Former State Department Executive Leads Israel Studies Program

jessicaJessica Lieberman, a founding board member of Sela Public Charter School in Washington D.C., has been named director of Israel Studies and Partnerships for Hebrew Public.

In her new role, Lieberman is guiding and coordinating the Israel Studies curriculum, and overseeing a trip to Israel for middle school students. She will also develop Israel partnerships and alumni programming that provide students with access to Israel-related educational, cultural, and career opportunities as well as offer support in development of teacher and leadership pipelines for the Hebrew instruction program.

Lieberman has over 15 years of experience in human rights, intercultural exchange, and international affairs including in Israel. Prior to joining Hebrew Public, she was the deputy director for the office of global programming at the U.S. State Department, where she supervised a team of program officers responsible for managing over $100 million in grants to civil society organizations around the world.  She initially joined the State Department  in 2006 as American Association for the Advancement of Science science and policy fellow. Lieberman has worked for a number of human rights and non-governmental organizations in the Middle East and the United States, and has taught at George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs.

Lieberman has a PhD in political science from George Washington University, an MA in law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School and is a graduate of Smith College. She speaks Hebrew, Spanish and some Arabic.

Interview: Sela Leader Natalie Smith

natalie-at-selaBy Keciah Bailey

Sela school leader Natalie Smith, PhD has over 11 years of experience in the field of education. She joined Sela in 2014 and has since then lead Sela to becoming a Tier1 school in the DC Public Charter School System – a significant award given to the highest quality charter schools in the school district. Dr. Smith has a National Board Certification and was endorsed as a New Leaders principal. On a daily basis, she helps teachers understand how to use data about student learning to improve instruction and also facilitates workshops to develop staff leadership. She is deeply involved in school and community development and is even learning Hebrew along with her students! Check out our Q&A with Dr. Smith below.

 

Tell us a little about your early life

One thing I will note is that my parents are from another country, Jamaica, and they really instilled the importance of education in my life and my siblings’ lives.

I grew up in Brooklyn and then I moved to Coral Springs with my mother and siblings (for Grades 10 through 12).  I then attended Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business for undergrad and earned a bachelor of science degree in marketing and new and small business management from Georgetown University. I earned a master of arts degree in human development, with a focus on early childhood education, and a doctor of philosophy degree in curriculum and instruction, with a focus on minority and urban education, from the University of Maryland.

Why did you decide to become an educator?

As an adolescent, I was always the family babysitter during the summertime for my younger siblings and younger cousins.  While I was at Georgetown University, I participated in the D.C. Reads tutoring program and the After School Kids program, which was a program to support and tutor students who were on probation.  I’ve always had an affinity to help young children, so even though I had a position as a consultant for a public health consulting firm after college, I decided to apply for a program that supported people from other fields with entering the field of education as a teacher.  It was called the Resident Teacher Program for Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS).  I became a teacher in June 2003 and never looked back.

What subjects did you teach? How long did you teach and what grade levels/ages?

I taught third grade for three years, then taught algebra and pre-algebra to eighth graders for a year, and then taught fourth grade for a year.  After five years teaching, I became an instructional math coach for PGCPS.  During December 2010, I had the opportunity to enter school leadership, which allowed me to have a broader impact on building teacher capacity and improving student achievement. I became a director of academics and staff development for a charter school in D.C. I’ve been a school leader since then.

Where did you work prior to joining Sela? Describe your experience there.

Before joining Sela, I was completing my year as a resident principal at Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy at the Parkside Middle School campus. The principal resigned in February 2014, and so I had to take over as the interim principal. It was a great learning experience. However, I knew that my heart was always with elementary school students.  I love working with elementary school students because you can have an impact while they are still young and bridge the achievement and equity gaps a lot sooner than in middle school.

What drew you to Sela?

I always believed that language immersion programs allowed students to develop more cognitively than students learning only one language.  I also knew that Sela was the only language immersion school in Washington, D.C. to offer Hebrew language immersion.  I had heard of Hebrew scriptures, but could not read them in Hebrew.  I knew that as the children learned Hebrew, I, too, would learn some Hebrew as well. So when I saw the vacancy for Sela, I was ecstatic.

Why did you decide to learn Hebrew?

As a school leader, I observe classrooms every single day.  As I observed Hebrew classrooms, I began to learn the language along with the students.  I also learn along with the students while we are signing songs, etc. At times, the students speak to me and almost force me to respond to them in Hebrew.  Initially, I needed support from our Hebrew-speaking teachers to respond.  But, I made it a point to learn a little bit of Hebrew each week.

Can you engage in conversations with the students or staff?

I still have a long way to go, but I am learning and committed to being able to engage in conversations with our students and staff in Hebrew.  Right now, it is on a very small scale, but I each week, I’ll learn more and more.

