Saying L’hitraot, Not Shalom

This is the opening assembly of my first day of school at MJGDS.

This is the opening assembly of my first day of school at MJGDS.

So, I guess this is it.

Four years and 177 blog posts later, it is time for me to officially say good-bye. Or, more appropriately for a whole host of reasons – see you later.

It is “see you later” for my Jacksonville community because we will continue to be part of it – as parents, congregants, and active community members.

It is “see you later” for the blog because after a couple of weeks of transition, packing, and setting up the literal “home office”, I will be reintroducing “A Floor, But No Ceiling” and repurposing it in alignment with new my job as Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network.

I cannot think of better words of farewell to offer other than those that I shared with our community during our annual L’Dor V’dor event celebration to those whose generosity allow our schools to thrive and succeed.  And so without further adieu, I bid “l’hitraot” for now…


I got the call during Maytal’s third birthday party that I was coming to Jacksonville and it was just a few weeks later that I first had the chance to address this community at a L’Dor V’Dor brunch honoring Judy Reppert for her years of service, while wearing Jack Mizrahi’s borrowed clothes as my luggage had not made it with us on the journey.  So it is only fitting that my last chance to address this special community comes again with L’Dor V’Dor.

It seems like only yesterday that Jaimee, Eliana, Maytal and I were on an airplane from Las Vegas to Jacksonville to begin this amazing experience of being part of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, the Galinsky Academy and the Jacksonville Jewish Center.  And now, four extraordinary years later, my chapter in the story of our schools is drawing to a close.

There is much to be proud of what we have accomplished together during my time here. Our day school’s almumni’s achievements astound; our volunteer’s passion is unmatched; and our faculty’s love unrivaled.  The Martin J. Gottlieb Day School’s reinvention as a leading 21st century learning institution with an international reputation for excellence is an achievement that required the vision and courage of a synagogue to found and maintain a Jewish day school in Jacksonville, Florida and the generosity of a Jewish community that continues to believe in the power of Jewish education.  And assuredly, none of it happens without the remarkable Mel and Debbie Gottlieb who help give us the tools to build and rebuild a school deserving of their beloved son Marty’s name, of blessed memory.

Two years ago we launched Galinsky Academy – in honor or the enduring spirit of selfless L’dor V’dor shown in the lives of Samuel and Esther Galinsky – and announced the naming of the DuBow Preschool, whose gift endowed to the Academy demonstrated not only the DuBow Family’s commitment to the Preschool’s future, but to all our children as it helps allow all our schools and programs to deliver on their promises and inspire our children to do and be their best.

Galinsky Academy declared our intent to provide Jewish children of all ages the highest quality education possible.  Galinsky Academy consists now of all the schools of the Jacksonville Jewish Center – the DuBow Preschool, the Bernard & Alice Selevan Religious School, the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, and our youth and high school programs. It represents our commitment that all of our children – regardless of the path their parents choose – will benefit from the finest teachers, an engaged clergy, the highest-quality curriculum, innovative informal educational experiences and the most cutting-edge technology.  Galinsky Academy simply is a Jewish learning organization like no other.

There is another reason I feel it appropriate that I am being honored as part of a L’dor V’dor event as it is only because of L’dor V’dor that we have been able to raise the bar at our schools and it is only because of the opportunity and support of this community that the Schechter Network took an interest in our school and in me.  The career path I am about to embark on simply does become available to me if I had not been blessed to wind up in this nurturing and special place.

There is so much yet to accomplish in the Martin J. Gottlieb’s and Galinsky Academy’s bright futures, but I leave with the confidence that the chapter of history that we have written together will carry our amazing schools and programs forward to the next chapters to be written in the many years to come.  As it says in the Mishnah: “Lo alecha ha’mlacha legmor…” – “It is not incumbent on you to finish the work, neither are you free to exempt yourself from it.”  (Mishnah: Avot, 2.16)  I am already working closely with Rabbi Jim Rogozen during this period of transition, but knowing him and our schools as I do, I know that in his capable hands we will only go from strength to strength.

I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to personally thank many of the people who have worked so hard to advise and support me.  Thank you Don Kriss, Hazzan Holzer, Rabbi Olitzky, Shereen Canady, Lois Tompkins, Gayle Bailys, Scott Zimmerman and Lori Schoettler for your collegiality, your collaboration, your guidance, your talent and for making this such an easy place to work.  Thank you Rabbi Lubliner for your mentoring and your trust.  Thank you to Mauri Mizrahi, Gaby Bubis and Alyse Nathans who have chaired our day school and academy and have guided them with strength and care.  Thank you to Michael DuBow and Fred Pozin for your engagement, wise counsel and commitment to our schools.  Thank you to all the committee chairs and committee volunteers – too many to mention – whose gifts of wisdom and wealth behind the scenes make it all possible.

Thank you to Talie Zaifert for four years of admissions excellence and friendship. Thank you to Carol Wagnon for pioneering our professionalization of development.  Thank you to Jessie Roman for being the consummate team player.  Special thank you to my executive assistant, Robyn Waring.  She is the glue that holds the place together. She puts on band-aids and puts out fires.  She’s the best.  Extra special thank you to Edith Horovitz whose energizer-bunny-spirit and remarkable rapport astound and who has been as much a teacher and a friend as she has been a remarkable Middle Vice Principal.  Thank you to my teachers and to all our teachers.  A curriculum is a piece of paper.  All the credit for our schools’ accomplishments goes to you. I am proud to have been your head of school and academy.

