A New Era of Excellence Rooted in Tradition

Head of School Annual Meeting Report- June 19, 2017

 

Good evening everyone, and thank you for attending this annual meeting.  As another school year comes to a close, this is an appropriate time to look back on what we have accomplished during the past year and to inform you about plans for next year.  I would like to do so in each of three categories:  Academics, Social-emotional growth and Communication.

 

First, academics.  As a frequent visitor to our classrooms, on both a formal and informal basis, I am continually pleased with the high level of learning that I observe. I could list dozens of examples, but I would like to emphasize these six:

  1. This past year saw the return of Jewish History to the middle school. Under the guidance of teacher Barbara Stein, students examined, through a Jewish lens, events learned in social studies.  Barbara also utilized parts of the Jerusalem diorama that was gifted to our school by Mr. Richard Picotte.  Middle school students, under the direction of Amy Rosenstrauch, painted a mural to serve as a backdrop.  Photos of their work were exhibited at the community Yom Yerushalayim celebration in May.  Before you leave this evening, please take a look at their work which is on display in the room across from the kitchen.
  2. Under the leadership of science department chair David Epstein, our science fair was expanded to include more extensive research and to acquaint middle school students with the idea of a peer review. Community scientists in a variety of areas of scientific expertise were invited to the fair to engage our students in conversations about their research projects. According to our community experts, our students performed admirably.  David also initiated the establishment of Ruth's Garden, an outdoor garden and learning space.  Named in loving memory of former HACD science teacher and administrator Dr. Ruth Rich, this outdoor learning space will enhance the exploration of science throughout the grades.
  3. Afterschool offerings expanded to include Clay Club, Gems and Jewels, and a Chess Club. Israeli dance returned in the form of an afterschool dance group. Under the leadership of Caitlan Swyer, our small but mighty group of dancers represented our school in the annual Albany Israeli Dance Festival.
  4. Our middle school OVA team, under the guidance of art teacher Amy Rosenstrauch, earned first place in fashion at the annual competition.
  5. Five of our 8th graders traveled to Israel on the community mission sponsored by our Federation, bringing into focus their many years of Judaic and secular learning here. We welcomed 8th graders and their teachers from Eshkol, our partner region, for a week of learning and friendship.
  6. Three of our middle school students have been accepted into impressive summer programs offered by Clarkson University. Noa Wacholder and Miriam Eligberg will attend the Horizons I program, which is designed to encourage young women to consider additional learning and possibly careers in STEM. Noah Graber was accepted into the Young Scholars program, which attracts talented high school students.  It was a most successful year.

Going forward, I hope to continue incorporating Jewish History into the middle school program.  Barbara Stein, unfortunately, is not able to continue with us next year but I anticipate continuing this important learning.  Barbara has my deepest gratitude for her work and her dedication to our school and our students.

I also plan to continue utilizing talented middle school faculty as department chairs to help sustain excellence throughout the grades in their areas of expertise.

We plan to continue and expand upon Israeli Dance as an after school offering.  I am delighted that Cantor Marx will continue his work with us next year.  He and a chorus of Hebrew Academy students performed in a concert Sunday afternoon at Temple Israel; we have been talking about incorporating the chorus into our offerings next year.  Stay tuned!

 

Next, social and emotional growth.  During the past year, our teachers – both individually and as a group – continued to work to establish age-appropriate guidelines for behavior in their classrooms and to be consistent in their application.  Under the leadership of teachers Sarah Matzner and Carly Reynolds, we continued our commitment to PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention Support) and to consistent expectations for behavior in the common areas of our school.  The lunchroom, the playground and the carpool area received special attention. This year's school play, Munchkin Mediation, was a curriculum based production that focused on conflict resolution, which our teachers emphasize.  My deepest thanks go to producers Tanya Schwartz and Elana Kamenir for their leadership and talents that made this production possible; the values reinforced in this play will be a tremendous support to our overall efforts in raising menches in our school.

Going forward, we plan to address some of the more common behavioral concerns as part of our faculty's professional development next year.    I am happy to report that I have recently met with Judy Avner, who is again serving as JFS interim executive director, and who has renewed her commitment to partnering with us.  Specific plans for next year include supporting our professional development in the area of our student's social and emotional growth, giving our faculty additional tools with which to meet the challenge of creating the atmosphere and nurturing the behaviors we value.  Ruth Pelham, who uses music as the medium for developing positive behaviors and social change, has again offered her talents to us, and will be working with our lower school students tomorrow morning.   I look forward to working with JFS and increasing our success in this area in the year to come.

 

Next, communication.   This was once again a priority during the past school year, with the goal of achieving greater uniformity in the format and frequency of communications between teachers and parents.  In the middle school, report cards and interim reports were supplemented with bi-weekly updates on curriculum and progress.  My thanks go to teacher Dan Miller for coordinating this effort.  Lower school teachers continued their practice of sending regular cohort updates in the form of newsletters and comment sheets.  All teachers strove to craft report card comments that were complete and informative.  Teachers also maintained contact with families through emails and telephone calls, as needed.  As parents, you have nurtured effective communication by reaching out to teachers, which I deeply appreciate.  Copying me on an email is helpful in my efforts to support effective dialogue between teachers and parents, but the direct communication is what has made a difference.

Supporting effective communication will continue to be my priority next year as well.

The backbone of any school is its faculty.  I am delighted to tell you that all of our lower school teachers will be returning to us next year and will be continuing in their current assignments.  The one exception is Chana Israel, who will be teaching Dolphinim Judaic Studies next year in addition to her work with Parparim.

