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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously go!  I’ll wait…

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

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

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

OJCS Celebrates Innovation Day 2024

Yes, if you are a current parent in our school, you know that we celebrated “Innovation Day” before we celebrated Purim, but my blog has flipped the order.  (I really wanted to get my Purim post out before Purim.)  That does not mean that we didn’t have an AMAZING “Innovation Day” worth sharing more broadly with our community.  The opposite…we had a GREAT day.

I want to be super clear and name that not only did I have virtually nothing to do with the planning and facilitation of this day, I also had virtually nothing to do with the documentation of this day as well.  It is my pleasure to use my blog to showcase the work of those who did.

The primary drivers of Innovation Day at OJCS were Josh Ray, who serves as our Makerspace Lead and Middle School Science Teacher, and our Lower School Science Teachers.  Everything that you are going to see below is the fruit of their labours – with photo collages captured by Lianna Krantzberg, who dabbles in social while serving as our Student Life Lead.   Together with other special events such as Global Maker Day, the JNF Hackathon, the Global Student Showcase, along with regularly scheduled lessons in our Makerspace, Innovation Day shows how OJCS serves as an incubator of innovation for it students (and teachers!).

So.  What was this day all about?

Grade 8 – Simple Machines Project

We often say that doing something with a machine requires less work. In this design challenge, you will be responsible for helping design a new sled for students at OJCS to use. Using as many of the six simple machines you learned about in class, your task is to use the design thinking process to design, test, and build a simple machine sled prototype that students can safely use. You will give your innovative sled a name and create a pitch to market your sled to potential investors. May the best sled win!

Your Goal: Working on your own or with a partner, decide which simple machines will be part of your sled design. After researching the six different types of simple machines and realistic DIY sled builds, create a plan for your prototype. Determine what materials you will need and the size and quantity of materials. You may use any materials from home and supplement any other necessary materials from Home Depot. Then, plan how you will proceed. All sections will be presented as part of a 5-minute product pitch that must include the following 5 sections (Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test). The pitch will include all information displayed on a tri-fold board presented in front of investors (judges) and will be graded based on the judging rubric.

Grade 7 – Animal Structures Project

All animals, like people, require shelter to protect them from the harsh elements of nature as well as predators. In this design challenge, you will take on the role of an engineer and be responsible for helping design an innovative structure for an animal of your choosing. Using the information about stability, forces, symmetry, and structure types you learned about in class, your task is to use the design thinking process to design a new shelter prototype that animals can safely use using the CoSpaces VR program. You will give your innovative shelter a name and create a pitch to market your structure to potential investors. May the best structure win!

Your Goal: Working on your own or with a partner, decide which animal you would like to build a house/shelter for. After researching stability, forces, symmetry, and structure types as well as the current animal shelters for your chosen animal on the market, you will create a plan for your prototype. Using the Five Freedoms as a guide, determine what structure type you are going to construct, what materials your structure will need, and what strategies you will use to provide stability. You will also need to determine what forces (internal/external) your structure will need to withstand and describe what techniques you used to provide strength and avoid structural failure. You will include this information in your structure design using the virtual reality CoSpaces program for potential investors to see. All sections of the Design Thinking Process will be presented as part of a 5-minute product pitch that must include the following 5 sections (Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test). The pitch will include all information displayed on a tri-fold board presented in front of investors (judges) and will be graded based on the judging rubric.

Grade 6 – Electricity Project

Your Goal: In this project, you will build a series circuit that lights a bulb using a power source and conducting wires. Then predict what will happen to the brightness of your bulb if you add more bulbs or batteries to your series circuit, and test your prediction.

All sections will be presented as part of a Google Slides (or equivalent) presentation with each slide representing each step in the Scientific Method.

Grade 5

Using the design thinking framework, the students answered the question: How can we provide electricity to community outdoor spaces in an energy efficient way that still maintains the safety and “fun” aesthetic of the space?