Thank you to all the parents and the students.  Thank you for entrusting me with your children.  The responsibility for your children’s education has been the most sacred and holy responsibility I have ever had.  I will miss terribly the daily interactions with students, parents and teachers that have defined my professional life for nearly 15 years.  But I paid my tuition and my synagogue dues on Monday…so I am ready for the carpool line and congregational life!

Please know that my commitment to the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School does not expire when my contract does!  In July, when I become the head of the Schechter Network, proud to call MJGDS one our flagship schools, I will remain inspired to do my part – with you – to carry this dream forward into the years ahead.  I am grateful to Schechter for working with me to re-imagine what leadership can look like in order to allow me to continue to live in this amazing community and to send my children to this amazing school.  I am also ready to continue my commitment to L’dor V’dor.  We continue to live in difficult economic times and we hope you will continue to be inspired – as my family is – to support this fund each and every year as a key component to sustaining the future of our schools, our children, and our community.

It is humbling to officially take my place in the chain of educators who have ensured the past and now hand off to another to secure the future.  So, thank you for giving me a second chance to interview when I blew the first one!  (True story.)  Thank you for the extraordinary lengths you have gone to make us feel welcome.  Thank you for taking care of me and of my family.  Thank you for inspiring me to be my best and for supporting me when I wasn’t.  Thank you for opening doors I never imagined possible and working with me so I could walk through them.  And above all, thank you for your unwavering commitment to Jewish education.

A night like tonight celebrates what we already know to be true – that Galinsky Academy has succeeded in becoming so much more than a place where children learn, but a place where families find community.  A chapter in our family’s story like this one confirms what Jaimee, Eliana, Maytal and I already know to be true – that the Jacksonville Jewish Center has become so much more than a place where our children go to school and I go to work, but our community…our home.

Todah rabah rabah.

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The Transparency Files: MJGDS 2014-2015 Faculty

It is hard to believe that the school year (for students!) ended today at noon!  It is hard to believe that my time as a head of school (with students!) ended along with it…

Next week, I will likely write my last blog post as Head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School and Galinksy Academy before taking a week or two off to reimagine and relaunch this blog as the Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network.  But for today there is, indeed, one last critical piece of business to attend to – to announce who will be leading this remarkable school into the 2014-2015 school year!

I went back to read last year’s posts on this same topic and realized that there were a LOT of big changes heading into this year (BYOiPad, Community of Kindness, a reshuffling of the 21st Century Learning Team, as well as other faculty moves); so many that I needed two blog posts just to explain them all!

The good news is that we have already spent plenty of time discussing the major change at the top, but outside that we will go into next year with remarkable stability and strength. However, before officially announcing the staff, I do want to highlight what few changes there will be.

Mrs. Shelly Zavon, our 4th-5th Grade Mathematics and Social Studies Teacher and longtime 5th Grade General Studies Teacher, will be leaving us to join her husband in their family business.  Mrs. Zavon is a consummate professional who was a big part of our successful move to Singapore Math, departmentalization of Grades 4 & 5, and the launch of BYOiPad.  She had the confidence of her parents, the respect of her colleagues and the love of her students.  She will be missed.

We are very fortunate, however, to be able to promote from within our very own Ms. Michelle Lewis who spent this year as our 5th Grade General Studies Assistant Teacher.  A recent graduate from Northern Illinois University, Ms. Lewis impressed all the faculty she worked with this year with her work ethic and her talent.  She is familiar with our curriculum and our program.  We are excited to see her grow into a lead role!

We are saying good-bye as well to Talie Zaifert, our outstanding Admissions & Marketing Director.  Her warm smile was the first step in many a MJGDS family’s journey through Jewish day school.  After many years of excellence, including developing a national reputation for use of social media, Mrs. Zaifert is ready for new challenges and we wish her all the best in her new ventures.

We are lucky to be welcoming Mrs. Claudia Margolis into the position!  Mrs. Margolis has a professional marketing background and with three children in our schools next year, she will be in a terrific position to pick up the baton and keep running.  We look forward to her joining the team this July.

In addition, we will be bidding farewell to our beloved “Mrs. B.”, Carla Bernard, who after a long and distinguished teaching career – mostly as a lead teacher for Grade Two – will be moving on to new experiences.  Generations of students have counted Mrs. B. amongst their favorites on their journey through our school.  Hers is a career worthy of celebration. Her daily smiling presence will be missed…hopefully she will join the sub list and grace us with that smile for many more years to come!

We are also saying farewell to Ms. Emma Boette who after a successful year as an Assistant Teacher in Grade 3 will be moving into a lead position of her own at a local charter school. We wish her all the luck in the world as she assumes her new, well-deserved, responsibilities.

Finally, we are very pleased to announce the hiring of Mrs. Marci Rogozen as our new Middle School Jewish Studies Tanakh Teacher!  Mrs. Rogozen has her Master’s from the American Jewish University and her Bachelor’s from the University of Washington and has had a distinguished career in the teaching of Jewish Studies – most recently at Golda Och Academy (a large Schechter K-12 in New Jersey) and at Gross Schechter Day School (a K-8 in Cleveland).  Although our clergy will still have meaningful teaching roles in our school, this addition ensures continuity and consistency on our Middle School Jewish Studies Faculty.

