Completing the Cycle, Continuing the Journey

June 22, 2018

After today I will have no more predictable “firsts” at Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School. My first year is officially done and I can move into the cycle for a second time. It feels good to know that things ahead might be a little more predictable!

As I reflect on my first year, there are moments and achievements that stand out for me.  In preparing for the AGM, I summarized this past school year using the twelve CAIS standards.  CAIS, our accreditation body, examines the whole picture of a school including school life, academics, Board governance, recruitment and mission, vision, values and strategy.  I am confident that, on all of these fronts, we have taken strides forward and our faculty and Board feel proud of the work we have done together.

Our faculty has worked hard this year to engage our students in new and exciting ways academically, socially and emotionally.  Academically, all children in Grade 3 through Grade 6 engaged in literature studies using new and fresh novels. In many of these cases, children had choice about what they read. There were options that appealed both to their interests and their reading abilities but connected back to a central theme of the unit.  Our school has invested in reading material this year, and, as a result, our teachers and students have been more engaged in their studies.

This year, we have intentionally increased the opportunities for social interaction between grades. This has happened through collaborative work projects, park visits and increased athletics. Last night, sixteen of our Grade 2 through 6 students participated in the MNjcc swim meet. The children practiced together in the pool during four early morning training sessions.  Athletics of all kinds, and team work in particular, help our students increase their social relationships and feel increasingly committed to our community.

Our recruitment is better than it has ever been.  Our incoming SK class is close to capacity and is a wonderful balance of siblings and new families.  Each of our upper grades will be joined by at least one new student next year. From Grades 1 through 6, we have thirteen new students entering the school. This success is due to the wonderful reputation of our school, the exceptional parent ambassadors in our community and the desire for the unique educational product we are offering at Paul Penna DJDS.

Our Board is healthy and is ensuring that the financial sustainability of the organization remains just that.  On Wednesday night at the AGM, we celebrated the success of the school year and looked towards next year with the appointment of a new Board co-president and new Board members.  We are grateful to Danielle Adler for four successful year of Board leadership and are excited about the continued Board leadership of Jay Rosenthal, who will be joined by Dan Stern as a co-president.  In addition, we have three new parent members of the Board. Knowing the commitment of Board work, it is encouraging to see the calibre of people who are stepping up to our Board — people whose professional and personal skill sets will increase the quality of our Board and in turn improve our school in the short and the long term.

Perhaps the most exciting work that has happened this year is the completion of a three year strategic plan. Over 75 stakeholders were engaged through this process. The priorities of the strategic plan will be shared with our community in the fall. As part of the process, the Board created a new tagline which reflects the ethos of who we are and what we stand for:

Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School: Providing children and families an open door to diverse Jewish life and education in a unique downtown community.  

I am excited to share this new tagline with you now and with the broader community in the new year. I believe it captures who we are and will resonate with so many people in our Toronto Jewish community.

In this week’s parsha, Chukat, we read about the red heifer, which is interpreted by some to be an obscure tradition of biblical times.  The ritual of the red heifer begs the question: “Why do we do all the things that we do?” As I reflect on this past year and look forward to next year, I too can ask the question: “Why do we do all the things that we do?”  I think it is important that together, faculty, families and friends of Paul Penna DJDS, we identify the elements of our school life that feel sacred,  those traditions without which we would not be who we are. I also think it is important that we identify areas for growth, places where continued innovation and improvement will continue to build our community into one of which we are exceptionally proud to be a part, and one others are motivated to join.  I can’t wait to continue on this journey with this community and engage in the sacred work of educating our children and building our community together.

Have a safe and healthy summer.  Enjoy the down time and know we will be ready and waiting on September 4th to begin this exciting school cycle again.