Grade 4

Grade 3

We have jumped right into our Strong and Stable Structures unit in preparation for Innovation Day: 1.) Assess effects on society and the environment of strong and stable structures. 2.) Assess the environmental impact of structures built by various animals, including structures built by humans.

  • We worked with Marshmallows and Toothpicks to learn about strong shapes and building strong structures!
  • We have taken the information we learned from this activity and applied it to the designing and building of newspaper bridges!

Will the bridges be able to hold up THREE heavy textbooks!?

Grade 2

Grade One

Students are keeping busy with their projects for Innovation Day. They are really putting in the effort, collaborating and designing their projects to make them the best they can be. Building something from scratch can be a real challenge, but it’s also a great opportunity to learn new skills and collaborate with others.


Thank you so much to everyone who was able to join us for Innovation Day in KA and KB on Wednesday!!  The students worked so hard to create their flying machines and to learn about the 4 forces of flight.   They were so proud to share what they had learned and created with you.  You can watch and listen to the “What Makes Airplanes Fly?” song here and check out the pictures of the process of creating and testing their bamboo helicopters, hovercrafts, and hoop gliders…

Junior Kindergarten

A huge ‘kol ha’kavod’ to JK for their first innovation day! What a fun morning! Thank you to all of our guests for popping in to experiment with us!

Leading up to this morning, JK was heavily invested in learning about what makes objects sink or float. They learned about density, and even conducted an eggsperiment – no, wait, an experiment – to change the density of water so that an object that sank (an egg haha) was now able to float! Check out the booklets your children brought home in their backpacks to re-create the experiment at home! Their main challenge was to build a popsicle stick raft to get their dinosaur across the water table. As the joke goes… Why did the dinosaur cross the river? To get to the other side.


Did our students have an amazing day putting all their passion, talent, knowledge and creativity to good use?

I’d say “yes” – this was a great day of learning at OJCS!

Public Displays of Judaism: Purim After 10/7

Judaism sometimes still feels like a miracle and the Jewish calendar still feels like a time machine capable of connecting past to present to future.  This is what I am thinking about as we prepare to celebrate the holiday of Purim in a post-October 7th world…

On Thursday, coinciding with the Fast of Esther, our school hosted a variety of dignitaries and staff from our country’s Israeli Embassy in order to participate in the Worldwide Kriyat (Recitation of) Shema.  Our older students gathered in the Gym to watch the livestream from Jerusalem and to participate; younger students gathered in classrooms or simply paused at 11:30 AM to add their voices to the global Jewish voice for unity.  It was brief and it was heartbreaking, but it was also cathartic and, as has been the case throughout these months, it does feel good to be able to do something.

On Friday, to ensure all our students have an opportunity, we welcomed Rabbi Idan Scher from Congregation Mahzikei Hadas to lead our students in an abbreviated, child-friendly Megillah-reading.  On Monday, we will continue the celebration into Shushan Purim with our normal Purim Carnival and the launch of Ruach Week at OJCS.  That leaves you, of course, with the weekend of Purim itself…

How much joy and silliness feel appropriate while hostages remain, a war continues and a humanitarian crisis unfolds?  Do we dial it down out of respect?  Do we amp it up out of defiance?  Do we simply try to keep things “normal”?  I cannot answer those questions for you, but I can tell you that I am leaning towards “normal” with a hint of extra out of defiance.  You don’t have to think that is right or right for you, but it is an honest appraisal of where I locate myself today.  What I would encourage you to do is have the conversation…with your children, with your family and with yourself.  The story of Purim mapped onto current events is a doctoral thesis, not a blog post, but for the more serious-minded I wonder if that is the work of this weekend.  To read Megillat Esther with 10/7 eyes will likely unlock new meanings and surface new questions.  Lean in.

And for those who do want to go a bit extra…

…instead of asking, “What shall I dress my children as this year for Purim?”

…ask, “What are we going to dress as for Purim?”

