Friday, October 29, 2010


One of our school parents, who is herself an educator, and a member of our School Governance Committee, sent me the link to this animating video. Everyone who has a child at school, everyone who has an interest in education, should read it. You may or may not agree with everything Sir Ken Robinson says (I would take issue with him on several points), the fact is he is one of the most respected voices in education around the world, and his aim is to challenge our prejudices and pre-conceptions - which he does brilliantly. And whether or not you agree, just watching the animation will amaze you.

Feel free to share your thoughts about this video by commenting back to this blog.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A historic gathering in New Jersey

This is a must-read for anyone with any interest in Jewish America.

I’ve just returned from an extraordinary – a historic – gathering of Jewish Day School leaders in New Jersey. The first time ever that the four major denominational Day School movements - PARDeS, RAVSAK, Solomon Shechter and Yehiva University - have come together collaboratively; and so successful was it, we're already planning to expand and extend the collaboration in other ways.

This is how one on-line newspaper reported it:

First North American Jewish Day School Leadership Conference Underway

January 18, 2010 by eJP
Filed under Education, The American Jewish Scene

In a groundbreaking gathering representing collaboration and common purpose among Jewish religious streams, nearly 600 leaders and educators at Jewish day schools across the U.S. and Canada opened the first-ever North American Jewish Day School Leadership Conference yesterday.

The three-day conference offers delegates sessions, workshops and networking opportunities underscoring and addressing common concerns and issues as Jewish day schools enter a new decade committed to transmitting Jewish knowledge, enhancing Jewish practice, ensuring a vibrant Jewish future and solidifying the foundation of Jewish day school education.

“This is a watershed moment in North American Jewish life,” said Dr. Marc Kramer, executive director of RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network. “A collaboration among Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Community day schools represents a bright new light for Klal Yisrael. The debut of this conference proves that working across ideologies is possible and desirable. Jewish day schools remain the most significant venue for the advancement of Jewish life. This is why we are here, together.”

The conference, taking place in Teaneck, NJ, is a joint initiative of RAVSAK, the Institute for University-School Partnership at Yeshiva University, the Solomon Schechter Day School Association and PARDeS: The Progressive Association of Reform Day Schools.

The theme of this debut conference is Thriving in a New Reality, underscoring 21st century challenges including economic uncertainties, government funding, demographic changes and teacher retention, but also opportunities, such as the promise of technology in classrooms, Jewish service learning, and social media to build educational communities.

Such challenges and opportunities cut across Jewish educational denominations, creating an opening for this breakthrough collaborative conference, officials said.

“Like all great institutions and organizations today, day schools benefit from the synergy that emerges when collaboration and creativity travel together with opportunities for sharing resources,” said Dr. Jane West Walsh, executive director of PARDeS. “The promise of increased synergy through collaboration, creativity and resource sharing was at the heart of every conversation that took place to plan this conference. The reality of this promise will emerge through the conversations colleagues will share while in conference sessions, in hallways, around vendor tables, at meals and network meetings.”

More than 60 sessions and workshops will focus on the provocative issues, ideas, challenges and opportunities facing Jewish educational leaders in 2010 and beyond, from effective fundraising and teacher development, to community collaboration and utilizing Web 2.0.

“This is a bold venture, signaling a new level of collaboration among the day school networks across the spectrum of Jewish life,” said Dr. Elaine Shizgal Cohen, executive director of the Solomon Schechter Day School Association. “The level of attendance signals a hunger for collegial community among day school leaders and a readiness and openness to learn with and from each other across denominational lines.”

The North American Jewish Day School Leadership Conference is sponsored by The Covenant Foundation, the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, The Kohelet Foundation and several anonymous funders.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A new school year commences, August 2009

August 2009
Tammuz 5769

Welcome to the start of another school year, which begins on Monday August 24th for the Lower and Upper schools, Monday August 31st for the ECE.

Our goal every year is to raise the standard of education, both secular and Jewish, that we provide for your children, and this year is no exception. While we continue to introduce and train our staff to use the new technologies, we are also introducing Spanish to our curriculum, a recognition of the changing demographic in the Jewish community in North Miami Beach. For those for whom English is their first language, it will be an opportunity to learn the language of their Spanish-speaking friends; and for the Spanish speakers, the majority of whom have only learned to speak but not to read and write, it will be a chance to gain a full and formal knowledge of their first language. We will introduce Spanish in K, 1 and 6 this year, and then extend it in the years ahead.

