Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Joseph Weilgus Speaks to the High Schools

The man who in 2002, at the grand old age of 24 years old, was named Harvard Business School's Not-For-Profit Entrepreneur of the Year visited our high schools yesterday to talk to our students about making a difference in this world.

Joseph Weilgus, who has also been named to Crain's 40 under 40 and the Jewish Week's 36 under 36 amongst many other accolades, spoke to our students about the way in which he transformed his college visits to a local pediatric ward dressed as a clown, into Project Sunshine, an organization with 10,000 volunteers in 100 cities across the globe that provides an array of services to 60,000 children in hospitals.

While our students were mesmerized by Mr. Weilgus's tales of stars and celebrities who have joined the ranks of Project Sunshine volunteers, they also watched intently as he showed them that he always carries two business cards in his pocket "a boring white one and an exciting yellow one." Joe said that whenever he meets people he gives them both and tells them that "the white one is where I make my money and the yellow one is where I give it."

Perhaps even more importantly, Joe spoke about the fact that Project Sunshine came about due to a need he recognized which wasn't being met. As a visiting clown he saw that the children in the pediatric ward needed so much more than a guy in a colorful suit with a painted face and a red curly wig. They needed tutoring and counseling, they needed companions and friends, they needed a little bit of happiness and a whole lot of hope. He cited Pirkei Avot which tells us that in a situation "where there is no man, do your best to be the man" and said that that's all he tried to do. He then encouraged our students to look around their world, find a need that speaks to them, and then do their best to "be the man" who fills it.

New Class for Women

Beginning this Thursday at 11am in the Lower School Library, I will be giving a weekly parsha class for women focusing on the Torah commentary of Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin. As some of you probably know, Rabbi Berlin, known as the Netziv, was the subject of my doctoral dissertation and has occupied a special place in my intellecual and religious world ever since. My goal in this class is to bring you into his world, to understand the Torah text as he understood it, and to appreciate the creative, penetrating, and insightful mind of one the 19th century's most storied Torah personalities.

For those who can't make it, I will try to record each class and post the recording on the web for all to access. More details on that will follow shortly.

For those who intend to come, please be sure to enter via the school's front entrance and to get a visitor's pass from Aviva at the front desk before heading down to the library.

Hope to see everyone there!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

We're Off!

With the opening of our high schools this morning our academic year is now in full swing. And what a start it's been! Time and again from every corner of the school I hear people saying that "last year was good, but there's even better in the air this year." From preschool to high school, ABCs to APs, Ariyot to Bava Kama, our incredible faculty has hit the ground running. Here's a brief glimpse at the magic which has brought our old building roaring back to life once again:

From Movies

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Faculty Growth

As the continuous growth and development of our faculty has been, and continues to be, one of our top priorities here at the Academy, I wanted to make mention of those faculty members who took of their precious summer vacation to pursue professional development opportunities and further the process of making themselves better teachers and our school a better school.

Back in July, Mrs. Gersten and Mrs. Perl went with Mrs. Tsuna and Mrs. Walker to a three day SDE conference in Chicago on Differentiated Instruction. Mrs. Tsuna led our Middle and High
School faculty in a session during In-Service in which she shared
some of the valuable tips and techniques she learned at the conference. At our wrap-up session at the close of In-Service, Mrs. Tsuna's presentation received high praise from all who attended.

Our two new Upper School Judaic Studies faculty recently completed rigorous programs in continuing education. Rabbi Kugielsky spent his second summer at the Jewish Education Leadership Institute Program at Loyola University, from which he will be receiving his Masters Degree in Education. Rabbi Stein completed the Educational Leadership Advancement Initiative through the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education at Bar Ilan University.

Speaking of Rabbi Stein, he and Mrs. Perl are currently in New York participating in the first "Academy" of this year's Jewish New Teacher Project. JNTP is a subsidiary of the New Teacher Center in
Santa Cruz, CA. Their mission is to train veteran teachers to become effective mentors for new teachers, thereby preventing "new teacher burnout" and improving student performance. Both Rabbi Stein and Mrs. Perl have been paired with Academy teachers who are still in the beginnings of their teaching career and will be working with them throughout the year, with the guidance of the Jewish New Teacher Project, to help them reflect on their strengths and weaknesses and grow in their effectiveness in the classroom.