With all the announcements and explanations out of the way, it is my pleasure to introduce the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School 2014-2015 Faculty & Staff:

Lower School General Studies Faculty

  • Kindergarten: Mrs. Arlene Yegelwel & (A Second Teacher to be hired soon!)
  • First Grade: Ms. Pamela Lewis & Mrs. Shannon McVearry
  • Second Grade: Ms. Amy Stein & (A Second Teacher to be hired soon!)
  • Third Grade: Mr. Seth Carpenter & (A Second Teacher to be hired soon!)
  • Fourth Grade/Fifth Grade Language Arts: Mrs. Andrea Hernandez & Mrs. Dee Ann Wulbern
  • Fourth Grade/Fifth Grade Mathematics & Social Studies: Ms. Michelle Lewis & Mrs. Joni Shmunes

Lower School Jewish Studies Faculty

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

Middle School Faculty

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

Resource Teachers

  • K-5 Science: Mrs. Karianne Jaffa
  • Music: Mr. Evan Susman
  • Art: Mrs. Shana Gutterman
  • PE: Coach Jared Goldman
  • Jewish Music & Tefillah: Hazzan Jesse Holzer

21st Century Learning Team

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

MJGDS Administrative Team

Administrative Assistant: Mrs. Jessie Roman
Executive Assistant: Mrs. Robyn Waring
Admissions & Marketing Director: Mrs. Claudia Margolis
Middle School Vice-Principal: Mrs. Edith Horovitz
Head of School: Rabbi Jim Rogozen


I will be doing my best to clean up the remaining assistant positions over the next couple of weeks.  We have already interviewed some great candidates and, once confirmed, I hope to have it complete before I officially turn the reigns over on July 1.

I am looking forward to my final days with teachers next week and sharing some closing thoughts after four of the most important, special, and extraordinary years of my life.

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Preparing to say good-bye…

[Programming Note: I regret that I need to delay my final “Transparency File” introducing the 2014-2015 MJGDS Faculty for one additional week.  We have been working hard on our budget and will need until next week to make it final.  I cannot issue contracts until that time…and so even though I do not expect much drama in the announcement, I do need to wait until teachers have signed contracts before I announce them!]


I posted this last night about an hour before Graduation.

And then I hit them up with one of these before diplomas…


I actually do not often speak with notes, but because I like to offer them some personal words, some inside jokes, some Jon-isms, I do occasionally jot them down.  Those that were there will understand the full context…those that weren’t…you might get a taste for how we do things here.  Or, I should say, how I used to do things here…

Last night really marks the beginning the of the end of my time as Head of School of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School and Head of the Galinksy Academy.  Although I will be here through June, with the last day of school with students next week and with teachers, the week after, my time is being spent winding down, trying to take it all in, and reflecting on what I have learned during my four years at this remarkable institution.

This is my 175th blog post.

I never blogged before coming here.

My blog is entitled, “A Floor, But No Ceiling” because that is what I feel our primary responsibility is to all the students entrusted to our care.  That if you place your child in our school, that we will know them better than anyone can and, thus, will have the ability to push them (with love) reach their maximum potential.  That although there has to be a floor (grade level) for each student, there should never be a ceiling on growth.  They should fly as high as their talent and drive can take them.

I hope during my four years we have lived up to that high bar…I know we have tried our very hardest.

My blog is also described as, “How one Jewish Day School Head marries 21st century learning with a 5000 year-old tradition”.  This is a reflection on my educational philosophy about Jewish day school education and probably makes up the content of the majority of my blog posts.  As we shall see in a moment, it is probably the case that I have written more towards the “21st century learning” pole than the “5,000 year-old tradition”, but it is the dialectic between them that is at the heart of my interest as an educator.

To test that theory, let’s look at a Wordle representing the 174 blog posts I have written to date:Wordle_-_Create

Not bad!  Outside of some miscellaneous words (we obviously spent a lot of time blogging about “Whack-A-Haman”!) that the algorthym picks up, this is not too far off from what I would believe is the appropriate content for a blog that has attempted to have the parents of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School as its primary audience and the larger fields of Jewish day school and education as secondary and tertiary audiences.

I am honestly not sure yet how the blog will transition when I transition.  I will have a different audience to be sure, but have not yet figured out what that means in terms of what I will be writing about.  I have a few weeks to think about it before the blog moves from this site to the Schechter Network site at which time I will reintroduce it (and me) and attempt to lay out what new shapes and directions this blog will take.

In the meanwhile, I will spend my final blog posts here continuing to reflect on my experiences and fulfilling my responsibility to communicate essential information and truths to our parents.

Thanks to all who came out to graduation last night.  It was a special evening for all. I am looking forward to our VPK “Moving Up” Ceremony at the DuBow Preschool next Tuesday and to teaching during Shavuot here at the Jacksonville Jewish Center.  I am also looking forward to honoring and saying our official good-bye to my colleague and friend Rabbi Jesse Olitzky on June 4th as part of our closing L’Dor V’Dor Donor Appreciation Event.


[Yes, I’m there too…but come to say good-bye to Rabbi O.!  We’re not going anywhere!]

