Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Purple, Purple Everywhere!

What an exciting day it was!  This morning we were treated to a special Hanukkah assembly that the fifth grade put together with their teachers--singing and dancing about Hanukkah to the musical score of Grease!  I often write about the special nature of so much of what we do, and I am excited to have another opportunity.

Learning goes beyond the walls of the classroom in so many ways.  Music is such an important component in our children's lives, that we begin singing to them, often in utero, and many a moment is spent singing songs of joy, ritual songs, and plain old silly songs.  What a great way to learn about the story of Hanukkah, both as the students prepared the presentation of the songs, as they clearly had to learn the words, and for the audience, our whole school, who were able to pick out the key words that appeared throughout the songs, the characters and the plot.  The smiles on the faces of our 5th grade performers and the rousing rounds of applause from our very proud parents, teachers and fellow students made for a great program.

If the program was the cake, our first ever, all-school spirit day was certainly the icing!  Today, most of our students and teachers wore their KSA purple showing spirit and pride in our school.  This was an initiative of our Student Council events committee and rumor has it that they are planning some more fun and spirit for our school.

KSA is both a school like every other and at the same time, is a school like no other; it was purple, purple everywhere as the singing and dancing taught us about the miracles of Hanukkah and the miracles that exist in our lives each day.

May we all be blessed with our everyday miracles and may the lights of Hanukkah continue to shine brightly for all of us.

Marc Medwed,
Head of School

Thursday, December 8, 2011

KSA--A True Gem in our Community

A couple weeks ago, Dr. Michael Agus, President of our Board of Trustees sent a letter to all parents in our community on behalf of the Board. Since then, there have been quite a few questions raised to which I’d like to respond in this forum, as I want to create the opportunity for us to engage in dialogue around the issues that we are facing. As the Head of School, I am so appreciative of the partnership that the Board of Trustees provides for us, for the commitment of each and every member to the success of the school, and for the time and energy our Board members give. We are lucky to have such a dedicated group of individuals who lend us their passion, excitement, and wisdom each day.

Our Kehillah Schechter Academy community is like no other. It is hard to find the words that best describe our school…I often hear from parents that the only way to truly understand our school is to see it in action.
A science fair project board
The warmth of the community, the ability of the teachers to work with each individual child in ways that enable each student to soar higher than before, and the creative engagement in learning that we see in classroom projects, activities like the science fair, the creation of Sukkot and hanukiyot, and of course, all school events like Rosh Hodesh Live--click here to see a video.

The "life size" version from our model sukkah contest.

Creative Hanukiyot made by our students

If you are not a parent in the school or did not have a chance to read the letter, you can click here to see the text.

The letter was an open, honest communication about things going on in relation to the finances of the school. Although there are economic indicators that tell us that the economy is no longer in a recession, many in our community are still reeling from the effects of the downturn in 2008. The school has largely weathered the storm, but now, as we are in the midst of another year of economic challenge, the Board felt it necessary to reach out and begin the conversation and here are some of the reasons why:
1. Since the downturn, the school has been able to assist families who needed increased financial aid in order to remain in the school or to join our school. The level of tuition assistance has gone up, peaking last year at a record high for our school, at a level that is not ultimately sustainable. This year, that number dropped slightly. Throughout this time, we have made a Jewish education financially accessible to every family who applied.
2. Our teachers are an incredibly committed and talented group of professionals. They work many hours per day planning lessons, creating centers for their classrooms, and preparing the wonderful education our children receive each day. Unfortunately, one of the ways we have kept the budget in check has been to keep salaries fixed for the last 5 years.
3. We still own the building at 710 Turnpike Street, though it has been on the market since we moved to our new campus. The building was leased (at a slight profit to our school) until this past June, but at this point is a vacant building and is now a draw on the budget.

So what does all this mean from my perspective and what do we want our parents and the community to take away from the letter and this follow up?

1. The school is in a difficult financial position right now. We are committed to working with every family to keep every student in the school. However, the model of financial aid has to change. We don’t yet know what that will mean for each individual family, but what we do know is that we will do our best to work with everyone, to be open, honest and fair. Some have asked if they should be looking for a new school if they are on financial aid. The answer is absolutely not—we want and need every family to remain in the school so that we can continue to grow and develop our program and welcome more new students in to the school.
2. Our teachers are committed to our school. They love our children, love their work and are passionate about our school continuing to be everything that it can be.
3. Tuition will increase again this year. We recognize that the costs of day school are high and we are working with communal organizations, combing through our budget, and working to increase our donor base so that we can help mitigate steep increases.
4. We continue to aggressively market the Turnpike Street building and know that there is a buyer out there somewhere.

