Friday, May 25, 2012

A Day of Inspiration

Inspiring Jewish souls is our primary goal as a Jewish school. Our school and our classrooms are sacred spaces that nurture our children's natural sense of wonder and radical amazement.  Today was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate that inspiration.

This morning, our Gan Bet families celebrated their milestone at which every student received their Torah journal at the foot of Mount Sinai.  The students proudly shared their work with their families and friends as we all celebrated their wonderful accomplishments.

We were inspired again at our Memorial Day assembly led by Mr. Waldman and our 7th graders.  Verses from Torah mixed with historical narrative and remembrances of fallen soldiers brought us together as a community, proud to be Americans.  A highlight of our program was when we welcomed Elliot Chefitz back to our school.  Elliot attended Kehillah Schechter Academy and is a veteran soldier of both the Iraq and Afganistan wars.  His service was honored with a standing ovation from our students.

Our 7th and 8th graders served on the Sanhedrin (the High Court) as Rabbis Barry Starr and Miriam Spitzer joined Rabbi David in a lively debate about the authority of Torah from Sinai.  (Rabbi David's position won!)

Our day ended with all of our students coming together to create a KSA Torah with words and images of all of the Torah we have received and learned throughout the past year.  Each grade gathered around a large piece of parchment (butcher paper) to record their memories and lessons.  A number of 8th grade "Kohanim" then received these Torah tributes and stitched them together into one long sefer Torah.

In the book of Sh'mot (Exodus) we learn:

וַיֵּצְאוּ כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִלִּפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה. כא וַיָּבֹאוּ, כָּל-אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר-נְשָׂאוֹ לִבּוֹ; וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר נָדְבָה רוּחוֹ אֹתוֹ, הֵבִיאוּ אֶת-תְּרוּמַת יְהוָה לִמְלֶאכֶת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וּלְכָל-עֲבֹדָתוֹ, וּלְבִגְדֵי, הַקֹּדֶשׁ.

"Then the whole Israelite community withdrew from Moses’ presence, and everyone who was willing and whose heart moved them came and brought an offering to HASHEM for the work on the tent of meeting, for all its service, and for the sacred garments."

Before leaving, the students brought their bikkurim (fruit and vegetables) and placed them in baskets that are being given to the Stoughton food pantry.  There is no greater inspiration than seeing 200+ children all doing a mitzvah together!

Today was a day of inspiration - very much like every day at Kehillah Schechter Academy.

Please don't forget to join us for one of our two upcoming Community Conversations this coming week on Tuesday and Thursday at 7:00pm.  We look forward to seeing you and sharing with you all of the inspiration that is KSA!

D-Res and Rabbi David

Friday, May 18, 2012

Happy Grandparents' and Special Visitors' Day!

Happy Grandparents' and Special Visitors' Day!


It was so wonderful seeing so many generations of the Kehillah Schechter family here today celebrating our community's Jewish and academic values .  Thank you to the entire Grandparents' and Special Visitors' Day team for making today so special.  A special thank you also, to our teachers who welcomed our guests into their classrooms and shared with them the holy work that we do here everyday.


Today, we all celebrated as a school kehillah (community) cherishing our students' talents and reveling in the joy of Shabbat. Then we divided into smaller learning kehillot (learning communities) in which grandparents and special guests joined teachers and students in experiential learning. 


We, along with the entire leadership team and the teachers and staff, have been working hard visioning and dreaming for our future.  Learning in kehillah (community) is an idea that you will hear much more of in the coming weeks.


We are excited to share with you some of our thinking.  We also want to hear from you - your dreams, questions, your comments and insights.  Please mark your calendars and plan on joining us at one of two upcoming KSA Community Conversations - Tuesday evening, May 29th and Thursday evening, May 31 from 7:00pm-9:00pm.  You don't need to come to both but we sincerely hope you will join us for one or the other.


Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David and Dr. Resnick

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Wonderful Week of Learning

We have had a wonderful week of learning.  Mazal Tov to Gan Aleph who celebrated their milestone on Friday morning.  A special thank you to the board of directors and parents who provided such a beautiful and delicious lunch for our teachers and staff members on Tuesday.  It really was fantastic!

We thought we would share with you a beautiful story, just one of many, from this past week at KSA.  This story comes to us from Michelle Kwitkin-Close, one of our outstanding middle school Judaics teachers.
I'm doing hasheivat ha-aveidah, the laws of returning lost property, in 7th grade Rabbinics and a student came up to me after class last week and said he found $3 on the back table in the classroom. I was sure he was making it up as a test case for what the mishnah says but he assured me that it was real. So we agreed to stash the money underneath a box in the back of the classroom and see if anyone came looking for it. (since the mishnah says that money without any identifiable marks does not need to be "proclaimed.") 
I promptly forgot all about it until this afternoon, after class, the kid reported back to me that the money was still safe in its hiding place. I told him that according to the mishnah's rule, he got to keep it. He smiled and pocketed the cash. 
Then, 5 minutes later, he caught up to me on my way to the photocopying machine, and said that he'd changed his mind.  "You take it, Ms. Kwitkin-Close. Give it to the school -- I'm sure they could use the money for something." 
I came back with a counter-proposal. I asked the student if he'd be willing to go into a lower school classroom to talk to the kids about "lost and found" from a Jewish perspective, to share his story, and to contribute the $3 to their classroom tzedakah box. He was happy with this idea -- and so was Morah Miriam, when I asked her if she'd like Ross Shore, this wonderful middle school student, to come into her class to talk to her kids.
Thank you to all of the parents that stepped into our office to share their support, concern, questions and ideas. Please continue to do so so that our relationships with you can grow and strengthen. And, of course, a special thank you to our teachers who, together with us, are dreaming about the future of our school.  These are exciting times for us; innovation, creativity and spirituality are all coming together in our classrooms and our community!

