A Message from Dr. Starr
A good school for me is one where each adult has chosen to be.
— Roland Barth
By Deborah R. Starr, Ed.D., Head of School
Temple Beth Am Day School is fortunate to be what I would call a community of learners and decision makers. We are a place where students and adults alike are engaged as active learners and where everyone is thereby encouraging everyone else’s learning. Also, students, teachers, parents and administrators share the opportunities and responsibilities for making decisions that affect all the members of this vast community.
At the beginning of the school year, teachers and students, together, set the “non-negotiable” class rules. Students also present their Tzedakah ideas to the Student Council. Electing fellow students to the council is in of itself a decision making process. These are just three examples of our students being involved in decision making. The School Discipline Code and Homework Policies were designed, together, by faculty and administrators. The School Board partners with the Head of School, Executive Director and the Vice President of Education of the Temple Board to address concerns and policy decisions. A decision around “religious exemptions” for immunizations is just a recent example. A healthy school needs inclusive partnerships in order to make wise decisions.
The school Leadership and Administrative Teams meet weekly. Anyone may contribute to the agenda. We discuss concerns, share ideas and reach consensus on all matters. Additionally, all the Directors, along with Clergy, meet weekly to have a sharing between school and temple. This, too, leads to healthy discourse, communication and shared decision making.
Learning is evident everywhere; from the student in the classroom to the professional development opportunities for teachers. Students benefit from a rich curriculum, even in our Early Childhood Center. Our youngest learners are exposed to Studies, whereby they address what they know, want to know, and ultimately learn by having weekly investigative questions. They hear from visiting experts, many of whom are our own parents (pediatricians, obstetricians, wood carvers, tree nursery owners, authors, etc.) — and go on field trips. They move through the nine domains of Early Childhood development: social-emotional, physical, language, literacy, cognitive, mathematics, science and technology, social studies and the arts.
Our Elementary School students have all the major subjects (language arts, social studies, science, mathematics, Judaic studies, Hebrew) along with a strong specials program: physical education (which includes Nutrition and Martial Arts), music, technology lab and art. They benefit from differentiated instruction, learning specialists and enrichment teacher (as appropriate). We broaden their horizons through Field Trips and visiting experts. Our extended day program includes: Spanish, coding, robotics, studio art, fashion design (with sewing) and physics. 21st Century Learning is emphasized through communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.
We invest in and support the professional development of our teachers. Our teachers receive on-site, off-site and online learning. Many attend national conferences. There is always summer reading of books distributed by the school, which then in turn become the basis of the learning during that school year. Over the years, some of the summer reading included: Grit, the steps and traits of the writing process, how technology can support the curriculum in the classroom, language and literacy in early childhood education, the research on boys in pre-school, and more. Professional Development keeps our teachers current, broadens their knowledge base, and portfolio of skills. It makes for a stronger school.
We encourage our teachers to learn from each other, after all, according to Roland Barth, of the Principals’ Center at Harvard Graduate School of Education, “the best way to improve schools is from within.” We have coaches and mentors among our staff who lead small group sessions and instruct their fellow teachers. Of course, all our directors: Early Childhood Director, Elementary School Director, Technology and Innovation Director, Hebrew and Judaic Studies Director Emeritus, and Head of School do the same. “How can a profession survive, let alone flourish, when its members are cut off from each other and from the rich knowledge base upon which success and excellence depend? Professional isolation stifles professional growth. There can be no community of learners when there is no community and when there are no learners.” (Roland Barth) When the adults in a school share and cooperate, students tend to do the same.
We are fortunate that the adults in our school community genuinely want to be here, and choose to be here, because of the importance of their work. How lucky are all of us, and the students who come to our school! When people visit, they always remark about the warmth felt in our classrooms and particularly between students and their teachers. It has been another productive and wonderful year at Temple Beth Am Day School. And, it gives me great pride to close out another school year with strong numbers, rich learning, and knowledgeable and devoted administrators and teachers. I am grateful to the temple for all its support of the day school.
I wish everyone a safe and enjoyable summer. Teachers and students – do your summer reading!