Weekly Update With Arnie 2020-2021

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

 

In his essay on this week’s Torah portion, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l compares two episodes in the Book Numbers where potential threats to his leadership are explored, and sees the difference between the two as evidence that Judaism always encourages us to seek influence rather than power, and the real leadership embraced by Tanach and by rabbinic Judaism is that of influence, above all that of Prophets and teachers. As Rabbi Sacks frequently notes, the ultimate accolade given to Moses by tradition. We know him as Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our teacher. Moses was the first of a long line of figures in Jewish history – among them Ezra, Hillel, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, Rabbi Akiva, the Sages of the Talmud and the scholars of the Middle Ages – who represent one of Judaism’s most revolutionary ideas: the teacher as hero. 

 

Judaism was the first and greatest civilization to predicate its very survival on education, houses of study, and learning as a religious experience higher even than prayer, and a school such as ours is a testament to that faith and investment – that when we invest in teachers, we are investing in the future. 

 

This speaks to Judaism’s idea of what constitutes leadership; an approach is to speak to people’s needs and aspirations, and teach them how to achieve these things together as a group. That is done through the power of a vision, force of personality, the ability to articulate shared ideals in a language with which people can identify, and the capacity to “raise up many disciples” who will continue the work into the future. Power diminishes those on whom it is exercised. Influence and education lift and enlarge them. 

 

Sacks notes that not all of us have power, but we all have influence. That is why we can each be leaders. The most important forms of leadership come not with position, title or robes of office, not with prestige and power, but with the willingness to work with others to achieve what we cannot do alone; to speak, to listen, to teach, to learn, to treat other people’s views with respect even if they disagree with us, to explain patiently and cogently why we believe what we believe and why we do what we do; to encourage others, praise their best endeavors and challenge them to do better still. 

 

We as a community subscribe to this vision of changing the world through influence, and of teachers showing the way for the next generation.  While this  has been a remarkably challenging and complex year to lead a school, it is my belief that the success of our school in this tumultuous year has engendered trust from all the parties involved, and I think that is the key reason why it appears that we are poised for unprecedented growth.  

 

While the numbers are still not finalized, it appears that we have experienced the highest retention rate in the history of the school (over 90%), and the greatest increase in enrollment ever.  We are so appreciative of the tremendous commitment of families – parents and children to keeping our school open and flourishing this past year.  Further, we owe a debt of gratitude to our teachers who cared for our children day after day, even though a pandemic as many of their colleagues in other schools were never in front of their classrooms.  They are, indeed, our heroes. 

 

I would like to thank all who have been so supportive of me this year, starting with the Board of Trustees, especially Mr. Sheldon z”l and Dr. Miriam, Adelson, and Mr. Thomas Spiegel.

 

I entered this position blessed with a tremendous leadership team that includes Alli Abrahamson, Camille McCue, as well as Chris Blum, Todd Peters, Lynn Wexler, Maria Paxinos, Ben Koch, Daniel Kelly, Matt Boland and Vicky Asher. 

 

I am particularly grateful to Lilach Bluevise, our outgoing Lower School Principal and Frieda Freidman, our outgoing Chief Financial Officer.  Although they will be followed by two wonderful professionals, Sharon Metz (our incoming Lower School Principal) and Laurie Kaufmann (our incoming Chief Financial Officer), no one will ever take the place of Lilach or Frieda, nor ever diminish the great contributions they have made to the school. 

 

This promises to be a terrific summer, where we will once again be ‘recalled to life’, as my favorite literary hero, Charles Darnay would say.  Let us make the most of it – enjoying the time with the family, friends and places that we have missed, and look forward to an even stronger school and school year, starting August 9th

 

It has been my privilege to get to know so many wonderful people who believe in this school, and I am honored to look forward to a second year to serve as Interim Head.  I hope that I, and that we as a school, can continue to live up to the trust the community has placed in us,  and the standard set by our tradition. 

 

Congratulations on a wonderful school year!

 

Arnold Zar-Kessler

Interim Head of School

The Adelson Educational Campus



 

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PREVIOUS WEEKLY UPDATE WITH ARNIE MESSAGES

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Friday, May 21, 2021

 

I had hoped to be using this last Friday column of the school year to talk about how wonderful this year has been, and preview with excitement everything we have to look forward to for the next academic year. Instead, I'm sorry to say events have intervened that require me to use this space to share some more reflections about the situation in Israel, and potentially closer to home. 

 

I'm very grateful to our faculty in the Upper School, who have not shied away from entering into important conversations throughout this year with our students in the past, around the complexity of the situation in the Middle East. I know for example that the inclusion of the Israel American Council’s program ‘Connectivism’ earlier in the year with our older students, help them gain a deeper understanding of the history of the state of Israel and help prepare them for the challenges that they as students might meet going forward once they leave the confines and the comfort of a AEC. Indeed, as part of their program we brought in an outside speaker to make sure that the students understood that there is a breadth of opinion, even in Israel, even with people who deeply and profoundly believe in the State of Israel, and that there are ways to respectfully differ from one another on how to realize the greater goal of a state for the Jewish people living in harmony with others. 

 

But the role of leadership in a school such as ours is not to enter into nor ultimately pontificate on geopolitical issues. We are proudly a Zionist school. We share the dream of a Jewish homeland in Eretz Israel and our program is built on that belief. I would suggest though at a time like this, our focus is on our community, and the members of our community, our faculty, our parents and our students. We must ask ourselves, how are they coping, and consider the challenges and the stresses they may be under.

 

When I was on campus. Earlier this week, I was able to discuss with a number of staff the connections they have with their own family and friends in Israel. They made me aware that so many of our parents  are in close contact with ‘their people’ in Israel. I heard so many stories, including one of a mother here in Las Vegas, getting a call in the middle of the night from her terrified daughter asking for directions on where to stand on the train so as not to be killed as she tried to get from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv during a period of bombing, trying to help her understand.

 

I heard another story of a family that wanted to take their ten-year-old daughter to the beach on a sunny Shabbat afternoon after weeks of being cooped up for COVID just last week, and how they were terrorized as a siren call that forced them and literally thousands of other bathers to take cover by just lying on the sand and covering their heads as missiles sizzled overhead. 

 

Yesterday morning, I was shown a screen of a staff member's cell phone that was full of news of attacks that occurred within one minute at 8:01am throughout the south of Israel, and how this particular staff member was concerned for the well being of her own family. These stories, plus the news out of Los Angeles of the vicious attacks on Jews in a neighborhood that probably many of us have done then frequently sent chills down our spines. 

 

All of these remind us that it is incumbent on all of us to be alert and to be prepared, as well as to be caring and comforting to those in need and those under remarkable stress. To that end, I'm so grateful to Todd Peters, Director of Security and his team for staying closely connected with local police departments and other security concerns for sharing their information and guidance with our staff and to make sure that every one of us can feel confident when we enter the premises. 

 

I want every parent and every staff member to know that every person in our school, adult and child alike, is being supported around issues related to their safety and well being.  This is a key value of our school, and that even with all the challenges going on around us, even with all the uncertainty and concern that many of our families and staff face, that we can conduct our business of the sacred task of educating these beautiful children without fear or trepidation. 

 

This has indeed been a tumultuous year. It has been my privilege to be able to be part of it, and to help the school remain open and remain strong. As we close the year. I'm hoping we can become even stronger as a community aware of and in support of each other, knowing that our work has helped set the stage for the next generation that will be proud, safe, and motivated to make their own contributions. 

 

Shabbat Shalom.



 

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Friday, May 7, 2021

 

As we move towards the close of the school year, I thought I would use the two ‘penultimate’ articles to focus on results of our program.  This week focusing on some data from the Upper School, including college acceptances, honors and test scores and then next week focused upon the results of the Educational Records Bureau (‘the ERB’ tests), which are taken mostly by students in grade eight and below.  By sharing these metrics, I hope to paint a picture of how the school is doing as we start to wrap up the year.

 

There will be twelve students this year who will be honored at graduation on Thursday, May 20th and I look forward to being present to congratulate each and every one of them for their good work, their perseverance and their achievements for their entire pre-collegiate education, and especially for their maintaining focus in this most challenging year.

 

And meet the challenge they did, not only through their excellence in their work this year, but throughout their times at AEC.  Here at AEC, we are committed to working with each individual student to help them achieve their dreams of a college education and provide them the opportunity to choose from a range of higher education options.  We are so very, very fortunate to have David Girard, a thoughtful and accomplished college counselor working with our students.

 

And their record this year is truly astonishing.  Here’s what our graduates are planning for next year.

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • Tavor Leadership Academy of the Israel Defense Forces
  • Purdue University
  • University of California, San Diego
  • And University of Nevada, Las Vegas (seven students, three in the Honors Program)

 

In addition, there were admission offers to 22 schools overall, including:

  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Northeastern University
  • Oregon State University
  • Saint Louis University
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Texas at Dallas

 

Represented among the twelve members of the Class of 2021 are: 

  • AP Scholar
  • AP Scholar with Honor
  • AP Scholar with Distinction (2)
  • Millennium Scholarships (9)
  • National Merit Scholarship Semi-Finalist
  • National Merit Scholarship Finalist
  • Ronald McDonald House Charities Scholarship
  • Rotary International Scholarship

 

In addition, Merit Scholarships Awarded: ($221,750 per year: $887,000 for four years)

 

The record of our high school students goes beyond these impressive college matriculations.  Indeed, the honors bestowed upon our high schools students are evidence that the school itself  - as Dr. McCue so aptly puts it – ‘is an incubator for their achievement.’  Here are just a few examples of the ways in which their accomplishments are recognized by the wider world.

 

Last night, I was fortunate enough to watch AEC Sophomore Jack Kim honored at the DECA International Career Development Conference ICDC for a Grand Award in Principles of Business Administration.  Jack competed against the top state finalists nationwide for this highest award, and he is the first Nevada student selected to go on to finals! Congrats to the entire DECA team and to Brian Hemsworth, our coach.

 

List College of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City recently announced that two Adelson students, Jonah Tecktiel and Aviel Parenti were cited as winners of the 2021 JTS Ahavat Torah Award. JTS cited these two young men as ‘having excelled as students and as leaders, these individuals have earned the respect and admiration of their faculty and peers’. We are thrilled to celebrate their achievements through this award.  Adelson was one of only two schools – and the only one west of the Delaware River –to been honored with two awardees

  

Sophomore Nicole Miller was recently appointed to the Nevada Youth Legislature, working with State Senator Keith Picard, focused on legislation that she will help draft that will be introduced to the legislature.  Nicole applied, interviewed and was chosen from the largest number of applications  compared to all the other spots combined 

 

The list really does go on.  Our robotics team has distinguished itself in competitions in its first year of organized entries, the others in our DECA program have also been honored, and numerous other students have received Adelson awards and noted in the wider community.

 

As for tests, Ashley McKinnon recently shared some representative results of her social studies students for their practice Advanced Placement (AP) exams. 9 of her 12 students took a full practice test two Sundays ago on Zoom.  We had five ‘5’s’ (the highest score, one 4, one 3, and two 2s).  Of the three remaining, based on past scores on components, Ashley anticipates one more 2, and two more 4/5s.  For those unfamiliar with these college-level exams, these scores are truly outstanding.

 

We also are pleased to recognize the achievements of our students internally.  For example, today I was privileged to share a reflection in advance of the Fonfa awards to Upper School students for outstanding writing. And this year, we will introduce the Sheldon Adelson ’Keter Shem Tov’ (crown of a good name) award at graduation for the student who best exemplifies the accomplishments, character and commitment that are a legacy of our founder, Mr. Adelson z”l.

