Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Only a few more hours...

It is the night before we leave for Israel with our 8th graders and I am so excited to be traveling with such an amazing group of students and staff.  Each time I prepare for a trip to Israel, I am still amazed at how it comes together and the excitement that it generates for me, as even though my trips follow a similar pattern, there is nothing like feeling the plane land in Israel after a long flight and feeling that I am visiting an old friend.

The real magic of our school trips to Israel though, are in the eyes of our children.  Whether students have been to Israel before or not becomes a non-issue as they gather their belongings and make their way into Ben Gurion Airport, exhausted from our travels, but exhilarated with anticipation, excitement and pure joy.

For the parents of our 8th graders, this is a milestone event.  Some kids are away from home for the first time; others have been away before, but never this far; and for everyone, this is a jewel in the crown of their day school education.  As educators, we have the privilege of being there when the kids make connections to the material they have been studying in Tanakh and when we see glimpses of independent growth in each child as they take on traveling without their parents and gaining confidence in who they are and who they have become.

Perhaps most important though, is that we are doing it together, as a Kehillah, a community.  While I wish you could all join us on this trip, it just isn't possible.  But I do hope that you will travel with us virtually through blog postings right here and by watching our daily videos.

Israel is always an incredible place, but how much more so when we have the privilege of bringing our students, our children together to walk the land, breathe the air and take in everything that it has to offer.

I look forward to writing to you next time from Jerusalem!

Kol tuv,

Marc Medwed
Head of School

Friday, January 20, 2012

Post Conference Reflections

It has been a few days since I returned from the North America Jewish Day School Conference in Atlanta.  The conference was the third of its kind where all of the major day school networks joined together for learning.  I had the privilege of attending the conference with Dr. Nitzan Resnick and Mrs. Ivonne Krasnick.  Together we enjoyed networking with colleagues from around the country and from a variety of school settings.  A highlight for us was the opportunity to visit The Epstein School, the Solomon Schechter School of Atlanta, as part of the conference to see what things are going on in other schools.  I am proud to share that Dr. Resnick led a workshop that highlighted some of the work that we are doing in our school.

One of my biggest take aways from the conference was having the opportunity to network with many other school heads.  The economic situation all over is really tough and day schools in many communities are feeling the impact.  Schools are "right sizing" and making adjustments to class sizes, budgets and staffing.  There is great concern for the day school movement--not that it is going anywhere but that the landscape is shifting and changing dramatically, with Jewish day schools needing and wanting to reemphasize the value proposition of our schools, as money becomes tighter for people and spending choices are impacted. Education done well is not an inexpensive endeavor and is a major investment for our families, yet from so much research and anecdotal evidence, we know that it is one of the best investments a family can make in the lives of their children.

Networking with other schools also gives us the chance to conduct a litmus test—what are we doing in our school and how does it compare with the initiatives in other places?  It was wonderful to reaffirm that with everything we are doing, our school is clearly a solid place of teaching and learning that provides an excellent education for our students.  While this is a good place to be, we are busy plotting our path for the continued growth and development of our school as we look towards next year and future year, as a school that stops thinking about the future is not a school that we will have!  The educational landscape that we know today is shifting.  While some of what we do is timeless, much will change in the next few years and we are moving with and ahead of the curve as we learn about new technologies, think about bringing more technologies as learning tools into our school and continue to evaluate our curriculum, carefully charting out the skills our children need and the Habits of Minds we want them to develop. This is an exciting time to be in the field of education!

I would love to hear your thoughts on this as and join with me as we explore the next steps for our collective growth as a 21st century school.

Marc Medwed
Head of School

Sunday, January 15, 2012

How Far Have We Come?

I am on a plane traveling to Atlanta for the North American Jewish Day School Conference.  Over 600 Jewish educators will come together for the next three days to share, reflect and learn from each other.  I look forward to writing about the conference, but not right now…

For me, the notion of flying to Atlanta, the birthplace of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the weekend of his birthday and the National holiday which marks his birth, is quite powerful. In school on Friday, our 3rd graders and their teachers conducted a wonderful assembly that taught all of our students a bit of the civil rights movement and about Dr. King’s life and vision.  Historically accurate and appropriate for the K-8 crowd, the assembly program stopped short of bringing the issues to the modern day.

We have come a long way since the days of state sponsored segregation.  But as I reflect on our world today, how far have we really come and how much further to we have to go?  As a parent, I can’t help but think about my children and what they know, how they see the world and how the world in which they are being raised will welcome them.  I also wonder if I am giving them enough to be agents of change—the tools, the desire and the commitment to these values.  We live in a world of inequality, where men still make more money than women, where communities and neighborhoods are not fully integrated, not necessarily by design, but there are places that it does exist.

And in today’s New York Times, a lead article in the New York edition talks about the challenges in Israel right now, where a segment of the population wants to limit the public view, the role and the rights of women.  There is so much to say about this topic and the feelings that it evokes for me as a Jew, as one committed to Israel and as a person who just can’t understand how this can be allowed in a modern country.  As an educator who will shortly take 33 8th graders to Israel, I am thinking about what this means to them and what my obligation is to show them and to teach them about what is going on, to enlighten and to educate.  I don’t know if there is a link between these two ideas, but I think there is a lot that we can learn and teach our children that can transform the next generation.

Change can be a slow process, that I understand, however, I wonder if our collective consciousness is aware and ready to fully engage in the next step to making our communities places where we can live out our beliefs about equality and fulfill the dream of Dr. King while expanding it even further to make our world that makes us proud.

Yes, we have come a long way, but I think the road ahead of us is even longer. How far have we really come?