Thursday, February 11, 2021
What makes for a good preschool?
It’s a question that is always on the minds of us here at Adelson Educational Campus – teachers, administrators and of course, parents. As someone who was a founder of two different preschools here in Massachusetts (both, I’m pleased to say, operating, now in a combined total of fifty years of educating young children), as well as a grandfather of two preschoolers, I ask what makes for a good preschool, and then, how does our preschool at AEC stack up?
First off, there are the licensure regulations that enable us to open our doors. These requirements are meaningful – they ensure the health, safety and care of the children. But even though there are numerous measures of quality, our goal is not simply to be licensed (or perhaps to seek other certifications in the future). Rather, we need to ask, what do we know about your children and how is our program organized and delivered to meet those needs?
On the one hand, here are the obvious elements – a good facility, a clear, consistent structure, and qualified staff. Beyond that, a good preschool is distinguished by a warm and comforting environment, a focus on active learning, child-friendly facilities, and passionate teachers.
I had a chance this week to catch up with one of those passionate teachers, Debbie Castille. I asked her the question, ‘What makes for a good preschool?’, and I love her responses, which included:
‘A good preschool is one where you can see the development from the youngest to the oldest.’
‘You can see the introduction and the implementation of a theme’; an articulation that recognizes the developmental levels of these young children, moving from pictures, to stories, to recognition, to identification of words.’
In other words, ‘Learning happening from beginning to end’.
When I asked Debbie about our preschool, she launched into an excited description of what she finds there – ‘A lot of documentation boards, where we take pictures of the learning as well as the results of the learning.’
Finally, I asked Debbie, ‘What makes for a good preschool teacher?’
‘Patience’, she told me. And ‘Flexibility, the ability to pivot and the willingness to go with the children’s interests.’
Finally, ‘Good preschool teachers take delight in the learning process and the pride that children feel as they discover something new.’
Debbie certainly does that. I loved it when she told me, ‘When I see those children come in, so ready to learn - with backpacks almost as big as they are - seeing everything as so new, and so excited to learn, to socialize, and to see what the teacher has in store for them…’, Debbie said, ‘well, they just make you smile.’
Debbie exemplifies the experience, dedication, enthusiasm, creativity, flexibility, passion, warmth and good humor that distinguishes excellence in preschool teaching. And she is far from alone in our faculty. We are so pleased to have her, and her colleagues, working with our children.
A really good preschool also tries to build upon its success and find ways to improve. And that is part of the picture at AEC’s preschool as well. We have opportunities for greater curricular coherence, greater clarity in explaining our program to parents, greater consistency around our focus and the way in which we prepare kids for success in Kindergarten and beyond. We’re working on all that, and pleased that our team is primed for their next level of growth and excellence while maintaining the care and nurturance of our young children.
Finally, I think there is a ‘special sauce’ in our preschool program that might distinguish us from other quality preschools – our sense of purpose.
While we embrace that early learning and care programs with effective educators can improve children’s readiness and school success, with higher test scores, better attendance, less grade retention and long-term benefits in school completion, we also hope to lay a firm foundation – of caring for others, being part of the cycle of the week and year, being part of a tradition, and giving the building blocks of identity.
In short, our preschool is the first step in the AEC program, starting at 18 months and culminating at 18 years – to build ‘meschen’ people with heart, soul and conscience along with intelligence, wit, grit and resilience that will serve them well in whatever paths they choose.
Alli Abrahamson tells me that we are seeing some wonderful candidates for our Classes of 2034-2037(!), and we couldn’t be more delighted to welcome them and their families to the wonderful world of learning our terrific faculty has in store for them!
Friday, February 5, 2021
Earlier this week, the AEC Board of Trustees announced several important decisions for the immediate future of our school, including my continuation as your Interim Head of School. I’m so honored to have the opportunity to lead the school that includes such a dedicated and caring group of professionals, a supportive parent community and well over 500 hundred of the greatest kids any Head of School could imagine. I am looking forward to another year of growth and success.
I would not have accepted without the assurance that Alli Abrahamson would step in as the Acting Assistant Head of School. Alli will remain as the Director of Advancement overseeing enrollment, development, marketing and communications. This was an easy decision, as many of you already know Alli’s character, kindness, and dedication to the school’s mission and values. Alli will help me manage the day-to-day operations, along with the big picture pursuits and assist in defining the school’s identity.
