About Us

Welcome from the Head of School

We are proud to be an independent, Pre-K - 12 Jewish day school drawing students from communities all over the state of New Jersey and parts of New York.  Founded in 1965, Golda Och Academy’s three pillars – academic excellence, Jewish identity and values, and community – are the critical elements that serve as the foundation to prepare our students for their academic journey both here in our school and for the rest of their Jewish lives. 
 
We offer our students a rigorous dual curriculum that challenges them to think and seek answers to life’s essential questions. Our exceptional faculty inspires our students to think critically while exploring and collaborating with one another inside the classroom. At the same time, our wide range of athletic, artistic and experiential opportunities provide our students with the ability to grow outside of the classroom as well.    
 
When our graduates leave the halls of Golda Och Academy, they are prepared to take on leadership roles as a result of their engagement and exploration of Jewish life, texts, traditions, and values throughout their time in our school. They understand what it means to live an ethical and just life and have developed a strong connection with the Jewish people, Torah and land of Israel.
 
Our warm, supportive environment enables students and parents to form strong and lasting friendships imbued with Jewish identity and moral values. I encourage you to visit our school ─ whether it is to tour our campuses or attend a special event ─ and look forward to welcoming you into our Golda Och Academy community.
 
Adam Shapiro
Head of School
 

Remote Instruction Updates

List of 26 items.

  • September 24: Head of School Message: October 2020 COVID-19 Testing

    Dear Golda Och Academy Community,
     
    In our ongoing effort to keep our community healthy and safe, we will be requiring mandatory COVID screenings between October 9-16 for all of our students, faculty and staff. Thanks to our strategic partnership with PM Pediatrics, they will be assisting us in making this easier for our families so that we can, once again, have 100% compliance with this requirement. We are so grateful to our families and staff for your continued cooperation and support of our ongoing health and safety policies.  
     
    In order to satisfy this requirement what do I need to do?
    All students, faculty and staff must be tested between October 9-16, 2020. All results must be received and uploaded to the Magnus portal in advance of Monday, October 19, 2020 in order for students to return to school for learning that week.
     
    What test(s) are acceptable/unacceptable?
    Everyone must complete a PCR or antigen test. Antibody tests will not be accepted.
     
    Can we expect to have more testing like this (for all students, faculty and staff) throughout the school year?
    Yes. While the testing dates for regular testing have not yet been set for the remainder of the school year, we do anticipate requiring students, faculty and staff to be tested regularly at different points throughout the year. Please keep in mind that there are a number of factors that impact our decision-making. In order to require testing, we must first ensure that there will be ample testing supplies in our immediate community and we also need to have a window of time that is of acceptable length to enable us to test the almost 650 people within our school community.
     
    Do I have to be tested at PM Pediatrics?
    No. While we are pleased to have this partnership and provide this easy-to-use option for our families, it is not a requirement to be tested at one of their facilities. Families can feel free to consult with their primary care physician for additional options and/or visit another testing site in the region.
     
    The last round of testing happened during the summer, what will this round look like and what do I need to do if I want my child(ren) to be tested at PM Pediatrics? 
    The testing process at PM Pediatrics is covered by insurance and consists of a virtual telehealth visit followed by the scheduling of an appointment at one of their locations. Given the fact that we will be in school during the week of October 12 (unlike our last round of testing in August), the scheduling process is a bit different.
     
    We planned the testing during this period of time because we are closed on Friday, October 9, for Hoshanah Rabbah, which enables PM Pediatrics to open three of their offices (Livingston, Springfield and North Brunswick) at the off-hour times of 9am-12pm just for our GOA families. The timing for testing on October 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16 will be set for times after our normal school hours so that families can pick up at dismissal and make their way to Livingston in time for their appointments. Please continue reading below for those details.
     
    Still have questions?
    As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to Nurse Roberta (Lower School) or Nurse Ilena (Upper School) should you have any additional questions or concerns. 
     
    Gmar chatimah tovah,
     
    Adam Shapiro
    Head of School  
  • September 17: Head of School Message: Mandatory COVID Testing — Mark Your Calendars

    Dear Golda Och Academy Community,
     
    In our ongoing effort to keep our community healthy and safe, we will be requiring mandatory COVID screenings between October 9-16 for all of our students, faculty and staff. Thanks to our strategic partnership with PM Pediatrics, they will be assisting us in making this easier for our families so that we can, once again, have 100% compliance with this requirement. We are so grateful to our families and staff for your continued cooperation and support of our ongoing health and safety policies. 
     
    Later this week, we will be sending out a detailed communication outlining all of the steps that our community will need to take. Please note that while we appreciate the team at PM Pediatrics working on this with us, families are still free to go to other testing sites or their primary care physician for PCR or antigen testing. 
     
    Important information to note: 
     
    • All testing must take place between October 9-16, 2020.
    • Everyone must receive a negative test result (and upload it to Magnus) prior to returning to school on Monday, October 19.
    • Acceptable testing includes PCR or antigen, not an antibody screening. 
    • Recognizing that our school is closed on Friday, October 9 for Hoshana Rabah, PM Pediatrics will be offering special morning hours (at multiple PMPeds locations) just for GOA families.
    • Students who will be switching from remote instruction to on-campus learning beginning October 5 (and who have been/or will be tested in advance of returning to school), must also complete another COVID screening during this period of time.    
     
    We are in Week 3 of the school year and it continues to be exciting and exhilarating to welcome our students back to school every day. While our engaging classrooms and lively outdoor spaces may encourage us all to feel like we are back to normal, we must continue to be vigilant when it comes to physical distancing, mask-wearing and handwashing — both here in school and at home. We know that this is even more difficult during this period of the chagim, and thank you all for maintaining your focus and attention on keeping our students, faculty and staff safe, healthy and here in school.  
     
    Please keep an eye out for more detailed information about testing and the scheduling process with PM Pediatrics later this week. 
     
    G'mar chatimah tovah,
     
    Adam Shapiro
    Head of School
  • September 16: Head of School Update: Reminders and Updates

    Dear Golda Och Academy Community,
     
    As we continue to develop (and refine) our new rhythms and patterns for the school year, we wanted to be in touch with some important updates and reminders for the coming days and weeks. Please be sure to read all the way through and let us know if you have any questions. 
     
    Celebrating the chagim (Jewish holidays)
     
    Being vigilant when it comes to physical distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing, is of paramount importance and it’s vital that we not let our guard down as we enter this period of the upcoming Jewish holidays. We must all remain committed to keeping ourselves and our entire GOA community safe and healthy. While we cannot formally restrict travel, it’s important that our community remember that there are currently 30 states on the NJ Travel Advisory list. If your holiday plans require that you be in one of these places, you must let the school know as there will be a mandatory quarantine as per our state’s guidelines. Additionally, while most synagogues in our area have moved to virtual services, we do know that there are some synagogues who still plan to gather their congregations together. If you choose to participate in these in-person services, we urge you to be vigilant when it comes to all health and safety protocols. 
     
    Additionally, while we understand that some may want to have holiday meals with friends and family, it should be understood that as a result of similar gatherings over recent weeks that a number of Jewish day schools — in Bergen County and New York City — have been forced to quarantine whole grades/divisions as a result of positive COVID cases. While we know that there is no way to fully prevent the spread, taking the necessary steps to mitigate risk is of paramount importance. 
     
    Returning to on-campus learning for those learning remotely
     
    We have been pleased to hear that a number of students who have begun the year learning remotely would like to return to on-campus instruction as soon as possible. As was noted prior to the start of the school year, all students who begin the year learning remotely must do so through at least Thursday, October 1 with a return to campus no earlier than Monday, October 5. If you would like to have your child(ren) transition to on-campus learning, please initiate that process by emailing Nurse Roberta or Nurse Ilena no later than this Thursday, September 17. Our nurses will guide you through the protocols and screenings that are required for a successful return to campus. 
     
    For those who will remain on remote (or transition later this year), we appreciate your continued patience and support as we make the necessary technology changes and adjustments along the way. While our team prepared for several different scenarios over this past summer, there are many things that could only be learned once students and teachers were back on campus. Classroom teachers are juggling an incredible amount, and while we are all committed to the success of our students — both at home and on campus — we must also acknowledge the tremendous challenges involved. 
     
    Remote learning if a student is out of school for a day
     
    We recognize that given the current hybrid setup, students who learn on campus may wish to join remotely should they find themselves out of school for a day. While in theory this may seem straightforward from the perspective of our students and parents, it is not as simple from a management and technology standpoint. If a student is ill or needs to be out of school for the day, just as we did prior to this school year, it is perfectly reasonable for a parent to keep their child home and give them the time to recover and feel better. If your child will be out of school due to extenuating circumstances, please reach out to your campus leadership team for approval to learn remotely. Families of students learning on-campus will not be granted this option on a regular basis. 
     
    Please note that on-campus learners who have been granted permission to learn remotely while out for a day, will not be permitted to complete assessments that were intended to be administered in the classroom. Those make-up assessments will take place when a student returns to school.
     
    Safety protocols while on campus
     
    Masks are required for everyone on campus — both inside and outside. Whether you are on the carline, simply rolling down your window to speak with a member of our team or stepping out of your car for a moment, a mask that covers your nose, mouth and chin must be worn. There will be absolutely no exceptions to this policy, as the health, safety and well-being of our students, faculty, staff and community are of paramount importance. Additionally, we appreciate the continued patience as we tweak and adjust our arrival and dismissal procedures. While many kinks have already been worked out —and others are in the process of being addressed — there may be other challenges that arise in the weeks ahead. Mrs. Siegel and Mr. Herskowitz will continue to communicate essential information as needed. 
     
    Technology in our school
     
    We know that our entire community joins together in wishing our Lower School Director of Technology, Moreh Michael Newman, a refuah shleimah (a full and speedy recovery) as he is now, fortunately, home from the hospital and recovering from a non-COVID related illness over the past few weeks. We hope to have him back in school soon and thank the many members of our team who have stepped up in his absence to deal with the increased demands of our current reality. 
     
    We would also like to thank Mrs. Karen Ulric, our Upper School Librarian, who continues to post helpful technology tips on our website resource boards. As many of our students and teachers (and parents) may be managing multiple Google profiles, she prepared this important tip sheet on how to keep your school/work profiles separate from your personal ones. Please feel free to click on this link to learn more.  
     
    Wishing our entire Golda Och Academy community a happy, healthy and sweet 5781!
     
    Shanah tovah,
     
    Adam Shapiro
    Head of School
  • August 17: Head of School Message: COVID-19 Testing

    Dear Golda Och Academy Community,
     
    We are pleased to inform you that as of today we have entered into a strategic partnership with the medical professionals at PM Pediatrics on behalf of our school and community. 
     
    What does this mean for our GOA students, faculty and staff? 
     
    First and foremost, PM Pediatrics will be assisting us with COVID-19 testing for any student, faculty or staff member who wishes to visit either their Livingston or Springfield locations. The testing process at PM Pediatrics is covered by insurance and consists of a virtual telehealth visit followed by the scheduling of an appointment at one of their locations. Based on interest following signups through their web portal (all instructions regarding scheduling and testing can be found below), they will be opening their locations at specifically designated hours just for our GOA community in order to fully expedite this process in advance of the school year. This rapid antigen testing will enable those being tested to receive results on the same day that the test is taken. For students who are tested at PM Pediatrics, a special form can be completed during the visit which will allow their team to send results directly to our school nurses. 
     
    Additionally, this strategic partnership will provide us with access to the PM Pediatrics medical team throughout the school year both for consultation and for rapid COVID-19 testing should we require it. Simply put, if someone is showing signs of illness during the school year they can be immediately referred to PM Pediatrics by either Nurse Roberta or Nurse Ilena. Our community will receive timely service and we will be able to address any and all potential health issues immediately. While there is a tremendous amount that’s still unknown about COVID-19, we do understand that the sooner we receive information that we can act on, the safer that we can keep our entire GOA community.
     
    For those students, faculty or staff who have already scheduled COVID-19 testing elsewhere, there is no need to change those arrangements. The opportunity to be tested at PM Pediatrics is still very much your choice and so long as you are doing PCR or antigen testing, you can do it anywhere that testing is administered.
     
    Please note that testing is only valid if done within 14 days of your first day back on campus (for students that is September 8 when we will be holding lice checks; and for faculty that date coincides with the first professional development day on September 2).
     
    As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to Nurse Roberta (Lower School) or Nurse Ilena (Upper School) should you have any additional questions. 
     
    In partnership,
     
    Adam Shapiro
    Head of School  
  • September 11: Head of School Message: The first week of our unique school year

    Dear Golda Och Academy Community,
     
    We did it. Over this past week we crossed the finish line of what has been an unbelievably trying summer filled with planning, purchasing and a great deal of creative thinking. Our team that has been working around the clock to make this happen was able to take a short breath before stepping up to the starting line of this new school year. To say that there wasn’t so much time in between these two moments would be a fairly large understatement.
     
    Now, three days in, I am humbled, impressed and inspired by every one of our teachers and students. Having walked the empty halls of our buildings over these past few months longing for our community to return, it was truly awesome to see both campuses come alive with smiles, laughs and meaningful learning this week. Together we said the words of the shehechiyanu on Tuesday night as we began the journey that is our unique new school year, and now we have a deep responsibility to one another to complete this marathon together.
     
    I cannot stress enough the important role that every single member of our community plays in the ultimate success of this school year and our ability to keep the doors of our school open. It is not enough to simply hope for the best, rather everyone — students, teachers and parents alike — must commit themselves to doing their part to look out for every member of our community. While it is tempting to believe that all is back to normal, we must remind ourselves that we are not yet at the end of the tunnel and that we must continue to remain focused on the goal at hand.
     
    In these coming days and weeks we will continue to stress the importance of our health and safety protocols with our students and faculty and we need the help of all of our parents and caregivers to both reinforce their importance while also reminding ourselves that we cannot become complacent. 
     
    In his recent op-ed in the NY Times (When It Comes to Covid-19, Most of Us Have Risk Exactly Backward), Dr. Aaron Carroll noted that being responsible during this pandemic is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Rather, he argues that as we make the decision to return to school it means that we also need to consciously reduce the risks we take in other areas of our lives. “Each decision we make to reduce risk helps. Each time we wear a mask, we’re throwing some safety on the pile. Each time we socialize outside instead of inside, we’re throwing some safety on the pile. Each time we stay six feet away instead of sitting closer together, we’re throwing some safety on the pile. Each time we wash our hands, eat apart and don’t spend time in large gatherings of people, we’re adding to the pile. If the pile gets big enough, we as a society can keep this thing in check.” 
     
    It is so vitally important that we as a community take this message to heart. It does not matter how much time and money we have expended in our effort to reopen our school this week as there is no secret weapon to keep ourselves fully protected from the virus. Rather, we all need to be smart and think twice before doing something that adds more risk to our “pile.” While we may think that our decisions just impact those in our immediate sphere, we cannot forget the responsibility we have towards one another. 
     
    This past Wednesday marked the beginning of my 18th “chai” year at Golda Och Academy and it is my hope to share out many of the wonderful #chailights of my time here in school via Instagram over the coming weeks and months. While there have been so many amazing moments of joy and happiness, I also have many vivid memories of moments where we as a school community (and as individuals), have persevered in the face of adversity. While this pandemic is certainly the biggest test that any of us have ever faced, I am confident in the power of our community to come together, and stay together, if we commit ourselves to making that happen. 
     
    We have a long road ahead of us, but at this moment we also have a tremendous amount to be grateful for. The smiles on the faces of our students (even if covered by masks) said it all this week and I know that we all want to keep that going for many more weeks and months to come. Your patience, flexibility and respect continue to be appreciated and while we are asking all of you to commit yourselves to our community, please know that our entire team is committed to doing all that we can to make this an outstanding year of learning and growth for our students. There will undoubtedly be some bumps, last-minute schedule changes and other adjustments made along the way and we thank you in advance for the continued trust and faith that you have placed in our institution. 
     
    We are all in this together and there is, in my humble opinion, no greater team to be on.  
     
    Wishing our entire GOA community a shabbat shalom,
     
    Adam Shapiro
    Head of School 
  • August 28: Head of School Message: Continuing on the Road Back to GOA

    Dear Golda Och Academy Community, 
     
    12 days. 
     
