The very first thing we do at the beginning of each school year is gather together as a school community and celebrate the ceremony of Havdalah. Havdalah literally means “separation” and is the ceremony that marks the transition between Shabbat and the weekday. Because of its length (short), melody, and prominence in Jewish camping, Havdalah is a relatively popular ritual even with those who are less ritually observant. Part of what makes any ritual powerful is its ability to infuse the everyday with transcendent meaning. My small way to lend transcendence to the typical “Back to School” assembly is to use the power of Havdalah to help mark the transition between summer and the start of school.
And so this past Monday morning, the students and faculty of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School marked the transition between the summer that was and the school year that is presently unfolding with a heartfelt Havdalah.
I told my faculty during “Pre-Planning Week” (click here for a reflection of that week) that I had never been this excited for the start of a school year in my 8 years as a head of school. All the work of the last two years combined with a cast of talented, dedicated, loving, enthusiastic returning and new teachers (click here for a list) has led us to this point. We are as ready as we have ever been to deliver on the the promise of “a floor, but no ceiling”. And this first week has more than lived up to my expectations.
It has been wonderful to walk the school, to feel the positive energy oozing through the walls and see the smiling faces of our students and parents. As we say this time of year, “Shofar so good!”
Our newest faculty members are acquitting themselves with great aplomb and our returning teachers have plenty of new tricks up their sleeves to mix with their tried and true excellence. We are focused on ensuring that we take the time at the beginning of the year to create classroom communities of kindness. We have added 33% more faculty to lunchtime supervision to make sure the good work of the morning doesn’t fall through the cracks of lunch. The first week of the departmentalization of Grades 4 & 5 has been a success (with the normal amount of confusion newness brings) and evidence of the power of looping (click here for a fuller description of how we approach Grades 4 & 5) is already manifest. Dedicated science instruction in the Lower School (click here for our Lower School schedule and rationale) is a success. And in my meetings with faculty to lay out their professional development plans for the year, I can see the impact their summer reading (click here) is already having on their practice. If the next thirty-nine weeks go as well this one, the 2012-2013 school year will, indeed, be a very special one. Be excited.
Two business notes and a personal one…
Our annual PTA Magazine Drive kicks off next week with an assembly. This year’s drive, one of our biggest fundraisers, will take place over two weeks. It will, like last year, have incentives to encourage student participation. [It won't be frogs this year and no one is being "kidnapped", but I can't give the schtick away here!] We took in a lot of feedback last year, the first one in which the administration and faculty actively participated, and based on that feedback have made a few adjustments to ensure the most positive experience possible. Although it is a fundraiser and the only way those funds are raised is through the selling of magazines, we have worked with our vendor to put “literacy” out in front as the primary motivation for purchasing a magazine. It will be, we hope, as much a literacy campaign as anything else. And, therefore, in addition to earning tokens through sales, students will also have opportunity to earn tokens through reading. In addition, we have scaled back the opportunities for trading and the overall length of the drive to reduce distractions and to prevent student enthusiasm from encroaching on academic time. Finally, in a developmentally appropriate way, we will explore how to explain to students why our schools, like most schools, engage in fundraising activities. That will, we believe, provide meaningful context. We are looking forward to our best magazine drive yet!
Save the date: edJEWcon 5773.1 – April 28-30, 2013!
And on a personal note, lots of people have asked me if the cover girl on the newest volume of “Voices of Conservative Judaism” (click here for the whole PDF) is my oldest daughter, Eliana. It, in fact, is! United Synagogue asked all the Schechter schools to submit photos over a year ago for possible publication and without any notice, my daughter wound up in people’s mailboxes this week. I can ensure you that no nepotism was involved, but we certainly appreciate seeing our daughter (circa two years ago when she was in Kindergarten) on the cover. As you can tell from the picture above, she gratefully takes after her mother.
Thanks to everyone who took the time to let us know that they saw it!