With the passing of our visionary and leader, Sheldon Adelson z”l, Tom Spiegel has agreed to assume the role of Chairman of the Board. Tom’s expertise and commitment to the school and our community will continue to provide stability and vigor, and I look forward to working closely with Tom, and to continue learning from him. We are also very grateful to Dr. Miriam Adelson who has communicated her desire to stay involved and committed to the school as a Board Trustee.
Now, as we plan for the future stability and continued success of the school, please allow me to share with you my goals for the upcoming school year.
- Continuing to move the school forward with achieving academic excellence across all divisions. In part, but not limited to, I will assist in curriculum oversight, articulation, and smooth alignment between divisions, ensuring that our faculty and students have the necessary resources they need to be successful.
- For the immediate future, our goal is focused on securing the next Lower School Principal. The school’s Lower School Principal search committee, composed of AEC administrators and faculty, along with the DRG search firm, is in the process of interviewing potential candidates to identify the best possible match for our school.
- The search for a permanent Head of School will continue. I am fully committed to finding the future leader of this amazing school. We all remain optimistic that the appropriate candidate will emerge, and we are confident that a post-COVID search will provide us with a strong group of potential candidates.
- As a school community, we have done a tremendous job keeping our students and faculty safe during this unprecedented school year. As much as we all hope the 2021-2022 school year will turn the page on COVID and everything will go back to normal, it’s never that easy. A major goal for next year will be navigating the mostly unknown path regarding COVID procedures and protocols. With the positive news of the push to roll out the vaccines over the next several months, we will continue to remain vigilant and work with the Southern Nevada Health District and CDC to determine how best to move forward and continue with full time in-person learning.
My intention is to be on campus as frequently as I can over the next 18 months, starting this spring and after I have received both of my vaccinations. I look forward to the day that I can meet each and every one of you in person. As much as I’ve enjoyed Zoom calls, I am excited to greet students daily, to meet this wonderful parent body in person, and to work side-by-side with the staff in the upcoming months.
I am inspired by everyone involved in their heroic efforts to go above and beyond what any of us expected for this school year. In my short time here at AEC, I’ve witnessed a remarkable commitment to learning from the children and their parents, and a true devotion to the students by every member of the faculty, staff, and administration. This community should be proud of its achievements – educating over 500 students every day in the storm of a pandemic, while others have ‘gone below’ for the duration.
I’m honored and humbled by the opportunity presented to me, and fully committed and excited to continue our partnership to ensure the future safety, growth, and success of our school, and so glad that we are all in this together.
Friday, January 29, 2021
Of the great Jewish thinkers and educators of the twentieth century, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik stands as pre-eminent. Founder of the Maimonides School in Brookline, MA, a school known for its melding of innovation and commitment to tradition, Rabbi Soloveitchik is regarded as a scholar who spoke to Jews and non-Jews alike on issues of Jewish law, as well as the challenge of religion in a modern and postmodern world.
Probably no writing of R. Soloveitchik’s is as compelling to a wide audience as his 1965 ‘Lonely Man of Faith’, in which he outlines the distinction between the two narratives of the creation of man, as noted in Genesis chapters one and two. While the thrust of the book centers around the ‘second Adam’ as a response to alienation and as a model of religious life, Rabbi Soloveitchik notes some key differences between the ‘first Adam’ and the second one. For example, the book notes that ‘G-d, in imparting his blessing to Adam the first and giving him the mandate to subdue nature, directed Adam’s attention to (using) his intellect… ‘to gain control of nature’,…’summoned to ‘fill the earth and subdue it’.
Contrast that with the second chapter of Genesis, where we are shown that before the creation of man, … ‘ there was no one to work the ground’. But once ‘...G-d had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.’, ….The Lord G-d took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.’, using the word ‘shomer' – a guardian, caregiver.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that when our children are taught this week about Tu B’Shvat, the ‘new year for the trees', that the lessons about caring for the earth – including contemporary movements around Jewish environmentalism such as ‘Shomrei Adamah’ (literally guardians of the earth) – take center stage.
In addition – and beside the beauty of the holiday of Tu B'Shvat itself (it’s right around now that almond trees start blooming in Israel, for example) – I love two important aspects of what it is we are able to impart to our children.
That Judaism has a plasticity that can consider and address contemporary issues and challenges. Issues of global climate were likely not on the minds of the Talmudists who created the holiday, but tapping into the tradition, we can find resonance for our responsibilities to the very earth we depend upon.
And, secondly – and perhaps more pertinently – when families make a choice to send their child(ren) to a faith-based school such as ours, the values they learn are not generated by any ‘flavor of the month club’. Rather, by having a core set of texts and beliefs, a school like ours gives children roots. To quote another great contemporary Jewish author and teacher, ‘May you have a strong foundation, When the winds of changes shift.’