    12 days until we start what we know will be an exciting, inspiring and anything but usual new school year. 
     
    Growing up in my home meant that my mother always tried (and still does to this day!) to find Jewish meaning (gematria) to any and all numbers put in front of us. The number 12 is a great example as it represents wholeness and completeness as seen through both the tribes of Israel and the number of months in a year. How fitting it is to think about where we stand, at this moment in time, as a community about to embark on our year of learning together. It has by no means been easy to arrive at this day and we have only been able to do so thanks to the hard work and dedication of our entire team of professionals.  
     
    There is quite a bit still to be done by both our team and our entire community in order to ensure a safe and responsible return to school. I am confident that if we all continue to do our part, that all of the hard work and energy that has brought us to this moment will have been well worth it.
     
    The Responsibility of our Kehillah (community) 
     
    As we said in The Road Back to GOA Reopening Guide, it is imperative that we as a community make a commitment to one another to take mask wearing, physical distancing and all other risk mitigation steps seriously. Ultimately, our ability to both return to school safely and remain there, is in the hands of each and every student, parent and teacher. I want to thank you for taking the COVID-19 testing requirement seriously and appreciate you taking the time to bring your children for their tests in the coming days. Once completed, please be cognizant of the steps that you must take in order to keep your own children, and others in our community, healthy and safe in advance of (and during) the school year.
     
    Patience and respect must remain at the center for our community as well. There are many new policies and procedures that have been put in place for the new school year and it will certainly take time for all of us to make the necessary adjustments. We are asking our talented and dedicated teachers to do new things in their classrooms (and online/outdoors as well!) and while they have all spent hours training and preparing, there is no doubt in my mind that there will be bumps along the way. Know that they are working their hardest and that we are all open to make changes and corrections along the way.
     
    Our Faculty
     
    We cannot wait to welcome our faculty back to campus next week for our Professional Days. It is during these days in school that they will continue to be oriented to our new policies and procedures, setting up their classrooms and readying all of their materials for their students - both those who will be learning on-campus and remotely. 
     
    In these anything but normal times, we are even more grateful to them for their willingness and desire to be back in school educating our students. It is also vitally important that we keep in mind that while they are all incredibly committed to their work, they have their own families and responsibilities to tend to as well. Unfortunately, the reality of the pandemic is that some faculty will not be returning for the current school year in order to tend to either their family needs or personal health challenges.
     
    I applaud the work of our educational leadership team in filling these gaps and ask for continued patience as we work to fill some gaps that still remain. While classes will be covered, we also know that we will be making moves and adjustments throughout the first weeks of the school year and thank our faculty for their flexibility and our parents and students for their understanding.
     
    Thank you to all of our parents and students who have participated in our Back to School Orientations (and in advance to those who will be attending them next week). We would like to remind you that all of those sessions have been recorded and will be available to view on our website next week. Some parents have had very grade-level specific questions about the remote experience and I am confident that our faculty will be able to answer those questions in even greater detail once they are fully situated back in school. Again, your patience and understanding on this front as we navigate this new reality together is much appreciated.
     
    First Days of School
     
    As we look ahead to the first days of school we do so with both the academic and social-emotional needs of our students in mind. While our school never technically closed back in March, we do know that the adjustment back to learning this year will be very different than in the past. When you couple this with new policies and procedures, we are doing our absolute best to ensure that we are setting everyone - students, parents and teachers - up for success.
     
    We appreciate that all of our families completed the survey that was sent out last week regarding choosing between on-campus and remote instruction for the first part of the school year. Recognizing that roughly 85% of our students will be returning to campus, it’s imperative that we take the time to see our school in action during those first days in order to make any and all necessary adjustments. To that end, we have made some modifications to the first days of school for both practical and logistical reasons. Please be sure to note the changes below for September 9, 10 and 11. 
     
    Wednesday, September 9
     
    Wilf Lower School Campus
    • Students in Grades 1-5 will come to school for a regular 8:20 am start, with arrival and screening procedures beginning at 7:50 am.
    • Students in Grades Pre-K and Gan will start school at 10:30 am, with arrival and screening procedures beginning at 10:00 am.
    • Dismissal will be at the usual time of 3:15 pm.
     
    Eric F. Ross Upper School Campus
    • Students in Grades 6-9 will come to school for a regular 8:30 am start, with arrival and screening procedures beginning at 7:50 am.
    • All students in Grades 10-12 will be learning remotely from home while following their regular school schedule and meeting with their teachers via Zoom. 
    • Dismissal will be at the usual time of 4:00 pm.
     
    Thursday, September 10
     
    Wilf Lower School Campus
    • Students in Grades 1-5 will come to school for a regular 8:20 am start, with arrival and screening procedures beginning at 7:50 am.
    • Students in Grades Pre-K and Gan will start school at 10:30 am, with arrival and screening procedures beginning at 10:00am.
    • Dismissal will be at the usual time of 3:15 pm.
     
    Eric F. Ross Upper School Campus
    • Students in Grades 6, 10, 11 & 12 will come to school for a regular 8:30 am start, with arrival and screening procedures beginning at 7:50 am.
    • All students in Grades 7-9 will be learning remotely from home while following their regular school schedule and meeting with their teachers via Zoom.
    • Dismissal will be at the usual time of 4:00 pm.
     
    Friday, September 11
     
    Wilf Lower School Campus
    • All students (Pre-K through 5th) will come to school for a regular 8:20 am start, with arrival and screening procedures beginning at 7:50 am.
    • Dismissal will be at the usual time of 2:00 pm.
     
    Eric F. Ross Upper School Campus
    • Students in Grades 6-9 will come to school for a regular 8:30 am start, with arrival and screening procedures beginning at 7:50 am.
    • All students in Grades 10-12 will be learning remotely from home while following their regular school schedule and meeting with their teachers via Zoom. 
    • Dismissal will be at the usual time of 2:00 pm.
     
     
    On Monday, September 14 we expect to be fully operational with all (on-campus) students, Pre-K-12th, arriving at school on-time for the start of the school day. Making these adjustments on the first days of school will give us the opportunity to see all of our arrival/dismissal procedures in action (including wellness checks through our SchoolPass app and temperature screenings upon arrival), enable us to see how students flow through both campuses and will provide us with the ability to make any and all necessary adjustments in advance of having all students fully back on campus.
     
    There will be more information to share between now and the start of the school year and our promise to our entire GOA community is that we will continue to keep you informed along the way. Thank you again for your ongoing partnership and support.
     
    Shabbat shalom,
     
    Adam Shapiro
    Head of School
  • August 11: The Road Back to GOA — Reopening Plan

    Dear Golda Och Academy Community,
     
    We are pleased to be able to share our school’s reopening guide, The Road Back to GOA, with our community today. In this guide you will see important information about new policies and procedures that we will be implementing for the coming school year in an effort to ensure a safe and responsible return to on-campus learning for our students and teachers. Ultimately, we know that in order for us to make this return to campus a reality in September, it will require the ongoing commitment of every member of our GOA community.    
     
    Recognizing that there may be questions after you’ve had a chance to review this document, we will be holding a number of orientations and technology training sessions in the weeks leading up to the start of the school year for both our parents and students. While the list of programs is below, a more detailed calendar with specific dates, times and Zoom links will be forthcoming. 
     
    Thank you for your continued partnership and support of our school,
     
    Adam Shapiro
    Head of School
  • July 31: Head of School Message: Reopening FAQs #2

    Dear Golda Och Academy Community, 
     
    I hope that this letter finds you and your loved ones staying well and enjoying the summer. Our team very much appreciated the positive response — and additional questions — that we received following last week’s community update. In an effort to keep our GOA community informed, we are pleased to share more information below. This set of questions and answers have been generated as a result of the ongoing work and decisions being made by our GOA Reopening Team (please click here to visit our GOA Fall 2020 Reopening Plan page), as well as those that were submitted by members of our community. 
     
    Please take a few moments to read to the end of this email and please also let us know if you have any additional questions. Please feel free to email Glenn Slavin, Director of Marketing and Communications, with questions you’d like to see addressed in the future.   
     
    In partnership, 
     
    Adam Shapiro 
    Head of School


    Frequently Asked Questions
    Please note that all answers below are based on the most current, up-to-date information and analysis that we have at our disposal. All of this information is subject to change depending on a number of factors that may ultimately prove to be out of our control.
     
     
    Q: Governor Murphy continues to update the Travel Advisory list of states that require a 14-day quarantine upon returning to NJ. What should we do if we are planning a trip/visit to one of these states?
     
    A: We ask that all families visit the NJ Travel Advisory site (which is updated regularly) to learn more about the states that are currently part of the Travel Advisory list. As a kehillah(community) that looks out for the health and well-being of our fellow families, we ask that everyone in our GOA community take this advisory seriously. If you are traveling to one of these states, please plan to return to New Jersey no later than August 24 to ensure that you are in compliance with this order. Students and faculty will not be permitted to physically return to school prior to the end of a mandatory quarantine period. Please note that this will be true prior to school starting and throughout the school year (so long as the Travel Advisory list is in effect).

    Q: Has a final decision been made regarding the Online Learning Platforms and video conferencing software that will be used for the 2020-21 school year?
     
    A: Following extensive research and work by our educational technology team, the following online learning platforms will be used during the 2020-2021 school year: 
     
    • Students in grades Pre-K through 3rd will be using Seesaw.
     
     
    • We have upgraded our school to the Zoom Enterprise platform which means that all virtual meetings, hybrid classes and other programs throughout the school year will be broadcast using Zoom. 
     
    We appreciate the importance of training all students and parents on these platforms and will be sharing more information on when that training will take place. Meanwhile, our faculty is already participating in professional development focused on this technology in order to ensure a smooth and positive experience for everyone.

    Q: Given the different considerations and procedures that will be in effect this year, what will a school day look like under the different scenarios. 
     
    A: Our teams on both campuses are still in the process of finalizing all of our new daily procedures and will outline them further in our Reopening Policy Handbook, which will be made available in early August. As it relates to the daily schedule, some things will be consistent throughout our entire institution and others will be division and grade-level specific. The length of the day is projected to remain the same at this time, though we are currently exploring whether staggered arrival and/or dismissal may be helpful. More information on those procedures will be forthcoming. Additionally, we expect that while on campus, students will be more limited in terms of their movement throughout the buildings. 
     
    • In the Lower School, students will primarily remain in 1-2 classrooms each day. However, we will also use additional spaces for break out groups, individual support, and larger meetings (appropriately physically-distanced). 
     
    • In the Upper School, we will also be limiting movement between classrooms and a staggered bell schedule will be put in place in order to decrease density in the halls as students and faculty move throughout the day.  
     
    • On both campuses, we plan to maximize outdoor space — both for classes and lunch/recess — and will share more details in upcoming communications.
     
    If we find ourselves operating exclusively on a remote schedule, we are committed to a robust, engaging, standardized schedule (Pre-K through 12th) that is implemented from day one. Students and parents will have access to these schedules in advance and the periods of the day will reflect the different modalities of instruction. 
     
    • Our Lower School education team has created sample schedules that combine live instruction, a blend of live and asynchronous instruction (ie. teachers may begin live or post a short mini lesson, followed by independent or small group work or students may work independently, followed by a group wrap up), specials that may be both live and/or asynchronous, and virtual homework and academic support. To view these sample schedules for grades 1-5, please click here. Please note that these schedules are merely a guide for your reference and are subject to change in the upcoming weeks. Additionally, a more detailed breakdown, by general and Judaic studies, will be provided in advance of the start of the school year. Our team continues to finalize schedules for early childhood grades (Pre-K and Gan) and those will be shared in the coming weeks.
     
    • Middle School and High School schedules will remain consistent (albeit with some minor changes to class timing). Student-specific schedules will be completed — for both on-campus and remote instruction — in the coming weeks and will be shared with students when they are finalized.

    Q: In the past there has been a PA-run lunch program in the Lower School and a lunch ordering system which allowed students to order from local kosher vendors in the Upper School, will these lunch programs be happening in school this year? 
     
    A: Given the many challenges that exist when it comes to food services, we will be suspending our school lunch program — on both campuses — for the start of the school year. While we anticipate this will remain in effect for the majority of the school year, our team will revisit this decision - and will continue to work closely with our Parents Association — once the school year gets under way. All students will be required to bring their own dairy or pareve brown bag lunch in accordance with our school’s kashrut policy (which can be found in our Student Handbook). All packed lunches and snacks should be nut-free.
    Q: Has GOA received any information from NJSIAA regarding the fall season of Varsity athletics?
     
    A: Our Athletic Director, Mr. Dennis Kozar, has been in close touch with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) regarding the upcoming fall sports season. While there is much that’s still undecided, the plan that they’ve released to-date calls for high school fall sports (Boys and Girls Soccer, Girls Volleyball, Girls Tennis, Co-Ed Cross Country) to begin with preseason practices in late August (HS athletes will receive more information from Mr. Kozar) and competition beginning during the first week of October and lasting for six weeks. While we have not yet made a final decision on our school’s participation, we want to know what the parents of our fall student-athletes are thinking. For those who have played in the past or are thinking about it for this year, please complete this brief survey.
     
    Q: Will there be Middle School athletics this fall? 
     
    A: Mr. Kozar is currently in discussion with the Athletic Directors from other schools to determine the path forward for our Middle School sports teams for the fall. While many schools that we compete against have already determined that they will not be participating in team sports this fall, we are still doing our due diligence and will be back in touch with our Middle School families once we have more to share. Should we not be able to participate in team sports, Mr. Kozar and his team are already working on plans for our middle school student-athletes to continue their athletic pursuits here in school.


    Q: Will Aftercare and Funtracks be happening in the Lower School this year?
     
    A: Ms. Jul McCormick-Anesh sent out a letter and survey to our Lower School families last week regarding Aftercare and Funtracks for the coming school year. In order to ensure the safety of all students and faculty involved, we will be making changes to these programs this year. To learn more and to respond to the survey - to provide input and express interest in these programs — please click here to complete the survey by Monday, August 3 at 11 am.




  • July 23: Head of School Message: Reopening FAQs

    Dear Golda Och Academy Community, 
     
    Our Golda Och Academy Reopening Task Force continues to work hard in preparation for our return to on-campus instruction on September 9 (outlined on the Fall 2020 Reopening Plan page on our website). We also understand that our ability to be on campus remains contingent on the positive public health trends in our community/State, with the continuation of the low rate of COVID transmission in NJ being the biggest driver in this equation. As we engage in this important planning work in many different areas, we continue to follow guidance set forth by Governor Murphy, the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools, the CDC and AAP and our own medical experts.  
     
    We very much appreciate hearing from our parents and students with the questions that are top of mind and in the coming weeks we will be sending out updates (like that which you see below) to further inform you about our work and planning. As we look ahead to future communications — and to the completion of our 2020-21 Reopening Policy Handbook which will be shared in early August — please feel free to email Glenn Slavin, Director of Marketing and Communications, with questions you’d like to see addressed. Our goal is to answer those questions which have come up most often in an effort to keep our community well-informed.   
     
    In partnership, 
     
    Adam Shapiro 
    Head of School


    Frequently Asked Questions
    Please note that all answers below are based on the most current, up-to-date information and analysis that we have at our disposal. All of this information is subject to change depending on a number of factors that may ultimately prove to be out of our control.  
     
    Q: Recognizing that the goal is to return to school for on-campus instruction beginning on September 9, is it possible to safely and responsibly fit all of our students into our two buildings?
     
    A: Our team has completed an extensive space analysis and, yes, we all can fit. In order to do so, we are being creative with our space usage. This means repurposing some of our larger spaces and utilizing outdoor spaces under tents and on our fields. Additionally, some protective barriers have already been installed — using plexiglass and other materials — in order to ensure that classrooms, offices and other spaces are as safe as possible.  
     
     
    Q: Will we be utilizing outdoor spaces?
     
    A: Yes. Through our partnership with local camps and vendors we have secured a number of tents to be used on both campuses. It is our goal to use these spaces both for instruction and for lunch/snack time. We also recognize that this is a very weather-dependent solution and we are still in the process of investigating what this may look like when the weather changes in a few months.
     