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The Transparency Files: Standardized Testing

This is our fourth year of publishing the “Grade Equivalent Scores” for the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or ITBS – the standardized test we take annually at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School.  (We did not have comparison data the first year we published results.)  I also blogged that first year about our overall philosophy regarding the proper context for standardized testing.

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

Grade-equivalent scores attempt to show at what grade level and month your child is functioning.  However, grade-equivalent scores are not able to show this.  Let me use an example to illustrate this.  In reading comprehension, your son scored a 7.3 grade equivalent.  The seven represents the grade level while the 3 represents the month.  7.3 would represent the seventh grade, third month, which is December.  The reason it is the third month is because September is zero, October is one, etc.  It is not true though that your son is functioning at the seventh grade level since he was never tested on seventh grade material.  He was only tested on fifth grade material.  That’s why the grade-equivalent scores should not be used to decide at what grade level a students is functioning.

We do not believe that standardized test scores represent the only, nor surely the best, evidence for academic success.  Our goal continues to be providing each student with a “floor, but no ceiling” representing each student’s maximum success.  Our best outcome is still producing students who become lifelong learners.

But I also don’t want to undersell the objective evidence that shows that the work we are doing here does in fact lead to tangible success!

Our graduates the last four years have successfully placed into the high school programs of their choice.  Each one had a different ceiling – they are all different – but working with them, their families and their teachers, we successfully transitioned them all to the schools and programs they qualified for.

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

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

First up is “Language”.

MJGDS ITBS 2014 - LanguageRemember…in order to track a class you have to compare 2012 to 2013 to 2014.  For example, in 2012, the Language Grade Equivalent of Average for Grade Two was 3.4.  In 2013, those kids in Grade Three scored 4.9.  In 2014 those same kids in Grade Four scored 6.8.  That class “grew” 1.5 from 2012 to 2013 and “grew” another 1.9 to this. (Also, the scale stops at 13…it is the highest score available.)

The positive, of course, is that each grade is functioning at an extremely high level!  There are dips up and down, but when both the averages and the diversity level is high, it is hard to find much to point to.  One data point to explore is that almost every class grew over a full grade level, but there is some “flatness” between Kindergarten and Grade One.  They still have high averages, but this is worth looking at further.  It could be that Kindergarden’s high starting point is a mismatch with Grade One curriculum, for example. This is one of the benefits of not teaching to the test…it can sometimes uncover gaps in curriculum.

Let’s move onto “Reading”.

MJGDS ITBS 2014 - Reading

Here again the news is largely positive!  Most grades have growth of at least one grade level, despite high starting points.  Grades One and Three were slightly less.  Next year when we fully embrace the Daily Five, we will have to pay attention to these scores to see how it impacts Grades One-Three.  There was also a dip from Grade 7 to Grade 8 – these scores are awfully high to begin with, but we will have to track to see if this is an anomaly or becomes a trend.

Let’s look at “Math”.MJGDS ITBS 2014 - Math

Again, the overwhelming news is positive.  This marks the third year we are using Singapore Math in Grades K-5, the second year of departmentalization in Grades Four & Five, and we added a new Middle School Math Teacher.  The only trends worth noting is the relatively flat growth in the youngest grades.  The grade averages, even in those grades, are appropriately high and the class averages still show growth.  It is the rate of growth we will need to explore.  [NOTE: It takes a lot of courage for teachers to work under this level of transparency.]  We have noted in the past that the curriculum tends to start out slow and build, and now after a couple of years of similar results it is time to revisit how we supplement the curriculum in the lower grades to ensure maximal growth. It is also worth noting the extreme jumps in the Middle School this year.  This could be due to the impact of students coming out the Lower School with better skills from having been more fully in Singapore Math or it could be the impact of professional growth on our Middle School Faculty…or both!

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

Four years in a row may not be conclusive, but it may be heading towards it!

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

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The Transparency Files: Annual Parent Survey

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

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

The first trend is that this year more parents (32 vs 22 vs. 39 vs. 64) filled out surveys! This is the first time the number has gone up, although it is still a low number considering this represents the number of students whose parents filled them out.  (Remember, it isn’t that 32 separate parents took the survey.  It is the parents of 32 students (many of whom are siblings) who took the survey.

Possible explanations for ongoing low turnout?

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

Possible explanations for slightly higher turnout this year?

Families could be more satisfied or unsatisfied than last year.  Families may believe that the results are taken seriously enough to invest the time in.

Regardless, we have the data we have, so in the spirit of hoping to learn from whatever there is to learn…let’s move on to the results.

Chart_Q2_140515This actually maps pretty well to last year’s distribution once you take into account class size.  Let’s look at the BIG PICTURE:

Chart_Q4_140515The score is still promising, although a bit lower.  On a  scale of 1-10, our average score wound up being a 7.8.  Last year we scored an 8.0.  It is a fairly stable score – especially considering the sample – but definitely leaves us some room to grow.  Let’s dig deeper.

Chart_Q6_140515[If you would like to see the full text of the questions, I need to refer you back to last year’s blog post.  Our survey software changed and I cannot create a clean graph that has the full labels written out.  For consistency sake, I like using the same survey each year, but we may revisit this in the future.]

