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

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