I learned the numbers (Ahot, Steim, Shalosh, Abba, Hamesh, etc.), colors (Adom – red, Sagol – purple, Sahov – yellow, etc.), greetings (Boker Tov – Good morning, Laila Tov – Good night), family members (Safta – grandmother, etc.), weather terms (Shemesh – sun, etc.).

With the proficiency approach we use at Sela, I also learned how to use the words in context:

Touching my head and saying “A la Rosh.”

Or “Ani Ohev Sela” – I love Sela.

“Ma Shlomech” – How are you (to a female)?  Or “Ma Shlomecha” – How are you (to a male)?

Response:  Tov Todah (Ok, Thank you) Or Beseder (All Right).

Or “Todah” (Thank you) and the response “Bevakasha” -You’re welcome.

“Mah Hashem Shelcha” – What’s your name?

Response “Hashem Sheli Dr. Smith or Natalie” – My name is Dr. Smith or Natalie.

As I wrote this list, I realized that I know more than I think I know, but I still have a lot to learn.

Do you speak any other languages?

I took five years of Latin in high school.  I can speak a little bit of Spanish and French as well, but I would not consider myself to be fluent.

What activities/hobbies do you enjoy outside of school?

I love exercising and spinning. I used to teach a spinning class from 2004 to 2011, and I hope to get back to that one day.  I also love listening to music. I haven’t done this in a long time, but relaxing on a beach or near some water is always amazing. Listening to waves is so calming.

To learn more about Dr. Smith and Sela Public Charter School, visit http://www.selapcs.org/blog.

Writing

READING & WRITING AT HEBREW PUBLIC

For many of us who completed elementary school way before the 2000s, we most likely remember learning to write through limiting, monotonous, sometimes painfully boring, assignments.  Typically, the teacher chose the topic and writing style, left little room for freedom or creativity, and said “It needs to be x number of pages, and it’s due in a week.”  Thankfully, traditional writing instruction has been revolutionized by the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP).  The following entry is a snapshot of TCRWP at Hebrew Public schools.

TCRWP at Hebrew Public

All of Hebrew Public’s network schools teach writing for grades K-6 using this innovative, engaging approach.  For four years now, teachers have participated in professional development through the Teachers College Summer Institutes and we are proud to say that 44 teachers from our schools have attended, as have our directors and school leaders.

What does TCRWP look like in action?

What kind of writing do we produce throughout our lives? You probably answered practically and/or creatively, thinking of reports, narratives, persuasive letters, cover letters, poems, short stories, journal entries, and so on. This is the essence of TCRWP – making writing relevant to real life and the real world.  The writing workshop is divided into units that mimic these real world styles of writing: opinion/argument, information, and narrative writing. Each unit can take around a month to complete but students are encouraged to work at their own pace.

They are guided by the teacher through a writing process which includes:

  • Generating Ideas (1–2 days)
  • Collecting writing entries (5–10 days)
  • Choosing a seed idea (2–3 days)
  • Planning the draft (1–2 days)
  • Revising to change the content and quality (1–3 days)
  • Editing to improve grammar (1–2 days)
  • Publishing the piece to share it with the world (1–3 days)
  • Writing Celebration (1 day)

Throughout the process, teachers give what are called mini lessons, which provide students with specific strategies to improve their writing. For example, a mini-lesson could focus on how to choose the strongest ‘seed idea,’ create a strong ending, write with imagery, use dialogue effectively, etc. The image above shows an example of a mini-lesson: providing strategies for when students feel “out of gas as a writer,” something we can surely all relate to.

What are the benefits of TCRWP?

TCRWP has a strong record of success. Schools using TCRWP tend to outperform other schools across the city and state in English Language Arts (ELA). Students in NYC schools that use the TCRWP outperformed other city schools by 11%. In fact they outperformed in ELA from 2011 to 2014.  These improvements also hold true for different learners, including English language learners, students with special needs, and in-school intervention students.  Overall, TCRWP is not only academically beneficial for all students but also an enjoyable and fun way to learn writing!  For more information:http://readingandwritingproject.org/

By Guest Blogger:  Katie Scranton, Research Assistant

Writing2

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UNFAMILIAR MOMENTS MAKE US MORE AWARE

If you are involved with Hebrew Public schools, you are surely already an advocate for multilingualism and guiding our society’s children toward a life of global citizenship. Personally, I’ve found that speaking more than one language and traveling far from home have had a profound influence on my life. There’s nothing else that does such a great job of challenging us to stop, step out of our skin, and view our world with new eyes.

