Sunday, March 24, 2019

Pictured at the Summit Leadership Training in CA, from left to right, are: Rav Tomer Ronen of YH, Deganit Ronen of WTA, Nellie Harris of WTA and Dr. Hope Blecher of YH.

In the spring of 2012, a group of community leaders decided the time was right to create academic institutions which would provide high quality and affordable Jewish education for all. To attain this goal, the group brought on board professionals, lay leaders and educational leaders to design an innovative model to meet the needs of all learners. Recognizing that tuition increases in independent schools outpaced income, these leaders made the decision to designate a fixed tuition rate. This process culminated in the establishment of Yeshivat He’Atid (YH) and Westchester Torah Academy (WTA).

Two schools on the opposite sides of the Hudson River bridged the distance by forming a partnership. YH, in Teaneck, and WTA, in New Rochelle, have since collaborated and are committed to forging the pathway to facilitate students’ success. In the final week of June 2017, leaders from both schools were invited to join a special program called the Summit Learning Leadership Training in California, whose mission is to “dramatically expand the scope and scale of efforts to provide every student with a customized education.” By joining the Summit Learning organization, the two schools became even more committed to deepening the educational opportunities available to students and staff.

The Summit network of imaginative, dedicated and experienced practitioners has already begun to share its powerful resources. In an interview with “Education Week,” Deputy U.S. Secretary of Education James H. Shelton, president of the initiative, said, “We’ve got to dispel this notion that personalized learning is just about technology. In fact, it is about understanding students, giving them agency and letting them do work that is engaging and exciting.” Currently, YH is using the Summit Learning Program in grades five and six, while WTA has implemented it in grade five. This arrangement allows the two schools to share their experience and support each other during the implementation of similar projects. It also provides an avenue for YH to work closely with WTA, with each school sharing its progress with the other in a true symbiotic relationship.

During the leadership training, leaders from YH and WTA learned about how Summit Learning prepares students for success in high school, college, career and life, and to be thoughtful, contributing members of society. This is accomplished through a philosophy and practice that gives students the opportunity to own and be masters of their own education. By receiving daily personalized support, students engage in making choices and identifying and working through challenging educational tasks. The faculty are excited to investigate different topics through project-based learning and various literacy and digital resources. Through engaging in real-world projects, students build essential cognitive skills and receive support from personalized instruction that meets their academic needs.

In preparation for the launch of this educational platform, members of each school’s administrative team dove into the Summit Learning training for school leaders. Rav Tomer Ronen, Dr. Hope Blecher, Deganit Ronen and Nellie Harris worked side-by-side with the Summit Learning personnel to explore the depth and breadth of this educational approach, which ensures that children and teachers become more engaged in their studies and translates to better performance. They also networked with educators from across the country to discuss the crafting of vision statements, communication pathways, cognitive skills, schedules, a grading system, the personal learning platform and educational focus areas. All of this was done with the intent of providing educators with the tools they need to better understand and respond to the academic needs of each student, employing a holistic approach that focuses on the entire student, ensuring for each child’s personal social, emotional and physical development. At the end of July, teachers and other school leaders were introduced to the program over a rigorous four days of training in New Jersey, with leadership provided by Summit Learning staff members. YH and WTA participants joined educators from the tri-state area for these one-on-one workshops.

At the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, parents had the opportunity to learn more about the Summit Learning program as it launched at YH and WTA. Throughout the school year, both school leadership teams continue to hold information sessions and personalized sessions for parents. Parents can log in to the Summit Learning Platform in order to explore the curriculum and projects and also learn how to explore their child’s progress pathway. With much excitement, both schools look forward to continuing this journey that will transform future Jewish generations.