Head of School

Welcome to Golda Och Academy!

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
 

Head of School Blog

Upcoming Accreditation Visit

March 23, 2017

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.   

A Look Into Our Lower School Science Program

December 1, 2016

In our latest Head of School blog, Adam Shapiro discusses the incredible STEM opportunities and advances at our Wilf Lower School campus with science teachers Rebecca Kurson and Debra Feldman.

Thoughts on the Presidential Election

November 18, 2016

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.

Israel Education

October 7, 2016

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.”
 

Welcome Back!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

We had a great first day of school on both campuses. It was wonderful to see our students' smiling faces as they eagerly hopped out of their cars and ran off the buses to head into school. The excitement in the air was palpable, and we are all looking forward to a great year of learning for all of our Golda Och Academy students.
 
In the coming weeks and months you will be hearing more from Mrs. Siegel and Ms. Stodolski both about physical changes on each campus as well as new programs and initiatives that will be taking place this year. You will hear more about a group of Lower School teachers who were awarded a Faculty Innovation Grant to expand our STEM offerings in the Lower School to include two 3D printers and new programs for our students. You will learn about our selection by the Pardes Center for Jewish Educators and the AVI CHAI Foundation as one of five schools participating in a year-long program with Middle School teachers to help them create a more meaningful tefillah experience for students. You will also receive updates from your teachers throughout the school year about the wonderful things taking place in their classrooms.
 
This year promises to be one of growth and transformation as we work with the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools (NJAIS) to complete our school's Self-Study Report in advance of our decennial re-accreditation visit at the beginning of May. This process will give us the opportunity to look inward at our entire academic and non-academic program and commend ourselves on work well done while also identifying those areas in which we would like to grow and change. This is a process that will require the support of our Golda Och Academy community, and we look forward to sharing more with you along the way.
 
We're hopeful the success of our first day back is indicative of many more successful days ahead.

Past Blog Entries

List of 6 items.

  • 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.
  • Capital Improvements

    September 2015

    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!