Over the past decade of young adult life, I’ve become fully bilingual in Spanish and English and have lived in a variety of places – the USA, Argentina, Uganda, Northern Ireland, and Spain. The benefits that come along with travel and speaking another language are endless. Whether humorous, stressful or life-changing, these experiences are essentially about navigating through the unfamiliar.  Here are a few personal examples I can recall:

An unfamiliar street in Belfast led me to the Peace Walls, barbed wire towering overhead, telling stories of the past – no history book could ever teach the Northern Irish Troubles like those walls.

An unfamiliar custom in Uganda caused me to question my notions of generosity and hospitality as a family insisted on giving me one of their last chickens. I was reluctant but followed the advice of my fellow Ugandan friends that “You never reject a gift given out of love” – no sociology class could ever convey the nuances of culture like the generous family that day.

An unfamiliar woman, sitting before me in a Ugandan displacement camp, asked me if I could take her back to the United States with me – no documentary could produce such a profound sense of guilt and realization of my own privilege as that woman’s longing eyes.

An unfamiliar lunch time (comida) in Spain forced me to stop for three hours daily, during what for an American is the “most productive time of day.” These hours instead allowed food, rest, and loved ones to be etched into the daily schedule – no travelogue or Tedtalk could ever cause me to reassess life priorities like those three hours.

It’s unfamiliar moments like these that give us the opportunity to stop relying on our everyday assumptions about ourselves, others, and the way the world functions. They make us more aware, they teach us to be more empathetic, and they keep us enthralled with the diversity of people and places on this earth.  In this sense, Hebrew Public schools are fostering these qualities by teaching students to be bilingual, global citizens and full of wonder for the world.

Katie Scranton, Research Assistant

Photo:  Donegal, Ireland, 2014.  Katie with friends from volunteers program Tools for Solidarity.

LIFELONG COGNITIVE, ECONOMIC BENEFITS OF BILINGUALISM

The cognitive benefits of bilingualism are in the news and public consciousness frequently these days. Recent studies show that bilingual children perform better on tests of cognitive flexibility as toddlers, and show an increase in executive function in the elementary years. In Utah, a Mandarin-immersion program has raised student test scores and inspired a long wait-list of potential families. When working with student data at Hebrew Public, I get to compare the performance of our bilingual-immersion students to students at comparable schools, and see these test benefits for myself.

Interestingly, the mental advantages of bilingualism may extend to the later stages of life. There is some indication that bilingualism may delay the development of dementia and even be protective of normal cognition post-stroke.

Bilingual education programs also have the potential to create lifelong economic benefits. Scientists at MIT have found that there is a small annual salary premium for bilingualism. This increase in average salary grows when considering languages with a low supply of fluent speakers in the U.S. that are connected to economically valuable trading partners. Modern Hebrew, the language in which our students are immersed, meets both of these criteria!

Katherine Kuprenas, Research Assistant

WE’VE CHANGED OUR NAME!

I am excited to announce that we have changed the name of our organization from “the Hebrew Charter School Center” to the much simpler [drum roll…]: “Hebrew Public.”  We are also adopting a new tagline: “Charter Schools for Global Citizens.”

A bit of background on the change:

When our organization was created back in 2009, our corporate name was actually “The National Center for Hebrew Language Charter School Excellence and Development, Inc.”  That mouthful was immediately shortened to “Hebrew Charter School Center,” which was used through the end of 2015.  Now, as we move into our next phase of growth, we have become Hebrew Public.

It was important for us to do this.  We are a network of public schools serving children from all backgrounds, but people would often react to our name and ask: Do your schools teach religion? Aren’t your schools private? Are they only for Jewish students?  [Answers: No, No, and No.]

Beginning in the spring of 2015, we engaged a branding firm to guide us through a thorough self-examination process, then intense brainstorming that resulted in more than 200 naming ideas, and finally through a public vetting process involving people from all walks of life, including teachers, parents, journalists, supporters, and many others. In the end, Hebrew Public won favor with a marked majority of respondents, and the Board voted to approve the change in December. In the coming months we will be rolling out this new name and a sharper, more compelling visual identity, incorporating the new logo you see on this page.

Stay tuned!

Jon Rosenberg
President and CEO

PHILANTHROPY’S TRUE MEANING

Many articles have been written about the philosophy of fundraising. For me, philanthropy’s true meaning is the love of people.

Those who are involved in philanthropy do so for many reasons, but many people I know are doing so because they truly care about others. Professionals who go into this field are often idealistic and are looking for ways to dedicate their careers to make changes for the better for the causes they care about.  I have been working in this field for my whole career. I find it most rewarding to meet people who care – people with whom I build relationships, who are going above and beyond giving their time and resources to make a positive change.

At HCSC, we are meeting more and more people who want to learn about our students and get involved. They come from all walks of life and contribute in different ways. Each one of them is special in their own way.

