Education Director: Anne Johnston
Grades: pre-k through 7th
JRC incorporated in 1964, and the school was founded the next year.
Growth since Anne Johnston arrived at JRC three years ago:
JRC suffered from a lack of stability in the leadership of its religious school, changing religious school directors every three to four years. Each new director brought a completely different educational vision. Because of the chaos, the school lacked structure: there was inadequate supervision for teachers, no set curriculum (each new director bought new curricular materials), and concerns that the school didn't respond effectively to parents' concerns. In addition, the school wasn't well integrated into the larger synagogue community.
Some of the work to repair the school began before Anne arrived. The School Committee worked to understand the pattern of upheaval and the negative consequences it had wrought on the school. They realized that the educational directors who had been educational visionaries often had lacked organizational skills needed for running a school. Thus, they decided to divide these roles and hire two people - a Religious School Director, who would focus on curricula, professional development and pedagogy, and a Director of School Administration, who would focus on organization. The Committee then participated in two retreats in which they developed enduring understandings for JRC's religious school. As Religious School Director, Anne constructed curricula based on these enduring understandings.
A major milestone for Anne is that her teachers are now happy teaching at the school because they feel valued and well-supervised. Anne has created a curriculum for gan through seventh grade. In addition, she has instituted a professional development program in which each teacher selects a professional goal each year and also creates a plan for how s/he will achieve that goal. Every teacher, including Anne, now has a working professional development plan, and they are evaluated based on their success in achieving their goals. In turn, the teachers also are asked to evaluate Anne yearly, and their responses are incorporated into her professional evaluation.
These structures for supervision and evaluation represent a major change for JRC. Anne explains, “I came into a hornets' nest...The teachers have been hurt so badly. We really had to reach out to them and let them know that we're interested in partnership.” Anne has taken care to make sure her teachers know they are valued. However, even with her efforts, it hasn't always been easy to change the culture of the school. Some of the teachers are resistant to following a set curriculum: “They're used to being put in a classroom and not told anything. I sit down during the summer and sketch out the major topics with them, and then I put together a master calendar of what class is doing each week.”
Resources that Aid in Growth:
Anne relies on her “outstanding” School Committee to support her school's growth. The co-chairs meet monthly with Anne, and the whole committee also meets for several hours each month. Anne relies on her co-chairs to help her with her own goal-setting and evaluation. She also works closely with the Director of School Administration and the Early Childhood Program Director.
Challenges in Growth:
- There is a lack of sufficient space for all of their classes. They are currently in the process of creating a new building.
- Teaching seventh graders remains a challenge: “They need something really different, and I am not going to pretend we've figured this one out.” Part of the problem is that “they have run out of patience. The ones who don't want to be here have less patience for being here, and the ones who do want to be here have run out of patience for the ones who don't want to be here.” An effective seventh grade program should be “entertaining, physically active, and completely interactive.” Anne believes that the ideal would be a mentoring program in which seventh graders would shadow people in the community, but the logistics of creating that program are prohibitively time-consuming.