members of the family, but others are true of some and some of others.  And, like all families, some members are more closely related to others.

The Schechter Family

I can report firsthand that there is indeed a “Schechter Family” of Jewish day schools in North America.  I can (and will) state clearly what I believe the characteristics that make Schechter “Schechter”.  I can also report that there are characteristics that not all Schechter schools share while still being part of the “family”.  There are also characteristics that Schechter schools share with other families of Jewish day schools.  Ours is a diverse family, but a family nonetheless.

Here are what I believe to be the family characteristics of Schechter in no particular order:

  • Progressive approach to education
  • Innovative, future-forward, pioneering of 21st century pedagogies
  • Serious and rigorous Jewish studies
  • Hebrew as a living, breathing language
  • Jewish experiences derived from or informed by Conservative Judaism
  • Egalitarian
  • Inclusive of children with special needs (where adequate resources exist)
  • Inclusive of LGBT students, families and faculty
  • Educating the whole child
  • Differentiated and personalized learning
  • Interactive curriculum
  • Best practices across both Jewish and General Studies instruction
  • Zionist
  • Sound governance
  • Schools of and for the communities they exist to serve
  • Dedicated to faculty growth

Family Ties

You can quibble with my choices.  There is no perfect way of doing this.  There are examples of Schechter schools who lack or who have different characteristics, but I will argue that (only) the majority of Schechter schools have a sufficient majority of these characteristics to declare them related.

But that’s me!

I invite you to share your perspective as well.  Specifically, I would love to hear your answers to these questions:

  1. What would you add to the list of characteristics of the Schechter family?
  2. What does it mean to your school to be part of a Schechter family?

As NewOrg prepares to roll out membership information to the field, it is important that the Schechter family of schools sees how its family journey is entwined with the journey of the field.  By better defining what makes Schechter “Schechter”, we can help NewOrg orient its exciting array of programs, resources, staff, and assets to better meet the needs of our family.  Because however defined, this is a family of schools who will be building a new home in NewOrg.  This is a family of schools who knew themselves to be a family regardless of where the central office was located or who staffed it.  And this is a family poised to expand its definition of family.  This is a family of schools who have made significant contributions to bring us to the Jewish present and are poised to help lead us to a bright Jewish future.

A “Fifth Question” For NewOrg

question-mark-1000269-mIt has become a tradition for organizations to use the pedagogy of Passover to advocate for causes.  We can change customs (“The Four Children”), add customs (“Miriam’s Cup), or adjust customs.  One common adjustment is the addition of a “fifth question”.  In addition to the traditional “Four Questions” we add one to address important issues of the day.  You can go online and find a myriad of examples of “fifth questions” that deal with everything from hunger, drought, Israel, peace, etc., etc.  You can find a “fifth question” for every cause.  We did the same, here, at Schechter last year.

The confluence of the birth of NewOrg looming closer with the approach of Passover has me thinking about the generation who lived through the Exodus, particularly the enjoinment on us during this season to…

11 B'chol Dor Vador

The Haggadah instructs us that, “In every generation, each person must regard himself or herself as if he or she had come out of Egypt.”

This is not simply a way to better enjoy the experience of Passover through role-play…this is literal.  The Rabbis really wanted us to believe that we, too, experienced the Exodus.  Theologically, this is in line with the idea that we all stood together at Sinai and received Torah.  Again, not metaphorically, but truly.  We were there and that changes everything.

Admittedly I am about to make a clumsy analogy…

…I am surely in no way suggesting that our current organizations have enslaved the field and NewOrg represents a promised land we are all about to enter!


My “fifth question” for NewOrg is this: How can we inspire the field to believe that they, too, were part of NewOrg’s creation story?

I ask the question because I believe the second part of the analogy is powerful – being part of transformational change is more empowering than having transformational change happen to you.  And that changes everything.


As I am not an innocent bystander, I will offer a few thoughts…

I hope we (Schechter) did our best to share out with our schools what was happening when and why as transparently as events allowed.  I know we tried.

I hope we did our best to allow our schools to provide meaningful feedback before, during and after the organizational voting to ensure their needs will be met.  I know we tried.

I hope we have been accountable to schools since the news went public.  We have written about how we think this impacts Schechter and the field.  We have done a significant number of in-person briefings.  But we could always do better.


I know that we (NewOrg) are working hard to include as many voices as reasonably possible during this period of transition to get it as right as it can be for Year One.  Our staffs at all the legacy organizations are exerting extraordinary energy to finishing their current work with strength and dignity while beginning work on a future with great potential and promise.  But we could always do better.

My Passover wish for our current organizations, our schools, our field and our people is that because of the work we will do together in this generation, that future generations of Jewish day school leaders, donors, teachers, parents, and students will enthusiastically embrace the notion that they, too, were there when it happened.  Because that changed everything.