Too often as parents we treat Judaism the same way we treat Disneyland – as something that we sacrifice for in order to give our children an “experience”.  We scrimp and we save and we sweat in line so that our children can go on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.  We also scrimp and save and sweat over paperwork so that our children can receive a Jewish education and go to camp and have a bar/bat mitzvah.  But what about us?

Purim is a holiday of reversals and opposites, of mask-wearing and mask-shedding.  You can be anyone you wish in service of being your truest self.  If you think that wearing a costume is childish, what do you have to lose this year?  If you are typically shy about booing Haman with all your gusto in a crowd, there are plenty of Hamans worth booing.  Take advantage of the opportunity to do something silly as a family tomorrow night and Sunday.  Not only should you not let your children have all the fun, your silliness makes a very serious statement about what it means to be Jewish – every year, but especially this one.

From my family to yours…chag Purim sameach.

A Floor AND a Ceiling (and tech, and furniture, and paint, etc.) – Renovation Update Part I

Last June, I blogged out the bittersweet news of the need for delaying the renovation of our school from what was supposed to be last July – October to this May-August.  Today, I am blogging out (and sending in a separate email to ensure every current parent receives it…although shouldn’t they be reading my blog each week?) the exciting update – yes this is really happening!  Before jumping to all the categories of things you (if you are a current parent) may be wondering / worrying about, let me at least start with the end in mind…

Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of an anonymous donor in our community who is providing $2 million, we are on the cusp of providing our students and teachers with classrooms as innovative and as excellent as they deserve.  Phase I of this project focuses on the classrooms themselves, with an extra emphasis on the first floor.  Every classroom in OJCS is getting all-new furniture (student desks, teacher desks and tables), flooring, ceiling, lighting, paint and technology).  Every classroom on the first floor is additionally getting all new millwork for a fully finished space.  The hallways will receive a bit of attention as well (painting, new door signs, upgraded plaques, etc.).  [Future phases will extend the new millwork to the remaining classrooms, a complete redesign of the hallways (including lockers), the lobby and perhaps the offices and teachers’ lounge as well.]  I have included a rendering of the first floor classrooms above and here is a rendering of the second floor classrooms (when fully finished):

All of this is amazing and as much as I do not want to wish away the rest of 2023-2024, I cannot wait to see everyone’s faces when they see our new digs for 2024-2025.  But, you might be wondering, “Wait, did you say ‘May’?!  What does that mean?!”.

Yeah.  Us too.

In order for all of this to be ready for teachers and students to report back to school, it will require us to fully relocate the entire JK-3 for the months of May & June…and if you look at a calendar, it really means being ready to go by the time we reach Passover Break.

Deep breaths.

Naturally, our teachers and families will have LOTS of questions, and perhaps, a few concerns about how all of this is going to work.  The first and most important thing to know is that we are not trying to do this on our own.  We are coordinating with Campus and a variety of community partners to work through the logistics, the details and to help us make it happen.  (And, yes, there may be a place for parents to volunteer their time – and trucks.)

My goal in this, the first of two posts, is to try to set your mind at ease that we are in fact considering all the things necessary to relocate our JK-3 and to continue to run our 4-8 safely, and that all our students are able to continue to learn in safety and with integrity.  I am going to lay out for you all the things we are currently working on figuring out so that you know that we know.  And then, soon, I will return and provide the answers and plans to all those things.  (And if I missed anything, I’m sure someone will let me know!)

Here, and I am sure this is not in order of priority, are all the things that need to be true as we enter “reno time”:

  • We are relocating JK-3 to Kehillat Beth Israel.  They have the space and the proximity and they are willing and generous partners.
  • Furniture, technology, curriculum books, – all the stuff that teachers and students will need to finish out the year – will be carefully labelled by our classroom teachers and find its way over.
  • Drop-off & Pick-up plans (but one imagines a double process for those with kids in both places will be needed).
  • What will be true for before care?  How will children who are enrolled for aftercare and/or after school programming back to the JCC?
  • Security
  • Fire Drills and Emergency Contingency Planning
  • Either Keren/Jon present at KBI each and every day
  • Spec Ed Team / Resource Teachers present at KBI each and every day
  • Hot Lunch (that’s the easiest one as it is currently prepared at KBI under OVH supervision)
  • Recess / PE / Outdoor Spaces
  • Amping up wifi
  • Daily Communication b/w locations; Emergency Communication for KBI
  • Assemblies, Special Programs, Holidays, etc.
  • Adjusting 4-8 functioning to a building under renovation

