Our Stories

Major Academic and Institutional Initiatives: Highlights for the 2016-17 School Year

September 7, 2016 by Naomi Reem (Faculty and Staff)

I had the opportunity to visit some classrooms during Shabbat Lunch last Friday, as the first week of school was wrapping up. It was heart-warming to see our students, new and returning, engaged in learning and conversation with each other! As the academic year starts to unfold, I am proud to share with you the highlights of our major academic and institutional initiatives:

New Leadership Structure by Divisions

JPDS-NC now includes three lead educational directors: Director of Early Childhood Education, Melissa Davis; Elementary School Director, Arielle Derby; and Middle School Director, Lisa Schopf. This new structure will allow for a streamlined approach to each student, with one administrator who will get to know each student closely and work with all faculty members in each division. Parents will be able to contact one person, in addition to the teachers, if they have any questions or concerns about their child.

Student Support Services Department

In order to expand and coordinate all efforts in social-emotional and academic support, we significantly expanded our Student Support Services, to include a new Director of Student Support Services position (filled by Alexis Herschthal), an additional part-time learning specialist who will focus on support needs in Hebrew and Judaic studies, and an additional Guidance Counselor.

Social-Emotional Learning

JPDS-NC has adopted a new Social-Emotional Learning curriculum for Pre-K through Fifth Grade, which will be taught bi-monthly by the Guidance Counselors and reinforced on a daily basis by the faculty. In Sixth Grade, we adopted the Rodef Shalom curriculum, created by Pardes, to support our new Middle School Advisory Program, teaching social-emotional learning through Jewish sources and stories.

Jewish Life

With the creation of the new Director of Jewish Life position, Sharon Freundel will integrate rich school-wide and grade-wide programs that align with the curriculum and augment the overall Jewish experience and feel at the school.

Design Thinking/STEM

We are continuing to expand the role of Design Thinking in our school to develop real time problem-solving skills in our students, inside and outside of the Design Lab. Design thinking is also the basis for our STEM program and complements the creative inquiry approach of our Science program.

Athletics Program Enhancements

Our new Athletic Director, Yonah Singer, is planning for a robust sports program to provide more opportunities for team sports and fitness and to elevate our physical education program all around.

Extended Professional Development

In the final phase of the Legacy Heritage Fund Headway Grant, we are focusing on refining our student-centered learning across the grades and developing the internal capacity to ensure that new and returning faculty are immersed in this approach for years to come. We are continuing our faculty “Professional Literacy Circles” to further the culture of professional growth at JPDS-NC and to create opportunities for collaboration and alignment among the faculty.


Project Zero

In addition to several workshops during the summer, including fourteen educators attending the week-long Project Zero institute locally, twelve faculty members will be part of semester-long courses offered online through the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Topics range from “Creating Cultures of Thinking” and “Teaching for Understanding,” to “Teaching and Learning in a Maker-Centered Classroom.”

Parenting Education

With the inspiration of our Ari Zymelman Lecture Series on Parenting, we began a focus on parent education. On November 17th, we will feature a screening and post-film discussion of the acclaimed film Screenagers.

Community “Big Read”

This year, our faculty read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck. We invite parents to read the book and join us for discussion sessions in the fall!


Following a highly successful visit from the Accreditation Team of the Association of Independent MD and DC Schools (AIMS), we will turn in an Action Plan by March 1 based on the report of the Team. Upon approval of the Action Plan by the AIMS Accreditation Commission, we will be issued re-accreditation through Spring 2027.

New Facility Design

An additional two million dollar gift from the Gottesman Fund will allow us to completely renovate and enhance the learning spaces for grades 2-5, along with the new middle school. Extensive plans are underway to design a modern educational facility for the entire North Campus, complete with dedicated spaces for the Arts, Music, and Design Lab, and with Library and Media Centers and Science Labs for each division.

Middle School Program

Lisa Schopf and I have toured middle schools around the country, hired educational consultants, and engaged in extensive conversations with parents in order to develop a unique academic program of the highest quality, reflective of the best JPDS-NC values and educational philosophy.

Marketing and Branding

We have engaged a premiere independent-school marketing and branding firm, Creosote Affects, to guide us in launching our new school name for next year. We have taken this opportunity to work with them in distilling our value proposition and enhancing our marketing efforts.

Ru’ach, Mo’ach, Ko’ach

The institutional strength of JPDS-NC is paramount and ensures that we can continue to offer an excellent academic program and provide a Jewish education to as many students as possible. Three major school-wide initiatives are underway to build financial support and comprehensively address our operational, capital, and endowment needs.

I look forward to sharing the impact of these program enhancements and initiatives, and to partnering with our community in making the school the best that it can be! As we begin the month of Elul, I wish us all a year of great learning and growth, inside and outside of school.