    Q: Will we be implementing a hybrid model of instruction where some students are in school and others are at home?
     
    A: Yes. We are outfitting all classrooms with the necessary audio/video equipment to successfully implement this model. We are doing this for multiple reasons. First, for those families who may not yet feel comfortable sending their child(ren) back to school, we want to ensure that all students have the ability to access instruction from their teachers. (If you have not yet had a chance to complete the survey from Mr. Shapiro’s last update, you can find it by clicking here). Second, in the case where a student(s) may have been exposed to COVID and require a mandatory quarantine, having this system in place enables learning to continue.
     
    Q: What is the status of Online Learning Platforms for the 2020-21 school year?  
     
    A: Our educational technology team is in the last stages of finalizing (and purchasing) the online learning platforms that we will be using this year. This has been an extensive and exhaustive process that has included many conversations with colleagues in the field, while also incorporating the feedback received from students, teachers and parents throughout the last few months of the school year in an effort to ensure that we are putting the absolute best software in place. Those decisions will be finalized in the coming days and will be communicated by Mr. Herskowitz and Mrs. Siegel. Our faculty will be fully trained/prepared to implement them beginning on the first day of school and both parents and students will learn more about them and receive the necessary training/orientation. 
     
    Q: Will my child need access to a device/technology this year?
     
    A: Yes. Given that we will be implementing these new technology platforms, it is important that all students have access to a device this year. Recognizing that all platforms and programs we will be using are web-based, we are not requiring any specific piece of technology. Additional guidance will be forthcoming from our educational technology team and campus principals as the use of technology will look different depending on the age(s) of your child(ren).
     
    Q: What health protocols will be in place this year?
     
    A: Our Health and Safety team — which is being led by our school nurses, Nurse Ilena Kasdan and Nurse Roberta Coopersmith — have been meeting regularly, working closely with their colleagues from other NJAIS schools, combing through all of the guidance from the State, CDC and the AAP in order to finalize all of our health protocols/procedures for the coming year. Additionally, we are fortunate to have Dr. Jeffrey Saperstein (school parent, alumni parent and pediatrician) on board to consult with our team on the policies being put in place. While plans are still being finalized, we do know that all students and faculty will complete a daily health screening — both through an app and upon their arrival to school. There will also be updated policies in place for what happens when a student/teacher become sick during the day, which rooms on each campus will be reserved as isolation spaces in these cases, along with guidance on how long a student/teacher will have to remain out of school should they be ill — whether with COVID or any other illness. 
     
    Q: What hygiene/sanitation procedures will be in place? Do we have enough PPE on-hand? 
     
    A: We are fortunate to have a large supply of PPE, disinfecting products, sanitizers and electrostatic cleaners already on-hand. Additionally, every classroom and large space on both campuses will be outfitted with HEPA air purifiers (Golda Och Academy Receives Grant from the Healthcare Foundation of NJ). We are also in the process of developing and finalizing extensive new cleaning protocols that will be in effect all day on each campus.
     
    Q: How can parents/students best prepare for our students to be wearing masks all day? 
     
    A: Our policy will require that all students, faculty and staff be wearing masks all day while on campus. During lunch and snack times, students will have the opportunity to remove their masks and will be properly socially distanced at all times while they are removed. Our school will not be providing masks (except in case of emergency if something happens to a child’s mask) as finding ones that fit your child(ren) properly is incredibly important. All families should begin working on mask-training this summer in order that students are comfortable and ready for the start of the school year.
     
    Here are some tips for mask-training from the CDC:
     
    • Let your child(ren) pick out the ones they like.
    • Teach them to wear their mask properly (ensuring that nose, mouth and chin are covered along with regular cleaning).
    • Adults should model the importance of mask-wearing for their children.
    • Create a plan to build up stamina in your children by having them wear a mask for an increased amount of time each day.
    • Make it fun -- this helps to make mask-wearing normal and not a scary or abnormal practice.


  • July 15: Golda Och Academy Receives Grant from the Healthcare Foundation of NJ

    As part of the school’s Reopening Plan for Fall, 2020, Golda Och Academy is excited to announce that it is the recipient of a grant from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey. The grant is for the purchase of HEPA air purifiers to be installed in all of its classrooms and offices on both of their campuses in West Orange, NJ and is one of many measures being undertaken by the school to ready their campuses for in-person instruction in the fall during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Head of School, Adam Shapiro, “our school and community are truly grateful to our partners at the Healthcare Foundation of NJ who are helping us to fulfill our mission during these unprecedented and difficult times as we deal with the impact of COVID-19.” HFNJ Executive Director, Marsha Atkind stated “Nothing could be more important in this era of Covid-19 than making sure that children and teachers return to a safe environment when school opens in the fall. We at HFNJ are happy to partner with the Golda Och Academy to help ensure safety on both their West Orange campuses.”
  • July 15: Head of School Update: Reopening Plan

    Dear Golda Och Academy Community,
     
    As we continue to move through the most unprecedented and challenging summer in the history of our institution, I wanted to take this opportunity to update our community on our progress. This powerful moment in time — one filled with uncertainty and changing by the day — has forced us all to think differently and more creatively as we approach the 2020-21 school year. There are a few things that can be said with certainty:
     
    1. This WILL be a year unlike any other since our school’s founding in 1965.
    2. We will continue to do everything in our power to be ready for live, in-person instruction come September.
    3. Ensuring the safety and well-being of all of our students and teachers will continue to be the guiding principles behind every decision we make. 
     
    Where do we stand today?
     
    Our goal remains to bring everyone back to campus; and we are also working diligently to ensure that we are prepared for any one of the three possibilities (outlined on the Fall 2020 Reopening Plan page on our website) for instruction this year. 
     
    The ongoing work I have been engaged in as a member of the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools Task Force on School Reopening has proved to be quite valuable as it has enabled us to work closely with our independent school counterparts, maintain our independence in our decision-making, and at the same time benefit from the valuable guidance received from the State, CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics. 
     
    Operations, Health & Safety
     
    Our Operations and Health & Safety team — which is made up of educators, our school nurses and medical professionals, has spent a great deal of time considering myriad plans to keep our community safe and healthy. Members of our team, along with outside consultants, have worked to ensure that all spaces in our buildings - including tents to be used outside — are set up properly and used in a way that ensures that safe and healthy learning can take place. They are also in the process of finalizing protocols for daily health screenings that we will share more about in the coming weeks. 
     
    From the standpoint of health and safety, we are working hard to identify how to best maintain appropriate social distancing given the range of different spaces on both campuses. While there are some spaces where we are confident that this can happen easily, there are realities on both campuses that we know will make this difficult. 
     
    To that end, all students, teachers and staff will be required to wear masks all day while on campus. Please know that this will be non-negotiable and we highly recommend that all families work with their children (starting right away) to both acquire and use masks while at home. Especially for our youngest students, it’s imperative that a level of comfort be established before the first day of school. Recognizing that the type of mask each individual wears is a personal decision, we ask that families make those purchases, test out different products and acquire enough of them so that students can have extras with them every day in school.
     
    We also take seriously the need to have clean air and improved airflow on both campuses. To that end, we are fortunate to have received a grant from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey (please see a link to the press release at the bottom of this email) to purchase HEPA filtration air purifiers for every room, including all classrooms and office spaces. Properly filtered and circulated air is critical when it comes to keeping our students and faculty safe and healthy and we are quite pleased to have been able to secure this equipment. 
     
    Our Educational Program, Technology and Systems
     
    This task force group — made up of teachers and administrators — have been working to finalize plans for the online learning platforms we will implement this year. Their work has included gathering feedback from their colleagues, students and peers in other institutions in an effort to determine what will work best for our GOA students, faculty and parents. We look forward to sharing more information about those platforms in the coming weeks along with opportunities for both parents and students to learn more about them and receive the necessary training. As has been stated previously, our students will be trained on these platforms and using them beginning on day one in order to ensure that there is no lag should we need to move between the different instructional learning scenarios this year. To that end, we highly recommend that families have plans in place for each of their children to have access to a device for the 2020-21 school year. 
     
    Additionally, as we prepare for all three operating scenarios, we recognize that there may be times when students may need to learn remotely and/or when teachers may need to instruct from outside of the classroom. Thus it’s imperative that we have the proper technology in place in every classroom. Currently our technology team is in the process of identifying/purchasing the proper equipment, installing in our classrooms and putting training programs in place for our faculty. 
     
    We also understand that, even with all of these precautionary measures in place, some families may still not be comfortable with sending their children to school for in-person instruction. If you anticipate that your child(ren) will need to participate in school remotely, please be sure to complete the following form to let us know in order that we can continue to plan accordingly.
     
     
    Expectations for the coming weeks from GOA and our Kehillah
     
    Our GOA team will continue to monitor all communication and guidance from Governor Murphy, NJAIS and the CDC as we work to confirm under which scenario to begin our academic year. As we are all well aware, the current COVID-19 situation remains fluid and there are still many unanswered questions about what the coming weeks may or may not look like. We appreciate the desire of all of our parents and students to learn more about our plans and look forward to sharing our 2020-21 Reopening Policy Handbook in early August. 
     
    In the meantime, we are asking that everyone in our GOA kehillah (community) continue to do their part to stay safe and healthy and not let their guard down when it comes to social distancing, mask wearing and proper hygiene. We have successfully flattened the curve here in NJ thanks to that diligence and the only way that we will be able to successfully return to school — and remain there — is if everyone continues to take these efforts seriously. One need look no further than the daily papers to see what has happened in places that have moved too quickly or ignored this important guidance. 
     
    I want to once again reiterate my thanks to all of our students, faculty and parents for their ongoing patience and support throughout. Looking forward to being back in touch and sharing more information soon.
     
    In partnership,
     
    Adam Shapiro
    Head of School
  • June 10: Head of School Update (Video)

  • June 1: Head of School Message: The Need For Kavod (Respect)

    “Let the honor of your fellow human being be as precious to you as your own.” 
    Mishnah Avot 2:10
     
    Dear Golda Och Academy Community,
     
    Our television screens and social media feeds have been filled with so many painful and powerful images over these past few days and I have no doubt that it has led to many difficult conversations in your homes. There are so many questions and, unfortunately, very few answers. Yet, it is incumbent upon all of us to face this reality head on. 
     
    The core Jewish values of kavod (respect) and tikkun olam (repair of the world) that we hold dear in our school and community ring especially true at this particular moment in time. We therefore must engage in that work to repair our world and support our children as they work to find their own voices right now.
     
    Following the tragic death of George Floyd last week and the subsequent protests and unrest in Minneapolis and all over our country, we are all struggling to process these events. As Jews, any form of discrimination or racism is an anathema to all we believe in. Fortunately, our tradition offers many ways for us to respond and this moment provides us with a valuable opportunity to speak with our children about what it means to show respect and, above all, treat others the way we wish to be treated.   
     
    As a community, we appreciate that our students need time together to process what they are seeing and hearing in order to determine how they can and should respond. Of course, this is all the more difficult as we continue to be apart from one another. There are plans in place for programming for our Middle and High School students (beginning tomorrow) to both educate and create a safe space to have these conversations. While our youngest students will not have formal assemblies, their teachers will find ways to affirm the critical message that Mrs. Siegel highlighted this morning in her video about the importance of being an upstander even in the most difficult of situations.  
     
    In an effort to further support the partnership between school and home, we encourage you to invite your children into these conversations with you. We are grateful to our friends at Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools for putting a resource board together with some very valuable information regarding talking to students about George Floyd and racism
     
    Following the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, where Dr. King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel z’l marched arm in arm, Heschel said, “I felt my legs were praying.” It is that powerful image and thought that I hope we will embody as a community at this time.
     
    Sending my best wishes for continued good health, safety and a return to calm and peace.
     
    Adam Shapiro
    Head of School
  • May 15: Head of School Update: End of the Year and Looking Ahead

    Dear Golda Och Academy Community,
     
    As we look ahead to completing the school year on remote instruction, I know that we are all filled with many emotions as we consider the toll that learning and teaching in this way takes on students, teachers and parents alike from both an educational and social-emotional perspective. Physical distancing has made parenting, schooling, working — and just about everything else! — much more difficult. Our routines have been forced to change. For many, the idea of downtime is a thing of the past, and while technology has enabled us to maintain some social connectivity (and in some cases to reconnect with family and friends we may have drifted from) it by no means replaces the real thing which we all — young and old alike — crave. The reality is that our students, parents and teachers are experiencing stress and anxiety while facing down this pandemic and we all look to school as a normalizing and stabilizing force.
     
    But, school has changed too. 
     
    As educators, we want nothing more than for school to be that force as well. However, we must all maintain the proper perspective as it relates to the situation we find ourselves in. Just as our parents and caregivers are doing their best to balance work and personal responsibilities, our teachers are doing the same as many of them are parents and caregivers as well. Thank you to those who have reached out to show your appreciation. Thank you as well to those who have reached out directly to share constructive feedback and suggestions with our team. As we discussed in our parent meetings earlier this month, the partnership between school and home has never been more important than it is at this moment. 
     
    Planning for 2020-21
     
    I have accepted an invitation from Carole Everett, the Executive Director of the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools (NJAIS) to serve on the NJAIS Task Force on School Re-Opening. Along with five colleagues from around the state, I am honored to serve in this capacity and represent our school and community in these important conversations. 
     
    While specifics are still being developed as guidance changes by the day, we know that our reopening in the fall will be complex and will involve new guidelines and procedures for us to follow. Our team is preparing for increased health measures in our buildings as well as additional social-emotional support for both our students and faculty. Our school is committed to following the guidance of our local, state and federal officials as it relates to safely reopening and, as such, our thinking is centered around the following possible scenarios:
     
    • Scenario #1: We are open for in-person instruction in September, with modifications made to both schedules and classroom assignments in order to be in compliance with any and all health protocols.  
     
    • Scenario #2: We open in September with a hybrid model — a combination of in-school and remote instruction — that also includes the additional scheduling and health measures as stated in Scenario #1.  
     
    • Scenario #3: We begin the school year with a comprehensive and educationally responsible remote instruction plan spanning Pre-K through 12th grade that includes a set schedule for each grade, a robust blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning, strategically selected technology platforms, and appropriate orientations for student and parent use. 
     
    While we are all hopeful for Scenario #1 to come to fruition in September, we must be prepared for all three possibilities for the fall and we will be. As such, our team will be engaged in the following over the coming weeks and into the summer:
     
    • Ongoing consultation with our NJAIS colleagues as best practices for remote instruction are defined and implemented so that we can meet and exceed these practices in educationally responsible ways. 
     
    • Prioritizing professional development for our entire team in the areas of technology, social-emotional health and well-being and remote instruction. 
     
    • Identifying and securing all necessary resources — personnel, software and hardware — in order to ensure that we are able to operate at the highest level whether in-person or remote.
     
    I will continue to communicate (and expand on the above thinking) with our community regularly between now and the start of the new school year as developments unfold. 
     
    Milestones and End of Year Programming - Save the Dates
     
    As we discussed in our recent grade/division-level parent meetings, milestone and end-of-year celebrations are all being reimagined in order to celebrate our students at these key moments in time. As you will see on the list below some of these events will be held live, some will be pre-recorded and “launched” on a certain day and others will have a mix of live and pre-recorded content. Ultimately, all of them will provide students with an opportunity to shine and our community with the opportunity to kvell!
     
    Our Community
     
    Dr. Todd Rose of the Harvard Graduate School of Education aptly notes, "Ultimately you can have all the tech in the world, but really great learning is a human endeavor…It's about the teacher and student relationship." At Golda Och Academy we are committed to that relationship both on campus and on remote. Our community is incredibly strong because we care about and look after one another — through both the good and difficult times. If you are in need of additional support, would like to speak with one of our professionals and/or need a referral for services, please know that we are here and stand ready to help.
     
    Thank you for your continued partnership and the trust you place in us every day. Sending my best to all of our parents, students and teachers for good health and safety as we continue to weather this storm. 
     
