2017-18… That’s a wrap!
22 Jun 2018

2017-18… That’s a wrap!

Dear Families and Friends,

Mazal tov on what has been a very busy and very productive year at HFS; I cannot believe the year is almost over!

With summer plans, camps and a relaxing break just around the corner, I wanted to offer some observations on the year that was and some thoughts about what lies ahead.  The end of the school year provides a great opportunity to reflect on the state of our school and evaluate how we’ve grown as a community.

As we reflect on the 2017-18 school year, please join the HFS staff and me in acknowledging and celebrating the many wonderful learning experiences and educational opportunities that have taken place for our students at HFS.  HFS’s unique Jewish character, nourishing community, excellence in teaching, holding students to high standards and expectations, and the tremendous dedication and talent of our staff continues to make it a wonderful and special learning environment.

To begin with, I want to say that there is so much to be positive about.  We had the Grade 6 graduation earlier this week, and if the graduating class is any indication, they represent a clear measure of the school’s success and what it strives for: their accomplishments, their spirit and their values illustrate the high-quality education they received over their years at HFS.

Below is a summary of our work as a school community this past year, as reflected in our three core values of Student Centered, Jewish Living and Forward Thinking:

Student Centered

Our teachers, student services team and office staff worked incredibly hard to make the school year an educationally challenging, positive and healthy one for the students.  This year, we were fortunate to begin to offer much-needed remediation services to over 30 students in the school.  Many thanks to our Principal Brian Seltmann and our Director of Student Services Chelsea Sculnick for supporting so much of this work and helping to establish the right environment for learning.

Brian is the type of principal who arranges an amazing race style race for students in Grade 6, and who not only puts together a skating program for the little hockey stars in the school in the middle of June, but gets on the ice with them as well!  He takes his role of supporting the kids, the staff and the community very seriously.  He is a highly visible principal, and our school is a better place because of him.

In addition to leading the Student Services team and supporting students and teachers, Chelsea is also assuming the role of Vanguard Coordinator for the coming school year.

School and home worked closely together to offer a vibrant school life to the students, and a range of student services, extra-curricular activities and holiday celebrations for the entire HFS school community.  Many thanks to the parent volunteers who have spent countless hours at school helping to make our school program successful.  A special thank you to the Parents Association, led by Randee Shenker and Robin Gordon, who brought a level of excellence and innovation to all they tackled on behalf of our students.

Jewish Living

There are so many moments that come to mind, all of which illustrate the centrality of Judaic teaching and experiences in the life of the school.  I can’t emphasize enough how much of a factor Jewish living and community are in the decision making process of families who choose HFS.  Jewish Living at HFS is:

  • Kabbalat Shabbat every week in the school, and the sounds of children singing Shalom Aleichem;
  • The grade 3 Havdalah ceremony on a Saturday night, with young, smiling faces glowing behind the flames of the braided candles;
  • Our mitzvah meter in the main foyer, which has been going up steadily all year, telling the story of each of our assemblies and dress-down days, linked to particular causes, both Jewish and non-Jewish. The meter stands at over $17,000 raised and over 600 bags of groceries to food-related causes, and over a dozen large bins of toys donated to families-in-need.  The level of fundraising and engagement in the community by our students is something we can all be proud of;
  • Amazing Purim programming at HFS, brilliantly run by our teachers;
  • The energy and enthusiasm of our shinshinim, Ori and Eden, adding a love of Israel in everything they do – they were expertly supported by Samantha Waks;
  • The buzz of teacher collaboration of the Gesher Chai partnership program with sister school Neve BaMidbar from Beersheva, led by teachers Keren Elkoubi and Merave Luz; It should be noted that the Federation CJA’s Israel Engagement department is extremely impressed with the partnership between our two schools, as well as how well we manage our shinshin program – we are a model school in this regard;
  • A powerful Yom Ha’atzmaut ceremony, organized by Ravit Benaoch, in which the whole community took part;
  • The moment you realize that 22 out of 36 of our graduating students are choosing to continue their Jewish education at the high school level, a number and percentage of graduating students we have not seen in a long time in the community.

Forward Thinking

We have made significant progress in all areas of our Future Directions Plan:

  • The IB Primary Years Programme, which will challenge our students to excel in their studies and encourage both personal and academic growth, was worked on all year by our faculty. As the program will roll out next year, teachers used this year to really dig into the curriculum and experiment with how to integrate the IB program across our dual curriculum.  While we will continue to consult with outside IB experts and consultants, we are happy to announce that Mira Engelhardt will be our lead IB teacher, joined by Stuart Cohen and Marie-Josée Sauvé, in supporting the faculty in implementing IB across our dual curriculum.  I myself will be heading to Toronto over the summer to take part in the Primary Year Programme Level 2 training on Pedagogical Leadership;
  • The Technology and 1:1 iPad program in Grade 5 was fully introduced – the program helps address the diverse learning needs of many students and is a true example of how integrating technology in the curriculum benefits students. Moreso, our Principal Brian Seltmann has been strongly encouraging an increased focus on STEAM learning (science, technology, engineering, art and math) to complement the use of technology;

  • The Culture Française et Québécoise program was a welcome addition to our curriculum. Kudos to Nathalie Morin for organizing the program nicely and motivating the students to improve on their French.
  • Our new schoolyard was transformed entirely at the beginning of the year thanks to a generous donor, and it has provided our students with so many more ways to get physically active.