 

While there is no single measure for excellence in high school education, the data enables us to recognize the quality, and the excellence – of Adelson’s high school program. We like to think of the program as ‘boutique’, in that it can cater to the whole individual child while maintaining the highest of academic standards and performance, all while building a strong foundation and community for our students.

 

While for many of our parents – especially those in the elementary and pre-school - looking at the ‘outcomes’ of an Adelson education might seem far, far off, it is worth noting, and keeping in mind, that we are a single, unified school dedicated to the success of all our children, from 18 months to 18 years old.  And we have the medals to prove it.

 

Shabbat Shalom,




Friday, April 30, 2021

 

Earlier this week, I was pleased to share my excitement in introducing Ms. Sharon Metz as our new Lower School Principal.  I thought I’d use this space to share the reflections of those who know and who are getting to know Ms. Metz.

 

The following are taken from comments we received from colleagues and supervisors, including some who are ‘deans’ in the field of leadership in Jewish Day School education: 

In my two decades in schools, Sharon is the single most talented educator I have ever had the privilege to know. She is an absolutely gifted teacher; she crafts lessons and curricular plans with great intention and her delivery is masterful--differentiated, engaging, and superbly orchestrated. 

I give Sharon my highest recommendation for a leadership position at your school. You could not find a more talented, dedicated, thoughtful, and organized educator. 

Working in a school is hard work, but it is all in the interest of student learning and this is what motivates her. Sharon’s visionary thinking and ability to negotiate many tasks at once are second to none. 

 

The following were gleaned from responses after Sharon’s recent sessions with faculty and parents: 

She seems to understand the value of parents’, teachers’, and students’ different perspectives. She seems well prepared to build relationships and work with our parents faculty and understand their needs.I feel that she will be able to further  strengthen the alignment between the preschool, lower school, and upper school. 

I appreciate her knowledge of pedagogy, value of understanding vertical alignment, and how she provided specific examples of ways that she would make an impact at AEC. 

I felt more connected to Sharon as a potential leader for our school. I loved what she said about preschool and her recognition that it is a different entity. She shows a warm and friendly personality and is honest and transparent with those she would be leading. She also seems more welcoming. 

I appreciate her knowledge of pedagogy, value of understanding vertical alignment, and how she provided specific examples of ways that she would make an impact at AEC. Most importantly, the character education and development focus will be invaluable. 



To be fair, if there was a common concern we heard from these recent meetings, it was Sharon’s lack of experience in a role such as Lower School Principal at AEC.  Together, Sharon and the school are taking that seriously.  

We are in the process of lining up professional development training, likely through Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education (where Dr. McCue, Mr. Koch and I have all trained), and on Monday, I look forward to speaking with a terrific, experienced Jewish Day School leader who we hope will become Sharon’s mentor, starting later this month.

Two other factors make me confident that we can help Sharon navigate the first months of her new role.  First, she will be working with a truly outstanding team.  I know Sharon looks forward to learning from and working closely with the Lower School Leadership Team that includes Daniel Kelly, Susan Tecktiel, Dr. Susan Baker, and Dina Rudaizky.  It is my faith in them – and my commitment to helping them all through this period of transition – that gives me confidence.

But even more than that, I am encouraged because I have come to know Ms. Metz now after hours of conversation and meetings and I can see someone who is ready – ready to learn, ready to engage, and ready to lead.  This is a life-long learner, a teachers’ teacher who knows what excellence in a Jewish Day School looks like and is ready to take the next step.

I am truly delighted to welcome Ms. Metz to our school, and I know that our community is as well. 

 

Shabbat Shalom,





Friday, April 23, 2021

 

How do we help our children maintain a sense of good social emotional health? This is a question that all adults - parents and teachers alike  - who live and work with young people have always asked. But over the last year, the question has become more profound. There are ample studies that indicate the challenge young people have experienced during this time of COVID.  For example, a recent study noted that….

 

 ‘Children are likely to be experiencing worry, anxiety and fear, and this can include the types of fears that are very similar to those experienced by adults, such as a fear of dying, a fear of their relatives dying, or a fear of what it means to receive medical treatment. If schools have closed as part of necessary measures, then children may no longer have that sense of structure and stimulation that is provided by that environment, and now they have less opportunity to be with their friends and get that social support that is essential for good mental well-being.’

 

Obviously, those children and young people who have not had the benefit of in-person schooling, have been shown to be at the greatest risk for challenges to their mental health. But we should not overlook the impact of the restrictions, the legitimate restrictions, due to COVID that have been placed on kids, such as those attending our school, and others have experienced during this pandemic.

 

This applies to children in every division of our school, from the youngest to the oldest.  Data shows that adolescents and post adolescents – basically our middle-and high schoolers - have been the most challenged by the toll during this period of ‘quarantining’. 

 

We as adults have responsibility to think about the ways in which the challenges to young people's mental health is responded to and how to grow and access the tools that we have to help them.  

 

We're very fortunate that this coming Wednesday evening, April 28. At 7:00 p.m.,  our school will have a chance to learn from two outstanding leaders in the field around social emotional well being for young people, Miriam Ament and Dr. Anat Geva from ‘No Shame on U’. No Shame on U No Shame On U is dedicated to helping communities such as ours understand that the way in which we treat others, especially young people, during times of difficulty, is critical in terms of how the young people themselves respond.  Their focus is on breaking the stigma associated with mental health so the people who need the help will seek it, family members and friends will know how to provide proper support, and to save lives.

 

The way in which we respond to others – especially young people – in need says a lot about who we are as a community.   The program this coming Wednesday evening will focus on the way in which we as adults, respond to young people who are demonstrating challenges around social emotional well being.  If we are honest with ourselves, we know that for many of us we lack the tools, the language, and the understanding of how we can be the best partners, with those members of our community who might be in need.

 

We are enjoined in our tradition to never ‘stand idly by’ when we see the difficulties of others.   This coming Wednesday, we will gain the insight and the tools to be the best partners we could possibly be, those amongst us who need to be brought closer, not shunned, and thus we can better achieve the goals of a community that is inclusive in the ways that matter most.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Arnie

 

 




Friday, April 16, 2021

After having completed all my vaccinations and getting the go ahead from my family and physician, I was able to spend time on campus this week.  Having just returned this morning on the red eye back to Boston, I wanted to share a few reflections on how extraordinarily impressed I was by the entire experience.

 

First off - as I'm sure you're more than aware  - the facility is more stunning than pictures can show. From the first entry into the school to the remarkable facilities we are providing our children, I was simply blown away by the beauty and by the care taken in design and upkeep of our school, and I'm thrilled to be part of such an elite private school facility.

 

It was great to finally meet face-to-face with our administrative team. Even though I've had a good deal of contact with them prior to this visit, it was a delightful surprise to see that everyone on the leadership team, with whom I have had zoom calls now for months, do indeed wear shoes!  Meeting in person was a richer experience than the Zoom calls, obviously, and I found the insight, depth, and commitment of my partners here on the school leadership group to be quite, quite remarkable.

 

I also had a chance to get to see the teachers, albeit far less than I ideally would have liked.  They seem to be a group that - even at this tail end of the school year  - are as dedicated and as devoted as one could possibly wish for.

 

While I only got to see parents a bit in the carlines yesterday, I got a chance to put faces and names together, and look forward to meeting more of you in my upcoming visits.

 

Finally, I got to walk around the halls a lot, trying a bit of ‘managing by walking around’. By doing this, I got to see lots and lots of children. I got to see them in the preschool when they walked into school, and the tenderness with which they held the hands of their teachers. 

 

I got to see the elementary school students with their bright, bright shining faces, so engaged in their work and so comfortable with each other and in  in the school, ready to work hard and focus on their learning.

 

I got to see a bunch of middle schoolers as many received awards in yesterday’s program, and how their classmates cheered them on.

 

Finally, I got to see some of our older students in their classrooms, and playing in the faculty-student basketball game. They seemed ‘comfortable in their skin’, and with each other; it’s easy to be impressed with the community that they have made.

 

It was a real privilege for me to finally make it to campus - really in many ways a dream come true. I now have a better understanding of why people feel so positively towards the school, and my glimpses of the strong program, wonderful community, and warm, welcoming people makes the promise of trips back even more exciting.

 

I look forward to getting to know more of you.  Thank you for a wonderful few days here in Summerlin, a town  - and a school - that is far, far more impressive than I could have imagined. 











Friday, March 19, 2021

Last week, I started an exploration of how a school like ours is, in the best sense, countercultural.  I can think of no better example to substantiate that claim than the holiday of Passover itself.

 

In sharing my reflections on this, I refer to a book that I would heartily recommend for anyone looking for a solid, well written introduction to the cycle of the Jewish year: The Jewish Way by Rabbi Irving ("Yitz') Greenberg. I find myself rereading his essay on Passover each year in preparation for the holiday.

 

  1. Greenberg lays out the case for history as an ever-repeating scene of despair, “...statistically speaking, human life is of little value, the downtrodden and the poor accept their fate as destined.  It can seem that the powerful and successful simply accept their good fortune as they are due, and that power -rather than justice - seems always to rule religion.

Jewish religion affirms otherwise.  Judaism insists that history, and the social, economic, political reality in which people live will eventually be perfected. Much of what passes for the norm of human existence is really a deviation from the ultimate reality. And how do we know this? From an actual event in history, the Exodus.”

 

  1. Greenberg suggests that “the freeing of the slaves testifies that human beings are meant to be free, and that history will not be finished until all our free.  The Exodus reestablishes the dream of profession, and thereby creates the tension that must exist until reality is redeemed. This puts faithful Jews at odds with the world, out of step with reality – and our faith as ‘counter-cultural’.  It makes Jewish faith a testimony, the Jews must give constantly until the rest of the world is persuaded; our fellow travelers and we are  outsiders and challengers.”

 

“We affirm this year each year at the holiday of Passover, and at our Seders, where we re-enact the story of Exodus as a source of hope and renewal that can infuse the present with meaning. Passover, and the Seder, is the ultimate attempt to involve people in the experience of Exodus.  On this night, the Jewish people rise up and set up for the Promised Land, slave again for you again, born again.”

 

Many of us will be participating in ‘reduced’ Seders this year, as we did last year, creating particular challenges.  For those of us just gathering with our children, perhaps we can look at this year’s Seder as an opportunity to reinforce that quintessentially Jewish idea that physical acts reinforce our spiritual values.

 

The Torah teaches us that the verse that helps shape the Seder (Exodus 13:14), where Moses tells the Israelites,  “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “, our Sages teach us that the verse does not say ‘if your children ask’, rather, when – we know that tapping children’s curiosity is what ensure the legacy of Judaism, and the way in which we, as parents (and grandparents) engage our children will not only ‘make memories that last a lifetime’, but also ensures that this view of the world, and history as having purpose, is secured.

 

It is a great, great privilege and responsibility to be the inheritor of a tradition that tells the world’s story of freedom and to be the link to share it with the next generation.  May we absorb the significance of these teachings, and may we rise to the occasion to help inspire all seekers of Freedom, with our story of Exodus as our source and treasure.

 

Have a wonderful break, and a sweet Holiday of Passover.

