Wednesday, October 29, 2014

My First Month @RYNJ

Below is a letter that I wrote to our parent body. I have adapted it for the non hebrew speaking audience.

 Dear Parents,

 It is with tremendous enthusiasm that I write to you to tell you about my first month of school at RYNJ. Every expectation I have had for faculty, students and administration has been surpassed. Having had the personal experience of attending some of the best private schools in the nation, I can say without reservation, RYNJ stands out for its commitment to academic excellence in all fields and its incredibly dedicated faculty. In this short time, I have greatly enjoyed the experience of getting to know your precious children and our exceptional faculty. I have entered each and every classroom observing students engaged across the grade levels, teachers challenging students in diverse and incredibly creative ways and growth happening all around me.

After working closely with faculty on a classroom observation tool that utilizes both best practices from top private schools and is customized for a dual curricular setting, I have had the pleasure of beginning initial pre observation meetings to discuss upcoming teacher observations. I plan to observe all teachers this year with this tool and help them create professional development plans that focus on specific areas of growth that suits their needs. The entire General Studies staff will also be working on perfecting utilizing differentiation in the classroom as one core area of professional development.
I wanted to take this time to reflect on the recent initiatives that been made so far in the lower school. 

  • A team of dedicated teachers have been working together to create discovery learning centers where students will conduct inquiry based projects on scientific topics related to Shmittah (the biblical agricultural rest period every 7 years that is happening now in Israel). This year, each grade will be focusing on one core project that incorporates an interdisciplinary exploration of the connection between science and shmittah. Together with Rabbi Horn and the Judaic Studies faculty, General Studies teachers will help facilitate student led labs and the Judaic studies faculty will help students learn about the Torah concepts and connect what they have learned in science to Torah (Bible) and mitzvot (commandments). Students will write laboratory reports on these activities that connect both elements. 
  •  The "Best Practices" initiative connects our teachers with schools (private and public) within a 30-mile radius where they can go to for site visits to perfect their craft in the morning. Round 1 will begin next week. (The best part, teachers don't miss school, since they visit in the mornings during Judaic studies! Over 26 teachers eagerly signed up for the first visit.) 
  •  RYNJ serves as a role model for other schools as well. On October 6th, the American head of the Beijing Institute of Education came into classrooms to watch our teachers in action in a variety of subjects and report back to her superiors about the areas of curricular advancement she found particularly profound. They are discussing the possibility of bringing a team of science teachers to RYNJ for a day in the future. 
  •  I am meeting regularly with teachers of grades 1, 2 and 4 to help further the process of implementing balanced literacy and designing a comprehensive curriculum that addresses all areas of English Language Arts. This will enable teachers to best utilize their time by ensuring grammar, writing, spelling and reading are happening simultaneously in the classroom. A large part of this is enabling teachers to embrace non-fiction reading and writing as a means to teach other subject matter at the same time. 
  •  We are creating a Project Based Learning initiative in social studies in 3rd grade where students gain knowledge and skills by working together to solve a real world challenge that connects social studies to everyday life. 
  •  We are working on creating a social science unit in 5th grade that connects neuroscience to the psychology of motivation. Students will learn how training their brain to think differently makes them more efficient and successful in their studies. 
  •  Science curricula are now in the beginning stages of revision. Our goal is to create a more inquiry based science approach that utilizes engineering in the classroom. 
  •  We created an "enrichment committee" of faculty members who are working together in the lower school to provide increased rigor and differentiation for students who could benefit from it. We plan to create enrichment opportunities for students on all grade levels and in all units of study. We area also in the process of creating a template for Individual Differentiation Plans for students who could benefit from this enrichment in class to help teachers customize the differentiation further. 
  •  Our four newly hired teachers have been incredibly successful in their first six weeks of school each have added a wealth of talent to our staff and school community. Each are being mentored by senior faculty members and I have met numerous times with them to ensure curricular alignment within their grade level and helped them acclimate. 
 I am very excited about the work that has begun and even more excited about the work we are doing and hope to do. With Hashem's (G-d's) help and that of our fine faculty community, IY"H, RYNJ will go from strength to even more strength in the years to come. I feel honored and privileged to be a part of this learning community. Recently, a fellow educator asked me what the motto of RYNJ was. I simply said, we are uncompromising in all the areas that matter.

 It is such a bracha (blessing) to be a part of a place that feels this way. If I have not yet had the opportunity to meet with you, please feel free to introduce yourself in the hallways, around town or to make an appointment with me to discuss anything you like. I look forward in getting to know the parent community better in the weeks to come. May you have continued nachas (joy) from your children!
Jenni Levy
Lower School General Studies Principal