The “From the Desk Of” series is my regular email to the Valley Torah High School community found at vthsboys.org.
As Rosh HaShana is upon us I have reason to take pause and reflect on the past year, while looking to the year ahead with a renewed and fresh outlook. This is true for my personal life, and as General Studies principal at Valley Torah, it is true for my educational life. In reflection, I could not be happier with the last school year which was also happened to be my inaugural year. That is not to say it was without its bumps on the road, but the road was always moving forward in service of the best education for our students. Change and growth is not easy, but that is our mission as we enter Rosh HaShana and that is my mission as I lead an amazing staff of General Studies educators. We accomplished great things last year which I have wrote about often and as we enter this new year we are primed to accomplish even more.
As I mentioned last week, we have instituted some significant advancements to the school and our students and staff continue to adjust like rockstars. These advancements include a new school schedule to allow for more time to study as well as relax, a new cell phone policy to support our increased focus on the academic program, 1:1 Chromebooks so our students have the digital tools to enhance their learning when they need it and some new critical hires, new clubs and new class offerings to continue increasing the already high quality of our college (and life) preparatory program, which is only complimented by our inspiring and rigorous Torah studies program lead by Rabbi Dovid Felt who has been a tremendous partner in everything positive happening at VTHS.
My main responsibility is ensuring we have a strong academic General Studies program and a culture that promotes creativity and innovation. As the YU admissions officer who interviewed our seniors today told me, our students are very impressive and it is clear our academic program has grown significantly over the years. Well, yes our students are impressive and our program is top notch, but that does not mean we will sit on our laurels.
This year our students have access to three more advanced placements classes than they had last year of which I am fortunate to be teaching one (AP Psychology). Our amazing co-curricular program will continue to offer such clubs as aerial robotics and debate, but we are also excited to announce that we have officially joined the Constitutional Rights Foundations and will have a mock trial team this year facilitated by Mr. Zach Safi. We have also expanded our Journalism club to include a Journalism class for seniors and we hope to be launching our new online school newspaper soon. Of course, I can’t forget my favorite elective “Improvisational Arts” where we have added more improv courses this year that includes a stand-up comedy component for seniors. We look forward to seeing them perform as well as our ComedySportz High School league team. Although, none of these classes are relevant without amazing educators and that we have in spades!
This year we look ahead with a strong General Studies team made up of veteran teachers of the highest caliber and some fantastic new ones. We welcome back Mr. David Josef, Mr. Jordan Hoffman, Mr. Zach Safi, Mr. Fred Rodgers, Mr. Savio Fernandes, Mr. Ryan McCaffery, Mr. Mike Teller and Mr. Randy Rutschman. We also welcome Mr. Jeffrey Schaefer to the English Language Department. Mr. Schaefer holds a Masters in English from Clark University and comes to us from Bridgeport, CT where he taught English Language Arts at a software engineering magnet school. We also welcome Mr. Tom Clark, who was our ComedySportz High School League coach last year, as our improvisational arts teacher, and Mr. Corey Johnson, who holds a Masters in Fine Arts from USC and will be running our Journalism class. We are also pleased to welcome Mr. Cyrus Whittaker, our new SAT prep teacher. Mr. Whittaker recently received his law degree from UCLA and has years of experience preparing students for the SAT.
Our Athletic Department has also expanded with new leadership in Mr. Lior Schwartzberg, who holds a Masters in Athletic Administration from Concordia University. Coach Lior will serve as our full time on-campus Athletic Director and Varsity Coach. We also proudly welcome Ms. Sandra Bosdachin as our full time Learning Support Specialist. Ms. Bosdachin holds a Masters in Counseling from California State University and will be expanding our current inclusion and academic support programs ensuring we meet the needs of all of our students.
All of these growth points would be pointless without a school full of great students and, as already pointed out, that we have. That is why we are continuing to focus on student culture and leadership to support not only their academic growth, but also their character growth. We are accomplishing this in part through our continued relationship with FranklinCovey and our leadership focus with the 7 habits of highly effective teens. All the students are starting to read the book, we have formed a “Lighthouse Team” of staff who will help guide the program and we will soon accept applications from our student body who want to get involved with the student “lighthouse team”. Our goal this year is to familiarize our students with the seven habits and have them begin to incorporate these leadership skills into their day to day life at school and beyond.
Finally, we continue to work together to stay on top of best practices of teaching and learning, while piloting innovative ways to accomplish the same. We began the year as a staff viewing Most Likely To Succeed and all the General Studies teachers learned together and worked together to each create a project-based learning unit to implement this year. As a founding school of the I.D.E.A. Schools Network we hope to model this process for other schools looking to increase creativity, innovation and more meaningful learning in their schools.
As I look forward to this new school year, I am filled with a sense of renewal and drive to work with an amazing staff, administration, student body and families to continue the great work we have all done to create a beacon of high quality Jewish education in the Los Angeles area. We are building a legacy of leadership through our students. May this year be one filled for all our staff, students and families with health, happiness and meaningful teaching and learning. Shana Tovah from my family to yours!