 

Shabbat Shalom,



Friday, March 12, 2021

Many moons ago, in my very early twenties, I considered myself as something of a member of a ‘counterculture’.  Yes, my hair was long and – for a brief period – I dropped out of college.  And when my then-girlfriend (and now wife of almost 48 years) wanted an adventurous date, we attended the courtroom of what has now come to be known as the ‘Trial of the Chicago Seven’.  (Spoiler alert – it was more exciting in anticipation and in the retelling than the hours we spent inside listening to endless legal motions made by the opposing attorneys).

In the years since, I like to posit that I didn’t really leave the counterculture;  rather it left me.  Indeed, I think many of the values I held dear about the sanctity of life and building relationships of caring for those who are less fortunate, and about ‘telling truth to power’ still animate me – I’m not sure if the wider community hasn’t moved on to other values.

Except at a place like our school.  I wanted to take time this week and next to explore the ways in which a school such as ours is deeply counter-cultural – in the very best sense of that word.

Our daily prayers open with an appreciation for being renewed to life, and the passages that follow show an appreciation for our body, for the world around us, and for our lives themselves.  Indeed, much of our regular rituals are all expressing gratitude for what we have been given.  

This approach – through practice, ritual and ultimately habit, builds a pattern in us all, but especially in children.  It teaches them that the world is a place in which they can find joy, a place where they can care for their family and friends, and to be appreciated, in turn.  And that while imperfections do, indeed, exist in the world, the world itself is not a malevolent place.

In this way, children learn to be confident and less fearful about the world around them. Judaism teaches that, ultimately, the world exists – and we exist – because God, the Author of all, brought us into being with love..  It is this belief more than any other that redeems us from solitude, from fate of tragedy and from viewing  the world with despair.

I’m suggesting that because we operate from such a foundation, we are able to impart to children  a perspective of gratitude more than grievance.  We nurture optimism rather than anger.  And what parent doesn’t want their children to be optimists?  When you start as W.H. Auden puts it, 'In the prison of his days, Teach the free man how to praise’ we are enabled, and we enable the children in our care to see the world as a gracious place, a place in which they can handle life’s challenges with confidence and optimism, in which they can show honor, affection and gratitude.

This I suggest is the best way to address a culture that sometimes is led more by grievance, anger and despair.  No, we’re not raising hippies.  We’re raising children with a firm foundation upon which they can build a life of hope, which will be a focus in next week’s Etone, just prior to our Passover break.

Shabbat Shalom,

 




PREVIOUS ETONE MESSAGES

 

 3/5/2021

 

This week, we were so pleased to announce the two finalists for the position of Lower School Principal. 

 

Both Allie Hauser-Erickson and Kerri Stern (whose capsule biographies can be found below) are accomplished outstanding educators with a history of success in leading Jewish Elementary schools. We are honored that they are seriously entering conversations with us about the possibility of joining the leadership team here at Adelson. 

 

Allie Hauser-Erickson

Allie Hauser-Erickson, MA, ET is a passionate school leader, learning researcher, and educational therapist with over a decade of experience in the Jewish community school environment. Having taught in general, highly capable, and special education classrooms, Allie’s dynamic approach to pedagogy and curriculum development was recognized with the Maria Erlitz Award for Excellence in Education (2018). In her current role as Elementary Dean at the Jewish Day School of Metropolitan Seattle, Allie has gained the reputation of an educational visionary through her leadership of innovative initiatives including the adaptation of project-based learning, integration of Jewish and general studies, and the creation of a highly successful personalized approach to math and literacy instruction. Allie holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Duke University, a master’s degree in Elementary Education from the City University of Seattle and is currently completing a post-graduate certification in School Leadership and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 

 

Kerri Stern

Kerri Stern is currently the Director of K - 8 at the Seattle Hebrew Academy where she mentors and empowers teachers, partners with parents, engages with students, and fosters a culture of collaboration, innovation, and growth. Kerri is a seasoned educator with an impressive background in private schools since 1998. She has earned two Master's Degrees from Pepperdine University; one in Administration and one in Education. Kerri has taught Humanities in Fourth through the Middle School grades and has held several administrative roles from leading committees to Middle School Coordinator. Kerri’s commitment to excellence, combined with her hands-on collaborative approach and warm personality, is what stands out to teachers, parents, and students

 

The process of identifying, interviewing. evaluating and ultimately securing an outstanding principal is a key duty of school leadership. As a school, we simply could not have gotten to this point without the tremendous work of an excellent search committee (Alli Abrahamson, Camille McCue, Susan Tecktiel, Debbie Castille and Blythe Cherney), as well as insight and input from members of the Board of Trustees, from the lower school leadership team led by Lilach Bluvise, and from faculty and parents throughout the school. 

 

We enter a delicate phase of this process now, in which both the candidates and the school learn more about each other, made all the more challenging in these COVID times. I'm so grateful to the lower school faculty who will join us on Monday for a Zoom call with the first of our candidates, and then a week later with the second candidate, as well as to the lower school parents who will be joining us this coming Tuesday for the first of those Zoom calls, and then the following Tuesday for the second of those calls. 

 

The search committee will be gathering feedback, analyzing the references and having open and frank conversations about the direction of the lower school, and who is best equipped to lead it to its next set of successes. We all know that filling Lilach’s shoes will be a big challenge, and we're quite, quite hopeful that one of these two outstanding educators will bring their gifts to this great community for the coming school year, and for years to come.

 

We'll keep you posted.

 
















2/26/2021

 

Dear AEC Community,

 

From a distance it was so clear how delightful today's programming for the holiday of Purim was at the school.  While I missed being present to see the joy and the children's faces, I was able to Zoom in and see many parts of the festivities. 

 

From the early morning Megillah reading in the high school, to the fantastic costumes and amusements in the lower school, to the wonderful refreshments provided by the parent teacher organization, the general sense of happiness was pervasive throughout the school. I'm grateful to all involved, who helped make today such a wonderful day for our children. 

 

For us adults, we might want to consider what there is in the holiday that we can take away from it. Beyond that, now, somewhat hackneyed phrasing, ‘They tried to kill us.  They lost. Let's eat.’ And perhaps on Purim, we could ask the last to the last phrase. ‘And let's drink.’ 

 

Because Purim commemorates the story told of disaster avoided through the heroism of Esther and her uncle Mordechai, we can understand the commemoration of the story to be one of relief, perhaps. But to turn the day into a carnival? We might ask why such exhilaration at merely surviving a tragedy that was only narrowly averted? Just because we’re still here to tell the story? 

 

The insights of the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks are helpful here. He notes that as he began to understand how much pain there has been in Jewish history, how many massacres and pogroms throughout the ages, he gained a greater appreciation of the holiday of Purim. Jews, Rabbi Sacks notes, ‘had to learn how to live with the past without being traumatized by it. So they turned the day when they faced and then escaped the greatest danger of all into a festival of unconfined joy, a day of dressing up and drinking a bit too much, to exorcise the fear, live through it and beyond it, and then come back to life, unhaunted by the ghosts of memory.’ 

 

‘Purim is the Jewish answer to one of the great questions of history: How do you live with the past without being held captive by the past? Ours is a religion of memory, because if you forget the past, you’ll find yourself repeating it. Yet it’s also a future-oriented faith. To be a Jew is to answer the question, ‘Has the Messiah come?’, with the words, ‘Not yet.’ 

 

It sometimes seems that in our country, and in many parts of the world today where ancient (and not-so-ancient) grievances are still being played out, as if history were a hamster wheel in which however fast we run we find ourselves back where we started. Purim is a way of saying, remember the past, but then look at the children, celebrate with them, and for their sake, learn from that past, put it in its proper context, ultimately put the past behind you and build a better future. 

 

With that in mind today, the holiday of Purim, I appreciate the words of my Rabbi, Benjamin Samuels of Newton, MA -  “Never fail to find sweetness & flavor in life; hold onto faith & hope in times of challenge; exercise an attitude of gratitude; and redemption begins by building the bonds of friendship, community and a sense of shared destiny.”   

 

And thus may we learn - alongside our children - how to celebrate, knowing the past and pointing towards the future. 

 

Chag Purim Sameach,

 

2/19/2021


Dear AEC Community,

 

One of the projects I’m working on is the development of a profile of an ‘Ideal Graduate of AEC’.  These profiles, often done in conjunction with strategic planning for independent schools, are most often the result of a process that takes in a variety of voices and distills certain common themes that emerge.  I look forward to this work, leading to a vision that we can share with an incoming, permanent head of school. 

 

I can already foresee a few elements that will likely emerge.  For example, I can imagine a statement something like, ‘An ideal graduate of the Adelson Educational Campus will effectively operate applying higher-order thinking skills’ making the list.  That means that we anticipate – and will build our program – around the idea that students in the school will develop their analytical and critical thinking skills, understand how to apply different ways of attacking and addressing problems, and using all this across the program, in preparation for success at the upper levels of education.

 

Higher-order thinking requires students to manipulate information and ideas in ways that transform their meaning and implications. This transformation occurs when students combine facts and ideas in order to synthesize, generalize, explain, hypothesize or arrive at some conclusion or interpretation. Manipulating information and ideas through these processes allows students to solve problems and discover new (for them) meanings and understandings. This sort of student engagement empowers students in their own ‘construction of knowledge’, empowering them to be active learners far beyond their careers at Adelson.

 

Of course, the idea of developing such a vision, and articulating a profile (of which higher order thinking skills would be a part) is that the program would need to be planned and constructed – from the earliest years – in order to achieve these goals.  That ‘backward design thinking’ should shape a curriculum for an outstanding independent school such as ours. The component of the curriculum that contributes as much as any other ‘subject’ to higher order thinking skills is math.  Indeed, we teach math so that students eventually are proficient in:

 

  • Problem solving: seeking and identifying strategies and reasoning.
  • Comprehension and interpretation of statistics.
  • Flexibility of thinking.
  • And, ultimately, recognizing, formulating, and responding to good questions, where there might be more than one acceptable answer, where application of existing knowledge to new situations is required, where synthesis of a range of concepts yields insights.

In short, when it comes to developing higher order thinking skills, math is king.  Math at AEC already is excellent, and as we move forward with an integrated program preschool through twelfth grade in order to realize the vision of the ideal graduate, we will continue to refine and enrich an already-successful mathematics program for our students.

 

I will be touching on math achievement scores, different subject areas, and other aspects of ‘Profile of an Ideal Graduate’ in future Etone articles, and I welcome your input and reflections.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

 

 














2/11/2021

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!

With appreciation and best wishes,

 

2/5/2021

 

Dear AEC Community,

 

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.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

 

 

 

 

2/2/2021


Dear AEC Faculty and Staff,

 

Earlier today, 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 such a dedicated and caring group of professionals for 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. 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 along 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 to move forward to 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 work side-by-side with you in the upcoming months.

 

I am inspired by your 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 true devotion to the students by every member of the faculty, staff, and administration. You should all be proud of your work. I’m fully committed and excited to continue our partnership to ensure the future safety, growth, and success of our school.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




1/29/2021


Dear AEC Community,

 

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. 


Shabbat Shalom,





























1/22/2021

Dear AEC Community,


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. 


Shabbat Shalom,









1/15/2021


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 his 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, and parents have started collecting messages for the family.  Today, in our Kabbalat Shabbat program, Dr. McCue sharedwill share some reflections about Sheldon, and Jackie Edery and I will recited 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.

What binds the two stories is not their political viewpoints - after all, over time those particulars fade and morph as history places a new take on them.  Rather, it's their common sense that values-driven leaders, committed to a greater vision to find their way within our system to make it greater.

It is that system that will be the subject of lessons next week in social studies classes.  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 – to 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.