As a development professional, I want to celebrate every one of our donors’ contributions and make them feel special. Every supporter and every gift has a story. Once you learn it, you begin to develop a relationship with that person. And if you come with an open mind and heart, you can build relationships that last a lifetime, and create philanthropic partnerships that make a difference in the lives of many people – in our case, it’s students and their families.

Valerie Khaytina, Director of Strategic Philanthropy

DATA: MORE THAN JUST NUMBERS

Statistics, proportions, figures and visuals… we come across them on a daily basis. From data on how the economy is doing to political polls, they seem to be all around us! We are undeniably living in the era of data-ization. Although some data analyses could be passed as irrelevant or of little importance, when it comes to understanding and measuring student performance over time, targeting instruction and closing achievement gaps, data can be an excellent tool to have!

In my current role as data scientist for HCSC, when it comes to understanding and measuring student performance, it’s not sufficient to simply present scores on a spreadsheet. It is critical to also ask how that particular student, class and school performed throughout the school year as well, and quantify movement from term to term. Identifying, through descriptive statistics, that a student’s performance is dwindling or that they are not meeting expectations allows for proactive measures to help students improve performance. I like to think of data and assessment statistics like a thermometer. A thermometer won’t tell you that you have a fever; it will only tell you what your temperature is at that point in time. In order to properly diagnose and remedy, you have to continue to ask questions and find solutions until you have what you need to fix the problem.

What is most useful about being able to apply data analytics to primary education is in helping to close the achievement gap. Ensuring that all children are exceeding expectations is an excellent goal to have, but it’s also great to be able to provide additional guidance to students who require it. Having the proper mechanism to identify those students and initiate conversations with schools is part of my contribution to those efforts to help students succeed.

Carl M. Letamendi, PhD, MBA, Data Scientist

WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT OUR ORGANIZATION THROUGH DATA

We know that of all our HCSC employees derive a high significance from their work, as indicated by our biannual employee engagement survey. We also know, from a different survey, that all of our HCSC network teachers would like more collaboration with each other to enhance their professional development.

Coming from a research background, I can appreciate that different types of data influence what we can measure, understand, and learn about an organization such as HCSC and our schools. “The beauty of qualitative research,” in particular, “is that it gives you access to the nitty-gritty reality of everyday life viewed through a new analytic lens” (Silverman 2009). Qualitative data in the form of written feedback, through surveys or in-person, is valuable because it provides HCSC with a genuine voice from our most important stakeholders – employees, teachers, parents, and heads of school.

The feedback from the qualitative portion of our employee, board, parent and teacher surveys create a collaborative voice based on the most prominent and reoccurring themes and concepts. This collective voice paves the way for future changes in our organization and schools. Interviews are another method of collecting qualitative data and detecting reoccurring and predominant themes. Again, through this method of data collection, HCSC has the opportunity to identify what can be improved upon, our strengths and weaknesses, and the most complimentary aspects of our organization.

Collectively, all of this feedback is invaluable because, based on those suggestions, our organization can make strides to improve its image, services and support to all stakeholders involved. The power of this data is extremely useful for us in growing as an organization and creating a clearer image of what success looks like for us and for our schools.

Niki Incorvia, PhD
Special Projects and Research Coordinator

Silverman, David. 2010. Doing qualitative research: A practical handbook. London: SAGE.

A NATIONAL COALITION OF DIVERSE CHARTER SCHOOLS: WHAT? WHY?

The Hebrew Charter School Center is one of the founding members of a group of charter schools and charter networks that is committed to diversity. The 28 members, which include 17 networks, all have in their core mission that they recruit and serve students from different racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds and students. These schools seek out diverse populations so their children learn early and deeply that everyone has the right be unique and different and that those differences strengthen the ties that connect us all as Americans and global citizens.

Research on the benefits of diversity is abundant. Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages multiple points of view and supports more effective problem solving and decision making. According to Katherine W. Phillips, “Being around people who are different from us makes us more creative, more diligent and harder-working.” (Scientific American, Sept. 2014)

Diversity can improve companies’ bottom lines and support groundbreaking, game- changing innovations. As schools work to provide students with the capacity to use technology that has not yet been invented, and to prepare them for workplaces that look vastly different than those of the late 20th century, students who attend the schools in our network will also be competent in establishing cross-cultural relationships and able to acclimate to rapidly changing environments. By attending schools that are diverse, our students will be prepared for success in the workplace of the future.

Hebrew plays a big role in this work. Every student who comes to our schools – immigrant students, students from monolingual homes, native English speakers – have the common bond and experience of learning Hebrew together. This common bond stretches across the different ethnic and cultural backgrounds of our students, and solidifies the benefits of attending schools that are diverse as those in the Hebrew charter school network.

Aaron Listhaus
Executive Director, National Programs