Yes, that’s a lot, and I’m sure there is more.  The good news, again, is that we are committing the resources necessary to manage this project effectively and although there will be inconveniences, our hope is that they will simply be that – inconvenient.  I realize that the answers are important and it is our intent to push those out as soon as (enough of them) are ready to share.  In the meanwhile, don’t be shy about asking any questions you have or expressing any concerns you are holding.

As we pivot towards all the amazing events that constitute the end of 2023-2024, while we launch the beginning of celebrating our 75th Anniversary Year, and with 2024-2025 gearing up to be our biggest and best year – with whatever inconveniences this renovation will inevitably create – I am so proud to be heading this school at this time.  What better way to launch the next 75 years of excellence, of Jewish community and commitments, of helping secure the future of Jewish Ottawa than this.

“Radical Candor” is Good for Schools, Parents & Children (Or “What I Learned This Week @ DSLTI)

In the bustling world of education, the role of a school leader is multifaceted.  Beyond the daily operations and academic management, there lies an essential task: the continual growth and development of leadership capacity.  Just as students benefit from ongoing learning and enrichment, school leaders too must invest time and effort into honing their skills and expanding their knowledge base.  While this may occasionally necessitate their absence from the school, it is a valuable investment that ultimately enhances the school’s overall effectiveness and long-term success.  So, while it may create temporary inconveniences, parents can rest assured that their school’s leader is actively working to strengthen the institution’s foundation for the benefit of every student and family.

I had the opportunity this week to facilitate a Day School Leadership Training Institute (DSLTI) Retreat with the theme of “Conversations.”  This retreat served as a valuable opportunity for me to enhance my leadership skills and gain insights into fostering meaningful dialogue within our school community.  The topic of “Conversations” resonated deeply with me, especially the work we did on Radical Candor—a concept that emphasizes open, honest, and empathetic communication.  Just as we strive to cultivate a culture of Radical Candor among our staff and faculty, we also recognize its significance in nurturing strong parent-school partnerships.

As we navigate another exciting admissions season at OJCS, I thought I would try to connect some dots through one of my favourite blogging formats…the good ol’ “Q& A”:

Q: What role does parent partnership play in enrollment retention at the Ottawa Jewish Community School?
A: Parent partnership is crucial for enrollment retention at our school.  By fostering strong relationships between parents and educators, we try to create a supportive community where families feel valued and engaged. We hope this leads to higher and higher retention rates as parents are more likely to continue choosing our school for their children’s education.

Q: Can you explain the concept of Radical Candor and its relevance to parent partnership?
A: Radical Candor, as described by Kim Scott, emphasizes the importance of open, honest, and empathetic communication. In the context of parent partnership, this means creating opportunities for transparent dialogue between parents and faculty.  By embracing Radical Candor principles, we can strengthen our relationships with parents and enhance their trust in the school community.

Q: How does the Ottawa Jewish Community School implement parent partnership strategies?
A: We implement various parent partnership strategies, including Goal-Setting Conferences, Parent-Teacher Conferences, a PTA, opportunities to volunteers, Town Halls, blogs and blogfolios, “office hours”, open doors and – when necessary – even exit interviews are a reflection of partnership.  These initiatives provide opportunities for parents to voice their opinions, share feedback, and actively participate in decision-making processes.  By involving parents in these initiatives, we demonstrate our commitment to partnership and collaboration, which ultimately contributes to enrollment retention.