1/8/2021


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.


Shabbat Shalom,
































12/11/2020


In their Hebrew classes, our students learn that much of the language is built on three-letter ‘roots’, or ‘shorashim’.  These roots are then modified for application throughout the language – in some forms as nouns, others as verbs, adverbs and so on.  Indeed, the variations of the use of these roots often tell us a great deal about the language and the tradition within which it operates.

Take, for example, the ‘shoresh’ of het-nun-chuf,.  It is somewhat unusual in that this root has two well-established meanings – one for education - ‘beit  tichon’ is a high school; ‘machaneh’ is the term used for a summer camp; a ‘chancihah’ is a pupil. And another meaning for ‘dedication’, as in the story of Chanukah.

Chanukah is the holiday that celebrates the rededication of the Temple in ancient times.  How a committed small group of Jews, through their faith, commitment and perseverance - and through a miracle - were able to take that which was desecrated and return it to holiness. 

We discover that it is through the interplay of these two meanings something quite remarkable –that in our tradition, learning itself is an act of dedication.  This means that when we invest in the learning and well being of children, we are in fact, rededicating ourselves and renewing our commitment to see our world raised up.  Indeed, the Shabbat liturgy cites a passage in the Talmud ‘Al tikrei ‘bah-ni-yikh – don’t read the words (as they literally mean) ‘your children’;  rather read them as ‘boh-ni-yikh’, as your ‘builders.’  

When we ask children to learn Hebrew, we are giving them a gift of learning and understanding that transcends the boundaries of most programs of study.  By providing this foundation upon which the moral pillars of Western civilization have been built, they are given  the keys to unlocking insights that the study of other classical languages (such as Latin) or contemporary, practical languages (such as Spanish and Mandarin) simply cannot promise.  To provide students with the tools to grasp fundamental spiritual and moral lessons is a gift that lasts a lifetime.  It is literally a keystone of how our children become our builders of a better world.

How fitting, then, that we honor the founders and the dream of the Adelson Educational Campus this Sunday evening, the fourth night of Hanukkah – to recognize that through their vision and dedication, they have built a remarkable school that, in turn educates and cultivates the future builders of our communities.  Truly, this dedication to education reminds us of the deeper truth of what makes a difference in our world.

I hope you will join us this Sunday evening for a wonderful celebration of the school, its founder and its community.  For more information, please visit our website www.adelsoncampus.org/give/gala

Shabbat Shalom,



 



 


















12/18/2020

Starting the second half of this school year, a year that will always have a place in our minds as the ‘year of COVID’, with a fresh slate – will enable all of us to feel confident that we are on the right track towards seeing that ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, the completion of the school year as things – we pray – will start returning to normal as we approach the summer.

By testing everyone in the school, and maintaining our existing COVID protocols, we feel that we can minimize risk to ensure the health and safety of our students and staff – our single highest priority.  Further, by using the same testing company, Mirimus, and the same testing protocol that our partner independent schools (Dawson and Meadows) and outstanding public-school districts, (like the one in the next town over from me, Wellesley Public Schools) have already used, we trust that we are making the right decisions to secure accurate results that we can communicate before we return for in-person learning on January 11, 2021.

I am grateful to the community – especially the parents and students – for their understanding and support, as well as to our faculty and staff as we approach this important step to start us on the second half of this unprecedented school year.  I am particularly grateful to my larger leadership team, who have come forward in extraordinary ways to make sure that we can pull off this very complex and time-sensitive undertaking.  This is how we, as an AEC community, have been working together to be responsible to each other.

Parents were recently asked to complete a ‘Net Promoter Score’ survey. We have crunched the numbers and read the comments, which were quite impressive.  ‘The NPS Score’, which measures overall client satisfaction with the organization, was high – a 71.  To give some perspective on this, a national consulting firm published their findings of NPS scores from 14 industries, with a range of minus 16 to 59.  (For further background, click here.) 

Put differently, our NPS score of 71 means that AEC outperformed Trader Joe’s, Tesla and Southwest Airlines (to name but a few of the industry leaders), indicating that – despite the challenges ours and any school faces - our parents by and large have good things to say about us. When asked from a scale of 1 to 10, how likely is it that you would recommend AEC to a friend looking to find a suitable school, 87% selected an 8 or higher.

We saw that in the comments section, as well, including:

  • ‘quality of academics; values-based character-building focus; small, safe, caring community; individualized attention and excellence in handling school throughout Pandemic’
  • ‘Dedicated professionals; even in the current ideological environment, leaders and teachers are professional, data-driven, and generally responsive to feedback’
  • ‘Our child is so happy at AEC.  She is excited to go to school every day’

…and there are literally dozens more like these. 

It is gratifying to read these appreciations, and we work hard every day to maintain the trust that families place upon us.  Yes, we have read - and will re-read – those that offered some other points of view, and we hope to learn from them, as well.  

Yet, as we enter winter break and reflect on the challenges we’ve encountered this year, we look forward to a year where we hope and pray we come out the other side of these challenges restored and renewed. We know that the partnership between us is strong, and we hope that through our continued commitment to the well being and growth of our children, that bond will grow even stronger.

Best wishes for happy holidays and a brighter 2021!





















12/4/2020

 

Back in the days when we would go to stores (remember them?), it was not uncommon to find on the receipt for a purchase a request to fill out a brief survey.  I recall a few times when a clerk would suggest that when I get to the question, ‘On a scale of one to ten, how likely is it that you’d recommend our store?’, that I rate the store a ‘10’, so she could get a bonus.

I’m told that we will someday return to stores, and deal with clerks, as well.  But the ubiquitous survey question, ‘on a scale of one to ten…’ has been around for a while, and will likely be around for a good long while, as well – both in the physical as well as the virtual world.

That’s because that question – which is part of a protocol termed ‘Net Promoter Scores’ (or ‘NPS’) - gives organizations remarkable insight into how they are serving their clients with only a few very simple questions.

The authors of the survey, which was developed through the consulting firm, Bain and Company, sought to distill market research to a core axiom - we listen to the recommendations of others, and that we are more likely to follow their suggestions than we might think. 

In effect, the NPS questions and the resulting data are used as proxies for gauging clients’ overall satisfaction with a company's product or service and the customer's loyalty to the brand.  It’s no wonder that it has become so common because ‘smart’ organizations (like Netflix, Amazon and Starbucks to name a few) have learned that by building their capacity for customers’ recommendations, their businesses will grow.

I had the privilege a few years back to work with the authors of the Net Promoter system, Fred Reichheld and Rob Markey, in their efforts to build a nationwide network of not-for-profits using ‘NPS’ to improve their performance.  I learned a great deal from Fred and Rob, and from my colleagues (at places like Teach for America and Big Brother/Big Sister) on how to apply NPS to better meet the needs of all of our partners.

It is with that goal in mind – to better meet the needs of all our partners – that we share a very brief ‘Net Promoter’ survey in this issue of the Etone.  I hope you’ll find it one of the shortest surveys we’ve asked of you, and when I share back data – after the first of the year – I think you’ll agree that a lot can be learned from listening and asking good questions.

TAKE THE SURVEY

Many thanks for taking the time to fill out the survey, and if you ever want to spend a really boring hour, let me tell you about my presentations on NPS to Jewish organizations around the country.

 

Shabbat Shalom,



































11/24/2020

 

The history of Thanksgiving introduces us to a new American hero, Sarah Josepha Hale.  Hale, born in New England shortly after the Revolutionary War, may be the individual most responsible for making Thanksgiving a national holiday in the United States; it had previously been celebrated mostly in New England.  Each state scheduled its own holiday, some as early as October and others as late as January; it was largely unknown in the American South. Her advocacy for the national holiday began in 1846 and lasted 17 years before it was successful

In support of the proposed national holiday, Hale wrote presidents Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, and Lincoln. Her initial letters failed to persuade, but the letter she wrote to Lincoln convinced him to support legislation establishing a national holiday of Thanksgiving in 1863.  The new national holiday was considered a unifying day amidst the stress of the Civil War.

Before Thanksgiving's addition, the only national holidays celebrated in the United States were Washington’s Birthday and Independence Day. Hale's efforts earned her the nickname "Mother of Thanksgiving".

Yet, it is the story of Thanksgiving, not its factual origins, that still engages us, perhaps most especially this year.  Like other ‘foundational stories’ of America’s history, the story of Thanksgiving has been under review of late and some of its premises are being called into question.  And while it is true that Lincoln’s proclamation in 1863 made no mention of the Pilgrims or native Americans, or any meal together, the themes in the narrative we were all taught – and still teach – retain their lasting value.  The themes endure not because they are necessarily based on fact (in a not dissimilar way to many of the truths of Torah), but because they tell us something about ourselves.

The Thanksgiving narrative reminds us that American communities are built across differences; that we bring people different from ourselves to our table, and that in itself is worthy of celebration because it helps define our enterprise. Further, we are truest to our calling when we operate from a foundation of gratitude. When we gather together to ‘bow our heads’, we are fulfilling the promise we understand to have been set in the very earliest days of our nation. We recognize that our bounty is a product of Grace.

All the more so this year when our capacity to physically sit at the same table is drastically limited, where (we hope) this crazy year may remind us of the Grace we have lived in, and hope to return to shortly. For a community-within-the-American-community like AEC, where we embrace the differences of members of our school community, built on a tradition where we teach children that the first words out of a Jew’s mouth when they awake are ’Modeh ani l’fa-neh-kah’, ‘I am grateful before You for having returned my soul to me’, we are well acquainted with the themes of the foundational narrative of Thanksgiving. We try our best to live it every day here.

Perhaps, just as in 1863, this Thanksgiving can serve as a ‘unifying day amidst the stress’ we have experienced, bringing us closer together despite being further apart, giving us pause – and cause – for renewal, so sorely needed.

With best wishes for a happy, healthy and safe Thanksgiving.

 

































11/20/2020

 

Since the start of the school year, I hope it has been clear to the entire Adelson community the seriousness with which the school’s leadership takes the safety and well being of every member of our community who enters our facilities.  Yet we know that each day is a brand new one; one for which we must continue to be vigilant.  

It was those themes, along with a rise in infections and infection rates, that set the stage for this week’s Open Parent Meeting, where I had the opportunity to share some reflections – ‘making a case’ for in-person education, reminding the audience about our track record as a school, and then sharing some key points and some ‘asks’.  What follows is a summary of those reflections. 

 

The case for in-person instruction.

It is heartening to hear the agreement between the parent body and the staff regarding the value of in-person instruction.  Their good instincts are increasingly being validated by research, including:

  • A recent Stanford University study of 19 states estimates that students lost on average between 57 to 183 days of learning in reading and 136 to 232 days in math during the spring closures. New York City students lost 122 days in reading and 209 in math—essentially a year of education in a few months.  For children in districts like Chicago, Los Angeles or Las Vegas – districts where the most vulnerable populations of school age children live, their learning loss is profound, and cannot be made up with simply giving them a ‘pass’ for the  school year.  Losing a year (or perhaps a year and a half of in-person instruction is a penalty that will literally last a lifetime.  Conversely, by providing children with in-person instruction, we are laying the foundation for continued success – in high school, college and beyond.

 

  • Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania estimate that lower education quality during schools’ closures “costs current students between $12,000 and $15,000 in future earnings, varying by age. By October 1, 2020, they project students in grades 1-12 had lost between $43,000 and $57,000, or 4 to 5 percent of their lifetime wage earnings.”  And the longer kids are kept away from in-person instruction, these losses will be compounded.  As responsible members of a wider community, we can’t help but note that school closures will particularly burden lower-income parents who can’t work from home or afford backup childcare. 