When it comes to communication, we dipped down almost a full point in just about every category (except electronic communication).   The biggest drop came in providing opportunities for parents to be involved in student learning (which was the highest improvement last year after having been the lowest one the prior year).  Another decrease – and one that takes me by surprises –  was in parent-teacher conferences, which this year saw us expand our Student-Led Conferences from Grades 4-5 to Grades 4-8.  Feedback we received specific to those conferences was positive, so I would have imagined scoring better here.  We will have to go back and be sure we are being clear in what our expectations are in the new format and whether we are meeting them.  I am additionally disappointed considering our renewed emphasis on “Community of Kindness” that our sense of being welcoming dropped.  I do wonder if this is a result of increased expectations, which should only stimulate us to reach higher.  And one place to keep working appears to be ongoing communication about children’s academic status.

All in all, it is a disappointment to see us drop in this area and we will need to do our due diligence in reflecting and planning to do better.  [I will have a thought at the end about what this all means in light of being in transition to a new head of school.]

Chart_Q5_140515I know it is a little crowded, so let me break down some of the highlights.

Let me unpack the non-subject specific areas first:

  • Very similar to above, everything is down about a point.
  • One category worth watching is homework.  We have completely revised the homework guidelines and philosophy this year and I will be very curious to see how this changes in next year’s survey.

General Studies:

  • The big picture remains stable (as does our overall school satisfaction number).
  • Continue to be pleased with the impact of Singapore Math and look to see next year what the impact of expanded use of the Daily 5 will be.
  • The greatest jump up was in Science!  I will attribute this having a first-time, full-time K-8 Science Instructor.
  • But there is still room to grow.  Writing took a drop.  Don’t know if this is connected to our iPad initiative and what the perception of that is on “writing”, but I do know that writing is a critical skill and we either need to do a better job hitting our writing benchmarks and/or we need to do a better job (as it says above) communicating to parents about what we are doing in this curricular area.

Jewish Studies, Resources and Extracurricular Activities:

  • Our marks in all these areas are up from last year!  Perhaps the renewed commitment to Hebrew immersion has finally kicked in, but our Jewish Studies marks are way up and that is something to be proud of!
  • All our resources are up and even our extracurricular activities went up!  We have had new offerings this year and hopefully they are something we can continue to build on.

So there you have it for 2013-2014!

Thanks to all the parents who took the time and care to fill out surveys.  In addition to the multiple choice questions, there were opportunities for open-ended responses.  They added an additional layer of depth; one which is difficult to summarize for a post like this. But please know that all comments will be shared with those they concern as we use this data to make enhancements and improvements headed into next year.  This is especially true in a year of transition.

As I begin to work with Rabbi Rogozen to prepare for his assumption of this headship, my hope and my prayer is simple…

Everything that we already do well, I hope under Rabbi Rogozen’s leadership we continue to do and do even better.  And in each area that we have room to grow, I hope with Rabbi Rogozen’s experience and expertise we grow and grow demonstrably.  I will surely share my thoughts as my time here draws to a close about what we accomplished and experienced together while I was here.  But as a returning parent and as someone who cares deeply about this school, my thoughts about the future could not be more clear – let it only be better and brighter than today…and I am confident that it will!

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Walking Through the Open Door

Jon & ElianaIt seems like only yesterday that Jaimee, Eliana, Maytal and I were on an airplane from Las Vegas to Jacksonville to begin this amazing experience of being part of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School.  And now, nearly four extraordinary years later, we know that my chapter in the story of our school will draw to a close at the end of this school year.

It was almost a year ago that I shared publicly that my next professional challenge was going to be the assumption of executive leadership for the Schechter Day School Network.  I wrote at the time:

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

At this time last year, it was assumed that I would complete my contract here at MJGDS, which would carry me through the 2015-2016 school year.  I entered this year and spent most of it preparing for an additional year of transition.  But because we had the opportunity to begin the search process early, we have been blessed to find someone worth bringing in sooner than later – my friend, colleague and mentor, Rabbi Jim Rogozen!

I am filled with mixed emotions!

I am excited about pursuing my next opportunity with Schechter.  I am saddened to not finish my commitment to MJGDS.  Honestly?  I have not had very much time to process what is happening and have missed lots of opportunities to emotionally appreciate my final “this” and last “that”; my emotional transition will now be condensed to mere weeks. What I do know is that as the days begin draw down, I will find as I go about my regular routine that I will experience many moments of pride in what we have accomplished, sadness to say farewell to the many deep relationships I have formed with students, teachers, families and staff (at least in their present forms), but mostly gratitude for the opportunities we have been given here in Jacksonville…

None of this happens for me if I had not been blessed to wind up in this nurturing and special place.  My commitment to Galinsky Academy will not expire when my contract does!  In July when I become the head of the Schechter Network, proud to call MJGDS one our flagship schools, I will remain inspired to do my part – with you – to carry this dream forward into the years ahead.  Now that the transition is actually happening, I am still very grateful to Schechter for working with me to re-imagine what leadership can look like in order to allow me to continue to live in this amazing community and to send my children to this amazing school.

I will have more to say about this transition – as I walk from that one open door to the next – my reflections on my time here, and more, once I’veOpen Doors had more time to process.  There is so much yet to accomplish in the Martin J. Gottlieb’s and Galinsky Academy’s bright future, but I when I do leave, it will be with the confidence that the chapter of this school’s history that we have written together will carry this school forward to the next chapters to be written in the many years to come.  As it says in the Mishnah: “Lo alecha ha’mlacha legmor…” – “It is not incumbent on you to finish the work, neither are you free to exempt yourself from it.”  (Mishnah: Avot, 2.16)  I look forward to working closely with Rabbi Rogozen during this period of transition, but knowing him and our schools as I do, I know that in his capable hands we will only go from strength to strength.