Q: What are some benefits of parent partnership for both the school and the parents?
A: Parent partnership offers numerous benefits for both the school and the parents.  For the school, it leads to higher retention rates, improved parent satisfaction, and a stronger sense of community.  For parents, it provides opportunities to be actively involved in their children’s education, build relationships with teachers and staff, and contribute to the school’s growth and success.

Q: Can you provide an example of how Radical Candor principles are applied in, say, parent-teacher conferences?
A: During parent-teacher conferences, we encourage open and honest communication between parents and faculty. Teachers provide feedback on students’ progress, challenges, and areas for improvement, while parents have the opportunity to share their insights and concerns.  By embracing Radical Candor principles, we create a supportive environment where both parties feel heard, valued, and empowered to work together towards the best interests of the child.

Q: How does the Ottawa Jewish Community School ensure continuous improvement in parent partnership efforts?
A: We are committed to continuous improvement in our parent partnership efforts.  This includes seeking feedback from parents through surveys, conducting regular evaluations of our initiatives, and actively listening to concerns and suggestions from the community.  By staying responsive to the needs and preferences of our parents, we can adapt and refine our parent partnership strategies to better serve our school community.

Q: In what ways does the school demonstrate its commitment to learning and improvement, even when faced with challenges?
A: As stated, the Ottawa Jewish Community School conducts exit interviews as part of its commitment to learning and improvement.  These interviews provide valuable insights into the reasons behind a family’s decision to leave the school.  By listening to parents’ feedback, whether positive or negative, and taking actionable steps to address any concerns, the school demonstrates its dedication to continuous growth and enhancement of the educational experience.

As the calendar continues to steamroll forward, I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the many parents who have re-enrolled their children at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.  Your continued support and partnership are invaluable to us, and we are grateful for the opportunity to work together in shaping the future of our students.  For those families who have not yet made the decision to re-enroll, I invite you to engage in open dialogue with us.  Let’s have conversations that inspire growth, foster collaboration, and strengthen our bonds as a community.  Together, we can achieve extraordinary things and create a learning environment where every child thrives.

La célébration de la semaine de la Francophonie 2024

We are back after February Break and are in that special sprint towards Passover Break – with a calendar chock full of ruach.  Let’s take a peek forward in anticipation of what should be a very exciting week at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.  Let me welcome you to the Second Annual La célébration de la semaine de la Francophonie, featuring our third annual Francofête.  [For a bit of background, you are welcome to revisit last year’s post.]

We are so pleased to let you know that next week (March 4-8) will be “La célébration de la semaine de la Francophonie 2024”!  The goals are simple – to spend a week marinating in French, celebrating the work of our students and teachers, highlighting the strides our French program has taken in the last few years, and elevating French beyond the boundaries of French class, into the broader OJCS culture.  The highlight will be Francofête on Thursday, March 7th at 6:30 PM in the OJCS Gym.

So…what to expect from “La célébration de la semaine de la Francophonie 2024”?

  • To set the ambience, we will have a customized French music playlist to greet our students each day upon entry and announcements and anthems en français.
  • On Monday, students will experience special activities and programs during their French classes.  This will include the dix mots de la francophonie (the ten words for this year’s francophonie).  What are they?  Glad you asked!  Learn along with our students and see if you can guess the theme!
    • Adrénaline
    • Prouesse
    • Échappée
    • Faux départ
    • Mental
    • S’encorder
    • Collectif
    • Hors-jeu
    • Champion
    • Aller aux oranges
  •  Students will learn about l’Organisation Mondiale de la Francophonie dans le monde (World Organization of La Francophonie) and Canada’s role therein.  They will also take virtual tours of museums from Francophonie locations.
  • On Tuesday, we will hold a major dress rehearsal for the Francofête.
  • On Wednesday, our students will participate in French-language sports and activities that celebrate the “Diversity of Sports” as well as visit our very own pop-up OJCS French Café where they will enjoy authentic (kosher) French treats.
  • Thursday brings us the Francofête!  Parents will be welcome to join us at 6:30 PM and each of our grades will share songs, dances, knowledge and the joie d’apprendre that comes with French learning at OJCS.
  • We’ll finish the week with a special viewing of age-appropriate French films.