 

  •  Brown University economics professor Emily Oster, who has been tracking virus cases at a sample of schools with more than three million students and 422,000 staff, reports there have been substantially fewer cases among students and teachers than among local populations.  Parents can check the ‘Dashboard’ on those data here.

In sum, keeping kids in classes is not simply a matter of providing a convenience for parents (or even serving the greater economy) – it’s about securing a successful future for our children;  children’s learning in these formative years is irreplaceable, and our work to secure that learning demonstrates the great responsibility we have towards them and their families.

And I haven’t even begun to mention the social-emotional value of enabling kids to spend time with their peers, connect with their teachers, and spend time in a wholesome, secure community.  The data reported of children not attending school and their rates of depression, suicidal ideation, alienation and more is simply frightening, and we strive to keep our kids well – both physically and emotionally - as we keep the school open.

 

Our track record

Our stringent protocols – not allowing anyone other than staff or students on the grounds at any point during school hours, strictly enforcing our social distancing and mask wearing protocols, and quarantining per the SNHD’s guidance, have helped us reach today, where we completed fifteen weeks of classes where all children are taught – in person – without evidence of a single case of COVID being transmitted to a child (and, please God, let that continue).

Let me translate that into some clear numbers;  by educating close to 500 students  every day, and by doing that for now close to 70 days, we have logged somewhere between 30,000 and 35,000 ‘student school days without evidence of a single instance of transmission of COVID to a child.  

Few, if any schools in the region can make that claim.  It’s one we take enormously seriously, and we know that we have reached this point because of the remarkable partnerships we are blessed to have – with our staff who have continued to perform at the highest levels of professionalism; with our students, who have simply been terrific in following our protocols, and have continued to be focused on their learning and support of each other; and, of course, with our parents, who have demonstrated why this is such a remarkable community, where caring for our families and for each other remains a singularly high priority.

 

Therefore, we’d like to reinforce a few key points, and maybe make an ‘ask’ or two:

Because we are all in this together, let’s remember that key to our continued success is communication.  We ask for families’ continued transparency – and compliance – if you (or a child) test, please tell us, and stay home until you receive a (hopefully negative) result and share the results with us.  Similarly, if your child is ill, please have them stay home, and if you decide to test them, let us know and keep your child at home until you can share the results with us.

We were so pleased that this sense of ‘shared commitment’ enabled so many parents to modify their plans for birthday parties so that they could be safe. We now ask that you consider likewise your plans for Thanksgiving.  This is a different, special year, and when the CDC and the Governor and others implore us to keep our gatherings to just our households, let us take that to heart – for the well being of all of us.

 

  • Avoid risky behavior. Eighty percent of those who become infected are in someone's home, and mostly by the people they are living with. Visiting someone else's house indoors for an extended period (especially without masks) is among the highest risks, if someone there is infected. Twenty percent of infections occur outside the home—indoor dining (restaurant or counter service), gyms, and hotels are believed to be the riskiest activities for our community.

 

  • Now is the time; now is the moment;  for vigilance, for guiding our children and our families to change our plans and our thinking, and – as a school – to see if we can keep our kids in classes and safe until the end of the semester, December 18, 2020.  

 

  • We promise to keep parents informed, and be a responsible institutional partner should the Governor include us in any upcoming lockdowns.  If we are not categorically included, we will study the directives and the data in the community very carefully before making any decision for AEC.  We are committed to keeping the lines of communication open and we believe that by doing so, we can help relieve anxiety for our community in this very, very anxious time.

 

I’ll close where I opened. We are in this together.  We are a community, a ‘kehillah’, where the value of every life, of every child matters enormously.  We are asked to balance enabling children to gain the learning that will enable them to succeed, along with caring for their health and safety.  We know that our track record – while excellent – is tested every day and we can only succeed by thinking of, and supporting, each other.

 

These are, indeed challenging and unprecedented times.  We, as families, as a school, and as a community are being tested.  I have every faith that we will persevere together, alert to the challenges, open to communicate transparently with each other, and committed to the well being of all.

Perhaps that, in and of itself, is a reason for giving thanks.

Best wishes for a healthy, happy holiday to you and yours.

































11/13/2020

 

It could be puzzling to note that with over thirty centuries of recorded history, Judaism has a record of very few ‘heroes’, at least in the traditional sense.  There are no dragon slayers, no great warriors, and no conquerors. No one who pulled a sword out of a stone, no standing on the bow of the boat crossing a river to start a new country, no rescuer of the innocent in a burning building.  This apparent  puzzle is solved when one understands that, for Judaism, the hero has always been the teachers. 

 

Moses is honored in traditional circles as ‘Moshe Rabeinu’, Moses, our great teacher.  The great honor of standing when an exalted figure enters the room is not reserved for heads of state – it’s not uncommon for students to stand when a beloved teacher enters the room.  Indeed, the root of ‘Torah’ also animates the word ‘Morah’, teacher. 

 

And thus it is with profound sadness that the Jewish world learned this week of the passing of a giant of this generation, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who died this past Shabbat, in England.  His loss has been noted and will be felt through the Jewish world and well beyond.  He was a teacher to a generation of Jews who sought to find deeper, yet authentic meaning in the text, and yet did not shy away from the complex issues of our world.  After serving many years as Chief Rabbi of England, Rabbi Sacks continued to write (his weekly commentaries, found here, continue to be a source of great insight for both the layman and the scholar). 

 

His sparkling oratory, natural charisma and the originality of his sermons and books, fusing Jewish canonical texts with a wide range of Western thought, made him a kind ‘intellectual and spiritual rock star’. He was a unique combination of an ultimate communicator and original thinker with an incredible breadth and depth of knowledge. 

 

His emailed commentaries on the Torah portion of the week have sustained many with their creative, original and deeply human interpretation of a text whose often obscure or elliptical meaning suddenly emerged, as a result, into sharp and clear focus. 

 

What blazed out from this great and seemingly unstoppable body of work was his deep love for Judaism and the Jewish people, and the overwhelming lesson of hope that he drew from Jewish teaching and Jewish history and offered to everyone.  

 

Having travelled, as he put it, “through philosophy and out the other side”, this background gave him the invaluable ability to show how reason and faith, science and religion were not antagonists but two sides of the same human coin.   This straddling of two worlds demonstrated that Jews and modernity were not only compatible, but that the one enhanced the other. 

 

I got to hear Rabbi Sacks speak a number of times (although never met him personally).  Each time, his speaking style was as crisp and brilliant as his presentation – a Cambridge accent, a starched collar, a neatly trimmed beard.  He always spoke with passion and clarity.  His talks always had a beginning, middle and end, and ‘punch lines’ that helped his teachings endure, and made us in the audience want to bring it back to our families and our communities to share, so that we would all be strengthened by his message.  I am embarrassed by the number of instances where Rabbi Sacks’ words were the basis of a talk or article I was sharing – hopefully always with attribution. 

 

As an introduction, you might want to spend a few moments listening to one of his Ted Talks, accessible through https://www.ted.com/speakers/rabbi_lord_jonathan_sacks 

 

Rabbi Sacks was a personal hero, modeling what a great Jewish teacher can aspire to be.  He used the tools at his disposal – his insight and oratory, along with technology and an astute sense of how to get things done – to help Jews and help the world.  By both raising our sights and deepening our understanding, his is a legacy every bit as equal to pulling the sword from the stone. 

 

Monday night’s message from Nevada Governor Sisolak contained an important message to pass along to our families. COVID-19 cases are increasing at alarming rates throughout the country, and specifically in Nevada. Be safe, social distance and wear masks. We appreciate your ongoing vigilance and concern for the welfare of our school community. While at home, you may want to join us next week for a few interesting conversations on Zoom: 

 

Tuesday, November 17 – The inaugural meeting of our ‘Grandparents Club’ at 5:30.  We want to extend a heartfelt welcome to grandparents and ‘grand friends’ of our students – we have so much to learn from them and so much to share.  This meeting will focus on how we can plan together to make that happen. 

Link –  

 

Wednesday, November 18: Virtual Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival Presents…Live to Bear Witness Webinar at 5:00pm.  I’m pleased to be a part of a panel to discuss the film (available for viewing):  

Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=heQQHlwXt6c 

Film: https://vimeo.com/458786433  (Password: eiholzer) 

The film probes how young people can learn about the Holocaust.  You can register to join the discussion here:  https://hillel.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_IbU8b1RySsOWgiisqbbMSQ?fbclid=IwAR0Sqg9KDIeCtTrdD_SRabK0HhXNt5QyBrrkKglkqMSluTZj9UJs7YM93vs

 

Wednesday, November 18: AEC Open Parent Zoom at 6:00pm.  As in the past, I invite any questions, ideally in advance, so I can prepare some responses.  I look forward to an open, engaged conversation that I hope will touch on topics like COVID, leadership searches, and anything else that might be on parents’ minds.  You can join us for that session by clicking on the link here: 


































11/6/2020

 

Faced with the challenge of trying to serve as Head of School from a distance, I wondered, how was I to get to know the staff at the school?  With the help of Vicky Asher and Tiffanie Zuttermeister, we came up with an interesting plan.  Through the wonders of technology, we offered ‘slots’ for staff to sign up for us to meet, virtually, over the last couple of months. 

 

This week, I am about to complete sixty or so sessions I’ve had with staff.  In each one, I learned about what they do at the school, about their program, about their students, how long they’ve been at the school, what they did before they came to the school, and anything else they thought might be useful for me to understand about them.  And in every conversation, I made sure to ask two questions, ‘What’s one thing we should keep at Adelson?, and ‘What’s one thing that maybe we should think about changing?’.  I told them that I was not in a position to commit to anything they might recommend, but I promised that I would record their responses and pass them along to my successor, so that they would have knowledge of the reflections of the staff (that compilation is approaching twenty pages!). 

 

I wanted to report a bit on my general findings. The responses to the question, ‘What should we change?’ were quite varied, with only modest overlap.  Probably the only frequent response was ‘stability in leadership – a Head of School who is here, in Vegas, and stays for a while’ being the most common of those responses (and I concur).  The others, including ‘Don’t change anything’, were thoughtful, and often touched upon topics specific to the context of the staff member (such as Preschool, Judaics, etc.).

 

What was remarkable was the uniformity of the responses to the question about ‘What should we keep?’.  The frequency – across divisions, subject specialties and length of tenure - was the sense of teachers working together as a team.  Over and over, I heard how faculty felt supportive of each other and how that made them want to come to work each day and work even harder for the children in their care.  I heard how comfortable teachers felt collaborating with their peers, how they enjoyed the company of the ‘people across the hall’, how much they miss the interaction that comes incidentally in the course of a regular day in a non-COVID year, and how all of that – taken together – makes them love coming to work at Adelson and working with children they clearly love.

 

For those of you who have never set foot in a teacher’s room, let me inform you that such responses - even if they are  to ‘butter up’ the new guy a little - are very rare, indeed.  In many schools (and those teachers who have taught outside of AEC confirmed) the atmosphere amongst the faculty is often far, far different.

 

Further, anyone who has tried to lead a school will tell you that making good choices about faculty is critical (and there have been some terrific choices here), and that the guts of the quality of a school day-to-day is the energy and care demonstrated by committed teachers.

 

I’m glad to have had the opportunity to meet with so many of our wonderful teachers.  I am humbled to be their partner this year.  We are a very fortunate community, indeed.