You may already have seen our wonderful new website; if you haven’t, take a look, and bookmark it in your computer for easy access, because from this year we are going to be using the website as our principal means of communication. The pages for the 3 schools are in the drop-down menu titled ‘Education’, and include a page which the Parents Association will be using for their information and communication. While some fliers will still go home on paper, we are trying to be as green as possible, so expect to receive e-mails that contain little more than a hyperlink to the website; and of course, the beauty of this is not only saving paper, but the archiving of fliers so you can easily find again those registration or donation or permission forms you thought you’d lost.

The High Holiday festivals this year fall just four weeks after the start of term, three for the ECE. Almost all will be at the weekend, so school will not be seriously disrupted, but it is very important that the children use those first few weeks to establish the routines and disciplines that will make them successful throughout the whole year. Please check your school calendar for the festival days when we are either closed or have early dismissals, and make sure you have noted other significant occasions. We will be running our regular High Holiday Children’s Program on both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur; sign your children up, and join us in the Sanctuary.

I wish you and your children a happy and successful school year. One year on since I joined the staff at Temple Sinai, I feel I have begun to get to know many of our families reasonably well, but one of my personal goals for the coming year is to begin to get to know all our families very well. Please find an opportunity to come and talk to me, whether informally when you are dropping off or picking up your child, or visiting the Temple for any other reason, or formally by making an appointment to see me; the school office will be happy to make the necessary arrangements. For day-to-day issues affecting your child in school, please address your child’s teacher directly first of all, or speak to your Campus Principal.

David Prashker

Friday, December 26, 2008

Chanukkah greetings

What makes a successful school?

There have been academics working on this question for decades now, and none has come up with a satisfactory answer. Answers in the plural, yes, but not a single, all-encompassing, final answer. Why not? Because truthfully there is no single answer. A successful school is a combination of many fragments - and all those fragments have to be in place for a school to be truly successful. So maybe the question would be better phrased:

What are the many fragments that make a successful school (and do we have them all at Temple Sinai? Yes we do.)?

Teachers. Ask the general public what makes a successful school, and generally they'll say: the teachers. And it's true, up to a point. If you don't have good teachers, you won't have a good school; to be a great school, you need great teachers. But the teachers can't do it on their own.

Leadership. In our case, being a school that is part of a synagogue community, leadership too comes at many levels. The commitment of our Lay Leaders on both the Board of Trustees and the School Governance Committee, plus all those dozens of people who are regularly volunteering for a hundred different tasks and activities, means that the future is being taken care of, through Strategic Planning and Strategic Financial Planning, leaving the day-to-day running of the institution in the capable hands of the professionals.

Administrators. 'The Board runs the future, the Administrators run the present': the motto for any successful school. Temple Sinai has four schools, and four truly outstanding Principals, dedicated, caring, professional, committed to academic excellence for the students and professional development for the teachers.

Parents. Yes, the parents. The evidence is everywhere. Parents who try to run a school generally ruin it. Parents who believe they are paying fees and therefore the school is at their bidding, undermine that school, and their children's education. But parents who make a commitment to support their school, through fund-raising, through voluntary activity, by serving on committees, and most importantly by building a constructive dialogue between home and school in which both parties are working together for the best interests of the children, now there's a recipe that really works. And parents who role-model for their children the kind of behavior that both school and parents expect, who teach by example an enthusiasm for learning and culture, and who demonstrate through their own action a deep care for the needy in society, those are the parents whose children generally make it to the very top.

Students. Strangely, these are the least important ingredients in the cake - but also, of course, the most important. Why the least important? Because a great school should be able to teach any child, to the very best of that child's abilities, regardless of their gifts or learning difficulties, regardless of their starting point. Why the most important? Because a great school cares about each individual, and because the students are the proof. Want to know if it's a great school or not - ask the alumni.

Facilities. At the time of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, when Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai was negotiating with General Titus for a school at Yavneh, Rabbi Chanina sent a note to the Sanhedrin. 'Why are we negotiating with the Romans? We don't need a school. Give me a single copy of the Torah, and a place to sit with my students. There is no subject I can't teach, sacred or secular, from that one book, and in that one place.' Today, we like to have our Torah on the computer, and sports halls and fields for some competitive-cooperative athletic relaxation, and an auditorium would be nice, why not a music room, a student lounge? Rabbi Chanina remains correct. The quality of a school's facilities do not determine whether it is a good school or not. They may be the pretty cover by which we judge the book, but they are not the book itself. A school with great facilities may still be an unsuccessful school.

Dedication. This goes without saying.