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.

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…

Shining the “Schechter Spotlight” – Volume 1

Slide1As I blogged about last week, part of the joy of running the Schechter Network is the opportunity to visit so many of our schools and see firsthand the excellence, the innovation and the impact of the work of our talented leaders and dedicated teachers.  We, as a network, have strived in our rebirth to be more cognizant of that excellence and to be more strategic in how we leverage it between our schools.  We have focused less energy, however, on trying to use our bully pulpit to shine a brighter light on our schools for the greater good of advocacy and support.  We want to try to do better…

…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.

We have been pleased with the responses so far and look forward to more volumes of the “Schechter Spotlight” after today’s.  Without further adieu – and in no particular order – it is our pleasure to introduce you to three of our amazing Schechter schools…

logoName of SchoolCommunity Day School (Pittsburgh, PA)

Description of SchoolCommunity Day School is a nurturing, academically excellent Jewish day school for the 21st century. From Early Childhood through Middle School, we inspire our students to love learning through innovative teaching methods and hands-on discovery. CDS is a welcoming community where Pittsburgh families who span the spectrum of Jewish belief and practice can learn and connect along with their children. As our students grow in knowledge from preschool through 8th Grade, they grow as people — finding their passions, embracing their Jewish identities, and preparing for successful and meaningful lives.

Current Work/Projects:

  • We’re opening our new 3-year-old program in Fall 2016 (currently accepting applications on a waiting list).
  • We’re implementing Lucy Calkin’s Writing Workshop curriculum school-wide. This groundbreaking model used by thousands of schools worldwide was developed at the Teachers College Reading & Writing Project (TCRWP) at Columbia University in New York City. It’s a rigorous and engaging curriculum with a proven track record of improving student achievement that transforms children as early as kindergarten into published authors.
  • Community Day School has been recognized as a Facing History and Ourselves Innovative Schools Network Partner School, and we’ve introduced a rich “Facing Choices” curriculum in Pre-K to Grade 8. As part of this initiative, this year marked the first time that Community Day School was in session for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  Instead of taking the day off, we took on the essential themes of this important day together as a school and with the broader Pittsburgh community in a meaningful way that honored the life and legacy of Dr. King.
  • We’re training interested CDS teachers on each level to coach every grade in mindfulness practices and we’re linking mindfulness to the ancient practice of t’fillah. Our students begin each morning in a meditative space as a way to connect with their past, reset their priorities, and get set for a day of purposeful and sacred work.
  • We’ve embarked on a visioning process by convening a task force of educators, parents, technologists, and scientists to identify opportunities for innovation and growth related to technology integration at Community Day School.
  • We’re establishing a Middle School Advisory program.
  • We’re benchmarking Hebrew language progress with a DIBELS-type Hebrew language assessment being created and piloted for us, as well as piloting “Dvash,” a new program for teaching Hebrew to children with dyslexia and other language-related challenges.
  • We’re offering a new class for parents of children ages 2-10 years old called Foundations for Jewish Family Living developed by The Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning to enrich the Jewish conversations that naturally emerge around the dinner table when parents and children are able to share their learning.



cropped-banner101414Name of School:  Ner Tamid Community Day School (Sharon, MA)

Area of Strength/Passion/Specialty:   Multi-age, personalized learning

At Ner Tamid Community Day School, we do not divide our community of learners by age and grade level. Elementary and middle school aged children have the opportunity to learn together and from one another. Our multi-age classroom supports individual growth through an approach to learning that is child centered rather than curriculum centered.   Each child becomes a successful learner on his or her own continuum of growth.   The mixed-age environment requires teachers to facilitate the learning of each child rather than to instruct the class as a whole based on predetermined grade-level skills and content.  This grouping evolves into a true family of learners.

Brief Description of Current Work/Projects:

We end our week with Passion Project Friday!  Each child has the opportunity to explore a topic that is personally interesting to them.  Children investigate their topic across the content areas, incorporating everything from science, to Judaics, to Hebrew.  They learn research skills, connect with experts on their topic, and end the year with an exposition.



header-indexName of School: Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School (Chicago, IL)

Area of Strength: We’re considered strong in many areas—general studies, for example; our Humanities program; our play-based, Reggio Preschool; critical thinking, our Buddy Program, multi-age learning, etc. I would say if I had to choose one thing to hang our hat on, which encompasses all of that, it’s our individualization. We are known throughout the community for our ability to challenge even the most gifted children while still scaffolding for those who need more support. We teach students, not subjects. People come to us because they feel the other schools treat them like cogs in a machine, not as individuals. They value the individualized attention we provide.


The Dollhouse Project: Our 7th/8th science classes have been studying electricity and circuits. As part of their final project, they had to work in groups to build dollhouses. The houses had to be fully functional with working electricity. Students built every aspect of the house themselves. One even included a working elevator. Photos of the dollhouses can be found on our Facebook page.