The biggest takeaway, however, is one that hopefully resonates with all of us—we are a Kehillah, a community. The school is an extremely important and integral feature of our community and together, with our collective wisdom, passion, financial support and our ever-precious human resources, we will enjoy continued growth and success!

I welcome you to join the conversation and to engage with us!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A new perspective on community

I had the privilege of attending a workshop last week of the Association of Independent Schools of New England. The workshop was geared to Heads of School and Board leadership. While the day was a fascinating day overall, I was most impressed by the two keynote speakers: Pat Bassett, the president of NAIS (the National Association of Independent Schools) and danah boyd (yes, this is how she types her name), a Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, a Visting Researcher at Harvard Law School, and an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of New South Wales.

Mr. Bassett gave a wonderful presentation about schools of the 21st century and how schools need to change in order to remain competitive in the ever-changing marketplace. Mr. Bassett is a parent of students enrolled in independent schools and is a former Head of School. The biggest takeaway for me from the session was that our school is on the right track--even ahead of the game in the conversations we are having and the things that we are already doing in our school. That felt really great!

The other keynote, by danah boyd, was about social networking and community. Traditionally, many of us would define community by where live, who our friends are, which school our kids go to, etc. For our kids, particularly our teenagers, the notion of community goes well beyond these definitions, takes a more global perspective and casts a wider net, with social networking enabling relationships with friends who live in other geographic areas.

Based on this, kids often feel that social networking sites are the hang out places--that if they can't be together in person hanging out (which studies confirm they prefer), then they act and behave online AS IF they were together in person, hence the nature of some of the online conversations they have. Sociologically, our children desire to be together with their friends, but as the world has changed and they can't always make this happen, the virtual community has become the norm.

As parents and teachers we often struggle to understand how an online community really works, as it if foreign for most adults to think of our community in the virtual sense--we often prefer shmoozing at kiddush after shul or while hanging out on the soccer field watching our kids play. And I recognize that "different" often feels strange...

I am beginning to assimilate these notions and ideas into my thinking and what the changing landscape of community might look like for our children as they continue to grow. I also wonder what impact social networking sites will continue to have on our children's community as they get older and the technology becomes even more available than it is now.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Feedback from a parent after conferences today...

For any parent who is wondering whether our children are adequately prepared for high school when they graduate from KSA, I would just like to say that my child, who graduated with the Class of 2011, and is attending the public high school in a town, which is very competitive academically, was more than well prepared. Report cards for the first quarter came out yesterday and my child, who is taking honors classes, did very well. For that, I would like to thank the dedicated teachers and staff at KSA who taught my child not only the academics, but also gave my child the skills to be a motivated student.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Giving our students their voice in school

It is hard to find the single most appropriate word to describe how I felt when our 7th and 8th graders began to move to their first-ever KSA Student Council Committees. These committees were created by both student and teacher interest and input. Many students cheered as they heard the committees to which they were assigned (based on their top 3 choices). Some appeared nervous about their first assignment – to work within their committees to create a mission statement for their committee…They need to address the following questions: Why did they come together as a committee? What is their purpose? Who are they to serve? What do they want to be remembered for? Could they create a mission statement that was inspirational, and brief? Would their mission statement pass the litmus test of how would it look on a Tshirt and would they wear it? How was their mission statement connected to KSA’s vision? A sophisticated undertaking, no doubt, but then the ideas began to flow….

The events committee began to talk about theme days and how to make school fun “without interrupting school”. “Twin day, Red day for heart health, school spirit day – can we all dress as Hornets?” The Green Committee reached out immediately to the faculty to find areas in the school that might benefit from some tender loving care. Some committees searched for a name for their committee, helping them to bond as a group and develop camaraderie within the committee. Committee advisors – teachers they work with daily but will now work with in a new capacity, as well as our new school social worker and an administrator from the business office who they met for the first time – just another example of how everyone from KSA takes an active interest in our students and is willing to take time during their day to enhance our students’ lives.

Many approaches, many ideas – works in progress – collaboration – all of it good for the students and ultimately good for KSA….Why limit my feelings to one word – so many came to mind – pride, excitement, wonder, awe, anticipation…the possibilities are limitless, just as they are for our KSA Student Council….

Ivonne Krasnick, Assistant Head of School

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Rome wasn't built in a day...

and neither was our sukkah!

