The Right Path, By Chaim Heller, Head of School
As a high achieving independent school, SDJA belongs to and receives accreditation from two different organizations: The California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC.) CAIS ensures that our program and governance is measured by the standards of selective and tuition-bearing schools throughout California. WASC measures our student outcomes to ensure they are on a par with the public schools throughout the state, as well as in our backyard. Three years ago, we received the highest level of accreditation possible from both CAIS and WASC, a full six-year term with no conditions attached.
As we are at our midterm between the last and the next accreditation – to take place in 2019 – I’d like to share where we are on the issues that we were addressing three years ago. Consider this a midterm report card if you will.
- Enrollment – Under the leadership of Yael Edelstein we have grown our preschool from 42 children to 87. Our K-12 numbers are now trending upward, as our tours and applications have increased by over 25% this year. Retention of students year over year is at the highest its been for 5 years now.
- Academic alignment between K-5 and 6-12 – We now have one curriculum in almost all areas of academics. Our math, STEM, science, language arts, physical education, music, Hebrew, and Judaic studies programs now flow smoothly between 5th and 6th
- Appropriate rigor in the elementary grades – Our school is different than most independent schools as we accept most children who apply, as our mission is to build a strong and vibrant Jewish community. Under the leadership of Kelley King, we now see that academic improvement and increased achievement are possible when there is acknowledgement of the need to improve and then a systematic plan to do so. Test scores are improving year over year, as is student engagement, achievement and satisfaction.
- Technology – Our lower and upper school teachers have realized that what works for 4th graders doesn’t necessarily work for high school students. We have phased out iPads in the upper school and brought in a BYOL program (Bring Your Own Laptop) that ensures a better fit for high level academics, while increasing the number of iPads and Chromebooks in the lower school.
- Library – We are in the process of remodeling our middle and high school library and we already see students using it daily as a quiet area for study, group work and research. More to come.
- Faculty evaluation and support – Under the leadership of Mike Quigley, our K-12 faculty developed an evaluation system that ensures a fair and supportive process for all teachers and has enabled teachers to work on areas of need while also strengthening their areas of excellence. Teacher morale is strong and positive and our students are benefiting directly from the general positivity on campus.
The past three years have seen a lot of change at SDJA, and while change can be sometimes uncomfortable, it can also lead to improvement, engagement and a better school. By no means are we resting on our laurels, far from it. But, by all measures, we are on the right path.