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Habits of Kindness: “Sharpen the Saw”

paper-chain-in-the-dark-1215912-mWe introduced the LAST of our 7 Habits of Kindness this week at our monthly spirit day assembly!

When our school introduces a new Habit of Kindness, I take it upon myself to blog about the new Habit.  (Last month was “Synergize“.)  Beginning with the fifth Habit, we have been enlisting our Middle School to prepare and present the new Habit at a monthly spirit day assembly.  (You can stay on top of all our Community of Kindness activities by checking out its blog.)  They have been very creative!  Each month’s introduction has typically come with a song or dance that tries to explain the Habit in a catchy way that will stick.  Here’s what they came up with for “Sharpen the Saw”:

Sharpen the Saw

Here’s what it says from the “Leader in Me: 7 Habits for Kids” page:

Habit 7 — Sharpen The Saw

Balance Feels Best

I take care of my body by eating right, exercising and getting sleep. I spend time with family and friends. I learn in lots of ways and lots of places, not just at school. I find meaningful ways to help others.

You can see that our students reinterpreted the ways to “sharpen the saw” into being “Spiritually Fit”, “Mentally Fit”, and “Physically Fit”.

And we hopefully do our best to encourage all of those kinds of fitnesses in our school. Certainly being a Jewish day school provides plenty of opportunity for spiritual fitness, which is one of its many benefits.  And unlike many or most public schools, we have managed to hold on to three-days-a-week PE, critical for fitness as childhood obesity continues to plague our youth.  We do our best to offer healthy options with our hot lunch program, but do struggle with the amount of sugar and snacks that the many birthdays and holidays bring with them.  This is something we plan to revisit next year.

Of course mental fitness goes along with schooling, but one advantage to being a leader in 21st century learning is that it provides tons of opportunity for kids to “learn in lots of easy and lots of places, not just at school”.  We agree!


Part of my goal of blogging about the habits is not just to demonstrate how the school attempts to foster them, but to model my own attempts to foster them.  So how am I doing?

Unfortunately, being a mourner has definitely enhanced and strengthened my spiritual fitness.  This is something I blogged about recently with regard to my daily minyan attendance.

Mental fitness?  If I reinterpret the language for children into workaday life, mental fitness here would mean that I find opportunities to learn outside what I am required to learn or think about to perform my job.  For years (many years), my graduate work and my dissertation-writing were more than sufficient to ensure mental fitness.  For the last couple of years?  Outside of many robust games of Words with Friends, my mental fitness may be lacking!  I love the opportunity Shabbat affords me to be with family and friends…they are also my only hours to read…would hate to have to choose between those two!  And by the time my kids fall asleep on Friday have I.  So I definitely need to “Be Proactive” and do some goal-setting for future mental fitness.

That leaves physical fitness…

So I recently had a birthday and with it, a physical.  Now my wife and I share the same general practitioner and by the time my blood work had come back, my doctor decided to share it with her before sharing it with me.  Which explains why I came home from work one day last week to find a variety of items awaiting me from a recent grocery trip:

Oatmeal.  Tunafish.  Whole grain bread.  Fish Oil.  Almonds.

So, apparently my meal plan from now until eternity is set!  I will be eating oatmeal for breakfast, dry tunafish sandwiches for lunch, almonds for snacks and fish oil for supplements.  I am two weeks in and hopefully soon I will adjust to the idea of never enjoying eating again…

In all seriousness, as someone who just lost a parent who waited (perhaps) too late to take diet and exercise seriously, I definitely am willing to sacrifice potato chips to live a long and healthy life.  So, bring on the almonds!

Exercise.  I do remember it.  And I will absolutely “Put First Things First” and prioritize getting my tuchus out of my office chair at work and couch at home and in motion on a more regular basis.


That’s how plan on sharpening my saw…how about you?

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The Transparency Files: Evaluation of Self

How great was it to have everyone back after Passover Break!  Super great!  A school without students is just a building…it is good to be back and headed towards the home stretch!  The final quarter of school has begun…

And so,ucm206324 I would like to begin my annual series of “Transparency Files” blog posts which begins with my own evaluation, soon moves to reveal the results of this year’s Parent Survey, follows with a discussion on this year’s standardized testing results and concludes with a conversation about next year’s faculty and schedule.

We are in that “evaluation” time of year!  As Head of the Day School, I have the responsibility for performing the evaluation of staff and faculty each year.  [As Head of Academy, I have the responsibility for performing evaluation of school heads each November.]  Fittingly, they have an opportunity to do the same of me.  Our annual Faculty Survey presents current teachers and staff with the opportunity to provide anonymous feedback of my performance as head of school.  Please know that it is sent unedited to the Head Support & Evaluation Committee as part of their data collection for my evaluation.