And many more surprises…

So there you go…voilà!

Parents at OJCS will hopefully look forward to lots of opportunities to peek in and/or to see pictures and videos during this year’s celebration and to join us for the Francofête.  We’ll look forward to building on this in future years as we continue to showcase French in our trilingual school.

Great appreciation to our entire French Faculty, and to Madame Wanda in particular, who has led this year’s celebration.  This should be a week filled with ruach – errr…joie de vivre! [North Star Alert!  En Français!]

If Not Now: My Daughter in Israel

One of my concerns about October 7th once the security concerns began to be addressed wasn’t about the weeks in front of us, but the months.  For a good stretch of time, the focus on Israel was overwhelming in every sense of that word.  We had a fundamental imperative to both be and feel safe.  There was education to provide our students.  There were displaced Israeli children to absorb and to welcome.  There were rallies for solidarity and rallies for advocacy.  There were media requests and a need for thought-leadership.  And yet, we knew that there was inevitably going to come a time when people’s natural attention spans and bandwidth for crisis was going to yield to a shift and perhaps create a fracture.  And perhaps we are at, or nearing that time…

It isn’t to suggest that our (the school‘s) attention is waning or certainly not that our eye has moved off the ball of security even an iota.  It is, however, to suggest that people have begun to walk down different paths of engagement depending on their personal connections and experiences.  At our school, we still have teachers and families who are awaiting news of hostages and serving on the front lines of Gaza.  We still have siblings and friends experiencing anti-Semitism in their public schools, workplaces and neighborhoods.  We are still teaching “current events”, praying, raising money and engaging in acts of social justice.  But as time inches forward, I think it is fair to say that it simply isn’t top of mind for each and every person as it was…and I state that as a fact of human nature, not a judgement.

I am experiencing the way the heartstrings can be strung and restrung through my parenting.  When we made the decision as a family to stay here in Ottawa for our daughters’ high school years, in a place without a true Jewish high school, we committed to a variety of educational experiences that would build a bridge from their rigorous Jewish day school foundation to their studies in university.  One of those experiences was to spend a semester of Grade 10 studying in Israel.  And that decision got a lot more complicated since Maytal was scheduled to leave for Jerusalem in January.

Our older daughter’s experience was curtailed and compromised by COVID, but she did go.  Our girls are Ramahniks through and through, and although there are other programs, Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim (TRY), was our only choice.  Normally there are upwards of 60-80 teens with a healthy Canadian cohort.  We were looking forward to Maytal getting to have the “full TRY” and then October 7th…

After months of wondering about whether the trip would go, and then worrying about whether sending her was the right choice, we made the family decision – with Maytal as its fiercest champion – that despite the number of students barely in the teens, and without a single other Canadian participating, that now really was the time.  (It very much felt like a true, “If not now, when” moment.)  And so we found ourselves a couple of weeks ago gathering with other families at Newark Airport to send our children to a very different Israel than the one we knew months ago.

Let me pause to state something obvious.  Maytal is in a bubble of privileged North American teens in Jerusalem.  She will only travel to the safest of places under the safest of conditions.   She is not living in a city near the border and we are not comparing our concerns for her wellbeing to those who are truly living in harm’s way.  Not for a moment.  That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t think she is brave for choosing this time to be in Israel.  (It also won’t stop my mother from worrying herself sleepless until she returns in May.)

Each ping of the WhatsApp brings news of the next adventure or a picture from the most recent one.  She has bonded with her group and has started the experience in full.  She is going to have the time of her life and being in Israel – now – will be extraordinarily impactful on her in ways we could guess and ways we cannot imagine.  We are blessed to be able to provide her with this opportunity (and grateful to the many people and institutions who helped us make it possible).

