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Gann Academy

How would you describe your general philosophy of Jewish education?

For me, Jewish education starts with the belief that students are evolving, developing human beings who need skills, experiences and role models that inspire and empower them to effectively navigate the world and live Jewish lives of meaning and responsibility. That is the purpose of education, and that is the purpose of Judaism as well. Therefore, there needs to be an explicit focus on each child: seeing his potential, knowing what her tick, trying to create the conditions such that each child will be pushed. Each child needs to be challenged and nurtured (two words that are next to each other in our mission statement) -- stretched to explore and discover new things, talents, passions and interests. This also encourages them to develop, pursue, and strengthen their existing passions, talents, and interests.

When it comes to Judaism, we see this educational mission being not only about transmission and continuity, but also enabling students to be the active agents of their own Jewish identity, it's construction and development. Gann is about giving kids the tools, knowledge, and inspiration to be creative and active participants in shaping their own Jewish identity and future but also the Jewish future more broadly.

 

What are some examples or different ways that you go about specifically creating that for your students?

Pedagogically we have a strong emphasis on the process of thinking and questioning in both our Jewish and general studies. Students engage in in-depth reading and analysis, exploration of material, and do the heavy intellectual lifting. When you walk into our classrooms you see students questioning and challenging each other and teachers because they understand that learning, meaning, and new ideas are developed through this vibrant intellectual exchange. That is what we do both inside and outside the classroom.

If we're going to talk about Gann, we have to talk about pluralism as it is one of the core values of the school. Our pluralism emphasizes the students both learning about themselves but also exploring and understanding what they believe, what they stand for, and how they live out Judaism. This is done through respectful dialogue with people who live out Judaism in ways different from them...

I believe so deeply in this approach to education because when they go out in the world they are going to live in a world of choice. It is a complex world that they will have to navigate. The earlier we can help them see that complexity and give them the tools, strength of character and intellect to navigate that complexity, the stronger they will become. This will help them be more prepared to live lives of meaning and really be able to sustain meaningful Jewish life going forward.

 

As you look at the program today, what do you see as its major achievements?

One of the achievements has been the consistency with which we have sent alumni out into the world that have a deep sense of who they are. They regularly say that Gann wasn't just a place where they got a high school education, but it was a place where they found their voice, learned about themselves, and discovered who they are Jewishly and as a person.


I think another huge area of success has been our big emphasis on, what we call, experiential education. Since we're talking about educating the whole child, we are explicit with our teachers and our families that education here goes far beyond the classroom. We have a serious commitment to a robust Jewish and Student life and to learning experiences that really enrich students outside the classroom. Clearly, that means strong "informal" Jewish educational experience such as Shabbatonim, an Israel experience, and holiday programming; but it also includes a strong program in sports and arts, and a robust student life of activities, clubs, publications, and all sorts of ways and places where students can find their voice and live out their passions.

I believe so deeply in this approach to education because when they go out in the world they are going to live in a world of choice. It is a complex world that they will have to navigate. The earlier we can help them see that complexity and give them the tools, strength of character and intellect to navigate that complexity, the stronger they will become. This will help them be more prepared to live lives of meaning and really be able to sustain meaningful Jewish life going forward.

 

Please share with us some observations from your experience in developing this program that might be helpful to someone else who has an innovative idea and wants to put it into action.


It is so important to have a real sense of mission, and vision, and purpose, and to surround yourself with people who understand that and who put that mission, vision and purpose at the center of their work. When it comes to education, and certainly educating children, never take your eye off the core focus of your work, which is the students. We must really focus on student learning. It sounds obvious, but so many schools don't. Another essential principle for me is the creation of a learning culture in the school. We have to expect, even demand, that everyone in the organization is open to learning and growing. This means we're not going to be the same tomorrow as we were yesterday. We are willing to make ourselves vulnerable. We are open and humble about our work while at the same time being proud and celebratory of the great things we accomplish. Just building a capacity for learning and evolving as an institution is huge for me.

Surround yourself with great people. Don't take for granted for one second how important it is to be working with teachers, students, parents, partners, and board who are working together towards a common vision.

 

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