    In partnership,
     
    Adam Shapiro
    Head of School
  • May 5: Head of School Update: Governor Murphy’s Announcement

    Dear Golda Och Academy Community,
     
    As I am confident you all know by now, Governor Murphy announced yesterday that all public and independent schools in New Jersey will remain closed for in-person instruction for the remainder of the school year. While this news is heartbreaking and disappointing for students, teachers and parents alike, it is the correct decision and puts the health, safety and well-being of our community at the center. 
     
    While the focus at this moment is to continue to provide high-level remote instruction for the remaining weeks of the school year, we are also looking ahead and preparing for 2020-21. Our team is working overtime to ensure that we are prepared for any and all possibilities for the fall and beyond. In the new reality we are all faced with, it is incumbent upon us to be prepared for both in-person and remote instruction in the future. Our teachers and administrators have done an incredible job in meeting the needs of our students to this point while being both responsive and reflective. I am confident that will continue as we work to finalize our plans for the fall. 
     
    This week is Teacher Appreciation Week and it has taken on so much additional meaning this year. First and foremost, the notes of support that have been sent directly to our faculty and posted onto the Wall of Gratitude have been uplifting and inspiring and I thank you all in advance for continuing to share those positive messages with our team. 
     
    Additionally, I want to take a moment to thank our parents who have stepped up in unimaginable ways to assist in the management of our students’ education while balancing their own jobs and other responsibilities at the same time. Never has the termhome-school partnership meant more. As we said in our grade/division level meetings over the last week, we are all in this together and we will all come out stronger on the other side as a result.  
     
    Thank you all for your continued support of our school and students. I look forward to a time when we can all gather again in person and celebrate our special kehillah.  
     
    In partnership,
     
    Adam Shapiro
    Head of School
  • April 17: Updates and Continuation of Remote Instruction

    Dear Golda Och Academy Community,
     
    I hope that everyone has enjoyed a wonderful holiday and a well-deserved spring break. Hopefully, the time off has enabled us all to take a breath and rejuvenate - if even ever so slightly given our current circumstances. Governor Murphy’s statement yesterday regarding NJ schools being closed through at least Friday, May 15 means that we will continue to be on Remote Instruction for at least four more weeks. 
     
    Breathe…
     
    While the natural reaction may be to feel slightly exasperated and overwhelmed, I do hope that we are all able to take a step back and recognize that our efforts — along with those of our family members, neighbors and friends — are going a long way towards flattening the curve and enabling us to get past this awful pandemic. As other states around us have made the difficult decision to shut down schools for the remainder of the school year, I appreciate that Governor Murphy is taking incremental steps in his decision-making process. Ultimately, we all share the same desire to get our students back to school safely and I remain hopeful that we can do that between now and June. 
     
    Looking ahead to the coming weeks of Remote Instruction, please note the following important updates/information:
     
    • Our faculty — who continue to be absolute superheroes! — will have the opportunity to access our campuses this week in order to retrieve additional materials to assist with their continued instruction.
     
    • Grade Level/Division Meetings — we recognize that there are questions regarding the coming weeks and our administrators and I will make ourselves available — through a schedule that we will publish next week —to meet and speak with all of you. While a more formal invite will go out that will include specific topics, we will discuss our continued remote instruction plan, upcoming milestone events and address concerns/questions you may have regarding the social-emotional health and well-being of your children. 
     
    • Retrieving materials from school — At this time, we are also exploring ways for families to retrieve additional materials, if necessary, from school. In order to do this safely and in accordance with state-mandated health guidelines, we will share information once it’s available. 
     
    As we continue to be physically distanced from one another, our communal connections grow stronger and I want to thank everyone again for their ongoing support of our school and students. While we remain uncertain as to when we will ultimately emerge from this crisis, I am confident that we will come out much stronger on the other side. In the meantime, I continue to send good thoughts for health and safety to our entire GOA community and all of your loved ones as well.
     
    Shabbat shalom,
     
    Adam Shapiro
    Head of School
     
  • March 31, 2020: April 6th Programming and Looking Ahead to Pesach

    Tuesday, March 31, 2020
     
    Dear Golda Och Academy Community, 
     
    Joining together with hundreds of members of both our GOA and the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy (Bryn Mawr, PA) community for Havdalah this past weekend was yet another reminder of the importance of creating special communal moments in these very physically distanced times. To see so many smiling faces illuminated by the havdalah candles flickering all over my computer screen was quite special and brought a greater sense of connectedness into our home. I hope that the same was true for all who participated as well. Our Jewish Life and Experiential Education team has done an excellent job creating meaningful programming that has enabled our community to be brought even closer together at this difficult time — I very much look forward to that continuing. 
     
    Our team has worked tirelessly to incorporate the feedback they are receiving into the ongoing changes that you have seen with our remote instruction plans, and I want to once again thank all of them — faculty and administrators alike — for diving in, head-first, to this process. At times it has been both stressful and anxiety provoking — especially given the other challenges we are facing. This process, however, has enabled our students to feel grounded and somewhat normal in these anything-but-normal times. 
     
    As we move into week 3 of Remote Instruction, I wanted to provide the following important updates/reminders:
     
    ·    Pesach is coming next week and recognizing the incredible uniqueness that these last few weeks have presented us with and the challenges we will all face in our preparations for the chag, we will be doing the following:
     
    ·    On Monday, April 6 we will not follow a regular remote instruction schedule. Instead, we are in the process of finalizing a special programming schedule that will be sent out later this week which will include pre-Pesach activities for students and parents to participate in on Monday. Please note that some of these will be live and others recorded. All will be open for Pre-K-12th grade students unless otherwise noted in the description. 
     
    ·    While Tuesday, April 7 had originally been scheduled as a noon dismissal on our school calendar, it will now be the first day of our Pesach break. Students will be able to use this time as review should they wish, however there will be no formal instruction during the morning.
     
    ·    We recognize that this break will be like none we’ve ever experienced. While it’s important that we all take this time to disconnect (as much as possible) and gear up for the last part of the school year, we do understand that many will still be looking to keep their children engaged. To that end, you will be receiving more information from the school (prior to break) with suggestions and recommendations from our faculty and staff on how students can remain enriched and engaged throughout the chag.
     
    ·    Our Jewish Life and Experiential Education team will be providing opportunities (for both parents and students) to virtually come together later this week and early next to discuss the complexities of Pesach this year and provide all of us with some guidance and creative thoughts and ideas for the sedarim (more details to follow).
     
    ·    We ask that everyone be respectful and mindful of the time needed for both preparation and celebration of the chag and thank you all in advance for refraining from contacting teachers over the break. 
     
    Our faculty and staff have worked tirelessly over these past few weeks both setting up and executing our remote instruction plan. Many are putting in twice as much time (if not more) every day and I know that our entire GOA community joins me in thanking them for their efforts while also recognizing that they, too, need to prepare for Pesach. So many of you have shared positive praise for them and much of that has been incorporated into our Wall of Gratitude. Please know that we welcome more of these messages and look forward to this wall continuing to grow every day! 
     
    In my original email about our school closure on Thursday, March 12, I noted that it was our hope to return to school following Pesach on Monday, April 20. Our world has certainly gone through dramatic change since earlier this month and at this point the decision to return is very much out of our hands. We are still hopeful to return to school just after the break, and we will continue to take our guidance from both our state and federal officials on this matter. We will keep our GOA community posted as we learn more and will be in touch prior to the end of Pesach with an update on our post-break plans.
     
    I know that we are all eager to return to school, work and our normal lives on Gregory Avenue and Pleasant Valley Way and very much look forward to doing so once we can be sure it’s safe and prudent. In the meantime, I want to wish everyone in our community continued strength and good health as we continue to deal with our new reality.
     
    In partnership,
     
    Adam Shapiro
    Head of School
  • March 20, 2020: Bringing Week 1 to a Close

    Friday, March 20, 2020
     
    Dear Golda Och Academy Community, 
     
    Our new (ab)normal is here and I am truly in awe of our community. Our teachers have stepped up in ways that none of them could have even imagined a few short weeks ago, our students have risen to the occasion while adjusting to new modalities of instruction and I know that our parents have been working hard to juggle their professional and personal lives amidst all this uncertainty. This is stressful and anxiety provoking and it goes without saying that none of us want to be in this position. 
     
    Alas, we are here, we have no choice in the matter and, most importantly, we are in this together. Over the course of the past four days, Golda Och Academy has gone “remote”and I am incredibly proud of our teachers. They have been reflective and responsive while making changes and adjustments on the fly. Your feedback has been invaluable as we’ve worked to strike the proper balance when it comes to the schedule, posting assignments and how to structure them. In the coming weeks you will continue to see updates and changes, increased opportunities for our students and teachers to interact with one another and an even more streamlined approach to remote instruction in certain age ranges (ie. early childhood, elementary, middle and high school). 
     
    As we look ahead to Shabbat, my request for our community is that we all take a moment to remember that Shabbat provides us with an opportunity to disconnect from the week that has passed and recharge for the week ahead. With that in mind, I ask that we all take a break from technology, emails and any other form of communication between now and Monday. All of us as individuals — parents, teachers and students alike — need this time to practice self-care. Please know that I have made the same request of our faculty and administration in asking them to hold off on responding to communications until next week.
     
    When Rena and I bless our children every Friday night we also pause to reflect on the week that has passed and share what we are grateful for. This week I am particularly grateful for everyone who has shared words of appreciation and admiration for GOA. If you have not yet had a chance to see (or add to) the Wall of Gratitude, I highly encourage you to do so. 
     
    Last but certainly not least, this past week’s Community Tefillah led by Rabbi Yolkut was incredibly special and I look forward to once again gathering our community together tomorrow for a joyous Virtual Havdalah Celebration (click here to join us via Zoom at 8 pm)led by Rabbi Yolkut and our Golden Ochtaves Choir Director, Mr. Craig Resmovits.  
     
    Shabbat shalom,
     
    Adam Shapiro
    Head of School
  • March 16, 2020: Community Best Practices, Neshama Trip Returning, Managing Stress and Anxiety, Illness and Diagnosis Reporting Form

    Dear Golda Och Academy Community,

    While we have labeled both Friday and Monday as “snow days,” this has been done in name only in order to signify that no formal learning would take place. These days, and the weeks to follow, are anything but normal and should not be treated, under any circumstance, as extended vacation/playdate days. The reason for our closing is not to lengthen our break, rather it has been done in an effort to “flatten the curve” and keep our community as healthy and safe as possible. Our success will be measured, simply put, by how serious everyone in our community — and extended community — adheres to these recommendations. It is our ultimate goal to return to school following Pesach and this will only happen if we all work hard to stay physically distanced and healthy throughout this time.

    Practically speaking, this means that sleepovers, playdates, parties and social gatherings simply should not take place. Parents, I know that your kids may request this time with their friends and will make it difficult for you to say no, unfortunately this is one of those moments when parenting becomes even more critical as you have to do just that. You’re being tasked with having your kids at home and separated from their peers which I know is counter to all that we want for our young people (and for ourselves!).

    In all of my reading over these past weeks, I have encountered a number of important articles and many are shared on our information about the coronavirus webpage. Earlier this week, I came across a particularly poignant article written by Dr. Gretchen Schmelzer, a licensed psychologist who trained as a Harvard Medical School Fellow, and worked for many years with the multi-layered issues of trauma, integration, and behavioral change. This article struck a chord as it lays out the true importance of taking this moment seriously. Dr. Schmelzer has challenged all of us to, “make our response to this crisis our finest hour.” To do so we need to be unified in our work and committed to even the smallest acts of kindness and pikuach nefesh (the halakhic principle that instructs us about the importance of saving a life over all else). While there is much to read and even more to do at this hectic time in our lives, I’d highly encourage all of you to take a few moments to read this article as I know it will further support and solidify the need for all of us to distance ourselves from one another - no matter how painful - for the greater good.

    I also wanted to take a moment in this email to provide some important updates and information to our community. Please read to the end and, as always, do not hesitate to be in touch if you have any questions.

    Important Information/Updates

    • Unfortunately, due to new Israeli governmental regulations that came through late Saturday night, we have had to make the difficult decision of bringing our Neshama students home. While we are sad that it’s come to this, we had to act in the best interests of our students and in an effort to keep them as safe as possible. They will be arriving back home early on Tuesday morning.

    • At this point, everyone has received communication from either Mrs. Siegel or Mr. Herskowitz and more specific, grade-level, emails have either already been sent (Upper School) or will be arriving in your inbox today (Lower School). I hope that you have noted the care, creativity and dedication that have gone into these communications. Our teachers are, in a word, awesome, and they are diving into this entire process head-first along with our students. We have no doubt that there may be bumps along the way and while we welcome the feedback, we also ask for everyone’s patience and support as we move into this new reality of remote instruction beginning on Tuesday.

    • One of the most important responsibilities we all have in the coming weeks is to manage stress and anxiety — both in ourselves and our children. There are many great resources posted on our coronavirus webpage and I direct your attention to this page on the CDC website which focuses on this topic and provides additional resources as well.

    • In an effort to keep track of our community during this extended physical absence from school, we ask that you complete this Coronavirus (COVID-19) Illness & Diagnosis Reporting Form if your child or a member of your immediate family tests positive for coronavirus. It goes without saying that we never want this form to be used, however, we must be prepared accordingly.
     
    We are all so blessed to be a part of the Golda Och Academy community. Of course, our strength comes from being together every day and as we separate from one another in the weeks ahead; I know it may prove difficult. It is my hope that we can instead turn this into an adventure. I’m certain it will have its ups and downs but am confident that it will ultimately be a growth opportunity for all of us. We encourage you to reach out and speak with and FaceTime one another. We must check in and see how friends and loved ones are doing. Our friendships and connections don’t end simply because we are not physically together; instead they evolve into something even more special.

    At this moment we need each other and while we can’t hop in the car and head to Gregory Avenue or Pleasant Valley Way, we can very much still be “together” as a community. These next few weeks will continue to present challenges and I am confident that we will face this together and come out even stronger on the other side.

    Praying for the health and safety of our entire GOA community,

    In partnership,

    Adam Shapiro
    Head of School
  • March 16, 2020: US Remote Instruction Information

    US students and parents can reach our guide for Remote Instruction by logging into the GOA website, and going to Resource Boards.

    Use this Guide to see the schedule, expectations, Live with Mr. H., Tefillah , Research Resources, and Tech Support.

  • March 12, 2020: School Closed for Students

    As I said in my email yesterday, we have continued to monitor this situation on a minute-by-minute and hourly basis. Throughout these processes we have consulted both internally and externally, planned together as a leadership team and have worked hard to ensure we are making the best decisions possible. Ultimately, I am hopeful that everyone understands at this point that the question is no longer if, but rather when. Our team has been hard at work planning for the inevitable and I have dedicated the majority of my time over the last two weeks to considering all possible options. Above all, I am thankful that at this time we do not have any students, faculty or staff who have tested positive for the coronavirus, and it is very much our hope to keep it that way.

    Following extensive consultation, we have concluded that in order for us to effectively keep our community safe while rolling out our remote instruction plan, we need to begin that process now. We are fortunate that our students and teachers remain healthy at this time and also recognize that our community and country may be in a very different place by this time next week. If we are to effectively roll out this plan for remote instruction, it is far better to jump into that process from a place of calm and preparedness as opposed to doing so hastily.

    Beginning tomorrow, Friday, March 13, Golda Och Academy will be closed for our students through Pesach Break. Our return date is subject to change — either earlier or later — based on ongoing communications with health professionals and guidance from the State of NJ.

    Our faculty will be on campus tomorrow doing professional development work in order to ensure that they are fully ready to go with both synchronous and asynchronous instruction and that preparation will continue through Monday. I will be meeting both virtually (this evening) and tomorrow with our faculty and leadership team in order to further review our plans. Parents and students will learn more — between now and Monday from their teachers. At this point, it is our plan to begin remote instruction on Tuesday but that is subject to change as we work through all of the details internally.

    To be clear, both Friday and Monday will be treated as “snow days” for our students and there will be no remote instruction.

    During school today, as you are reading this email, we will be preparing our students on both campuses for an extended absence. In order to maintain calm within our student body, I ask you to please refrain from texting/calling your children during the school day. Both Mrs. Siegel and Mr. Herskowitz will be meeting with our students to further explain our remote instruction plans and will also be asking them to take whatever materials home that they need for learning.