But each ping of the WhatsApp also brings anxiety.  Each news update on the state of the crisis lands differently than it did a few weeks ago.  I don’t feel like I should say this, but I don’t know how to say it differently – obviously as a member of the Jewish People, I always have skin in the game when it comes to Israel.  But now, for a short while, I also have flesh and blood.  And whether it should or not…it feels different.

I share all of this in the spirit of wanting to ensure that we continue to ask ourselves what is the right amount of space the situation in Israel should continue to occupy – for our school, for our families and for ourselves.  I know there is no “right answer” but I guess I hope that whatever newfound insight or empathy (again, I don’t think that is exactly the best word) or perspective having a child of my own living in Israel provides me, that it helps guide me to the right place.  And invite you to reflect for what the right amount of space you believe it should occupy as well.  Are we doing too much or too little as a community?  As a school?  (As a family?)

Let me know what you think.  Let’s make sure Israel remains in our thoughts and our prayers and our actions even as life inevitably encroaches.

It only gets harder and more complicated the longer it goes.



Celebrating Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance & Inclusion Month (JDAIM)

February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance & Inclusion Month (JDAIM) and OJCS is again excited to celebrate and engage its students in meaningful activities and conversations.

“Inclusion” is not simply an issue to discuss once a year, of course, and as part of our formal discussions of how we would celebrate JDAIM this year, we are pleased that teachers from all three faculties (French, Jewish Studies & General Studies) joined with the Spec Ed Department to create a JDAIM Committee to help us take our JDAIM to a new level.  The JDAIM Committee presented at our January Faculty Meeting and reminded everyone that:

For teachers, it’s important to always be thinking with a lens of inclusion in order to support and meet the needs of all learners (Shift the Spec Ed Mindset!!).


It’s important for our students to be open, understanding, and inclusive to ALL members of our community.

We acknowledge that we are always trying to do better when it comes to issues like “inclusion” but never get all the way there.  Because of our school’s personalized learning approach we’d like to say that, sure, “everyone has special needs” but then we focus only on who we presently serve and not who we are-not-yet-able-to and, thus, don’t spend time exploring why.  We’d like to say that “every month is about inclusion” but without JDAIM we would miss a critical opportunity each year to reflect, to learn, to grow and to change.  We want to acknowledge the daily, weekly, and yearly work that we do to incrementally become better able to meet the needs of current students and to increase the circle of inclusivity.  But we also want to use JDAIM each year as a measuring stick and an inspiration – to have our thinking challenged, our minds opened and our hearts stirred.  We are blessed to be part of an interconnected Jewish community with partners to lovingly push and support us on our journey.

Here are just a few examples of how we are gearing up to make JDAIM a special month at OJCS…

…this year the JDAIM Committee has opted for a theme.  In light of the pending renovation, the theme for JDAIM 2024 is “Physical Space”.

…the JDAIM Committee rolled out a set of “choice boards” for both Lower & Middle Schools, as well as a Padlet to our entire faculty that includes all the links and ideas that have been collected, thus far.

…Brigitte Ruel, our Librarian, has a post on “JDAIM Storytime”.

…we will again participate in Jewish Ottawa Inclusion Network (JOIN)’s “Youth Leadership Award Challenge” with an eye towards not only goosing individual participation but group and class participation as well.


…teachers are invited to work with our School Social Worker, Quinn Rivier-Gatt, to lead a workshop with their students on inclusion, kindness, and diversity.

Classroom blogs and student blogfolios will be a great place to find examples of how OJCS lives JDAIM this year.

It bears mentioning that our ability to meet existing needs is supported thanks to generous supplemental grants from Federation that provide flexible furniture, assistive technology, and diagnostic software to benefit learners of all kind.

This Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month, let us be reminded that to truly believe that each is made in God’s image requires that we apply the filter of inclusivity whenever possible.  The work of becoming more inclusive has no beginning and has no ending. Inclusivity is both a process and a journey, one that OJCS has proudly been on for a while and one that we intend to keep walking with our community into the future.

Ken y’hi ratzon.

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

Welcome to “Part III” of our analysis of this year’s CAT4 results!