Strategic Plan

While so much happened in the school at the student level, significant work was going into the three main pillars that define the five-year strategic plan, Academic Excellence, An Engaged & Welcoming Community and Financial Strength & Stability:

  • A new collective agreement was negotiated between HFS and its teachers. This process was guided by Ken Scott, whose experience and ethical leadership proved invaluable in what was a respectful, well-managed process of give and take and negotiation;
  • In preparation of our upcoming permit renewal process in 2018-19, administration, in consultation with faculty and the Education Committee, reviewed every area of our program of study (i.e. the compulsory subjects taught each year and the suggested number of hours per week for each) to make sure our programs’ subject-time allocation is in accord with the Basic School Regulation as per the Education Act. A number of important changes to the program were made, among them a) revising the subject-time allocation of the grade 3 and 4 program to reflect its Cycle 2 nature; and b) carefully calibrating the English taught from K-6 by increasing English taught in the younger grades while slightly reducing English taught in the older grades;
  • The Board of Trustees passed a balanced budget. In order to do so, hard choices were made to reduce operational costs, in order to maintain the quality of our academic program and keep tuition increases manageable;
  • HFS once again maximized its partnership with ORT, with another successful fundraising campaign. Work has begun on plans to diversify our fundraising streams which will begin to bear fruit over the course of the coming school year; and
  • Tuition Assistance continues to increase, allowing more and more families to choose a Jewish Education. The increase in tuition assistance is a trend we are watching closely.

HFS in the community

All of the above work, effort and changes matter a lot in how a school is experienced on the inside and perceived on the outside.  We found that whenever a prospective family came to take a tour of the school this year, these efforts helped tremendously – we had a very high success rate in converting those prospective families into registered families.

We are happy to say that it appears that enrolment is stabilizing, after many years of year-over-year losses.  We have every intention of building on this positive trend.  Remember, research is conclusive – the #1 factor in why a family chooses to send their child to a Jewish Day School is word-of-mouth of their peers!  Not price.  Not new facilities.  Positive word-of-mouth.

Looking ahead, we will be running another parent satisfaction survey in late 2018, in partnership with Federation CJA.  Our ability to respond to the needs of our students and families is critical for the continued progress of HFS.

We are working on improving the frequency and timeliness of our communication with you, our families and our many constituencies, and we are putting plans into place for 2018-19 to improve in this area.

Faculty and Staff Transitions

With lasting appreciation for their service to Hebrew Foundation School, we bid the following faculty and staff good-bye, and wish them well in their future endeavours:

Nathalie Custeau
Stephanie Gaudreault
Claudette Marquis
Laura Wulf
Alysha Zackon

I want to acknowledge Laura Wulf,  our librarian of 14 years, who has been a steady presence in the library, overseeing all aspects of the library while working with a dedicated team of parent volunteers – thank you Laura!

We also welcome Nick Roussos as our Educational Technology Consultant, who will be replacing Virginia Klinkhoff over the course of the 2018-19 year while she is on maternity leave.  And a welcome to Alex Tourigny as our new School Custodian, who joined us soon after Stan Adrushkoff’s retirement.

On a personal note

In wrapping up my first year in the position of Director General, I am very proud to be serving in this position and grateful for the collaboration with the Board of Trustees. I am lucky to be able to say I have a job that I love and one which provides me with rewarding challenges and an opportunity to make an impact in our community.  There is much that I am proud of over the course of this year, and a number of areas that I intend to further grow and develop.

Again, this was the first full year at HFS for Principal Brian Seltmann and myself.  We benefited tremendously from the steady hand and sage wisdom of Ken Scott.  One day, when they tell the story of how HFS made its way back, Ken Scott will be instrumental in that story.  It was humbling to learn at the feet of a giant of an educational leader like Ken.

I want to end by thanking the Board of Trustees for an amazing partnership, and to recognize the terrific, dedicated work of the school’s leadership team: Brian Seltmann (Principal), Chelsea Sculnick (Director of Student Services), Rachelle Hubscher (Director of Finance), Sari Sacks (Fundraising and Development Coordinator), and Paula Levitt (Office Manager).  Thank you to the office team of Lori Hier Miller, Beth Lackman and Eve Borshy for always providing an amazing customer service experience.

Thank you everyone.  Now go and have a great summer!  Have fun, stay safe, get some rest and we’ll see you back here on Friday, August 24.

All the best,

Mar Abba Brodt
Director General