 

Next up, the 11thand 12thgraders – I’m starting to line up those meetings soon, and will report back on those later in the school year.

 






























10/23/2020

 

I’m so grateful to the wonderful folks who have shared reflections, given me guidance and, yes – challenged me – as we have worked through this first quarter of the academic year.  As part of that,  questions like, ‘Can you tell me what does the school stand for?’, and ‘What are the distinguishing features of an AEC education?’ come up from a variety of sources. While I think my successor would be well served to take on the important (and intensive) tasks of reviewing and further refining the school’s mission and core principles, I’d like to try my hand at suggesting some guiding educational values, rooted in the Jewish Day School identity of AEC.

Modernity needs the Jews and the Jews need modernity

We are instructed in our tradition that the Jewish people are enjoined to be a ‘light unto the nations’ (ohr l’goyim).  We can only accomplish that by engaging with the wider world.  Simply put, the Jewish people were never at our best when we were an insulated, isolated people.  Rather, it is through the engagement with the wider world that our culture has fully flourished. Our understanding of our texts, our rituals, even our music all retain traces of the imprint of Judaism’s engagement with other cultures.

Similarly, the modern world needs the  commitment to a better world, to seeing every person as a sacred creation, to the values of community and family – the values that lie at the heart of Judaism – now more than ever before.

The modern world is already, and has always been, the beneficiary of the involvement of Jews.  Look at literally any field of endeavor and you will see the contribution of Jews.  For example, the Nobel Prizes in fields like medicine, economies, chemistry, and physics have recognized Jews far, far beyond their number.  For example, the Nobel Prize for Literature has gone to American Jewish poets two out of the last three years.  And we need look no further than our benefactors, Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson to see the sort of contribution and impact Jews can have on the wider world.  Our school is but one example of the great value committed, engaged Jews have on the community and world around them.

But, then how does it work – what are the guiding educational principles that would drive a program in a school such as ours that distinguish us from other good schools, embedded in the ideas and values of Judaism?  I’d like to offer three:

 

  1. A tradition of close reading and problem solving

Jewish education must always start with engagement with our sacred texts,  such as we do here at AEC.  We don’t simply run ‘survey courses’ of the texts as might be done in other disciplines.  Rather, we pick apart the verses of Torah to unlock their meaning – we refer to commentators to unpack the Torah’s riches, and we ask ourselves, what can this text mean for me, and for my place in the world.  This sort of text-to-text, text-to-self and text-to-world reading is a distinguishing characteristic of Jewish study, and gives those engaged in Torah study a leg up as they approach any other text they study.

Further, the tradition of rabbinic law, such as children are exposed to here, is fundamentally one of problem solving – the problem being living a sacred life in the mundane reality of the real world.  By parsing, by deducing, by implying, by seeking novel solutions and recognizing how others have done it in the past provides tools that support ‘design thinking’ in a wide range of applications.

Thus, at its core, the tools developed in Jewish text study and the tradition such study has generated, provide an advantage, and yes – a privilege – upon which the education of generations has been built

  1. Being counter-cultural enables one to be brave

Jewish history is unfortunately one of terrible persecution and worse.  It has forced us to remain at the outskirts of the general – and the genteel – societies in which we lived.  Being denied rights to property, to trades, and even our identities and our lives, we have a developed history of adaptation.

Jews have always been ready to seek opportunities that others, in their comfort, might have overlooked.  Jews have a history of innovation –  in their own thinking, in their industry and in their engagement with the wider world.  This has led to a sense of liberation to try new things (and an alertness to the needs for liberation in other marginalized peoples).

Being ready to stand outside the crowd, to suggest different approaches, to be ready to try things beyond the popular norms are characteristics that run deep in our history and tradition, and it provides a driving energy for Jewish education. ‘Dare to be different‘ is not simply a slogan in a school that builds upon Jewish learning, Jewish tradition and Jewish history.  No, ’Dare to be different’ has been the slogan of our people’s survival for twenty-one centuries and it inspires the work we do every day.

 

  1. Models of leadership through service and empathy

One might think that this ‘particularistic’ legacy – to be ‘a light unto nations’ might lead to a tradition in which the Jewish nation has sought to define its role in a superior position.  Remarkably, our tradition teaches us that we only qualify for leadership when we embrace the ideals of service and of love.

Indeed, our entire prayer tradition is other-directed.  Worship in Hebrew is ‘avodah’, whose meaning in English is ‘service’.  We are taught to devote ourselves to the highest ideals of morality and of behavior through service because of our relationship with Something greater.  

When Jewish educators think about building leaders, we do have in mind the future achievements of our students, but we always put their 'neshamas’ – their souls -  first.  

Thus, an ideal graduate of a Jewish Day School is kind as much as they are capable, confident and brave.

I recognize that for many of us, we’d like a simple answer to the question, ‘Why a Jewish Day School education?’, and that the answer might be different among us.  But there is a compelling case that to help raise a generation, we build upon the tools inherent in our tradition – to be smart, capable and confident, to be brave and ready to stand out, and to be loving, kind and ready to serve.

I’ve seen all of this at Adelson even in my few short months here.  As we continue to strive for excellence in our work together, we can be assured that we have the building blocks for excellence in ways that other schools simply can’t claim – for the future contributions of the children in our care and for those yet to come.

 

 

 

 



 

 

 

Friday, May 7, 2021

 

As we move towards the close of the school year, I thought I would use the two ‘penultimate’ articles to focus on results of our program.  This week focusing on some data from the Upper School, including college acceptances, honors and test scores and then next week focused upon the results of the Educational Records Bureau (‘the ERB’ tests), which are taken mostly by students in grade eight and below.  By sharing these metrics, I hope to paint a picture of how the school is doing as we start to wrap up the year.

 

There will be twelve students this year who will be honored at graduation on Thursday, May 20th and I look forward to being present to congratulate each and every one of them for their good work, their perseverance and their achievements for their entire pre-collegiate education, and especially for their maintaining focus in this most challenging year.

 

And meet the challenge they did, not only through their excellence in their work this year, but throughout their times at AEC.  Here at AEC, we are committed to working with each individual student to help them achieve their dreams of a college education and provide them the opportunity to choose from a range of higher education options.  We are so very, very fortunate to have David Girard, a thoughtful and accomplished college counselor working with our students.

 

And their record this year is truly astonishing.  Here’s what our graduates are planning for next year.

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • Tavor Leadership Academy of the Israel Defense Forces
  • Purdue University
  • University of California, San Diego
  • And University of Nevada, Las Vegas (seven students, three in the Honors Program)

 

In addition, there were admission offers to 22 schools overall, including:

  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Northeastern University
  • Oregon State University
  • Saint Louis University
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Texas at Dallas

 

Represented among the twelve members of the Class of 2021 are: 

  • AP Scholar
  • AP Scholar with Honor
  • AP Scholar with Distinction (2)
  • Millennium Scholarships (9)
  • National Merit Scholarship Semi-Finalist
  • National Merit Scholarship Finalist
  • Ronald McDonald House Charities Scholarship
  • Rotary International Scholarship

 

In addition, Merit Scholarships Awarded: ($221,750 per year: $887,000 for four years)

 

The record of our high school students goes beyond these impressive college matriculations.  Indeed, the honors bestowed upon our high schools students are evidence that the school itself  - as Dr. McCue so aptly puts it – ‘is an incubator for their achievement.’  Here are just a few examples of the ways in which their accomplishments are recognized by the wider world.

 

Last night, I was fortunate enough to watch AEC Sophomore Jack Kim honored at the DECA International Career Development Conference ICDC for a Grand Award in Principles of Business Administration.  Jack competed against the top state finalists nationwide for this highest award, and he is the first Nevada student selected to go on to finals! Congrats to the entire DECA team and to Brian Hemsworth, our coach.

 

List College of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City recently announced that two Adelson students, Jonah Tecktiel and Aviel Parenti were cited as winners of the 2021 JTS Ahavat Torah Award. JTS cited these two young men as ‘having excelled as students and as leaders, these individuals have earned the respect and admiration of their faculty and peers’. We are thrilled to celebrate their achievements through this award.  Adelson was one of only two schools – and the only one west of the Delaware River –to been honored with two awardees

  

Sophomore Nicole Miller was recently appointed to the Nevada Youth Legislature, working with State Senator Keith Picard, focused on legislation that she will help draft that will be introduced to the legislature.  Nicole applied, interviewed and was chosen from the largest number of applications  compared to all the other spots combined 

 

The list really does go on.  Our robotics team has distinguished itself in competitions in its first year of organized entries, the others in our DECA program have also been honored, and numerous other students have received Adelson awards and noted in the wider community.

 

As for tests, Ashley McKinnon recently shared some representative results of her social studies students for their practice Advanced Placement (AP) exams. 9 of her 12 students took a full practice test two Sundays ago on Zoom.  We had five ‘5’s’ (the highest score, one 4, one 3, and two 2s).  Of the three remaining, based on past scores on components, Ashley anticipates one more 2, and two more 4/5s.  For those unfamiliar with these college-level exams, these scores are truly outstanding.

 

We also are pleased to recognize the achievements of our students internally.  For example, today I was privileged to share a reflection in advance of the Fonfa awards to Upper School students for outstanding writing. And this year, we will introduce the Sheldon Adelson ’Keter Shem Tov’ (crown of a good name) award at graduation for the student who best exemplifies the accomplishments, character and commitment that are a legacy of our founder, Mr. Adelson z”l.

 

While there is no single measure for excellence in high school education, the data enables us to recognize the quality, and the excellence – of Adelson’s high school program. We like to think of the program as ‘boutique’, in that it can cater to the whole individual child while maintaining the highest of academic standards and performance, all while building a strong foundation and community for our students.

 

While for many of our parents – especially those in the elementary and pre-school - looking at the ‘outcomes’ of an Adelson education might seem far, far off, it is worth noting, and keeping in mind, that we are a single, unified school dedicated to the success of all our children, from 18 months to 18 years old.  And we have the medals to prove it.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Arnold Zar-Kessler

Interim Head of School

The Adelson Educational Campus

 

 

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PREVIOUS WEEKLY UPDATE WITH ARNIE MESSAGES

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Friday, April 30, 2021

 

Earlier this week, I was pleased to share my excitement in introducing Ms. Sharon Metz as our new Lower School Principal.  I thought I’d use this space to share the reflections of those who know and who are getting to know Ms. Metz.

 

The following are taken from comments we received from colleagues and supervisors, including some who are ‘deans’ in the field of leadership in Jewish Day School education: 

  • In my two decades in schools, Sharon is the single most talented educator I have ever had the privilege to know. She is an absolutely gifted teacher; she crafts lessons and curricular plans with great intention and her delivery is masterful--differentiated, engaging, and superbly orchestrated. 
  • I give Sharon my highest recommendation for a leadership position at your school. You could not find a more talented, dedicated, thoughtful, and organized educator. 
  • Working in a school is hard work, but it is all in the interest of student learning and this is what motivates her. Sharon’s visionary thinking and ability to negotiate many tasks at once are second to none. 

 

The following were gleaned from responses after Sharon’s recent sessions with faculty and parents: 

  • She seems to understand the value of parents’, teachers’, and students’ different perspectives. She seems well prepared to build relationships and work with our parents faculty and understand their needs.I feel that she will be able to further  strengthen the alignment between the preschool, lower school, and upper school. 
  • I appreciate her knowledge of pedagogy, value of understanding vertical alignment, and how she provided specific examples of ways that she would make an impact at AEC.
  • I felt more connected to Sharon as a potential leader for our school. She shows a warm and friendly personality and is honest and transparent with those she would be leading. She also seems very welcoming. 
 