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Apology and Happy Lag B'Omer

Dear Friends and Families,

This is just a short note to apologize. We had some technical difficulties with our new email address: heads@ksa-ne.org. I think we have them all worked out now. If you didn't receive a prompt response to a message you sent please forgive us. 

Since Thursday is Lag B'Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer, let us be amongst the first to wish you a very happy Lag B'Omer.

Lag B'Omer is a festive day on the Jewish calendar. It is celebrated with outings (on which the children traditionally play with bows and arrows - not at KSA though :), bonfires, and other joyous events. Many visit the resting place (in Meron, northern Israel) of the great sage and mystic Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the anniversary of whose passing is on this day.

Lag B'Omer also commemorates another joyous event. The Talmud relates that in the weeks between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot, a plague raged amongst the disciples of the great sage Rabbi Akiva, “because they did not act respectfully towards each other.” These weeks are therefore observed as a period of mourning, with various joyous activities proscribed by law and custom. On Lag BaOmer the deaths ceased. Thus, Lag B'Omer also carries the theme of the imperative to love and respect one’s fellow (ahavat yisrael).

We hope you'll join us along with many other Jewish communities in the South Area at the annual Lag B'Omer BBQ at Lake Massapoag Thursday evening at 5pm.  The sun should be shining by then according to weather.com.  You can RSVP here.

If you'd like to learn more about Lag B'Omer, click here for a full and complete treatment courtesy of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

Rabbi David and Dr. Resnick

Friday, May 4, 2012

From Your Heads of School

(This is a longer version, with much more detail, of a letter sent to the KSA community on Friday, May 4, 2012.)

Dear Parents and Friends,

We are both honored and humbled at the opportunity to deepen our involvement with the Kehillah Schechter Academy school and community. We are also so appreciative of your support and trust. Indeed, the work ahead is sacred: To continue building a community of learners and menschen together with you, along with our teachers, our staff, our students, and our supporters. We feel blessed to stand on the shoulders of Jane Cohen and Marc Medwed. We believe that our work together will bring our school to heights we've only dreamed of reaching.

While we come to the table with our different opinions and backgrounds, we also also come with many similarities. Primary amongst them is that there is so much to celebrate about our school. We want to nurture and grow those strengths. At the same time, as the leaders of a Kehillah Kedosha (a spiritual community of learners), we are also committed to doing a cheshbon hanefesh (an honest accounting) of all those aspects of our school that could improve. We believe that growth and renewal are central tenets of Judaism and want to model this for our students.

We are dedicated and determined to teach our students that -- to paraphrase Aristotle -- excellence is a habit. We strive to help each of them become a Jewish citizen of the world that excels in his or her own way and time. We want to teach each child in our school as a whole person. We are devoted to challenging their minds, building their skills, opening their hearts and igniting their spirits.

Academically, we are planning to deepen our commitment to ensure the growth of the students based on their strengths, learning pace and style. The area of academics include content knowledge, skills and attributes (habits of mind). Only by mastering all three pillars can students successfully tackle challenges and confront problems - the answers to which are not immediately known. It is our hope to create personal measurable goals for our students in the areas below; goals that will enable meaningful growth for each student.

Note that these areas are interwoven in all subjects.
  • Communication: “How do I take in and express ideas?” This goal is to be a great communicator: to understand your audience, to write, to read, to speak and listen well, to use technology and artistic expression to communicate, and to be exposed to another language. 
  • Empirical Reasoning: “How do I prove it?” This goal is to think like a scientist: to use empirical evidence and a logical process to make decisions and to evaluate hypotheses. It does not reflect specific science content material, but instead can incorporate ideas from physics to sociology to art theory. 
  • Quantitative Reasoning: “How do I measure, compare or represent it?” This goal is to think like a mathematician: to understand numbers, to analyze uncertainty, to comprehend the properties of shapes, and to study how things change over time. 
  • Social Reasoning: “What are other people’s perspectives on this?” This goal is to think like an historian or anthropologist: to see diverse perspectives, to understand social issues, to explore ethics, and to look at issues historically. 
  • Personal Qualities: “What do I bring to this process?” This goal is to be the best you can be: to demonstrate respect, responsibility, organization, leadership, and to reflect on your abilities and strive for improvement. (Big Picture - http://www.bigpicture.org
The second area where we hope to grow our academic program is Integrated Curriculum and Project Based Learning. Project based learning (PBL) is a “systematic teaching method that engages students in learning essential knowledge and life-enhancing skills through an extended, student-influenced inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks.” (http://pbl-online.org/About/whatisPBL.htm).