Wishing you a chag kasher v’sameach…

Shining the “Schechter Spotlight” – Volume 2

Slide1Having just gotten back from trips to Las Vegas, Los Gatos, and Los Angeles (trying to get all my “Las” and “Los” in one fail swoop), I think it is definitely a great opportunity to once again “shine the spotlight” on our schools!

As a reminder…

…each of our schools was asked to share in their own words examples of programs and initiatives of what they think makes their school unique, special, excellent, and innovative. We promised to batch and share out as they come in, the first volume of which I published a few weeks ago.  It is my pleasure to introduce you to three more of our amazing schools…




Name of School: Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County (New Milford, NJ)

Area of Strength/Passion/Specialty: STEAM, Inquiry Based Approach & Science Fair

The Science Department is creating and hosting a competition that will include schools from around the country.  Students will have to solve logic problems, engineering challenges, and mathematics problems.  This will be conducted live via web based technology.

Brief Description of Current Work/Projects:

  • C-Span Student Cam 2016 documentary contest
  • IB – All Middle School teachers are being trained in IB framework as we pursue IB accreditation
  • Community Outreach – Our Live Streaming continues to be a success with the recent streaming of both the Siddur Ceremony and the Havdalah Ceremony.We have had very positive reviews of our streaming events.

Links to Photos/Articles/Videos of Current Work/Projects:


Name of School: Adat Ari El Day School

Area of Strength/Passion/Specialty:

Through a progressive teaching lens – applying project-based learning and design thinking methodologies – our highly-trained faculty address the individual needs of each child by utilizing a specially developed, integrated curriculum. Indeed, academic excellence is a fundamental goal of Adat Ari El.  We maintain a rigorous general and Hebrew/Judaic studies program, combined with top-notch instruction in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math), physical education, and music.  Furthermore, ADAT supplements the core curriculum with extensive enrichment opportunities in all areas, as well as academic support, if needed. Our students graduate with all the skills and confidence to succeed in their next educational endeavors, and make a difference in the world.

Brief Description of Current Work/Projects:

Our school philosophy, rooted in the Design Thinking process, launched this year, along with the opening of a new Design Lab.  What makes ADAT’s version of Design Thinking different is the added ingredient of empathy.  It is the why we are doing what we are doing, not just the what. Jewish values should ultimately guide us to use a process like Design Thinking to gain a deeper understanding of the world around us and challenge us to try and make a difference.

The Design Lab is a creative action-oriented space that will provide heightened learning opportunities and a cutting-edge 21st century learning program – all wrapped up in the Design Thinking process.  It is comprised of five different rooms: the Think Tank, Research Café, Development Center, Innovation Lab, and Digital Processing studio, each of which correspond to a step in the Design Thinking process.  So, in short, we have an Innovation Lab AND four other rooms that allow our students to bring the Design Thinking philosophy to life.

Links to Photos/Articles/Videos of Current Work/Projects:


gross-schechter-logo-1Name of School: Gross Schechter Day School

Area of Strength/Passion/Specialty: STEM, Hebrew Language, Creative Writing, Critical Thinking

Brief Description of Current Work/Projects:

There’s no doubt that Gross Schechter has always had a strong science and mathematics program.  Proof of this can be found in our excellent showing at Science Fair year after year, as well as our graduates’ record of advanced placement in math.  However, as an institution committed to best practices and 21st century learning, this year we have incorporated increased hands-on projects and design challenges in the science lab.  These projects help students gain critical thinking and problem solving skills through an enhanced science program, which more deeply integrates Science with Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).  This integrated approach facilitates learning from an engineering point of view, which fosters creativity and promote participation (and enjoyment) for all students.

In eighth grade, we have combined two curricula, Engineering Fundamentals and Physics by Inquiry. Engineering Fundamentals is supported by The Center for Innovation in Jewish Education (CIJE) and emphasizes the Engineering Design Process.  As a testament to our strong foundation in science here at Gross Schechter, we were one of 35 schools selected to receive a grant to implement this special program.  In this course, students learn about the role of engineers in society and practice using some design engineering tools, such as drafting tools, computer aided drafting and bridge loading software.  Students learn the fundamentals of engineering and then will be presented with design challenges.  These challenges will require them to use physical science concepts to design and create a working model that meets the criteria of the design challenge.

Our adoption and integration of Physics by Inquiry is supported by The University of Akron Department of Physics and Department of Science Education. In this program,each of the design challenges and activities will be presented without the aid of formulas, laws, or theories. After data gathering and analysis, students will look for patterns and formulate rules that lead them to what we call The Laws of Physics. This approach engages students and keeps them on their toes as they learn through discovery.

At Schechter, it’s paramount that education is joyful and engaging (in all subject areas), and that our teaching inspires a lifelong pursuit of learning.  We believe that these enhancements to our science program will do just that. 


Three more schools of different sizes in different cities all of whom are doing great works, the “Schechter Difference” indeed!  We look forward to introducing to you even more of our schools in the weeks and months ahead…