In Part I, we provided a lot of background context and shared out the simple results of how we did this year.  In Part II, we began sharing comparative data, focusing on snapshots of the same cohort (the same children) over time.  Remember that it is complicated because of four factors:

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

In the future, that part (“Part II”) of the analysis will only grow more robust and meaningful.  We also provided targeted analysis based on cohort data.

Here, in Part III, we will finish sharing comparative data, this time focusing on snapshots of the same grade (different groups of children).  Because it is really hard to identify trends while factoring in skipped years and seismic issues, unlike in Part II where we went back to 2019 for comparative purposes, we are only going focus on four grades that have multiyear comparative data post-COVID: Grades 5-8 from 2021, 2022, and 2023.

Here is a little analysis that will apply to all four snapshots:

  • Remember that any score that is two grades above ending in “.9” represents the max score, like getting a “6.9” for Grade 5.
  • Bear in mind, that the metric we are normally looking at when it comes to comparing a grade is either stability (if the baseline was appropriately high) or incremental growth (if the baseline was lower than desired and and the school responded with a program or intervention in response).
  • In 2023 we took it in the “.1” of the school year and in all prior years in the “.2”.  For the purposes of this analysis, I am to give or take “.1”.

Here are the grade snapshots:

What can we learn from Grade 5 over time?

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

What can we learn from Grade 6 over time?

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

What can we learn from Grade 7 over time?

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

What can we learn from Grade 8 over time?

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

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

The bottom line is that our graduates – year after year – successfully place into the high school programs of their choice.  Each one had a different ceiling – they are all different – but working with them, their families and their teachers, we successfully transitioned them all to the schools (private and public) and programs (IB, Gifted, French Immersion, Arts, etc.) that they qualified for.

And now again this year, with all the qualifications and caveats, our CAT*4 scores continue to demonstrate excellence.  Excellence within the grades and between them.

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

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

Welcome to “Part II” of our analysis of this year’s CAT*4 results!

In last week’s post, we provided a lot of background context and shared out the simple results of how we did this year.  Here, in our second post, we are now able to begin sharing comparative data, focusing on snapshots of the same cohort (the same children) over time.  It is complicated because of three factors:

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

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

Here is a little analysis that will apply to all five snapshots:

  • Remember that any score that is two grades above ending in “.9” represents the max score, like getting a “6.9” for Grade 5.
  • Bear in mind, that the metric we are normally looking at when it comes to comparing a cohort over time is whether or not we see at least one full year’s growth (on average) each year – here we are factoring an expected two full year’s growth between 2019 and 2021.  [Feel free to refer to prior years’ results for specific analyses of both “COVID Gaps” and “COVID Catch-Ups”.]
  • In 2023 we took it in the “.1” of the school year and in all prior years in the “.2”.  If we are being technical, therefore, “.9” would actually be the truest measure of growth since the time frame is “.1” less.  For the purposes of this analysis, I am going round “.9” up and consider it a “year’s” worth of growth.

Here are the cohort snapshots:

What does this snapshot of current Grade 4s reveal?

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

What does this snapshot of current 5s reveal?

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

What does this snapshot of current Grade 6s reveal?

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

What does this snapshot of current Grade 7s reveal?

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

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

To sum up this post, we have so much to be proud of in the standardized test scores of these particular cohorts over time.  The Math and Language Arts Teachers in Grades 3-8 have now begun meeting to go through their  CAT*4 results in greater detail, with an eye towards what kinds of interventions are needed now – in this year – to fill any gaps (both for individual students and for cohorts); and how might we adapt our long-term planning to ensure we are best meeting needs.  Parents will be receiving their child(ren)’s score(s) soon and any contextualizing conversations will be folded into Parent-Teacher Conferences.

Stay tuned next week for the concluding “Part III” when we will look at the same grade (different students) over time, see what additional wisdom is to be gleaned from that slice of analysis, and conclude this series of posts with some final summarizing thoughts.