The Family Project: Our Preschool is play-based and Reggio-Emilia inspired. Integral to these philosophies is the notion that our curriculum emerges from the students, and the students document their own learning. The Family Project is something the entire Preschool/Kindergarten took on together, and the concept was that each class documented what family means to them, but in a different way. The students created a giant gallery about the concept of family. Here is a blog post that features images from the gallery and some examples of what it looks like for preschool-aged children to document their own work: Our Preschool has become a leader in Reggio learning, and last year three of our teachers were selected to visit Reggio Emilia, Italy, to learn about this philosophy at its source, in its original home.

The Mishkan Project: In Tanach class, our 5th/6th graders learning about the Mishkan created 3-D models of the vessels used in Tabernacle. Then, they presented them to parents in a Mishkan fair. The intention was to bring the Mishkan to life through hands-on, collaborative team work, and to be able to present their creations orally to a formal audience. Here is a blog post with photos:

Mock Appellate Court: As part of their unit on Mesopotamia, one of the 5th/6th History classes is going to be holding a mock appeals court. During their study of Hammurabi’s Code, they found some passages that were remarkably similar to passages in Parshat Mishpatim. They specifically looked at the case of a pregnant woman who is accidentally hit and miscarries. The punishment in each text is different, but the question is the same: is the fetus a human life or the mother’s property? The students then looked at a modern day court case from Massachusetts that deals with the same scenario: Thibert vs. Milka (1995).  The students will be simulating a mock appeals court by taking on the roles of appellate lawyers and writing appellate “briefs.” They will do this after analyzing a series of fictional cases and deciding whether these cases hurt or help their position. They are also looking at the various excerpts from the Talmud that deal with this issue.


Three 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 more of our schools in the weeks and months ahead…

The Storify of #edJEWcon Chicago

I know there are others, but until someone convinces me others, I’m sticking with Storify as my preferred method of documenting my learning from professional development conferences and experiences. I like how visual it is and I love how easy it is to preserve the links to all my learning.

We had a wonderful experience on Wednesday in Chicago and I am pleased to amplify the learning by inviting you into its story. I hope our learning inspires more learning, more reflection, and more sharing.


[If your browser isn’t letting you scroll through the whole thing, please follow this link.]

The Storify of #edJEWcon LA 2014

I think it is reasonable to conclude that Storify has become my preferred method of documenting my learning from professional development conferences and experiences.  I like how visual it is and I love how easy it is to preserve the links to all my learning.

We had a wonderful experience on Monday in Los Angeles and I am pleased to amplify the learning by inviting you into its story.  I hope our learning inspires more learning, more reflection, and more sharing.

The Jewish Education Olde Thyme Radio Hour: “Matterness” w/Allison Fine

There is one truth about our schools that is universal regardless of the size, age, or location – it is never boring to be a Jewish day school!  A related corollary is that there never seems to be a down or calm period anymore.  There is a season for each activity and it can sometimes feel like you are racing from one peak to the next, with no time to breathe between.  (Unless the weather conspires to shut you down!  However, school closures create their own unique pressures as so many of you are presently experiencing.)  As soon as you successfully launch your year, you are already focused on recruiting and retaining families for the next.  As soon as you close one campaign, next year’s campaign readies to begin.  As soon as your board begins to function at high capacity, it becomes time to cultivate new members.  As soon as you hire your last staff person and close your professional development calendar, the work of evaluation and planning the next year’s calendar launches.

And so on.

It can be a real challenge even finding an hour to read, to think, or engage in conversation with colleagues about big picture issues.  That is why it is such a pleasure for me to share this podcast with my friend and gifted educator Rabbi Marc Baker and to work on it with the good folks at ELI Talks.  It is our opportunity to take that hour to discuss important issues of the day and to engage others in the conversation.  We opened this second podcast with a discussion of the challenges extended snow days present to schools and whether they can become opportunities to challenge the traditional model of schools with bounded times and spaces.  But our main focus was our very first guest, author Allison Fine, and a conversation about her new book, “Matterness,” and its implications for the field.

It is not a #humblebrag to suggest that we would do this podcast with no audience. Truthfully, we aren’t even sure what kind of audience we have!  We genuinely appreciate the gift of time the podcast gives us to learn and discuss and we hope that those who are listening (or watching after the fact) enjoy the conversation half as much as we do.

As always, you are welcome to share your feedback as commentary on this blog or on the ELI Talks YouTube page!


Here are the links to the two blog posts Marc discussed in our intro:

Here is the video I discussed during our interview (shout out to Silvia Tolisano who shared it with me):

The Jewish Education Olde Thyme Radio Hour

As part of my ongoing attempt to practice what I preach, I recently participated in what I (we) hope will be just the first in a regular podcast.  You will see quietly clearly that it was a first!  🙂  As part of our debrief, we would love feedback, which you can provide here on my blog or on the ELI on Air YouTube channel itself.

We have great plans for future podcasts that include guests and more voices from the field…stay tuned for more information.