To be fair, if there was a common concern we heard from these recent meetings, it was Sharon’s lack of experience in a role such as Lower School Principal at AEC.  Together, Sharon and the school are taking that seriously.  


We are in the process of lining up professional development training, likely through Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education (where Dr. McCue, Mr. Koch and I have all trained), and on Monday, I look forward to speaking with a terrific, experienced Jewish Day School leader who we hope will become Sharon’s mentor, starting later this month.

Two other factors make me confident that we can help Sharon navigate the first months of her new role.  First, she will be working with a truly outstanding team.  I know Sharon looks forward to learning from and working closely with the Lower School Leadership Team that includes Daniel Kelly, Susan Tecktiel, Dr. Susan Baker, and Dina Rudaizky.  It is my faith in them – and my commitment to helping them all through this period of transition – that gives me confidence.

But even more than that, I am encouraged because I have come to know Ms. Metz now after hours of conversation and meetings and I can see someone who is ready – ready to learn, ready to engage, and ready to lead.  This is a life-long learner, a teachers’ teacher who knows what excellence in a Jewish Day School looks like and is ready to take the next step.

I am truly delighted to welcome Ms. Metz to our school, and I know that our community is as well. 

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Arnold Zar-Kessler

Interim Head of School

The Adelson Educational Campus



 

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Friday, April 23, 2021

 

How do we help our children maintain a sense of good social emotional health? This is a question that all adults - parents and teachers alike  - who live and work with young people have always asked. But over the last year, the question has become more profound. There are ample studies that indicate the challenge young people have experienced during this time of COVID.  For example, a recent study noted that….

 

 ‘Children are likely to be experiencing worry, anxiety and fear, and this can include the types of fears that are very similar to those experienced by adults, such as a fear of dying, a fear of their relatives dying, or a fear of what it means to receive medical treatment. If schools have closed as part of necessary measures, then children may no longer have that sense of structure and stimulation that is provided by that environment, and now they have less opportunity to be with their friends and get that social support that is essential for good mental well-being.’

 

Obviously, those children and young people who have not had the benefit of in-person schooling, have been shown to be at the greatest risk for challenges to their mental health. But we should not overlook the impact of the restrictions, the legitimate restrictions, due to COVID that have been placed on kids, such as those attending our school, and others have experienced during this pandemic.

 

This applies to children in every division of our school, from the youngest to the oldest.  Data shows that adolescents and post adolescents – basically our middle-and high schoolers - have been the most challenged by the toll during this period of ‘quarantining’. 

 

We as adults have responsibility to think about the ways in which the challenges to young people's mental health is responded to and how to grow and access the tools that we have to help them.  

 

We're very fortunate that this coming Wednesday evening, April 2, at 7:00 p.m.,  our school will have a chance to learn from two outstanding leaders in the field around social emotional well being for young people, Miriam Ament and Dr. Anat Geva from ‘No Shame on U’. No Shame On U is dedicated to helping communities such as ours understand that the way in which we treat others, especially young people, during times of difficulty, is critical in terms of how the young people themselves respond.  Their focus is on breaking the stigma associated with mental health so the people who need the help will seek it, family members and friends will know how to provide proper support, and to save lives.

 

The way in which we respond to others – especially young people – in need says a lot about who we are as a community.   The program this coming Wednesday evening will focus on the way in which we as adults, respond to young people who are demonstrating challenges around social emotional well being.  If we are honest with ourselves, we know that for many of us we lack the tools, the language, and the understanding of how we can be the best partners, with those members of our community who might be in need.

 

We are enjoined in our tradition to never ‘stand idly by’ when we see the difficulties of others.   This coming Wednesday, we will gain the insight and the tools to be the best partners we could possibly be, those amongst us who need to be brought closer, not shunned, and thus we can better achieve the goals of a community that is inclusive in the ways that matter most.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Arnold Zar-Kessler

Interim Head of School

The Adelson Educational Campus

 

 

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Friday, April 16, 2021

 

Arnie

After having completed all my vaccinations and getting the go ahead from my family and physician, I was able to spend time on campus this week.  Having just returned this morning on the red eye back to Boston, I wanted to share a few reflections on how extraordinarily impressed I was by the entire experience.

 

First off - as I'm sure you're more than aware  - the facility is more stunning than pictures can show. From the first entry into the school to the remarkable facilities we are providing our children, I was simply blown away by the beauty and by the care taken in design and upkeep of our school, and I'm thrilled to be part of such an elite private school facility.

 

It was great to finally meet face-to-face with our administrative team. Even though I've had a good deal of contact with them prior to this visit, it was a delightful surprise to see that everyone on the leadership team, with whom I have had zoom calls now for months in do, indeed wear shoes!  Meeting in person was a richer experience than the Zoom calls, obviously, and I found the insight, depth, and commitment of my partners here on the school leadership group to be quite, quite remarkable.

 

I also had a chance to get to see the teachers, albeit far less than I ideally would have liked.  They seem to be a group that - even at this tail end of the school year  - are as dedicated and as devoted as one could possibly wish for, and also, apparently be happy working here.

 

While I only got to see parents a bit in the carlines yesterday, I got a chance to put faces and names together, and look forward to meeting more of you in my upcoming visits.

 

Finally, I got to walk around the halls a lot, trying a bit of  ‘managing by walking around’. By doing this. I got to see lots and lots of children. I got to see them in the preschool when they walked into school, and the tenderness with which they held the hands of their teachers. 

 

I got to see the elementary school students with their bright, bright shining faces, so engaged in their work so comfortable with each other so comfortable in the school, ready to work hard and focus on their learning.

 

I got to see a bunch of middle schoolers as many received awards in yesterday’s program, and how their classmates cheered them on.

 

Finally, I got to see some of our older students in their classrooms, and playing in the faculty student basketball game. They seemed ‘comfortable in their skin’, and with each other;  it’s easy to be impressed with the community that they have made.

 

It was a real privilege for me to finally make it to campus really in many ways a dream come true. I now have a better understanding why people feel so positively towards the school, and my glimpses of the strong program, wonderful community, and warm, welcoming people makes the promise of trips back to more exciting.

 

I look forward to getting to know more of you.  Thank you for a wonderful few days here in Summerlin, a town  - and a school - that is far, far more impressive than I could have imagined. 

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Arnold Zar-Kessler

Interim Head of School

The Adelson Educational Campus

 
 

 

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Friday, April 9, 2021

 

In the life of Jewish Day Schools, this is a week sandwiched between commemorations both ancient and contemporary. This past Sunday was the last day of Passover. Many of us were busy cleaning up our kitchens and returning to the business of everyday life. After having commemorated – and through the Seder reenacted - our Exodus, as a people for Egypt, we reaffirmed that through God's help, we are no longer a slave nation.  The Holiday and its observance provides us with gifts, legacy opportunities, and responsibilities that animate our lives. 

 

This week, the school commemorated Yom Hashoah Holocaust Remembrance Day with a remarkable program yesterday for the school. That included firsthand accounts, poetry, music video, and more.  And this coming week. We will be commemorating Israel's Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day), followed by Yom HaAtzmaut,  Israel's independence day. I look forward to being present on campus for these events and programs, which reaffirm our connection to Israel.  Taken together, these series of commemorations mark. The tremendous changes that took place in the 20th century, and are further reminders of our connection to the Jewish people's story. That story started millennia ago and is present and evolving.

 

As a school, we have larger educational goals in mind, as well.  Ample research informs us that adults who help raise children – parents and teachers alike -  help children mature healthy and happy when they feel that they are part of something larger. The notion of being a part of something greater than oneself, enables any one of us to feel that we have a purpose, and that we have a role to play.

 

By giving children a narrative, a set of rituals, and to regularly return to the practice, we are giving children in this school, a great gift - membership in a community that sets the highest ideals and standards for itself, and a vision for the future.  Children learn that they are part of an ongoing story that has a place for them in it, starting with Egypt, including the lessons of European and achieving a nation of our own.

 

In the Las Vegas community, we're very blessed to have such a large contingent of people who call themselves Israelis.  For those of us who regularly say the blessings after meals. The phrase, ‘reishit tzimhat ge-ula-teinu’ - that the State of Israel is the first blossoms of the dawning of our redemption - is a deep and profound phrase. It means that we see in the establishment of the State of Israel, and in its flourishing, - even with its challenges - an opportunity to be able to see our history as evolving.

 

In keeping with these values and approach, we're pleased that we have worked together with the Israel American Committee, or IAC to put in place this current school year, a program called ‘Connectivism’. This program is designed to help our older students, high school juniors and seniors, gain a deeper and fuller understanding of the establishment of the State of Israel, of the challenges that it has confronted and currently confronts -both externally and internal -  and to better prepare these students for when they leave the school and venture out into college and beyond. The program is designed to equip them with the information, the language and the confidence to confront those who are not simply critical of Israel, but actually are prepared to deny its right to exist. 

 

You see, when we enable children to be part of something greater, and when we equip them with a narrative, we also have the responsibility to prepare them for the real life challenges that will confront them. 

 

We are proud at this Jewish Day School to be the emissaries have a beautiful legacy that extends back many, many centuries, and has room and opportunity for engagement and participation for this generation and the story they will tell well beyond their time with us.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Arnold Zar-Kessler

Interim Head of School

The Adelson Educational Campus

 

 

 

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Friday, March 19, 2021

 

Last week, I started an exploration of how a school like ours is, in the best sense, countercultural.  I can think of no better example to substantiate that claim than the holiday of Passover itself.

 

In sharing my reflections on this, I refer to a book that I would heartily recommend for anyone looking for a solid, well written introduction to the cycle of the Jewish year: The Jewish Way by Rabbi Irving ("Yitz') Greenberg. I find myself rereading his essay on Passover each year in preparation for the holiday.

Greenberg lays out the case for history as an ever-repeating scene of despair, “...statistically speaking, human life is of little value, the downtrodden and the poor accept their fate as destined.  It can seem that the powerful and successful simply accept their good fortune as they are due, and that power -rather than justice - seems always to rule religion.

Jewish religion affirms otherwise.  Judaism insists that history, and the social, economic, political reality in which people live will eventually be perfected. Much of what passes for the norm of human existence is really a deviation from the ultimate reality. And how do we know this? From an actual event in history, the Exodus.”

Greenberg suggests that “the freeing of the slaves testifies that human beings are meant to be free, and that history will not be finished until all our free.  The Exodus reestablishes the dream of profession, and thereby creates the tension that must exist until reality is redeemed. This puts faithful Jews at odds with the world, out of step with reality – and our faith as ‘counter-cultural’.  It makes Jewish faith a testimony, the Jews must give constantly until the rest of the world is persuaded; our fellow travelers and we are  outsiders and challengers.”

“We affirm this year each year at the holiday of Passover, and at our Seders, where we re-enact the story of Exodus as a source of hope and renewal that can infuse the present with meaning. Passover, and the Seder, is the ultimate attempt to involve people in the experience of Exodus.  On this night, the Jewish people rise up and set up for the Promised Land, slave again for you again, born again.”

 

Many of us will be participating in ‘reduced’ Seders this year, as we did last year, creating particular challenges.  For those of us just gathering with our children, perhaps we can look at this year’s Seder as an opportunity to reinforce that quintessentially Jewish idea that physical acts reinforce our spiritual values.