If you want to see context, I invite you begin with last year’s blog post.  This year’s self-evaluation is based on new goals for this year.  You will not find a complete laundry list of my day to day responsibilities.  Nor will you find my goals as Head of Academy.  (I intend to reflect on my second year as Head of Galinsky Academy in an upcoming post.) Here, then, are selected components from my self-evaluation for the 2013-2014 MJGDS academic year:

Extend dedicated science instruction throughout the lower school of MJGDS.

Building upon one of our major accomplishments from last year was ensuring our students in the lower school (K-5) had the requisite amount of science instruction according national standards for science education.  This year we hired our first-ever, full-time K-8 Science Instructor!  Mrs. Jaffa has ably stepped into the shoes left behind by our long-time Middle School Science Teacher, Mrs. Burkhart, while beginning to create her own unique identity.  And she has significantly raised the bar in our Lower School, ensuring that love of science begins at the youngest grades.  “Science” is the “S” in “STEM” and we are pleased that it is becoming one of our strengths.


Our work with Jewish Interactive was a huge success!  Students researched and gathered the Jewish content to be included in their game, developed a curriculum and learning objectives, scripted an instructional game design, and developed characters and graphics. Every step of the process was supported and guided by the team and educators at MJGDS and the Jewish Interactive team.  We see this is an exciting new direction which ties together so much of what excites us about education – student ownership of learning, Jewish and General Studies integration, differentiated instruction, gaming theory, etc.

We hit our goal of over 1,000 downloads and are now dreaming new dreams!

Habits of Kindness

“Community of Kindness” made a great slogan and a lousy call to action.  We all recognized the need to be more “kind” and to ensure that our community acted with increased “kindness” to all…but what exactly do you do?

The first strategic decision was to pull the initiative in-house (last year we worked in partnership with Jewish Family & Community Services) and give the position to a full-time employee with knowledge, experience and relationships that transcend the academy, and so we named Stephanie Teitelbaum as our Galinsky Academy Community of Kindness Coordinator.

To further answer that question and to provide us with a common vision, language and set of behaviors we turned to a well-researched set of habits, seven of them to be exact.

With a huge assist from Andrea Hernandez, who had been quietly encouraging this for at least five years, we went ahead and adopted and adapted The Leader in Me.

We began at Faculty Pre-Planning when we held a joint session of DuBow Preschool and Martin J. Gottlieb Day School Faculty introducing the big idea and how we plan to proceed.  Teachers of similar ages and grades were led through brainstorming activities on how to incorporate the first two habits as it is our plan, beginning in September, to focus each month on one habit.  [The Bernard and Alice Selevan Religious School and Makom Hebrew High came on board as they opened up.]  We began introducing the “habit of the month” at assemblies led by our middle school students.  Activities were grade and age appropriate and included stories, lessons and resources.  Parents were able to find evidence of how the habits came to life on school websites, classroom blogs, and student blogfolios.

Student Advisory

This year at MJGDS, we implemented a new Advisory Program.  Each student in Grades 4-8 was assigned a teacher or staff member to assist the student in achieving his/her academic and personal goals.  The advisor is an advocate to address personal, spiritual, social, and academic issues for each child.

What are the benefits of a student advisor?

Advisory offers emotional support for students. Social networks at this age can be extremely difficult for children.  The advisor will supply support in challenging social and academic situations. The advisor will also provide a system to help new students acclimate to our school.

The advisor is someone the student knows s/he can trust and talk to about his/her progress in school. Advisors will help promote self-esteem and security.  The advisor will become an additional contact person for parents, increasing their involvement, which is linked to student achievement at all levels.   Each advisor is responsible for particular students, and each student will report concerns to their assigned advisor.


We went through a thorough revision of our homework vision, philosophy, guidelines and are continuing an implementation conversation to ensure that what homework we do give is authentic, meaningful, and of appropriate length of time.

Those are just some highlights…as has been my custom, you will also get an honest look at my shortcomings when I incorporate data from the Faculty and Parent Surveys in upcoming posts.  Additionally, I will be sharing the unedited version of my self-evaluation as well as the unedited version of their evaluation of me on our faculty ning.  Hopefully it will spark further opportunities for conversation and growth.

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The Transparency Files: Homework Wars III – Return of the Homework

home-work-close-up-1-1126726-mYou may recall that in Episode I, which came out in late November, I blogged about what was then a pending conversation our faculty was going to have in order to revisit and realign our school’s homework philosophy with our learning target.  In that post, I suggested some likely ideas that I imagined would make their way in based on all the work we have done these last few years making our beliefs about teaching and learning more explicit.

In Episode II, which came out in late January, I blogged about the process our faculty had gone through to create a new philosophy and set of guidelines for homework at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School:

We introduced the project at the December Faculty Meeting in a really interesting way. One member of our 21st Century Learning Team, randomly went onto class blogs and picked homework assignments that were then presented to the faculty to open the meeting.  The question was then asked: “How long do you think this assignment ought to take the ‘typical’ students in this grade?”

The results were clarifying to say the least.  Just about each assignment – regardless of grade level or subject – was estimated to take anywhere between 5-40 minutes!

So if our own teachers couldn’t agree about how long an assignment ought to take our students to complete, imagine how our parents and students feel!