I salute the teachers, who, this week, were able to share a lasting value, embedded in our tradition, and thus pass down lasting lessons that mold the character of our next generation of leaders.
Friday, January 22, 2021
Earlier in the week, Principals Lilach Bluevise and Camille McCue and I participated in another of the frequent ‘check-in calls’ we have had this year with the heads of other independent schools in Las Vegas. Jeremy Gregerson of Meadows, Roxanne Stansbury of Dawson and Connie Yeh of 9th Bridge, along with the three of us from AEC, have what can be considered open and frank conversations on a range of topics, in which we share our practices, approaches, and reflections on our work and the work of our respective schools. As you can imagine, we’ve spent a good deal of time discussing COVID and learning about each other’s plans (for example, we invited them to a conversation our leadership team is planning with Dr. Chad Kinsgsley of the Southern Nevada Health District next week). We listen, we learn and we occasionally borrow from the other schools and – in general – share the sort of context that helps each of us do our best in leading our respective institutions.
This sort of collegiality – as surprising as it might seem to some who might see these schools as ‘competitors’ – is actually quite common in the universe of independent schools. I would suggest that it is the very nature of each school’s independence that enables such conversation and collaboration. Freed from the bounds of bureaucracy, union contracts, department regulations, those who work in and lead schools are enabled to rigorously focus on delivering what is in the best interests of our students - a central characteristic of independent schools.
In the U.S., there are over 20,000 ‘private’ schools. Of these, there are around 1,400 schools in the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). Each member school, including ours, is self-governed, and adheres to certain foundational standards of practice that help each member school achieve and maintain ‘accreditation’. (For the record, I served as chair of the committee that oversaw accreditation in New England as a member of the regional association Board for nine years).
A core principle of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) is that each school is defined by its distinct character and identity, and yet all comport with certain standards of excellence, including the belief that all learners find pathways to success through the independence, innovation, and diversity of our schools, and that by encouraging children to think independently, every one of these schools has the power to inspire excellence.
This independence (which is, of course the ‘middle name’ of NWAIS, our regional association) translates into the practice where a school’s governing body can maintain its focus on serving its community, where school leadership ultimately answers to the families and the community, and where teachers and curriculum planners can zero in on what will enable our children to be successful, rather than which group can exert the greatest influence on state and national agencies.
All told, this translates into a higher quality education, one that ensures that the learning of students is always put first. Attention to our students’ individual needs naturally comes from this foundation of beliefs and practices, and responsiveness to parents (who are, after all, client partners) flows naturally – nowhere else is a parent’s voice so important.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that independent schools regularly perform better than the local public schools. Of course, there are environmental factors involved. But comparing the SAT scores of the state of Nevada, where less than 20% of students take the SATs, the 1150 score average of these self-selected students - and even the scores of prestigious charter/tech academies which are only around 50-60 points higher - really don’t compare with Adelson, where the average SAT score of 1320 represents literally the results of every student in the eligible grade. (I will be sharing more data on school performance in upcoming Etone columns.)
Taken together, the structures, the relationships (both within a school and in the larger community), the program and the outcomes build the case for the wisdom of the investment parents make when they decide to send their child(ren) to an independent school. It’s an education that lasts a lifetime, laying the foundation for success and stability, achieved not coincidentally, but by the very design of these institutions themselves.
Friday, January 15, 2021
This week our community lost its leader. Sheldon Adelson was a towering figure, a self-made billionaire who came from the humblest of backgrounds, and through the strength of character, his determination and his intelligence made decisions that changed an industry, a city, and nations.
For our school, we have lost our founder, the man whose vision animates our program, our building and our very mission - why we open our doors every day. As Board Chair - even in his last months - Sheldon put his imprint on the direction of the school. His commitment to Jewish education and to the future success of every single child in the school was clear in all the conversations I had with him, and from the reports of so many who have worked with him through the years of the school's operation.
This week, our flags have been at half staff, we observed a school-wide moment of silence, some children wrote letters of condolence to their classmates who lost their grandfather, Mr. Adelson, parents have started collecting messages for the family. Today, in our Kabbalat Shabbat program, Dr. McCue will share some reflections about Sheldon, and Jackie Edery and I will recite the Mourners’ Kaddish. Next week, I will participate in discussions with students about comforting the mourners, and we have tentative plans to commemorate Mr. Adelson’s ‘shiloshim’, the thirtieth day of his passing, studying text, reflecting on his life and contributions and reciting a special ‘Rabbi’s Kaddish’. Further, we are looking into installing an annual remembrance of Sheldon on his yahrtzeit – the anniversary of his passing.