In today’s world boundaries between content disciplines disappear and great innovations result from crossing these boundaries. At KSA we want to teach our students to think innovatively and to promote creativity. In the past years students have been engaged in PBLs that integrated Social Studies and Science, Judaics, Hebrew and Science, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and Language Arts. Next year, our lower grades (K-2) will participate in Project Based Learning that integrates STEM, Judaics, Hebrew, Language Arts and Social Studies, with a strong emphasis on computation through robotics. The program, under the auspices of Tufts University and Prof. Marina Berrs, will bring new robotic systems into our K-2 classroom, and will be run by our teachers (following their summer professional development) with the support of students from Prof. Berrs’ lab.

We will continue to introduce similar Project Based Learning in other grades and some of this learning will be done collaboratively with other schools (nationally and internationally) using e-learning techniques.

Hebrew language, Tanakh (Bible), Torah She’b’al Peh (Rabbinics), T’fillah (Prayer), Hagim (Holy Days and Holidays), Mitzvah (Commandments) and Israel are all core elements of our Judaics curriculum and program. This summer we will be looking carefully at each of these areas of study. We will be asking how they integrate with other subjects, how they build and deepen year after year and how they inspire our students to living jewishly. We will explore how we can mesh traditional Jewish learning (Beit Midrash, Chevruta) with 21st century teaching techniques.

Educating the whole child also requires that we nurture our students’ social and emotional intelligence. In 1995, Daniel Goleman's book, Emotional Intelligence, provided exceptional reporting and culling of research on social and emotional competencies.

Goleman's work teaches us that children's emotional and social skills can be cultivated, so that the child will accrue both short-term and long-term advantages in regard to well-being, performance and success in life. He outlines five crucial emotional competencies basic to social and emotional learning:
  • Self and other awareness: understanding and identifying feelings; knowing when one's feelings shift; understanding the difference between thinking, feeling and acting; and understanding that one's actions have consequences in terms of others' feelings. 
  • Mood management: handling and managing difficult feelings; controlling impulses; and handling anger constructively 
  • Self-motivation: being able to set goals and persevere towards them with optimism and hope, even in the face of setbacks 
  • Empathy: being able to put yourself "in someone else's shoes" both cognitively and affectively; being able to take someone's perspective; being able to show that you care 
  • Management of relationships: making friends, handling friendships; resolving conflicts; cooperating; collaborative learning and other social skills (http://www.aboutourkids.org/articles/social_emotional_learning_what_it_how_can_we_use_it_help_our_children
Because we recognize the centrality of social and emotional intelligences in the well-being and success of our students we place a great emphasis on this at Kehillah Schechter Academy and will continue to do so.

Kehillah Schechter Academy inspires our children to dream, to hope and to believe. Whether we are benching after lunch, playing on the playground, working on our addition, walking through the Gallery of Understanding, or pouring over a novel, our goal is to ignite our students’ spirits. We want our children to love God and be empowered to find their place in the larger Jewish community and the world.

Ours is a diverse Jewish community and we seek to bring everyone from every corner into our sukkat shalom, our tent of peace. We are also dedicated to the principles of Conservative Judaism. We believe that serious Jewish learning, a life filled with mitzvot (commandments) and Jewish ritual, and daily prayer nourish the soul.

While these are some of our thoughts and our dreams, it’s important to remember that we are only two people, and we are not alone. We are part of a team - a team of amazing administrators and educators. Ivonne Krasnick, Richard Waldman and Russ Lavoie round out our Leadership Team and the five of us are working around the clock and bringing all of our skills together to lead our beloved school into the 21st century.

Our Leadership Team knows, with complete certainty, that each and every one of our teachers and staff members are vital contributors to our professional team. We value every single one of them and are working with them to craft an innovative, exciting and serious academic program.

Finally, we also look forward to continuing our partnership with you in this effort. We recognize the importance of good communication as we move forward. Everything possible will be done to keep you in the loop as we work tirelessly this spring, summer and into the new school year.

Toward that end, we have created a new email address: heads@ksa-ne.org. When you send a message to this address, both of us will receive your message. Unless your message is directed specifically to one of us, you will likely hear back from David. Of course, you can continue to reach both of us individually at our respective email addresses: nresnick@ksa-ne.org and dpaskin@ksa-ne.org.

In the past four days, we have learned much about each other. (Having shared many trips to Israel together, we did have a jump start.) David stays up very late and leaves dozens of emails in Nitzan’s inbox for the morning. Nitzan wakes up very early and returns the favor. We’re feeling a little bit like one of those mythical two-headed creatures and we’re loving it.

Friends, we have great things to celebrate and more great things to look forward to. It is a wonderful journey and we are proud to share it with you.

Dr. Nitzan Resnick and Rabbi David Paskin