School hires consultants to facilitate process, ensure success
The new head of the Ottawa Jewish Community School (OJCS), Jon Mitzmacher, arrived this fall with many ideas to transform the school into a centre for 21st century educational innovation. Some initiatives required extra money, so he shelved them while he got to know his new school. Then a $50,000 grant fell into his lap.
Suddenly, the road to innovation got much smoother.
Several months ago, Andrea Freedman, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, told Mitzmacher an anonymous couple wanted to donate to Jewish life in Ottawa.
“Jewish communal life,” says Freedman, “means balancing social services with instilling values in the next generation. The donors wanted to invest in the community’s long-term strength.” They agreed to fund three of Mitzmacher’s proposals.
Mitzmacher credits the donors for understanding that funding education does not always mean buying the latest technology. He believes the key to success is the “innovation cycle,” and that this capacity can be built into any organization.
“We can create the ability to be always asking, ‘What new things make sense for us?’ and ‘How can this work for us?’ ”
Mitzmacher, whose previous accomplishments include turning a small Jewish day school in Jacksonville, Florida, into an international leader in education, says creating this capacity takes time and effort, rare commodities in a busy school.
Mitzmacher was committed to taking it slow before receiving this grant. Now he has moved the process into the fast lane by hiring two consultants with whom he has worked previously: NoTosh and Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano.
NoTosh consultants began visiting last month and will work with the school until June to develop the capacity for a successful innovation cycle. Having gone through the process before, Mitzmacher explains it is always different, “because every school is unique.” Further, “the goal isn’t a ‘thing’ we can point to and say, ‘There. We did it.’ It’s about creating a process to ensure continued innovation and long-term success.”
As for the second initiative, says Mitzmacher, “there is growing evidence that reflective learners achieve greater success than non-reflective learners.
“Essentially, this means that students who have the opportunity to look back at their learning, to assess their successes and failures, do better. I have experienced great success with giving students the ability to ‘own’ their learning. But it’s a seismic shift in teaching, so once again you can’t just impose it. It takes work with all stakeholders.”
Finally, because 21st century technological innovation also does require technology, the third proposal doubled the number of iPads for classroom use.
“Jewish day schools are uniquely qualified to lead the 21st-century learning revolution by their very nature,” says Mitzmacher. “They have community connections, global connectedness, languages, and the critical thinking built into Jewish text study.
“OJCS has the potential to be a leader in the learning revolution and, thanks to this grant, we can take several giant steps closer to realizing that potential.”
Federation report: OJCS President Michael Polowin on the school’s
promising future, http://www.ottawajewishbulletin.com/?p=79184&preview=true