    Please know that this is not a decision that we have arrived at lightly. While we are one small part of the overall ecosystem in this country, I feel strongly that we must do our part to socially distance ourselves from one another and help to slow the spread of this virus. I also know that this decision will put a tremendous burden on many of our families and I thank you all in advance for your help and diligence in keeping your family — and our entire community — safe and strong.

    We will continue to be in touch as this situation develops.

    In partnership,

    Adam Shapiro
    Head of School
  • March 11, 2020: Policies Related to Programs, Trips, Athletics, and Travel


    The halls of both buildings were very much alive yesterday as we celebrated Purim here at GOA. For those who haven’t had a chance to see the wonderful images from the day, please click here for pictures. Once the month of Adar begins (which we celebrated at the end of February) it’s customary to say the phrase “Mishenichnas Adar Marbim B’Simcha” which translates to, “when the month of Adar arrives we should increase our joy!” While conversations about coronavirus have not exactly led us to a place of increasing our joy, I am incredibly grateful to our faculty, staff and students who were able to push this topic aside yesterday and create joyous moments together. 
     
    With the World Health Organization now declaring this coronavirus a pandemic, I wanted to provide another update to our community as part of our ongoing effort to keep everyone engaged and informed. We continue to follow the guidance of our local health department and information being conveyed from the State of New Jersey and encourage you to visit the Coronavirus Information page on our website for the most up-to-date information and resources. We continue to monitor this situation on a minute-by-minute and hourly basis as we weigh all of the potential next steps for our school and community. This includes planning for a possible school closure and a move to remote instruction — should the situation warrant and we be advised to do so — as well as the program adjustments and policy changes listed below.
     
    As we look ahead to the rest of the school year, I want to share more about our plans for upcoming programming, trips and athletics and also provide additional guidance as it relates to parent/family travel. We appreciate everyone understanding that we continue to operate and make decisions out of an abundance of caution in an effort to keep our students and faculty safe and healthy.
     
    School Programs and Trips
     
    Our team is currently assessing all programs and trips in both the short and long term. Between now and Pesach break, we are canceling all student field trips that take students away from GOA. Please note that student visits between campuses will continue as planned. Additionally, all programs and milestone events that welcome large groups of guests will be either canceled/postponed or reimagined as virtual experiences. Specific details for each of these will be shared out in advance by the program organizers. 
     
    Athletics
     
    With the spring sports season now underway, we are taking precautionary measures to minimize the spread of illness. To that end, our student-athletes will be reminded to wash their hands often and bring their own water bottles to practices and games. Our athletic facilities (gyms, locker rooms and weight room) and equipment will continue to receive a deep clean every day. We continue to encourage all student-athletes (and all students) to stay home if they are feeling ill in accordance with our school policies. 
     
    At this time, we hope to proceed with our entire spring season, uninterrupted. However, should it be necessary to cancel any of our upcoming sporting events, parents and athletes will be notified accordingly. Please also note that non-GOA fans will not be permitted to attend indoor (volleyball) matches this season. Should our opponents request the same of us, we ask that you comply. While we do not feel it necessary to impose the same regulation on those attending outdoor sporting events at this time, we reserve the right to adjust as needed. Should you have any specific questions about athletics, please reach out directly to our Director of Athletics, Mr. Dennis Kozar
     
    Parent/Family Travel
     
    We appreciate that many of our GOA parents travel as part of their jobs and that families may have travel plans booked in the weeks ahead. Out of an abundance of caution, we now ask that anyone (parent or household member) who has traveled in the past 30 days and/or has plans to travel between now and the end of the school year, please complete the following form GOA Parent Travel Information Form in order to submit this critical information to our school nurses. Should there be a need to restrict either parent/student access to our school, we thank you in advance for your compliance. 
     
    The above guidelines are in place, effective immediately, however this continues to be an ever-evolving situation. We are committed to staying in touch with you as often as necessary and to sharing updates accordingly. 
     
    In partnership,
     
    Adam Shapiro
    Head of School
  • March 8, 2020: Jewish-Canadian Youth Model UN Attendees Return To School on Monday

    We wanted to close the loop following the email (update #2) that was sent to all of you on Thursday, March 5 regarding our Golda Och Academy students who traveled to Montreal as part of the Jewish-Canadian Youth Model UN Program. We have now received confirmation both from the leadership at SAR and from the Montreal Jewish Federation, that the two students in question from the SAR delegation at the Model UN have remained asymptomatic and are now at the end of their 14-day incubation period. As such, our students will be permitted to return to school tomorrow.

    We know that many of you have continued to follow the news closely and may have seen that SAR has extended their school closure through this week. Please note that this change was due to other factors separate from the Model UN program.

    Just as we have been, we will continue to monitor this situation closely and work with our local officials in order to ensure that we are doing everything in our power to keep our students and community safe. Towards that end, we have also established a GOA Coronavirus Taskforce comprised of medical and legal experts along with members of our Board of Trustees. This team will work closely with me in order to provide guidance and assistance as we navigate any further developments.
  • March 5, 2020: Jewish-Canadian Youth Model UN Attendees

    Dear Golda Och Academy Parents,

    Out of an overabundance of caution, and in an effort to be as transparent as possible when it comes to sharing news about our response to the coronavirus, I am passing along the email (below) that I received last night from Yair Szlak, CEO of the Montreal Jewish Federation. He sent the following message, a letter from Dr. Earl Rubin, the Head of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Montreal Children’s Hospital, following this past week's Jewish-Canadian Youth Model UN Competition that 20 of our high school students attended.

    As a result of the possible exposure to students from the SAR delegation, we will be following the guidance (below) and keeping our GOA Model UN delegation (students and teachers) out of school until Monday, March 9.

    We will continue to apprise our entire community of any new information and have set up a page on our website where all coronavirus-related updates and resources will be posted.

    In partnership,
    Adam Shapiro
    Head of School

    --------------------

    From: Yair Szlak
    Sent: Wednesday, March 4, 2020 8:49 PM
    To: Yair Szlak
    Subject: Important Update on Students participating in the Jewish Canadian Youth Model UN Conference

    Good Evening,

    You are receiving this email because one or more student/s at your school participated in the Jewish Canadian Youth Model UN Conference between March 1st to 3rd, 2020. While Federation CJA does not run the Model UN Program, as it is completely a Student run program, we have been deeply implicated with ensuring that the appropriate recommendations are made and that the proper communication of the current situation takes place.

    This communication follows consultation with Federation CJA’s Ad-Hoc Committee on COVID-19 over the past few hours in order to come to the recommendations below.

    Late this afternoon, we were made aware that at least two participants from New York have come into contact with an individual that has tested positive for COVID-19.

    The following is important information regarding the situation from Dr. Earl Rubin. This is a recommended course of action for the Schools involved. As you understand, the situation with COVID-19 remains fluid and continues to evolve as the world comes to grips with dealing with the virus. Our recommendations are made based on the best information we have at this time.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------
    March 4, 2020
    Re: Model UN conference March 1-3, 2020

    Possible, but unlikely, exposure to Covid-19 (novel Coronavirus)

    Dear Heads of School,

    BOTTOM LINE: There is a possible exposure, albeit unlikely, that may have occurred at the Jewish Canadian Youth Model UN. Until we have further details, Federation CJA, in conjunction with Infectious Diseases at the Montreal Children’s Hospital (Dr. Earl Rubin), have recommended that the students, who attended the Model UN, not attend school until Monday March 9th at which point a further directive will follow.

    Details leading to this move are outlined below. All of the information is included for those that want all the details to best understand the rationale of the above

    FACTS:

    As you know, the Model UN conference took place in Montreal from March 1st to 3rd. 180 participants attended the conference, 94 of whom are from the following Montreal area schools: Bialik - 20 students, Hebrew Academy - 23 students, Herzliah - 16 students, Selwyn House - 1 student, and 34 local student leaders from CEGEP and university.

    As part of the 180 student delegation, there were 20 students from SAR High School in New York. Public Health New York has asked to close this school until Monday, March 9th as a possible exposure may have occurred there. The story, as we understand it, is as follows:

    A father of one of the SAR students is currently hospitalized with Covid-19. His family members are also infected, some are symptomatic and others are asymptomatic. No members of this family attended the Model UN.

    The working hypothesis is that the father was at a Bar Mitzvah on February 22nd and a funeral on February 23rd and may have exposed others to the infection there.

    The concern surrounds at least 2 Model UN participants who had contact with the patient during or following one of these events.

    The incubation period from contact to manifesting symptoms is up to 14 days (which would end March 8th), but the majority display symptoms between days 4-7. While incubating, and have no symptoms, the chance of transmission is thought to be unlikely. These 2 students would have been at the Model UN on days 7-10 after their contact. Both remain ASYMPTOMATIC. On a balance of probabilities, it is unlikely they are infected.

    RECOMMENDATION:

    We have discussed the situation with Public Health Montreal. They are NOT concerned, and their recommendation would be that no intervention is needed at this time. Therefore, Federation CJA will be reaching out to all schools with the recommendation that the Model UN students stay at home until Monday, March 9th. At that time the 14-day incubation period would have been completed, and if these 2 students from SAR High School remain well, they are NOT infected and do not pose any issue to the other students who attended the Model UN.

    Siblings of Model UN participant have only been in contact for the last 1-2 days. There is NO need to keep these siblings at home.

    We understand that these students did go to school today, but 1-3 days after an exposure to an asymptomatic person, they would NOT have symptoms, would NOT have a high enough viral burden to infect those around them. Therefore, today’s attendance is of no consequence.
     
    Federation CJA will stay on top of the situation, which is an ever evolving story, and will communicate with you before Monday morning with any and all updates. If the SAR students do display symptoms between now and Sunday, a further directive will follow.

    So, just to re-iterate, the risks are minimal if not negligible. But to alleviate concerns and questions, we thought it be best to err on the side of caution, and recommend that the Model UN students NOT attend school for the rest of the week.
    I apologize for the lengthy letter, but hope this is clear and clarifies the situation.

    Dr. Earl Rubin
    Division Head
    Pediatric Infectious Diseases
    Montreal Children’s Hospital
    _____________________________________________________
    Yair Szlak, B.A, LL.B
    Chef de la direction | Chief Executive Officer
    FEDERATION CJA
  • March 4, 2020: Preparing for Remote Learning, Mental Health and Well-Being

    As we all continue to follow the news, it is difficult not to be consumed and feel increased anxiety about coronavirus (COVID-19). While it’s impossible for me to allay your fears, I did want to send an update with information (beyond that which went out from Nurses Ilena and Roberta last week) in an effort to help you better understand what we are working on from the standpoint of emergency preparedness and the health and well-being of our community.

    First and foremost, it’s important that everyone heed the directives set forth by the CDC when it comes to preventative measures that each of us can and should take to stay healthy. In addition, our leadership team has taken the necessary steps - based on recommendations both from the CDC, local Department of Health and the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) - to put emergency plans in place should there be a need to close our school for an extended period of time.

    In the event of such a closure, please know we will do all that we can to provide meaningful remote instruction for our students. This instruction will vary based on age and appropriate learning goals by subject. Should the need arise to put this plan in motion, specific plans will be forthcoming from Mrs. Siegel, Mr. Herskowitz and our teachers. In the meantime, we have put the following information together in order to guide you as you prepare for this potential alternate learning experience.

    Preparing for Remote Learning

    On the first two days of a potential extended closure, we would not hold classes (much like a snow day). These days would be used both to gather and disseminate information to our community and would also provide our faculty with the chance to spend time adjusting assignments and participating in a series of online meetings to fully ramp up for remote instruction.
    We would begin remote instruction on day 3 (and continue on subsequent days) which would include a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning.

    Students in grades 5-11 should have access to a laptop, smartphone or other WiFi enabled device in order to fully participate in remote learning. We have upgraded our Google Suite for Students to include Google Meet (the professional version of Google Hangouts which is similar to Zoom). Students will have access to this simply by logging into their @goastudent.org account.

    We ask that all students have access to a printer and that you have sufficient paper and ink should assignments require printing. Additionally, access to a scanning application (there are multiple free versions that can be downloaded) may be necessary for submitting certain assignments.

    As always, our Acceptable Use Policy (which can be found in our Student Handbook) provides guidance for our students, and we ask that you reinforce this messaging with your children.

    Mental Health and Well-Being

    Based on the updated recommendations from the NJ Department of Health, our cleaning crew has increased their focus on sanitizing/disinfecting all surfaces, paying close attention to “high contact” surfaces such as doorknobs, desks and tabletops.

    By the end of the week, Nurses Ilena and Roberta will have spent time with all students reviewing proper hygiene as it relates to coughing and sneezing, refraining from touching one’s face and demonstrating effective hand washing techniques. They also reiterated the message that students should stay home if they are feeling ill.

    Our teachers and guidance team continue to monitor our students for signs of increased stress and anxiety. We ask that you do the same by checking in with your children and reaching out should you need our support. Additionally, please consider using the following resources when speaking with your children: Just For Kids: A Comic Exploring the New Coronavirus (NPR); How to Talk to Kids About Coronavirus (New York Times)

    In order to do all we can to keep our school community healthy, we ask that all visitors to campus who have traveled outside of the country (or to a known hotspot for COVID-19) let either Nurse Ilena or Nurse Roberta know prior to coming to campus.

    The health and well-being of all members of our Golda Och Academy community are our highest priority. Our team, along with our Board of Trustees, will continue to monitor the recommendations coming from the CDC and our local officials and will update you accordingly.
  • February 27, 2020: Message from the Nurses

    Dear Golda Och Academy Community,

    As you are likely aware, on Tuesday, February 25th, The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) gave a press conference updating the country on the status of the coronavirus (COVID-19). We wanted to share with you some of the steps our school is taking to prevent the spread of illness and plan for the possible spread of the coronavirus in our community.

    As the CDC emphasized, there is not currently a coronavirus pandemic in the United States. A pandemic occurs when a disease is spreading from a variety of sources across a large region, and the number of cases across the US is still small. However, given how quickly the global situation is evolving, we are monitoring new developments and will continue to reevaluate our steps and actions daily.

    In the meantime, the most effective way to stay healthy and minimize the spread of infectious disease is to follow general flu prevention measures, including:

    • Cover your mouth with your sleeve when coughing and sneeze into a tissue or into your sleeve, not your hands.
    • Keep hands/fingers away from your eyes, nose and mouth.
    • Wash hands often for at least 20 seconds, especially after coughing or sneezing. Use alcohol‐based hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable.
    • Stay home from school and work if you are unwell.
    • Adhere to GOA exclusion policies: fever free for 24 hours without fever reducing medication before returning to work or school.
    • Avoid contact with sick people.
    • Flu vaccination for those not yet vaccinated.
    At this time, there are no recommendations for the cancellation of school or extracurricular events. These are extreme measures that can be disruptive to day-to-day life, and any decision to implement will be at the direction of public health experts. Our community is prepared to alter our procedures and planning should the situation change. We will communicate any changes clearly when the time is appropriate.

    For the most up-to-date information, we recommend that you refer to the CDC's website. Additionally, travel restrictions can be found here.

    For information specific to your child or family, please contact your healthcare provider.

    For all general inquiries about COVID-19, New Jersey has opened up a 24-Hour Public Hotline at 1-800-222-1222.

    In times like this, we are particularly grateful for the support and understanding of our Golda Och Academy community. Please continue to look for further communications from us on this matter.

    In partnership,

    Nurse Ilena and Nurse Roberta

Head of School Updates Archive

List of 20 items.

  • January 2020: #JewishANDProud

    Poway, Pittsburgh, Jersey City, Monsey…Our newspapers and social media timelines have been filled with news about the rise in antisemetic hate crimes throughout our country and it has left us feeling uneasy. As the world around us changes, I know that we — parents, students and teachers alike — are asking so many deep and meaningful questions. Top of mind for many of us is the question of security, both on our campuses and in our larger community.