Sukkot is my most favorite holiday of the year! When my wife and I first purchased our sukkah many years ago, I was amazed at how long it took me to put it up the first time (yes, I admit that I am not the most handy of individuals!). Over the next few years, I was able to put it up faster and more efficiently. Then something truly amazing happened--putting the sukkah up starting taking me even more time, but I could not be more thrilled with the reasons why this happened.

How excited I was the very first time when my oldest was only 3 and she came outside first thing in the morning ready to build! Needless to say, the time it would take to build was increased, but well worth it. What a highlight it was to see my daughter so excited about our sukkah and the chance to build with her Abba! The excitement was contagious and with each year, her level of participation increased and my other children were also eager to join in.

Fast forward a few years...not only did we begin planning our Sukkah weeks before Rosh Hashanah, my three kids couldn't wait to build together this year. A task that I originally did alone to fulfill the mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah has now turned in to a family affair that does not only fulfill the mitzvah, but is a fine example of hiddur mitzvah, of enhancing the mitzvah, as we build and decorate our family sukkah. Most importantly, we are doing it together.

It is a day and a half before the start of the holiday and the sukkah is not yet finished, however, I have no worries that it will be ready in time for dinner Wednesday night as we begin to celebrate the week with family and friends as we have done for many years. However, sitting in our sukkah this year will have a whole new level of meaning, as it has now become our family sukkah, one that we share together with pride in our work together of building and decorating.

And I, as a parent couldn't be more proud as my kids' excitement for living Jewishly continues to grow.

I wish you all Hag Sameah and a joyful Sukkot!

Marc Medwed, Head of School

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Teshuvah: Spiritual Transformation

The challenge of being married to a fellow Jewish educator is that sometimes it is just too difficult to turn off our work when we are together!

As is often the case, I was speaking with my wife, Dr. Karen Reiss Medwed, about a workshop that she will be giving this Sunday in New Jersey. Her topic “Becoming the Jewish People of the Digital Book” is related to the integration of technology into our schools and into our lives, and what that could look like. A fascinating topic indeed, but what grabbed me more was the idea upon which her workshop is built, which I am sharing here and I look forward to hearing about it from her as she develops it more fully and delivers the workshop next week.

We were reflecting on the fact that it is right before Yom Kippur and in the midst of the holiday season, and that teshuvah, repentance, is a prevalent theme. The question is how does our understanding of teshuvah lead us to transformational thinking about the values that are at the core in our schools and in our lives?

Her answer is interesting one--she goes to a moment in Jewish history to a community that would not adapt or change—the Karaites. For those who aren’t up on their Jewish history, the Karaites were a group of people who determined that their values and their way of life were better than the changes they observed in the larger community. The Karaites therefore chose to hold fast to their values, refusing to embrace change and the innovative direction of the community, i.e. the Rabbinic period whereby Judaism evolved more into what we know today. This decision turned out to be a rather fateful one, as we now study about the Karaites as a community that didn’t survive because of their unwillingness to transform with the times and innovations.

We are living in a world that is very different than the world we knew only five years ago and the world that is coming down the pike will be very different than it is now. We are the people of the book—we have embraced our books throughout time. From the time when everything was written on scrolls, to the advent of the printing press and the creation of books, to the electronic readers on which we can read almost any book in any language, holy and secular.

As I reflect on this workshop idea that she is presenting, I have this spiritual reflection to add: During this time of the Aseret Y’mei Teshuvah, we perform what we call “teshuvah”. This act, the act of teshuvah, is not backwards looking, but rather is very forward looking—we ask forgiveness and then change or transform the behavior so that it doesn’t happen again.

The connection of the two fascinates me as a school leader—we as a Jewish community have survived all of these years because we figured out a way to adapt our ideals and values to the changing world in which we live. We don’t give up who we are, what we stand for, and what is important to us, but we do adapt each of these things so that we will continue to thrive as individuals and as a people.

As we move into Yom Kippur and reflect upon teshuvah being forward thinking, how will we look ahead and adapt our education to the new world in which we are living, where technology is a part of all that we do and so much of what we are, when we can talk to someone around the world as if they are sitting right across from us, where information is at our fingertips, and where our social community is a global one?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts- feel free to share them with me in person or online!

G’mar Hatima Tova,

Marc Medwed, Head of School

Monday, September 26, 2011

Building our Kehillah

This week, we will have the privilege of celebrating Rosh Hashanah and welcoming the new year. For me, an integral part of the celebrating the holiday with family and friends is the process of anticipation and the many thoughts and ideas that I am contemplating about our Kehillah--our international Kehillah, our national Kehillah and of course, our local Kehillah.