Mrs. Kugielsky, our new 4th grade Judaic Studies teacher, attended a three-day workshop on using the Tal Am curriculum, while Morah Yehudit was in Israel teaching similar sessions for Judaic Studies teachers from across the globe.

I had the privilege of attending Yeshiva University's National Leadership Conference in Orlando together with several of our community's lay leaders. It was both thought-provoking and inspiring as it brought together lay and professional leaders of Orthodox communities from across the country to discuss the most significant challenges and the greatest opportunities that lie before us in the months and years ahead.

At the event Josh Kahane, incoming first Vice President of our Board of Trustees, received an award from Yeshiva University President Richard Joel for his work as part of a task force that is looking at ways to grow small and mid-size Jewish communities across the country.

I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention that ALL of our faculty read pertinent educational literature over the summer which they shared with their colleagues at In-Service. After all, every teacher at the Academy understands and appreciates that the more we grow, the more our students will grow. The more we learn, the more our students will learn. We're all, therefore, hard at work doing our own learning and growing so as to see even more of the same from every Academy student.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rabbi and Mrs. Kugielsky Join the Judaic Faculty

Almost all of our students in grades one through eight will have the pleasure of learning from either Rabbi Eli or Mrs. Leeba Kugielsky this year. This dynamic duo comes to us from the Beren Hebrew Academy in Houston and will be playing several different roles in our school.

Rabbi Kugielsky, a warm and energetic rebbe with a wealth of teaching experience and a recently completed Masters Degree in Education at Loyola University, will be teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th limudei kodesh as well as running Judaic programming for our Middle School boys. Mrs. Kugielsky, whose reputation for creativity and for turning students on to Torah learning far precedes her, will be teaching 4th grade Judaic studies and also bringing a highly successful music and performance program which she created in Beren to our grades one through four for this coming year. Each of those classes will meet with Mrs. Kugielsky as a specialty period once per week, where they will learn songs, dances, and other performance related skills, which they will then put on display for all to see and enjoy at some point in the year.

It goes without saying that we're delighted to have them on board and much looking forward to all that they will bring to our school and our students.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Rabbi Stein Joins the High Schools

Our High School students are in for a treat with the addition of Rabbi Noam Stein to our faculty for this year. Rabbi Stein comes to us after having served as a limude kodesh teacher, the school's Community Service Director, the Director of the Advisory Program and the 10th Grade Coordinator at SAR High School in Riverdale, NY. Prior to SAR, Rabbi Stein served as a teacher and as the Dean of Student Life at the Ma'ayanot High School for Girls in Teaneck, NJ. Rabbi Stein, who will be teaching Talmud in our Boys High School as well as Halachah and Jewish Philosophy, earned his BA in English Literature from Yeshiva University after spending two years learning in Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel. He then went on to receive his semicha from YU and, most recently, he completed the Educational Leadership Program through the Lookstein Center in Bar Ilan University.

In addition to his teaching, Rabbi Stein will continue his passion for cultivating student leadership and enabling meaningful student service opportunities in our high schools. Amongst many other responsibilities he will be creating a Community Service Program in our Boys High School, coordinating and enhancing the Community Service Program in our Girls High School, working together with Rabbi Gersten to create new student programs and leadership opportunities, and working to enhance the extra-curricular learning opportunities for our high schools.

Rabbi Stein's reputation as an accomplished talmid chacham, a progressive pedagogue, and teacher beloved by his students, should help our high schools reach even greater heights this coming year.

New Science Teachers

We are so excited to welcome two new faculty members to our Science department for this year.

Taking over our Elementary School Science program is Mrs. Shelli Henry. Mrs. Henry, a Memphis native, is a warm, creative, and enthusiastic teacher who comes to us having graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BS in Elementary School Science and having taught for several years both in St. Benedict at Auburndale School as well as in Shadowlawn Middle School. Her excitement for teaching and for science in particular will undoubtedly spill over to all of our lucky 1st through 6th graders who will have her this year.

Our Middle and High Schools are also receiving a boost to their science department with the addition of Dr. Melissa Matlock, whose impressive resume includes seven years as a Science Instructor at Hutchinson School for Girls, two years as a Science Instructor in Covington High School followed by five years as their Assistant Principal, and, most recently, five years teaching Chemistry and Biology and Germantown High School. Dr. Matlock's dry wit, commitment to her students, and high standards should greatly enrich our academic program.