    A few years back, I sent out a Head of School Update that answered many questions regarding our security here at GOA, and I have once again attached that update (below) for your edification. While the structures we have in place and relationships with our community leaders have continued to be strengthened over the years, you should rest assured knowing that we are always revisiting our emergency plans and procedures and updating/adjusting them to ensure that they are in line with best practices and with the advice of our local police authorities and private security team.

    Security is of paramount importance, and we are also focused on educating our students about the world around them. In the week before Winter Break, our Upper School students had the unique opportunity to hear from Attorney General Gurbir Grewal about the work that he and his office are doing to combat antisemitism and hate crimes here in NJ. It was an incredibly powerful experience for all in attendance. His message was strong, clear and quite simple. While delivering his opening remarks he referenced Nelson Mandela’s famous words that people must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate then that means they can also be taught to love. In order for us to be true to our mission in all of our educational work here at GOA we must always keep this idea in mind. While we prepare our students academically for the next stages of their lives; simultaneously, we must also focus on their social-emotional needs to make sure that the graduates of our institution are confident, proud, respectful and learned young men and women poised to face the challenges that lie ahead for them.
    It is this pride that we instill in our students at GOA — pride in their learning, in their school and in their Jewishness. When the American Jewish Committee launched their #JewishANDProud campaign this week, it provided the Jewish community with the valuable opportunity to shout these messages from the rooftops. While the fear about all that is happening in the world is real and needs to be addressed; we must remain steadfast in our commitment to one another, our faith and our community. We thank our parents for the continued trust they place in our institution to educate their children, and we thank our students for their willingness to learn and accept the challenges presented to them by their teachers. We know that this will ultimately serve them well as they become strong, passionate leaders throughout their lives.

    I look forward to seeing the many ways our students, teachers and parents continue to show how they are #JewishANDProud, while also remaining vigilant about the realities of the world around us and cognizant of the need for ongoing dialogue and education around these very important issues of the day.

    Helpful Resources
    Video: NJ Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s Conversation with our 6th-12th grade students - December 19, 2019

    Anti Defamation League (ADL) Antisemitism Today: Family Conversations About Current Events

    NJ Jewish News: It’s Time to “Turn Up” and Be Present, Dov Ben-Shimon, Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest VP and CEO American Jewish Committee (AJC) #JewishANDProud Campaign

    Head of School Update: School Security
    (Reposted from previous HOS Update)

    Throughout the past few years, I have received calls and emails from parents asking about our school's security procedures. The response has always begun with a reassurance that we take security very seriously. First and foremost, we are quite fortunate to have a fully-trained security team made up of retired police officers, captains and chiefs. Our security team is stationed in both buildings all day, every day while students, teachers and parents are present on our campuses. We also spend a great deal of time working with the head of our security team, an independent security consultant and many members of our local police and fire departments to ensure that our plans and procedures are always up-to-date and in line with best practices when it comes to emergency management and response. Our number one priority is the safety and security of our Golda Och Academy community.

    One of the most important ways that we ensure the systems we've put in place are working is through drills - both fire and lockdown - on both of our campuses. While these can be cumbersome at times and potentially scary for our youngest students, our administration and faculty do a great job of educating our students and teachers about the importance of these drills. They also stress the importance of listening and following directions in case of an emergency in order to keep everyone safe. We encourage our students and parents to ask questions and are always here to provide help and guidance when necessary. My own children have come home from school asking questions, and I am always eager to hear their thoughts, feelings and observations. I'm sure that many of our parents have had similar conversations at home, and it is my hope that these discussions provide a valuable lens into these events at school.

    While the security measures our students and faculty see and experience firsthand are easier to digest, it's the confidential or "behind-the-scenes" measures that often fuel the most questions. A well-developed security plan and many of the protocols that we would put in place in the case of emergency, by definition, cannot be discussed to a wider audience for fear that important information could be compromised. What can be stated definitively is that our school's security expenditures are quite high, and we spend a tremendous amount of time and energy reviewing our procedures and protocols with both our local law enforcement and our security team.

    Whenever we are planning activities here in West Orange, discussing our activities for our students to take part in while traveling outside of New Jersey, or putting together the itineraries for our Israel experiences, questions of security are always at the forefront. There is a big difference between living in fear and living with awareness of our surroundings. Through the measures we've put in place, and continue to work on, we feel confident that we are teaching our students what it means to be very aware while still fully participating in the world around them. While I know many of our parents never had to encounter such security measures and drills as children, we are living in different, and more challenging, times. I hope you can feel some assurance knowing Golda Och Academy is taking all necessary precautions and measures when it comes to the safety of our students, faculty and staff.
  • December 2019: Responding to Hate

    Tuesday marked yet another day of senseless violence in our nation. Sadly, we have grown far too accustomed to searching news and social media outlets to learn more and devour as much information as quickly as possible. As the reality of this situation is now clear, we once again lower our flags to half-staff and are left with heartbreak and anger following the latest act of terror to befall us. This time, it is even more difficult to bear knowing that this act of domestic terror and antisemitism that occurred so close to home, just a few miles away in Jersey City, was planned and carried out with the goal of attacking and murdering members of this small and tight-knit Jewish community. 
     
    In the aftermath, I have been drawn to the words of Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, who said, “Our community has been terrorized once again by violent anti-Semitism. From Pittsburgh to Poway, and now to Jersey City, the disease that is anti-Semitism has clearly spread to epidemic proportions. But we will not be defeated, we will not stand down, we will not be intimidated.” 
     
    Even in our darkest moments, we must have the resolve to move forward and never back down in the face of terror. Our students are taught to stand up to injustice and call out those who seek to do evil while thinking critically about the issues of the day. We will continue to reinforce these crucial messages in the coming days and weeks here in school, beginning with our Upper School students during Tefillah on Monday. We will also remain vigilant when it comes to keeping our GOA community safe. The close partnership and collaboration that exists between school leadership, local law enforcement officers and our private security team ensures that we are continually focused on protecting our Golda Och Academy community. 
     
    Powerful voices here in New Jersey, from Governor Phil Murphy to Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, have amplified the call for justice and made clear that there is no place for this type of hate in our society. I have also been struck by the leadership of Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop. He comforted a community in shock, praised the heroic efforts of the brave police and first responders, and also took the time to visit Jersey City schools today to personally thank the many teachers who keep their students safe at these uncertain and chaotic moments. Given the realities of our time, we know that teachers have been thrust into this difficult position too often and for that we join Mayor Fulop in offering our praise and appreciation.  
     
    As we enter into Shabbat this week we do so with heavy hearts as we, along with the entire community of Jersey City, mourn the losses of Mindel Ferencz, Moshe Deutsch, Douglas Miguel Rodriguez and Detective Joseph Seals. We pray their memories will be for a blessing and that their families and loved ones find comfort and strength at this excruciatingly difficult time.  
  • September 2019: Jewish Life and Learning

    There is something special about hearing the shofar blasts every morning in our Lower School at Morning Meeting and during Tefillah in our Upper School throughout the entire month of Elul. In a year like this, we have almost a full month of hearing this powerful call to action. The sound of the shofar makes us all alert and readies us for the work that we all must do - both internally and externally - during the chagim that arrive in the month of Tishrei. It is so fitting to have this important time, at the beginning of a new school year, to celebrate the renewal and excitement that comes with - in the case of our students - getting a bit older, meeting new teachers and facing the challenges of the year ahead. Our team has been hard at work readying ourselves for 2019-20, and we look forward to sharing information about the work we are engaged in at GOA. 
     
    Our newly-adopted Strategic Plan is one filled with important goals for our institution. It is my hope that you will learn even more by reading News on the GO, speaking with teachers at Open School Nights and conferences, and through Head of School updates and communications from other members of our team throughout the year. 
     
    As we implement this new plan, we have made a number of important and exciting changes over the past few months in our school. There are physical upgrades and new members of our professional team that I am confident will have an enormous impact on the student experience and overall family experience as well. 
     
     
    Strategic Plan: Jewish Life and Learning
     
    In our Strategic Plan area of focus entitled Jewish Life and Learning, our stated goal is a promise to “...create meaningful and intentional experiences filled with the joy of being Jewish centered around ritual, celebration and Tefillah.” 
     
    In our Lower School, this is very much anchored in our classroom learning and milestone events. When our students take the stage to receive their first siddurim and chumashim, when they stand proudly in the Horace Bier Beit Knesset in front of their parents leading a Rosh Chodesh service and when they prepare and teach words of Torah to their peers and parents. At each of these moments, their learning, poise and growth are on full display. 
     
    In our Upper School, this takes place both inside and outside of the classroom, whether it’s through deep and meaningful text study, during Tefillah, on Shabbatonim, while assisting the Jewish communities in Cuba and Puerto Rico or on our Na’ale (9th grade) and Neshama (12th grade) Israel programs. These are just a few examples of these values in action. 
     
     
    Expansion of GOA's Jewish Life and Experiential Team
     
    As we look ahead to the coming year, we are thrilled about the changes we have made that will further enhance the work we are doing - Pre-K through 12th - as it relates to Jewish Life and Learning in our school. We’ve expanded our Jewish Life and Experiential Education team and have done so with the explicit goal of creating an even more impactful experience for our students. We are fortunate to welcome Rabbi Adir Yolkut (Tefillah and Jewish Life Educator), Mr. Ohad Porat (Senior Israeli Shaliach), Mr. Craig Resmovits (Golden Ochtaves Director and Music Educator) and Mr. Andrew Mittleman (Multimedia and Experiential Educator) to our talented team alongside Rabbi Meirav Kallush (Director of Israel Education), Ms. Jamie Mittleman (Arts and Experiential Educator) and Mr. Eric Fox (Student Activities and Experiential Educator). Ms. Lori Jaffe will be overseeing this group as the Chair of Jewish Life and Experiential Education team. Ms. Jaffe is well-respected by her peers and has created strong bonds with our students over the past two decades working in our school. I am confident she will successfully guide this team as they work to elevate our entire program. 
     
    This tremendous team has hit the ground running and has already impacted our students. Our 12th graders spent a meaningful Shabbat together last weekend on the Upper West Side for their Senior Shabbaton, our high school students returned from Camp Ramah Nyack on Thursday from their back-to-school Y’mei GOA Retreat and our 7th and 8th graders will travel to Ramah next week for their Y’mei GOA Retreat. Additionally, this morning all of our Upper School students gathered for their first weekly school-wide Kabbalat Shabbat.    
     
    Last week, our 5th graders began their work with senior Israeli shaliach Mr. Porat and over the course of the year will have the opportunity to learn more about Israel, its culture, people and beauty. Additionally, birthdays will now be celebrated monthly in the Lower School during an exciting and energetic Kabbalat Shabbat service. Students who have birthdays during that particular month will celebrate with their classmates at that time, combining Shabbat with their own personal simchas.  
     
     
    Introducing Special New Jewish Life & Learning Family Events
     
    At Golda Och Academy, it is our explicit goal to create deep and meaningful experiences for our students and their families. We are currently planning two new special family events - a Havdalah program this fall and a Kabbalat Shabbat program in the spring. In addition, we will be starting a new tradition this year - beginning with our 7th grade students - to invite families into school during their child's bar/bat mitzvah week so that we can celebrate these special occasions together.
     
    We look forward to sharing more and inviting you into school for a range of experiences - some new and some that have become GOA traditions - in order to celebrate the true essence of Jewish life and Jewish living that is the foundation of our school. 
     
    Looking forward to an exciting and meaningful 5780! 
     
     


  • August 6, 2019: Reimagining Physical Space, Programming and Personnel

    As the calendar has now turned to August, we are looking ahead to the 2019-20 school year with tremendous excitement for all that’s in store for our students. In anticipation of the new school year, I wanted to update you on some developments regarding our physical spaces, programming and personnel. I’d also like to remind you to stay tuned for more detailed, campus-specific updates from Mrs. Siegel and Mr. Herskowitz in the coming weeks.
     
    We have made a number of changes to our Eric F. Ross Upper School Campus that I know will be appreciated when our halls are once again filled with students and teachers next month. The greatest transformation has occurred in our Beit Knesset where we have undergone a major renovation in an effort to enhance the student experience for davening and other community programs. We have also upgraded a number of our classrooms with new technology and furniture, redesigned the entryway to our main office and created a new Upper School Learning Lab on the first floor attached to our Guidance suite. 
     
    Our Upper School Learning Lab, while still in its pilot stage for the coming school year, will be a dedicated space to provide a structured program where students with learning differences can receive more individualized support. In our Lower School, we are excited to build on the success of our alternative Judaic Studies track as we continue to support the range of learners in our program. Year two of our pilot will welcome new students into our multi-year Judaic Studies 3rd/4th grade classroom under the expert instruction of Lower School Learning Specialist Ms. Sandi Fein and Hebrew teacher Morah Yael Safran. Additionally, we are eager to broaden our approach to Hebrew language learning in 5th grade for students who completed our pilot in 2018-2019. We are confident this new stand-alone program will further enhance their learning and language acquisition experience.

    In addition to the enhancements to our physical spaces and program, I am delighted to share some exciting personnel additions and changes for 2019-20.

    Rabbi Adir Yolkut has joined the Upper School Jewish Life team as our Tefillah and Experiential Educator. Most recently, Rabbi Yolkut – a graduate of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University – served as the Assistant Rabbi of the Westchester Jewish Center. He has also served as a group leader on United Synagogue Youth’s Pilgrimage Program as well as United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s Nativ program. I am looking forward, with great anticipation, to our students having the opportunity to learn with and from him.

    Mr. Jonathan Hefetz has been appointed as the Chair of our Upper School Language Arts Department. Since arriving at GOA in 2014, Mr. Hefetz has had a tremendous impact on our students and their learning both inside and outside of the classroom. Our outgoing chair and current Middle School Director, Ms. Jamie Himmelstein, has been working closely with Mr. Hefetz to ensure a smooth transition. This will also enable Ms. Himmelstein to spend more time working with our Middle School students and those transitioning into the Middle School.

    In addition to her role as Lower School Assistant Principal, Mrs. Karen Spector, will also be assuming the newly-created role of Director of Early Childhood Education (Pre-K through 1st grade). In this position, Mrs. Spector will work closely with our early childhood teaching team, students, current parents and prospective families. I am confident that her 14 years of experience in our school - which includes time spent inside the classroom and as a member of our school’s leadership team - will serve her and our entire community well as she takes on this new role. 

    The upcoming school year promises to be one of growth and meaningful learning for our students. Please continue to check our school calendar in the coming weeks as it is in the process of being updated. On Monday, August 26, class sections for the Lower School and individual student schedules for the Upper School will be released on our website. I am looking forward to welcoming all of our students and teachers back for our first day of school on Wednesday, September 4 and to welcoming our parents for Open School Nights on September 17 (Upper School) and September 25 (Lower School).  
     
    I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to acknowledge the horrific acts of violence and terrorism that occurred in El Paso and Dayton this past weekend. Our world was once again shaken by these two acts of senseless violence for which there is truly no explanation. Many of us struggle with understanding these atrocities and how to address them with our children. Although school is not currently in session, please know our team of professionals are always available to speak with any students or parents who may want to reach out. We hope and pray for a full and speedy recovery to those who sustained injuries this past weekend and pray that the memories of those who perished be for a blessing.
  • May 1, 2019: Responding to Poway

    I am terribly saddened to be once again writing about our school’s response to yet another unthinkable tragedy. Six months after the devastating attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, we are again forced to confront an evil attack on a house of worship — this time at the Chabad of Poway, California. An attack that claimed the life of Lori Gilbert-Kaye z’l, a passionate and dedicated member of her community and founder of her shul, and injured three others. We pray that these three victims have a full and speedy recovery, while also recognizing that the grief felt by the Poway community — and our entire Jewish community — will take much longer to heal.
     
    It is at these moments that we as educators need to be strong and supportive for our students while also grappling with these tragedies in our own minds. I am grateful to Mrs. Siegel and Mrs. Spector and our entire Lower School team for speaking with our students during morning meeting yesterday, reaffirming that they are safe and making themselves available for those who have questions and wish to speak further. Our 4th and 5th grade teams, in an age-appropriate manner, also spoke with their students during class time to reassure them that questions were always important to ask and space was given for those conversations to take place.
     