There is so much to learn from Sheldon's life. He embodied what Professor Angela Duckworth of Harvard calls 'grit' - passion and sustained persistence applied toward long-term achievement Duckworth and other educators insist that grit is the essential component of what separates successful students and adults, - even the most talented ones - from others. It was Sheldon’s grit that enabled him to rise above his very humble beginnings, to deal with failure and loss, to achieve unparalleled success and to reach incomparable heights, and to insist on staying loyal to the values he held dear. In this way, his legacy is to be a model to us in the school and anyone who works with young people.
In addition, I like to see Sheldon as an embodiment of a great American story. That we can rise. Sheldon’s life is a demonstration that there are tools available to us that can unlock opportunities, and the vision of becoming more - as individuals, as families and as a community - is a central part of his legacy.
I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to suggest that around this time of year, we recognize another great American and great American story, that of Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King’s passion for the values he held dear, his unyielding commitment, especially in the face of adversity will always be an inspiration.
Kathryn Shetty, chair of our Social Studies / History department is working with her teachers to engage the Upper school students in a conversation around next week’s inauguration. The teachers will help the students place the event of this month in an historical context (including the inauguration of 1800, where John Adams was so angry about the outcome that he took a carriage out of town the morning of the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson, so as not to be present), as well as the system that ensures for a peaceful transition of power and authority under the rule of law. Implicit in the lesson and the open Q-and-A that follows is the commitment each educator has – regardless of their particular political stripe to open, respectful discourse that is inclusive of difference. This is a way in which a Jewish day school such as ours confronts contemporary challenges and imparts to students a sense of place, purpose and hope.
Donniel Hartman, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem recently wrote, “…democracy, the rule of law, decency, reason, and tolerance will only prevail when we …. develop intellectual, educational, and cultural frameworks to enable everyone, even those on the other side of the partisan line, to embrace them."
Our Social Studies department and Rabbi Hartman distill the civic virtues that our school’s mission embraces. They are effectively narrators of the American story that is inclusive of great Americans with as widely different viewpoints as Mr. Adelson and Dr. King. Our children are blessed to have these wonderful teachers, these wonderful models, and – ultimately – to grow up in a land so rich in promise.
Friday, January 8, 2021
There are moments when it feels like if I hear the phrase ‘we are living in unprecedented times’ even once more, I’ll burst – not that it’s untrue, rather that I am not sure how many more ‘unprecedenteds’ I can take.
That’s why today’s short piece might be titled ‘in praise of stability’.Yet I would like to offer another descriptor - we are part of a sweet school, as well. The word from Mirimus Labs is that we are ‘on time/on target’ to have results of this week’s school-wide COVID testing over the weekend, in time to make sure that we’re set to open our doors for in-person learning on Monday, January 11.
When we do so, our community can feel secure that everyone who enters the school will have tested COVID-negative, and that, in essence, we are starting the second of half of this ’unprecedented’ year as a COVID-free school.
When students enter, they will resume their studies. They will continue to be taught by a cadre of remarkable, talented, committed educators whose focus is clearly on the prize of providing their students with the tools – academic, social and spiritual – to excel, to become the very best persons they can be, and to set their sights high.
Parents will be able to confidently trust that the school is operating with the health and safety of their children at the forefront, that decisions are always made centered around the well being of their children.
This is what a good school does, and it delivers quality education day in and day out. Our school accomplishes that with the support of a terrific Board, and the ongoing, steady generosity of a remarkable, philanthropic, and visionary family.
Further, a wonderful school is always poised for its next big step. This week, AEC was introduced to the first of two terrific candidates for the permanent Head of School position, and it’s clear that the folks involved in the search process have been very, very successful.
Research tells us over and over how stability enables children to grow up well; that being able to depend on the structures and the caring individuals around them helps young people to do the ‘important work of growing up’. At times like these, such stability provides the space, and the place, for the healthy development that children and their families can trust.
We are embarking on the season of re-enrollment. I’m confident that many families will seek out the sense of strength, stability, and excellence that our school provides. It’s a prospect that can be reassuring in these very, very unsettling times.
So, let’s start the second half of this ‘unprecedented’ year confident, energized, and ready for whatever comes next, secure in knowing who we are and what we are here to do.