 

The Torah teaches us that the verse that helps shape the Seder (Exodus 13:14), where Moses tells the Israelites,  “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “, our Sages teach us that the verse does not say ‘if your children ask’, rather, when – we know that tapping children’s curiosity is what ensure the legacy of Judaism, and the way in which we, as parents (and grandparents) engage our children will not only ‘make memories that last a lifetime’, but also ensures that this view of the world, and history as having purpose, is secured.

 

It is a great, great privilege and responsibility to be the inheritor of a tradition that tells the world’s story of freedom and to be the link to share it with the next generation.  May we absorb the significance of these teachings, and may we rise to the occasion to help inspire all seekers of Freedom, with our story of Exodus as our source and treasure.

 

Have a wonderful break, and a sweet Holiday of Passover.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Arnold Zar-Kessler

Interim Head of School

The Adelson Educational Campus

 

 

 

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Friday, March 12, 2021
 
Many moons ago, in my very early twenties, I considered myself as something of a member of a ‘counterculture’.  Yes, my hair was long and – for a brief period – I dropped out of college.  And when my then-girlfriend (and now wife of almost 48 years) wanted an adventurous date, we attended the courtroom of what has now come to be known as the ‘Trial of the Chicago Seven’.  (Spoiler alert – it was more exciting in anticipation and in the retelling than the hours we spent inside listening to endless legal motions made by the opposing attorneys).
 

In the years since, I like to posit that I didn’t really leave the counterculture;  rather it left me.  Indeed, I think many of the values I held dear about the sanctity of life and building relationships of caring for those who are less fortunate, and about ‘telling truth to power’ still animate me – I’m not sure if the wider community hasn’t moved on to other values.

Except at a place like our school.  I wanted to take time this week and next to explore the ways in which a school such as ours is deeply counter-cultural – in the very best sense of that word.

Our daily prayers open with an appreciation for being renewed to life, and the passages that follow show an appreciation for our body, for the world around us, and for our lives themselves.  Indeed, much of our regular rituals are all expressing gratitude for what we have been given.  

This approach – through practice, ritual and ultimately habit, builds a pattern in us all, but especially in children.  It teaches them that the world is a place in which they can find joy, a place where they can care for their family and friends, and to be appreciated, in turn.  And that while imperfections do, indeed, exist in the world, the world itself is not a malevolent place.

In this way, children learn to be confident and less fearful about the world around them. Judaism teaches that, ultimately, the world exists – and we exist – because God, the Author of all, brought us into being with love..  It is this belief more than any other that redeems us from solitude, from fate of tragedy and from viewing  the world with despair.

I’m suggesting that because we operate from such a foundation, we are able to impart to children  a perspective of gratitude more than grievance.  We nurture optimism rather than anger.  And what parent doesn’t want their children to be optimists?  When you start as W.H. Auden puts it, 'In the prison of his days, Teach the free man how to praise’ we are enabled, and we enable the children in our care to see the world as a gracious place, a place in which they can handle life’s challenges with confidence and optimism, in which they can show honor, affection and gratitude.

This I suggest is the best way to address a culture that sometimes is led more by grievance, anger and despair.  No, we’re not raising hippies.  We’re raising children with a firm foundation upon which they can build a life of hope, which will be a focus in next week’s Etone, just prior to our Passover break.

Shabbat Shalom,

Arnold Zar-Kessler

Interim Head of School

The Adelson Educational Campus

 

 

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Friday, March 5, 2021

 

This week, we were so pleased to announce the two finalists for the position of Lower School Principal. 

 

Both Allie Hauser-Erickson and Kerri Stern (whose capsule biographies can be found below) are accomplished outstanding educators with a history of success in leading Jewish Elementary schools. We are honored that they are seriously entering conversations with us about the possibility of joining the leadership team here at Adelson. 

 

Allie Hauser-Erickson

Allie Hauser-Erickson, MA, ET is a passionate school leader, learning researcher, and educational therapist with over a decade of experience in the Jewish community school environment. Having taught in general, highly capable, and special education classrooms, Allie’s dynamic approach to pedagogy and curriculum development was recognized with the Maria Erlitz Award for Excellence in Education (2018). In her current role as Elementary Dean at the Jewish Day School of Metropolitan Seattle, Allie has gained the reputation of an educational visionary through her leadership of innovative initiatives including the adaptation of project-based learning, integration of Jewish and general studies, and the creation of a highly successful personalized approach to math and literacy instruction. Allie holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Duke University, a master’s degree in Elementary Education from the City University of Seattle and is currently completing a post-graduate certification in School Leadership and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 

 

Kerri Stern

Kerri Stern is currently the Director of K - 8 at the Seattle Hebrew Academy where she mentors and empowers teachers, partners with parents, engages with students, and fosters a culture of collaboration, innovation, and growth. Kerri is a seasoned educator with an impressive background in private schools since 1998. She has earned two Master's Degrees from Pepperdine University; one in Administration and one in Education. Kerri has taught Humanities in Fourth through the Middle School grades and has held several administrative roles from leading committees to Middle School Coordinator. Kerri’s commitment to excellence, combined with her hands-on collaborative approach and warm personality, is what stands out to teachers, parents, and students

The process of identifying, interviewing. evaluating and ultimately securing an outstanding principal is a key duty of school leadership. As a school, we simply could not have gotten to this point without the tremendous work of an excellent search committee (Alli Abrahamson, Camille McCue, Susan Tecktiel, Debbie Castille and Blythe Cherney), as well as insight and input from members of the Board of Trustees, from the lower school leadership team led by Lilach Bluvise, and from faculty and parents throughout the school. 

We enter a delicate phase of this process now, in which both the candidates and the school learn more about each other, made all the more challenging in these COVID times. I'm so grateful to the lower school faculty who will join us on Monday for a Zoom call with the first of our candidates, and then a week later with the second candidate, as well as to the lower school parents who will be joining us this coming Tuesday for the first of those Zoom calls, and then the following Tuesday for the second of those calls. 

 

The search committee will be gathering feedback, analyzing the references and having open and frank conversations about the direction of the lower school, and who is best equipped to lead it to its next set of successes. We all know that filling Lilach’s shoes will be a big challenge, and we're quite, quite hopeful that one of these two outstanding educators will bring their gifts to this great community for the coming school year, and for years to come.

 

We'll keep you posted.

 

 

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Friday, February 26, 2021

 

From a distance it was so clear how delightful today's programming for the holiday of Purim was at the school.  While I missed being present to see the joy and the children's faces, I was able to Zoom in and see many parts of the festivities. 

 

From the early morning Megillah reading in the high school, to the fantastic costumes and amusements in the lower school, to the wonderful refreshments provided by the parent teacher organization, the general sense of happiness was pervasive throughout the school. I'm grateful to all involved, who helped make today such a wonderful day for our children. 

 

For us adults, we might want to consider what there is in the holiday that we can take away from it. Beyond that, now, somewhat hackneyed phrasing, ‘They tried to kill us.  They lost. Let's eat.’ And perhaps on Purim, we could ask the last to the last phrase. ‘And let's drink.’ 

 

Because Purim commemorates the story told of disaster avoided through the heroism of Esther and her uncle Mordechai, we can understand the commemoration of the story to be one of relief, perhaps. But to turn the day into a carnival? We might ask why such exhilaration at merely surviving a tragedy that was only narrowly averted? Just because we’re still here to tell the story? 

 

The insights of the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks are helpful here. He notes that as he began to understand how much pain there has been in Jewish history, how many massacres and pogroms throughout the ages, he gained a greater appreciation of the holiday of Purim. Jews, Rabbi Sacks notes, ‘had to learn how to live with the past without being traumatized by it. So they turned the day when they faced and then escaped the greatest danger of all into a festival of unconfined joy, a day of dressing up and drinking a bit too much, to exorcise the fear, live through it and beyond it, and then come back to life, unhaunted by the ghosts of memory.’ 

 

‘Purim is the Jewish answer to one of the great questions of history: How do you live with the past without being held captive by the past? Ours is a religion of memory, because if you forget the past, you’ll find yourself repeating it. Yet it’s also a future-oriented faith. To be a Jew is to answer the question, ‘Has the Messiah come?’, with the words, ‘Not yet.’ 

 

It sometimes seems that in our country, and in many parts of the world today where ancient (and not-so-ancient) grievances are still being played out, as if history were a hamster wheel in which however fast we run we find ourselves back where we started. Purim is a way of saying, remember the past, but then look at the children, celebrate with them, and for their sake, learn from that past, put it in its proper context, ultimately put the past behind you and build a better future. 

 

With that in mind today, the holiday of Purim, I appreciate the words of my Rabbi, Benjamin Samuels of Newton, MA -  “Never fail to find sweetness & flavor in life; hold onto faith & hope in times of challenge; exercise an attitude of gratitude; and redemption begins by building the bonds of friendship, community and a sense of shared destiny.”   

 

And thus may we learn - alongside our children - how to celebrate, knowing the past and pointing towards the future. 


Chag Purim Sameach,

 

 

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Friday, February 19, 2021

 

One of the projects I’ve asked Alli Abrahamson, our new Acting Assistant Head of School, to help us with is the development of a profile of an ‘Ideal Graduate of AEC’.  These profiles, often done in conjunction with strategic planning for independent schools, are most often the result of a process that takes in a variety of voices and distills certain common themes that emerge.  I look forward to this work, leading to a vision that we can share with an incoming, permanent head of school. 

 

I can already foresee a few elements that will likely emerge.  For example, I can imagine a statement something like, ‘An ideal graduate of the Adelson Educational Campus will effectively operate applying higher-order thinking skills’ making the list.  That means that we anticipate – and will build our program – around the idea that students in the school will develop their analytical and critical thinking skills, understand how to apply different ways of attacking and addressing problems, and using all this across the program, in preparation for success at the upper levels of education.

 

Higher-order thinking requires students to manipulate information and ideas in ways that transform their meaning and implications. This transformation occurs when students combine facts and ideas in order to synthesize, generalize, explain, hypothesize or arrive at some conclusion or interpretation. Manipulating information and ideas through these processes allows students to solve problems and discover new (for them) meanings and understandings. This sort of student engagement empowers students in their own ‘construction of knowledge’, empowering them to be active learners far beyond their careers at Adelson.

 

Of course, the idea of developing such a vision, and articulating a profile (of which higher order thinking skills would be a part) is that the program would need to be planned and constructed – from the earliest years – in order to achieve these goals.  That ‘backward design thinking’ should shape a curriculum for an outstanding independent school such as ours. The component of the curriculum that contributes as much as any other ‘subject’ to higher order thinking skills is math.  Indeed, we teach math so that students eventually are proficient in

 

  • Problem solving: seeking and identifying strategies and reasoning.
  • Comprehension and interpretation of statistics.
  • Flexibility of thinking.
  • And, ultimately, recognizing, formulating, and responding to good questions, where there might be more than one acceptable answer, where application of existing knowledge to new situations is required, where synthesis of a range of concepts yields insights.

In short, when it comes to developing higher order thinking skills, math is king.  Math at Adelson already is excellent, and as we move forward with an integrated program pre-school through twelfth grade in order to realize the vision of the ideal graduate, we will continue to refine and enrich an already-successful mathematics program for our students.

 

I will be touching on math achievement scores, different subject areas, and other aspects of ‘Profile of an Ideal Graduate’ in future Etone articles, and I welcome your input and reflections.

 

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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. 

 

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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. 

 

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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.

 

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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.

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