    During Shacharit, our Upper School students added prayers and readings to their services. I am grateful to Rabbi Goldberg and Ms. Himmelstein (6th/7th minyan) and Rabbi Kallush and Mr. Herskowitz (8th-11th minyan) who led the students through these prayers while also facilitating very important conversations fueled by guided questions. I feel fortunate that I was able to daven Shacharit with our 8th-11th grade students and take part in the conversation that ensued. Our students are always eager to engage in these conversations, and I am always in awe of the passion and dedication that comes through in their words.
     
    While there were many points raised and questions asked, there were also some in the room who — much like many adults — feel somewhat hopeless in the face of people who are bent on evil and the prospect of changing those mindsets. Not wanting to let this moment pass, I pushed our students and challenged them to stand up and make their voices heard. While it is indeed much easier to sit idly by, Pirkei Avot teaches us that while it is not our job to always complete the task, it is impermissible for us to shy away from taking on such challenges. They were reminded that while some things may be easier to change than others, that all change begins with small acts that can lead to bigger and greater things.
     
    Following this horrific attack, while still in the hospital recovering, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, the rabbi of Chabad of Poway, sent out a message imploring all of us to go out and do something positive, something that can bring light to the darkness. As he said, “A little bit of light pushes away some darkness; a lot of light pushes away horrific darkness.” These powerful words from someone who had himself seen the deepest darkness just a few hours prior, should inspire all of us to want to do more, to show kindness and compassion towards others and do all that we can to make the world a better place for our children and grandchildren.  
     
    Our 8th grade students are demonstrating this through their work in their Am Echad course and their lobbying/social media efforts, and I am thrilled that our entire school — Pre-K-11th grade — will be engaged in our annual All-School Community Service Day tomorrow, May 1. It is this work, these small (and sometimes large!) acts of chesed and tikkun olam that show our students and the larger community that with care shown towards one another that change is indeed possible.
     
    While we are facing difficult, uncertain and scary times, the dedication and conviction of our students give me comfort knowing that it will enable them to become the leaders who effect change in the future. As a school, we will continue to support and encourage our students, continue to debate the hard issues and surround one another in an environment that teaches kindness, compassion and understanding.
     
    Recognizing that you are engaging in conversations at home as well, I am including the following links (links that we have shared in the past as well) in order to help you navigate this difficult topic with your children.
     
     
    As always, I encourage you to reach out to me or to any member of our educational leadership team should you have questions or concerns about security and/or the health and well-being of your child. 
  • Golda Och Parent Advisory Committee (GOPAC)

    As our Board Chair Rebecca Berman and I wrote to you last week, we recognize the desire of many of our parents to have deeper and even more meaningful communication and access. To that end, I would like to invite our current GOA parents to participate in our newly-formed Golda Och Parent Advisory Committee (GOPAC).
     
    Through our surveys and focus groups, parents have expressed the desire to be more deeply involved in the overall Golda Och Academy experience. Parents play a vital and integral role in building a school community and in providing needed perspective to work through issues important to the school. To capture this viewpoint, we are introducing GOPAC — a new committee whose mission will be to make recommendations to improve the overall educational, social and spiritual life of the students in our school.
     
    GOPAC will be comprised of committed parents and administrators who will meet every six weeks throughout the school year beginning with our first meeting on Monday, January 7 at 7:00 pm in the Upper School. GOPAC will address issues viewed as important to the school and provide recommendations to me for changes and enhancements to our program. I am looking for parents to sit on this committee from all grades within our school. If you are interested in joining and want to learn more, please complete the brief signup form by clicking here.
     
    We are committed to working together as we see a real opportunity to effect change that will enable us to be the best school we can possibly be. Should you have any additional questions after reading this letter, please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly.
     
    In partnership,
     
    Adam Shapiro
    Head of School
     
     
    About GOPAC
     
    The prime objective of GOPAC is to make recommendations that will enhance the quality of the overall experience in our school. Minutes from every meeting, including information about sub-committee progress and committee-approved recommendations, will be posted on the back end of our school website for all parents to access. Our administration will report back to GOPAC on the implementation of all recommendations that the school moves forward with. 
     
    Some examples of the types of recommendations GOPAC might make include (but are certainly not limited to):
     
    • Recommendations on school policy
    • Effective means of communication between school and home
    • School culture
    • Program enhancements and adjustments
    • Event planning—speakers, social, etc.
    • Facilities usage/upgrades
     
    Please note: GOPAC will not be a forum to discuss personnel issues dealing with individual faculty, staff or administrators. Issues of a global nature regarding faculty, staff or administration may be discussed and appropriate recommendations made.
  • January 23, 2019: Looking ahead to 2019-20

    This year has been one of continued growth for our students and teachers — a year of tremendous excitement and impactful learning from Pre-K through 12th grade, and one that has been filled with meaningful reflection and active listening.
     
    Through professional development work over this past summer, and throughout the first part of the school year, our teachers have developed a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Responsive Classroom approach and have demonstrated the ability to utilize it in their classrooms. The results have been quite visible from the mood meters (where students are empowered to gain a deeper understanding of their own feelings and abilities) to the myriad modalities employed by our faculty on a daily basis. The end result is an emphasis on our students developing the necessary academic, social and emotional skills under the guidance of teachers who are attuned to their individual strengths and areas for further growth.
     
    This work has also been evident in our 8th grade Am Echad course where our students have engaged in a multi-disciplinary project that has been uniquely created by them and for them by a team of four highly motivated teachers. The end result has been an engaging opportunity for our students to research real issues in need of advocacy, make a case to one another about the importance of their issue and decide by vote which single issue they would take on together. This authentic learning experience has created a purposeful, active and interactive learning environment where every student is able to thrive.
     
    Every teacher is charged with creating classroom environments where students are encouraged to grow and think on a deeper and more critical level. Our Lower School teachers make a point to give a special welcome to each of their students before they enter the classroom to capture their engagement and build on it during the rest of that learning period. Similarly, our Upper School STEM instructors assist our students in honing their skills to accomplish a number of impressive feats including, once again, qualifying for the NJ State Tournament for Robotics.
     
    Our students and teachers have grown tremendously this year and have experienced a great deal of excitement along the way. Without a doubt, our inaugural, all-school Hanukkah celebration stands out above all else. To see our entire kehillah (community) singing, dancing and celebrating Hanukkah together was truly a sight to behold. Our Pre-K students lit the hanukkiah surrounded by our 12th graders. Before the sufgniyot were served, we gathered all of our current students who are the children of alumni — all 76 of them! — for a group picture that speaks to the power of a GOA education, the desire of our alumni to return to our community as parents (and in some cases grandparents), and provide that same impactful educational experience for the next generation.
     
    Another exciting, important and inspiring moment happened during Hanukkah as well. Twenty Golda Och students and three incredibly dedicated chaperones traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico to take part in a tikkun olam (repair of the world) relief mission, becoming the first group from Greater MetroWest to visit the island since Hurricane Maria to engage in this type of work. Three days of painting, working with other relief groups (such as Nechama and IsraAid), and touring with members of the Jewish community of San Juan provided our students with experiences that will stay with them forever and encourage them to continue engaging in tikkun olam efforts for many years to come.
     
    While these are just a couple of examples of the excitement in our school, it certainly does not end there. Our students have been engaged both inside and outside of the classroom in the arts and through sports, and it is our hope that these experiences continue to shape who our students are and the kind of people they become. We also understand that it doesn’t simply end at graduation. There are countless examples of our alumni making us proud on college campuses and beyond, and I am struck by one statistic in particular. Currently, Golda Och Academy alums serve as the Hillel chapter presidents at Brandeis, Carnegie Mellon and Columbia/Barnard, and two more alums are the presidents of Hillel and Chabad at Muhlenberg. To see our students engaged as leaders in Jewish life on campus encapsulates so much of who we are at GOA. They are applying the critical-thinking and problem-solving skills honed here to lead and help others and we, as a school community, should all be bursting with pride knowing this.
     
    We are also blessed to have a dedicated Board of Trustees to go along with our incredibly committed parent body at GOA. So many of you helped us over the past year as we asked you to let us know what you were most proud of and in which areas you would like to see our school continue to grow. We learned a lot by listening and look forward to sharing our vision once our school’s new five-year strategic plan is completed and approved this spring.
     
    I am pleased to invite you to continue on our journey as a school and community in the coming year. This week you will receive re-enrollment information directly from TADS.com. Please watch your inbox for this important email as it explains the re-enrollment process and next steps. We kindly ask that you adhere to the re-enrollment deadline of March 1 as this enables us to plan and schedule most effectively for the coming school year.
  • May 15, 2018: Israel

    November 4, 1995 is a day I will never forget. My classmates and I had just finished a wonderful Shabbat together and had made plans to travel to Kings of Israel Square (כיכר מלכי ישראל) in Tel Aviv later that night for a peace rally that was set to feature an appearance from Prime Minister Rabin. For some reason that I can't quite recall, at the last minute we decided not to travel the short distance to Tel Aviv. What happened next shook me and the entire State of Israel to our core as later that evening Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated while leaving that rally.
     
    Two days later I found myself - along with close to 1 million Israelis - waiting outside of the Knesset in an effort to make my way towards his casket and pay final respects at the lying in state. Those days following his assassination and the weeks that followed had a profound impact on me, the people of Israel and the entire narrative of the history of Israel. Whether you agreed or disagreed with Rabin's policies, it marked a period of mourning and a loss of innocence for a country that was not yet 50 years old.
     
    As I fast forward to these last few days and the many conversations I have had with Rabbi Meirav Kallush, Director of Israel Education and Jewish Life Programming, here in the US and our team of Neshama leaders in Israel who are currently guiding our 12th grade students on their powerful three-month journey, I can't help but stop and think about what our students are experiencing now that they have become fully immersed in Israeli society.
     
    Yesterday's historic move of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem was yet another one of those moments. I have no doubt that our students who found themselves just minutes away from this new embassy in Jerusalem will forever be able to tell people exactly where they were on May 14, 2018. They were there, experiencing both the jubilation and trepidation that comes with this move. Their madrichim (counselors) and many others who they have been working with have also helped them to gain a deeper understanding of this new and changing reality for Israel and its people.
     
    While the safety and security of our students is of paramount importance (and has absolutely been top of mind in all of these conversations), I could not be more excited for them to find themselves in the middle of history - at the center of the story. At the same time, the rest of us find ourselves bearing witness to this transformative moment and while there are many emotions and unanswered questions in our minds, no one can deny its gravity. The eternal capital of the Jewish people being recognized as such by the United States of America marks a powerful moment that few believed attainable in 1948 (and possibly not even in 1995 following the passage of the Jerusalem Embassy Act).
     
    One of the core values of our school is that of Ahavat Yisrael (Love of Israel) because we empower our students to develop an ongoing personal connection to Israel by studying its history and its culture. Our students learn the importance of Israel both in the classroom and within the land itself and we all need look no further than to our Neshama students who are doing just that on behalf of our entire GOA community. The bond between the United States and Israel is an unbreakable one and never has that been more fully on display than at this moment in time with the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
     
    Perhaps it's no coincidence that this historic moment also coincides with Rosh Chodesh Sivan - the month in which we celebrate God's revelation to Bnai Yisrael at Mount Sinai. Just as that moment marked a new beginning and deeper understanding, so too can we hope that this moment in our history will be one that inspires a continued love for the land and the people of Israel and a renewed dedication to further understanding and dialogue as we continue on a path towards peace.
  • May 4, 2018: Faculty Appreciation

    Pirkei Avot teaches that one should, "Provide for yourself a teacher and acquire yourself a friend..."    
     
    Next week, we will be celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week at Golda Och Academy. I wanted to take this opportunity to reach out to our families and express my deep appreciation for our talented and dedicated teachers who work hard every day to inspire and educate our students. At the Lower School, I see them nurturing our students, instilling them with a love of learning and Judaism, serving as role models on how to be good friends and mensches, and giving them the foundation that they will need in their educational and Jewish journeys. At the Upper School, I see our teachers planning exciting classes, helping students in clinics at lunch, advising an array of clubs and teams, planning unique field trips and experiences to enhance student learning, offering extra help and guidance, going the extra mile to nominate students for awards, scholarships and community programs and writing college recommendation letters. Our dedicated teachers take the time to know each student at Golda Och Academy and strive to support student learning and growth in any way they can.
     
    Recognizing that two of our core values are kehillah (community) and kavod (respect), it would be special in the week ahead for you (and/or your students) to think about a teacher who has made a difference in the life of your family and send them a note/email of appreciation.
     
    I also want to take this opportunity to recognize three very special members of our faculty who will be retiring this year after a combined service of over 80 years to our school and students. We salute and thank them for making a difference! They will be missed and we look forward to recognizing their service to our school in the coming weeks before the end of the school year.
     
     
     
    Janet Herman 
    Upper School Athletic Director and Chair of the Health and PE Department
    (27 years) 
       
    Rabbi Herb Kavon 
    Upper School Judaic Studies Teacher        
    (29 years)
     

    Paula Spack '84 "Morah P'nina" 
    Lower School Judaic Studies and Math Teacher and Director, Raglayim Shel Zahav Israeli Dance Troupe              
    (29 years)   
     
  • January 31, 2018: Josh Randman z"l

    On Monday morning I received the call that I knew was coming and had dreaded more than anything. The voice on the other end of the line was that of a mother, a woman who I have come to recognize over the past three years as one of the strongest, kindest and caring individuals I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. No one should ever have to make that call and certainly no parent should ever, ever have to know what it means to lose a child. Her words were few and neither of us were truly able to process it all in that moment. What we both did fully understand, however, was that he was gone. Josh Randman zichrono l'vracha, a young man who fought valiantly over the past three years, was unable to fight any longer.
     
    Since Monday, I have been trying to make sense of it all, and I continue to be drawn back to the words from the Book of Job that were said multiple times during the funeral:
     
    יְהוָה נָתַן, וַיהוָה לָקָח, יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְבֹרָךְ
    God gives, and God takes away, blessed is the name of God. (Job 1:21)
     
    We know as people of deep faith that it is sometimes too difficult for us to fully understand the obstacles and challenges put in front of us. We cannot fathom the loss of a young adult, a person with so many dreams and incredible intellect, because we are not supposed to. Instead, we come together as a community, we support his loved ones, grieve together and celebrate a life that was cut far too short yet one that was lived to the fullest.
     
    From the moment Josh was diagnosed with this terrible form of cancer back in 2015, he made a point to let all who would listen know that he would not allow his cancer to define him. His words, "Cancer is what I have, not who I am," resonated with his classmates, teachers and friends and later took a prominent place on the Team Josh shirts that were created as a fundraiser to support him and his family. He worked hard - even through some excruciatingly difficult treatments - to get his work done and never stopped seeking out wisdom and knowledge.
     
    He told me, without hesitation, that he was still going to graduate on time with his classmates. Not surprising at all, Josh fulfilled that goal. Following many months spent in Houston receiving treatment and recovering, Josh returned to New Jersey during his senior year and continued working towards completing his high school requirements. On May 26, 2016, with our community all on their feet cheering loudly and proudly, Josh walked across the stage to receive his diploma. The embrace we shared on that stage is something that will remain with me forever.
     
    Josh was an inspiration to all who had the blessing of knowing him. It was clear in the outpouring of love and support that was on display at his funeral with so many teachers, current students and alumni in attendance. We were there because that's what we do - both as a people and because that's what it means to be a part of the Golda Och Academy community.
     
    It is fitting, on a number of levels, that Josh was last here in school just a few weeks ago for our Alumni Basketball game. It is a moment for our young alumni to come back and reconnect with their friends and teachers and an opportunity for our younger students to see how passionate our alumni still are about GOA and the experiences they had here. Josh and I shared a few moments together that afternoon and didn't really say much. Silence dominated the conversation and, using our tradition as a guide, I think that's quite ok.
     
    In parashat Shmini (Vayikra 10:3) Moshe attempts to comfort Aaron following the death of his sons, and we learn that after Moshe spoke Aaron remained silent (וַיִּדֹּם אַהֲרֹן). This type of silence comes from a place of not being able, at certain incredibly difficult moments in our lives, to fully fathom God's power and actions. We can allow that silence to fill an awkward space or we can simply embrace it and recognize that it is in those moments - when silence dominates - that we are truly comforting ourselves and others by simply being present.
     