This was a great introduction into a conversation about revising and articulating our school’s homework philosophy.  Unlike other decisions in our school, I made it clear to faculty that although they would have input, the ultimate decision would be mine.  [In our school we peg decisions on a hierarchy of decision-making.  Some decisions they make with my input.  Some decisions I make with their input.  Some decisions require consensus.  Some decisions are made democratically.  And so on.  I find it helpful to make this transparent to teachers so expectations are clear and there are no unnecessarily hurt feelings.]  They were given the month to provide me with feedback to a draft.  I was then to report back at our January Faculty Meeting what the new “MJGDS Homework Philosophy & Guidelines” were to be.

And so I did and I shared it in Episode II.

The final step in the process was and is, perhaps, the most important and complicated – implementation.  Every teacher wants to and believes he or she is giving important and authentic homework.  Every teacher wants to and believes he or she is giving homework of appropriate length and content.  And yet…every teacher struggles to make those beliefs come true.  What does it really mean for homework to be “authentic”?  How can we be sure that the assignments we give are essential, necessary, meaningful and time-respectful?

Those questions we began to answer at our April Faculty Meeting.  And in true MJGDS style, we utilized what is fast becoming a favorite pedagogy of ours: Speed Geeking!  This time we selected five faculty representing different grades and different subjects who are experimenting with authentic homework and we “Homework Geeked”.2014-04-08 16.33.33 2014-04-08 16.33.46 2014-04-08 16.33.59 2014-04-08 16.34.08 2014-04-08 16.34.29

Like any “geeking” experience, it was both too quick and not quick enough.  Faculty had enough time to get the basic idea from each Homework Geeker and to start to explore how that idea may or may not translate to their grade/subject, but not enough time for deeper engagement.  We got to experience a range of ideas from badge learning for Lower School Math Enrichment to VoiceThread for Jewish Studies to flipped learning for Middle School Math to authentic reading as part of a Daily 5 philosophy (that we are going to extend school-wide next year) to family engagement for Kindergarten Social Studies.

And as we went around each table, there were a whole host of other great examples and ideas put on the table and shared.  All faculty were asked to continue the conversation and the sharing on our Faculty Ning.  Faculty were also asked to think about other ideas that go along with an implementation strategy such as…

  • How will teachers who share a grade communicate with each other about daily homework to ensure appropriate time management?
  • How will we coordinate quizzes, tests and other major projects that – along with daily homework – must not only pass the “authenticity” test, but must also be factored into appropriate time management?
  • How will we solicit feedback from students and parents to ensure that our time expectations are accurate?
  • How will communicate with parents so they will understand our homework philosophy, guidelines and implementation strategy in order to be the critical partners we need to achieve success?

As we head into the final quarter of the school year, answering these questions will hopefully bring peace to the “Homework Wars” and usher in a new age of “Homework Authenticity”!  Stay tuned…



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What STILL no “Model Seder” this year?

This was originally published last year also the week prior our Passover activities.  I have revised it slightly…

Kitah Gimmel Model Seder 2012Regardless of whether the thought of not having a “model seder” to attend this year makes you happy or sad, let’s revisit the “model seder” and why we have changed up our Passover programming here at MJGDS.

What, exactly, is a “model seder” supposed to accomplish?  Do we need to do one in each grade?  And if not, are there other Passover experiences we can offer families that might be nice to experience as well?

At the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, we had been pretty consistently offering pretty consistent-feeling model seders year after year for quite a while.  Are they rehearsals for the main event?  Are they just-in-case some families have no other Passover experience?

I admit that year before last I hit a bit of a “model seder” wall.  I had my own two children’s to attend.  And I had to make meaningful appearances at every other one in both the Preschool and the Day School.  By the time we got to Passover itself, I really wasn’t in the mood for two more!  I mean I love charoset, gefilte fish, and matzah as much as the next person…

We do believe in the “model seder”.  The seder itself is amongst the most powerful pedagogies ever developed.  Celebrating a holiday through reenactment is experiential education at its finest.  We like it so much we have created them for Tu B’Shevat, Yom Ha’Atzmaut and holidays!  And we do in the Jewish day school feel a certain pressure to provide Jewish experiences of holidays to ensure all our families have opportunities to participate.  Hence, our monthly “All-School Kabbalat Shabbat” services and this year’s Purim celebration (we felt we needed to acknowledge Purim in school even though it fell on a weekend this year).  Basically, outside of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we celebrate the entire Jewish calendar in school – whether they fall during school or not.  So we were not going to get rid of Passover.  But maybe we could provide a differentiated educational experience?

So the Jewish Studies Faculty and I met after that Passover to reflect and to plan, and we were pleased last year deliver a K-8 differentiated Passover experience for MJGDS students and families:

  • Kitah Gan: First “Model” Seder
  • Kitah Alef: First Hebrew “Model” Seder
  • Kitah Bet: Hebrew Passover Play
  • Kitah Gimmel: Historical Reenactment “Model” Seder
  • Kitot Daley & Hay: A Passover Experience
  • Kitot Vav – Chet: Lead Seder at Mt. Carmel in partnership with JFCS

Feedback from students, parents, and teachers last year was extremely positive and so next week we will try it again!

Each grade (or grade grouping) has its particular theme or experience (or both).  Every student will have learned appropriate Passover material and each family will have a chance to have an appropriate Passover family experience.  Hopefully, the differentiated experience will continue to give our students something new to look forward to each year…and give our parents and families (particularly those with multiple children) something different to experience with each child.

Looking forward to all the pre-Passover excitement coming soon!

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