As I shared with you in an email a few weeks ago, several of our middle school teachers are leaving us.  With great regret, I have accepted the decisions of Dan Miller and Wendy Pyle to retire at the end of this school year.  Dan has been with us for 16 years, and Wendy for 10.  Both have helped to shape and guide the middle school program, and it is difficult to imagine our school without them.  I have also accepted, with equally great regret, the resignations of Coach Betor and Natalia Polishchuk.  Coach leaves us to complete the student teaching requirements for his master’s degree, and Natalia leaves us to spend more time with her family.  Since my email to you last month, I have also, with great regret, accepted the resignation of Carly Reynolds who, due to unexpected events in her family, finds it necessary to seek full time employment in a public school.  I know that you join me in thanking these wonderful teachers for their dedication to our students and our school and in wishing them well.   I have been actively searching for just the right teachers to fill these positions and am thrilled to share the following information with you:

Hope Shuttleworth will be joining our faculty as our middle school English and mathematics teacher.  Hope has taught in schools locally as well as in California and Alaska.  She holds National Board Certification in English, and is skilled and experienced in teaching mathematics as well.  She has already begun to work on her curriculum for next year, and looks forward to meeting everyone.

Wendy Pyle is retiring, but she is not leaving us entirely.  I am delighted to tell you that Wendy has agreed to coach our Math Counts team and to continue her enrichment work with lower school students next year.  In addition, Wendy will be serving as a consultant to our math department, ensuring a smooth transition to newer staff and supporting their efforts.

James Angermeir will join us as our Physical Education teacher and Athletic Director.  James is certified in PE, and has substituted in our school.  He had occasion to sub for us a few years ago on Yom Ha'atsma'ut, and he readily joined in the celebration and was extremely helpful in ensuring the day's success.  He is (pun intended) a team player, and we are delighted to have him with us.

Kerri Dzekciorius is joining us as our Spanish teacher.  Kerri holds a Master’s degree in Spanish education and NYS certification in Spanish.  She has spent the last few years at home raising her young children, and is looking forward to resuming her professional career with us.

David Epstein will teach both social studies and science.  In addition to his credentials in science, David is certified in social studies, and looks forward to the exciting opportunity to integrate these two disciplines next year.  David will also teach one of our 6th grade math sections.

Fred Rheingold returns to teach Chumash and Navi (Prophets), and Rabbi Dan Ornstein will teach Rabbinics.

Keren Zilberberg and I will teach middle school Hebrew.  Keren will work mainly with 7th and 8th grade students, and I will teach the sixth grade.  Keren and I have already begun to plan together, and I am excited to return to teaching Hebrew language after a hiatus of several years.

We continue to be blessed with many wonderful volunteers. While it would take too long to thank everyone, I would like to publically recognize and thank the following individuals for their contributions of time, energy and love to our school:

Cantor Rogerio Marx has kept our children singing Hebrew songs connected to holidays, prayers and Israel.

Barbara Stein gave generously of her time and expertise teaching Jewish History in our middle school.

Rabbi Miriam Lichtenfeld led weekly tefillah discussions with our middle school students, exploring concepts of spirituality and theology.

Nancy and Jud Eson have come to school weekly to shelve books, maintain the collection and support teachers and students.

Edie Abrams has supported teachers in the classroom, helped staff lunch and recess duties, taken photographs and, as editor of our yearbook, has guided students in its creation.  I cannot thank her enough for all that she has done for our students and teachers this year.

Elana Kamenir once again worked on the layout for the yearbook; she and Edie are an unbeatable team.  Elana and Tanya Schwartz worked tirelessly to bring our school play to the stage.

Bess Wadler, chair of Parent Org, brought us a host of activities that help to create community.

Deb Berkun facilitated our Chess Club.

Mona Hampson joined the ranks of classroom volunteers this year, assisting on Thursdays in the Parparim cohort.

Michele Greenblatt, Tammy Wrzesinski, Avi Wacholder, Bess Wadler, and Arpi Balgin helped bring the joy of Shabbat into our school by baking challah with our students each Friday.

Thank you all.

 

Our recruitment efforts were very successful this year, thanks to the work of Recruitment Committee members Naomi Mozer and Deb Berkun.  The committee distributed honey sticks in local preschools for Rosh Hashanah, and hamentaschen for Purim.  The committee also sponsored two very successful recruitment programs - a panel discussion entitled "How to Raise a Mensch" and a Mad Science workshop that united preschoolers with HACD students and gave their parents a preview of our science fair.  Plans are already under way for next year, and include a "getting acquainted" event for incoming and returning Parparim families in August.  Naomi and Deb, thank you.

 

No Head of School works in isolation.  I wish to express my thanks again to our marvelous and hardworking faculty who consistently go above and beyond to provide the best education to our children.  My thanks to our office staff- former Business manager Karen Bakuzonis and current business manager Marian Robarge, Rachael Woren, Lisa Allendorph and Mike Walpole for all that they do to keep the school running smoothly.  My deepest thanks to the officers, Trustees and committee members; they are truly supportive partners in preserving the vision and mission of our school.  Last but not least, my thanks to you, our parents, for entrusting your children to us and for working with us to ensure the success and future of Bet Shraga.

 

One of the best measures of a school's success is its graduates.  I would like to wish a hearty mazal tov to this year's eighth grade graduates, and extend an invitation to all of you to attend graduation this coming Wednesday evening at Temple Israel.  I would also like to wish much happiness and success to the Fooy and Gomez families, both of whom are leaving the area.  You will be missed.

 

The quote with which I ended my remarks last year holds true this year as well.  Pirkei Avot teaches us:  “Lo alecha hamelach ligmor, v’lo atah ben horin lehibatel mimena.”  “It is not for you to complete the task, but neither are you free to stand aside from it.”  Our school continues to be a work in progress.  This is as it should be.  Thank you to everyone for another most successful year, and for partnering with us as we continue to make Bet Shraga the best it can be.