    Josh z'l was present in so many of our lives and will always hold a special place as part of our Golda Och Academy community. We will continue to support his parents, Gary and Elyssa, and his brother Noah, as they traverse this very difficult path towards healing. Josh's legacy has and will continue to live on. It will be remembered in our conversations and will be felt every time our Coderunners Robotics team readies themselves for a competition. It will also, I hope, be felt by all of us who work hard to make the most of every moment in our lives - that is how Josh lived every day of his too-short life and he should be an inspiration to us all.
     
    יהי זכרו ברוך - May Josh's beautiful memory be a blessing to all who had the honor and privilege of knowing him.
     
  • October 3, 2017: Reaction to Las Vegas

    Waking up to the horrific news from Las Vegas yesterday of yet another mass murder made me feel like our country had taken another punch to our collective stomachs. We are faced - just 16 months after Orlando - with what is now the worst mass shooting in the history of our country. We are once again forced to deal with the reality that we have people in our country who are filled with hate and desire to cause unthinkable destruction.
     
    I, like many of you, am left feeling helpless. Helpless in making sense of this for myself, and the pit in my stomach grows deeper and deeper as I think about how many times we have had to have this conversation with the students in our school. Even beyond this, I am left feeling a great deal of anger every time one of these stories hits the news as it presents yet another opportunity for the innocence of our students to be stripped away. We strive to teach our students to dream big and have hope for their future. We want them to look at the world as their laboratory and feel safe to explore, grow and experience all kinds of incredible things. We don't want that flame to be extinguished. We don't want hate to prevail, and we certainly don't want our children - or any of us for that matter - to ever live in fear.
     
    To maintain that positivity, we must continue to teach our students to be the best people they can possibly be. From the cloud of sadness of yesterday morning, I was enlightened to see our Pre-K through 5th grade students wearing blue to school as part of the World Day of Bullying Prevention initiative. I was even more hopeful after hearing some of our youngest students ask why this type of day would be necessary if we are nice to one another and always work on being good friends. It is moments like these that can and should be a source of strength. Our Upper School students took the time to discuss and process this tragedy during tefillah. They were given the time and space to think more deeply about it and together participated in a moment of silence - time to reflect on the magnitude of this event and offer their own prayers for peace in the world. 
     
    Sukkot, which begins at sundown tomorrow night, has many names and one of them is Chag HaAsif, which is translated as the Holiday of Gathering. On one hand, we speak of celebrating all that has been gathered throughout the harvest and on the other we can understand it as the gathering of family and friends and creating joyousness in our sukkot. At these times when we may be struggling, we are fortunate that Jewish tradition shows us the importance of coming together as a community and experiencing joy with one another.
     
    The unspeakable tragedy of Las Vegas reminds us that while evil still exists in the world, we must embrace the special moments in our everyday lives. I pray that as we gather in our sukkot in the coming days that we find strength from that togetherness, draw meaning from the holiday, and continue to teach our children the value and need for tikkun olam - repairing the world.
     
  • March 23, 2017: Accreditation

    Earlier this year at our Open School evenings, I spoke about the fact that we would be going through our decennial re-accreditation with the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools (NJAIS) this year. We take our status as an accredited institution with NJAIS very seriously. Therefore, in order for this visit and evaluation to be as successful and meaningful as possible, it's important that everyone in our community - students, faculty and parents - fully understand what this process entails and means for our school.
     
    Over the past 18 months, we have been engaged in creating an intensive and highly-detailed Self-Study Report. As the title suggests, this process examines all of the key areas of our school and community to assess how we are doing, reviewing our successes and identifying areas we would like to improve upon. We have spent time thinking and answering some detailed, standards-based questions about our mission, school governance structure, academic program, technology plan, school finance and facilities. Additionally, we have had the opportunity to reflect on our mission as a religiously-affiliated, independent school. The creation of this final document (which will be submitted to NJAIS just before Pesach) has been an incredibly collaborative process. Under the direction of our Accreditation Steering Committee Co-Chairs Gail Shapiro (Director of Admissions & Outreach) and Karen Spector (Lower School Assistant Principal), our entire faculty and staff - along with our administrative team and members of our Board of Trustees -  have been involved in the creation of this report. We feel confident that our hard work, along with the responses we have received from our parent and student surveys throughout the year, will provide NJAIS a comprehensive view of our school and the work that we are doing here.
     
    With this background information in mind, it is also important to let you know the next steps for our re-accreditation. First and foremost, please mark your calendars for May 9-12, 2017, when the visiting accreditation team will be here at Golda Och Academy. The accreditation team will be made up of approximately seven teachers and administrators from other NJAIS accredited schools here in New Jersey who will be present on both campuses during those days. Their visit will include observing our classrooms and interviewing teachers, students, staff and lay leaders. It is their plan, and our hope, that they will see all of the many incredible aspects of school life in action - both inside and outside of the classroom - and we look forward to seeing their final report at the end of their visit.
     
    We have been honest and reflective and eagerly await feedback and thoughts on our strengths and areas of change. Ultimately, we look forward to using this report from NJAIS to generate the next strategic plan for our school. Over the last year, we have dedicated ourselves to working towards the goal of re-accreditation, and I truly want to thank our staff, faculty and parent body for their collaboration and cooperation. We are confident that this visit and subsequent report will go a long way towards making our school an even stronger and more dynamic place.   
  • November 18, 2016: Thoughts on the Presidential Election

    Much like what has happened throughout our country over the past week and a half since our presidential election, there has been a range of emotions felt throughout the halls of our school. While we recognize that there are passionate people on both sides of the aisle, we also recognize that the rhetoric throughout this election was raised to a fairly high level and, as such, we took some time to speak with all of our students (Pre-K-12) last week in order to help them process the election results.

    From our youngest students to our oldest, we stressed the importance of kindness between friends and reminded them that no matter who they may have supported in this election, we are now focused on moving forward as a caring and respectful community with core Jewish values.

    Last Wednesday afternoon, I had the great privilege of speaking with both our Middle and High School students during their afternoon Mincha service. I shared many of the same thoughts with regard to showing consideration and respect for one another. In speaking with both groups, we discussed the dynamic nature of our democracy and recognized how incredible it is that we have over 200 years of history in this country with peaceful transitions of power from president to president.

    Recognizing the importance of our democracy and the transition from one leader to the next is certainly compounded by the fact that each of us has different thoughts and priorities when it comes to who we want leading our country. While we embrace the individuality of our students and the passion of their positions, we also must take opportunities such as these to discuss the importance of seeing the bigger picture and rising above the negative rhetoric.

    The way we make this possible is by continuing to follow the standards that we have set forth in our school. We very much want our students to think critically and engage in positive discourse with one another and fully understand that the conversations don’t simply end with Election Day.

    Our community is one that thrives on engagement and participation in the world around us. Our democracy is strong because individual voices are encouraged to be heard. To that end, we will continue the conversations here in school and affirm our students’ rights to think and speak freely about that which they are passionate. Again, we may not all agree, but the energies focused in these debates must always remain positive and respectful in order for our school to continue to live the Jewish values which we continue to hold dear.
  • October 7, 2016: Israel Education

    Create a new and updated syllabus? Check. Set up the class webpage? Check. Ready to get back in the groove of grading papers? Check. While I have taken a hiatus from the classroom over the past few years, I am honored and excited to be back working with our entire 12th grade this year teaching our History of Modern Israel course.

    I began teaching at Golda Och Academy in 2003 as a member of both the Social Studies and Judaic Studies Departments. During that first year we spent a lot of time discussing the need to teach a more formalized Israel curriculum beyond the excellent work being done on our Neshama program and during our Israel Club meetings and activities. The following fall we began offering an elective course for our seniors that I was fortunate enough to be able to teach.

    The learning and discussions that went on in those classrooms over the next (almost) decade were vibrant, deep and always interesting. Our students engaged in conversations about Zionism, immigration to Palestine, the development of a new government, war and the growing pains of a young nation, the Arab-Israeli conflict and of course Israel’s many modern cultural and technological developments. In short, the course took the students on a journey through history to provide them with a deeper understanding of a country that they loved so much and cared so deeply for.

    I first worked on developing a formal Israel education curriculum during my years of undergraduate study at Emory University while learning with Dr. Kenneth Stein — one of the foremost scholars in the area of Israeli History and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Dr. Stein, who is still teaching at Emory and is now also directing the Center for Israel Education (CIE), has been wildly successful in the classroom and has spent the better part of the past two decades working with elementary through high school teachers developing curricular resources to support their work in the classroom.

    We were fortunate to have three of our educators — our Director of Israel Programming Rabbi Meirav Kallush, Social Studies Department Chair Heather Mendoza and Gan teacher Yael Safran — attend the CIE Teachers Workshop in Atlanta this past summer and look forward to more members of our faculty attending this upcoming July. The goal behind this participation is two-fold. First, we are working hard to enhance the way we are currently teaching about Israel in grades Pre-K-12. Second, Rabbi Kallush (along with faculty from both campuses) is engaged in a longer process of assessing what we are currently doing in the area of Israel education to ultimately create a comprehensive curriculum map for our teachers to use as a guide in both the Lower and Upper School.

    While we consistently review and enhance our Israel curriculum across all grades, I am honored to be back in the classroom working directly with our senior class who will soon graduate and take their knowledge into the next stage of their lives, well prepared to become change-makers, Israel activists and Jewish community leaders. The world has changed quite a bit since the last time I was teaching this class, which is why I am now dedicating more time towards helping our students understand things like the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement and the current feelings on college campuses throughout the country as well as Israel’s place in the world today. It is by no means a simple task, but it is incredibly important if we are to fulfill our mission of helping our students to create a deeper and more “...personal relationship with the State of Israel and its people.”
     
  • Gan-5th Grade Buddy Program

    One of the great programs we have at GOA is the Gan-5th Grade Buddy Program. We started 21 years ago, and its an opportunity for our 5th graders and Gan students to be paired up with one another. It gives our 5th grades an opportunity to be leaders and role models, and it gives our Kindergarteners students they can look up to and emulate in their day-to-day activities. Hear from students themselves how they benefited from this wonderful program: watch the video now!
  • Jewish Values

    The latest edition of Mr. Shapiro's Head of School Blog highlights the Jewish values that permeate throughout our school, from Pre-K through 12th grade. Special thanks to Ms. Jarmel, Lower School Program Coordinator, and Mr. Herskowitz, Upper School Director of Student Life, for their insights. Watch the video now!
  • Security

    Throughout the past few years – while serving as both Upper School Principal and now Head of School – I have received calls and emails from parents asking about our school’s security procedures. The response has always begun with a reassurance that we take security very seriously. First and foremost, we are quite fortunate to have a fully-trained security team made up of retired police officers, captains and chiefs. Our security team is stationed in both buildings all day, every day while students, teachers and parents are present on our campuses. We also spend a great deal of time working with the head of our security team, an independent security consultant and many members of our local police and fire departments to ensure that our plans and procedures are always up-to-date and in line with best practices when it comes to emergency management and response. Our number one priority is the safety and security of our Golda Och Academy community.
     
    One of the most important ways that we ensure the systems we’ve put in place are working is through drills – both fire and lockdown – on both of our campuses. While these can be cumbersome at times and potentially scary for our youngest students, our administration and faculty do a great job of educating our students and teachers about the importance of these drills. They also stress the importance of listening and following directions in case of an emergency in order to keep everyone safe. We encourage our students and parents to ask questions and are always here to provide help and guidance when necessary. My own children have come home from school asking questions, and I am always eager to hear their thoughts, feelings and observations. I’m sure that many of our parents have had similar conversations at home, and it is my hope that these discussions provide a valuable lens into these events at school.
     
    While the security measures our students and faculty see and experience firsthand are easier to digest, it’s the confidential or “behind-the-scenes” measures that often fuel the most questions.  A well-developed security plan and many of the protocols that we would put in place in the case of emergency, by definition, cannot be discussed to a wider audience for fear that important information could be compromised. What can be stated definitively is that our school’s security expenditures are quite high, and we spend a tremendous amount of time and energy reviewing our procedures and protocols with both our local law enforcement and our security team.
     
    Whenever we are planning activities here in West Orange, discussing our activities for our students to take part in while traveling to places like New Orleans or Mexico City, or putting together the itineraries for our Israel experiences, questions of security are always at the forefront. There is a big difference between living in fear and living with awareness of our surroundings. Through the measures we’ve put in place, and continue to work on, we feel confident that we are teaching our students what it means to be very aware while still fully participating in the world around them. While I know many of our parents never had to encounter such security measures and drills as children, we are living in different, and more challenging, times. I hope you can feel some assurance knowing Golda Och Academy is taking all necessary precautions and measures when it comes to the safety of our students, faculty and staff.
  • Early Childhood Education

    I hope you enjoy this latest edition of my Head of School Blog which focuses on our dynamic early childhood education program here at Golda Och Academy. I want to thank Lower School Principal Mrs. Siegel, Morah Alexis and Morah Blair (our two PreK teachers) for speaking with me about our program, and also extend a special thank you to the rest of our early childhood educators for inviting us into their rooms to capture their students in action. Watch the video now!
  • Israel Education

    This past Wednesday morning marked the end of our 9th grade Na’ale experience in Israel. The entire grade landed safely in Newark and exited security with smiles on their faces, making statements about their longing to be back in Israel and excitement about what they had just seen and done. Na’ale is a critical element of our academic program in the high school and one that we are all excited for the kids to experience and eager to hear all about. Throughout their 10 days in Israel, our students were fully immersed in the sights, sounds and tastes the land has to offer. They traveled from Har Bental to Arad and from the Mediterranean to the Kineret.  They had talented madrichim (counselors) working with them and spent a great deal of time with students from our Greater MetroWest partner school in Merchavim.
     
    While we know that the love of Israel and learning about her history begins much earlier in our Lower School, this journey is the first experience that our students have in the heart of Eretz Yisrael. It also marks the beginning of their four-year learning partnership with our friends in Israel. In 10th grade, students from Merchavim visit us in the U.S. as part of our Neshama Yetera program, and in 11th grade, our students work collaboratively with their friends from Merchavim on projects throughout year.  The capstone to this rich educational experience happens with our Neshama program during the second semester of 12th grade when our students have the opportunity to, once again, live and learn in Israel for three months.
     
    Although this year’s program was quite successful, we were faced with some difficult decisions prior to the trip.  With our friends and loved ones in Israel facing an onslaught of random acts of violence over the past two months, we deliberated whether to send our 9th grade students at this time. Our school’s mission speaks of “…a meaningful partnership between school and home...” and that “…our students develop a love of learning, [and] a personal relationship with the State of Israel and its people…”
     
    Keeping both of these points in mind, we included our parents and students in the decision-making process. From our first conversations, we made it clear that we would only travel to Israel if we felt confident about the security measures that were taken and if we were able to run an educationally rich and dynamic experience.  In the end, we felt strongly that our students would have a meaningful experience in Israel and thus we decided to go.  While there was a tremendous amount of excitement surrounding the trip, there was also a great deal of satisfaction – from all sides – recognizing that all concerns were addressed when making our final decision.  
     
    Our bond with Israel – both here at GOA and throughout our community – is an unbreakable one. Our students spend a great deal of time learning about their homeland, so we are always eager to provide real and meaningful experiences for them both in the classroom and firsthand. None of this would have been possible without the hard work and dedication of our Director of Israel Programming Rabbi Meirav Kallush, our Israel Programs Leader Rabbi Naama Levitz Applbaum and her team in Israel, and our two talented and dedicated teachers from here at GOA – Mr. Lev Metz and Ms. Bethanie Watson – who joined our students on every step of their journey. Our professional team, our students and their parents were completely dedicated to the success of this program and for that, we as a community, should be incredibly proud.
    Click here to see more photos and to read updates about Na'ale 2015.
  • September 2015: Capital Improvements

    I'm thrilled to show you some of the capital improvements that we made on both campuses over the summer. I hope you enjoy and I look forward to bringing you an in-depth look inside the halls and classrooms of GOA in my future blogs — both video and written — throughout the year. Watch the video now!