I am thinking about Israel and everything that has been going on this past week. I look forward to visiting each year with our 8th graders and to being a part of such an amazing community there. I worry about what will happen as the politics of the region become even more of an issue, not only for Israelis, but for Jews living here in the United States and all over the world.

I am thinking about things here at home--the economy, our government, entering in to another campaign season and the issues that all three of these bring to light for so many of us. The economy continues to be a challenge for so many in our community and in the greater community. The world we live in is changing so fast--things that were a given just a few short years ago can no longer be taken as such. It is so hard to make predictions and to look beyond the immediate present.

But at the same time as I am thinking about these very heavy issues, and yes, I know that I cannot single-handedly make the world everything I want it to be, I realize that I must do my part, and I turn my attention to my local community and to reaffirming what it means for me to build our Kehillah, our community.

I have to admit that I have not worked through all of the answers, but I can share that I have a lot of questions that I'll be thinking about while I am in shul, enjoying time with family and friends and celebrating the new year: What are my strengths that I can bring to my kehillah? What do I do well that I want to share with my synagogue, my school (also my kids' school), and the other organizations in which I am involved? What am I going to volunteer to do this year that I didn't do last year, so that I can help to build our Kehillah? In what ways will I become part of the force to move our Kehillah forward to new heights?

I challenge each of us to ask these questions for ourselves and for our Kehillah, and to answer them by taking action and getting involved. The Kehillah that I want to build, requires us to give of ourselves and to make it our own.

As we learn in Pirke Avot, we are not expected to complete the task, but neither are we allowed to not engage in it. How will you choose to build our local Kehillah this year so that together, we can impact our the greater Kehillah for all of the Jewish people?

I wish everyone a Shana Tova u'Metukah!

Marc Medwed, Head of School

Monday, September 12, 2011

Getting out of the office

"No Office Time" is scheduled into my calendar, three times a week for two hours each time. During these blocks of time, I commit to spending quality time in classrooms—not just walking through, but time being part of different classes so that I can experience what our teachers are teaching and what our students are learning. Don’t get me wrong—I do get out of my office more often than just these blocks of time--each day when I walk around the building to see how things are going, when I spend time with students and teachers at lunch and recess, when I lead the 8th grade boys havurah, and for other special programs and school-wide events. However, the life of a Head of School has many pulls and draws that often have an impact on how I schedule my days.

So if you are wondering how I spend my days as a head of school, if you are thinking that there are meetings involved, you are correct. These meetings are important—they give me time to talk with our leadership team, time to meet with current and prospective parents, and to engage with teachers, students and staff on so many things that take place during the school day.

You probably know that I am not the only school leader who struggles to balance the need for meetings with the need to be out and about with students and teachers in the classroom. Many school leaders, when speaking openly with one another, share similar stories. As a result of these feelings, a group of administrators created a movement that is being celebrated this week: No Office Day, where administrators who sign on are leaving their offices, their telephones, and their email for the entire day as they spend time in classrooms. As we just opened school and the pull for meetings right now is quite compelling, I will be participating in a modified way this week by blocking off a few hours over several days to be in our classrooms.

As I wrote earlier, this won’t be the only time that I am in classrooms, but it is a great opportunity for me. Our teachers and students deserve to see me, their Head of School, while they are engaged in the business we do best—teaching and learning. In this way, I can offer support, provide feedback, and experience for myself all of the wonderful things that are going on in our school.

I am looking forward to spending more time in classrooms, experiencing the joy of teaching and learning with our students, and to sharing so many wonderful things that our students participate in each day.

Marc Medwed, Head of School

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Great First Day

Dear KSA Families,

It was a rainy start to the day, but it was all smiles inside as we began what promises to be a wonderful year at Kehillah Schechter Academy!  Even the outside weather is holding out, as I just saw our kids running around outside at recess.

There is nothing better in the life of a school than to hear the voices of our children filling the halls and breathing life back into a building that stood empty for a good part of the summer.  What a joy to walk through the halls and see our children happily engaged with each other, meeting new friends and reconnecting with old friends as they begin the school year!

Our community is blessed with the presence of each child, the passion for learning that each child brings to school each day, and the commitment of each parent to the holy and awesome work that we do in our school.  I thank you all for being a part of our school and I look forward to seeing everyone each day.

Marc Medwed
Head of School