(Courtesy of WTA) On January 26, WTA celebrated its seventh year at the annual Shomrei Torah dinner, with “innovation” highlighted as the evening’s theme.
Over 200 people gathered for the event, which was held in Bet Am Shalom Synagogue’s beautiful main sanctuary. The soaring space evoked a futuristic yet elegant vibe, decked in silver and white, with
geodesic dome centerpieces lit by circuitry as if taken straight from a STEAM lab. Inspiring words of Torah from WTA Principal Deganit Ronen, and the sweet voices of fifth- and sixth-grade students raised in song, introduced a tribute to the evening’s honorees, each of whom was being recognized as an innovator for contributing to WTA’s continuing growth and expansion.
As Sasha Fox, WTA parent and dinner co-chair (with WTA parent Joy Wilson), told those assembled, “Innovation is not only being creative, having new ideas or trying new things. A big part of being an innovator is also having the courage, fortitude and clear vision to be a pioneer and lead the way for others by setting an example.”
So, what is the innovation at WTA? Blended learning, good teaching, small groups, data collection and analysis, teacher education, core values, powerful and simple vision; each element is chosen carefully to create a beautiful tapestry. Each thread has its own color, but woven together, it is the work of capable artists who can not only envision, but also turn the vision into a reality for each individual child.
While ideas and visions are important for innovation, the real test is in the implementation of those ideas. So, how to tell if one is on the right path? At WTA, in keeping with the approach of their innovative educational model, they begin by looking at the data.
Measures for Academic Progress (otherwise known as MAP testing) in math and reading is now the standard in American private elementary and middle schools. MAP is an assessment that measures each child’s progress over the course of the school year. Like all other private schools, WTA administers MAP testing two to three times a year. But few, if any, other schools get a call from the creators of MAP, as WTA did a few weeks ago, asking how the school is consistently meeting high growth and high achievement scores. They wanted to know: How have 80% of WTA students achieved or exceeded their personal year-end growth goals by mid-year? How are 85% exceeding their peers at other private schools in the tri-state area? How does WTA have such a high number of sixth and seventh graders in the top 10-20% of students taking MAP tests throughout the country, with over 65% in either the above-grade level or advanced categories? The people who invented the MAP test wanted to know WTA’s secret for success!
The answer lies in the rare combination of WTA’s vision, leadership, Torah values and innovative approach to education. WTA is proud to be one of only three Jewish day schools in the country to have introduced Summit Learning to its middle school.
Diane Tavenner, the co-creator of Summit, recipient of WTA’s “Innovation in Education” Award and the evening’s keynote speaker, lauded WTA for having the vision to become an early adopter of Summit, leading the way in creating a successful model for other Jewish day schools to follow in bringing empowering, self-directed, and personalized learning to children. As for having a finger on the pulse of trends in contemporary education, Diane’s recent book, “Prepared: What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life” was recommended by Bill Gates as one of the top books to read in 2019.
Also honored at the dinner were Dr. Brian Kalb, who received WTA’s Innovation in Creation Award for his visionary role in helping to secure funding for WTA’s new building, and Kim and Jeff Siegel, who received WTA’s Innovation in Generation Award, for modeling the true meaning of family with love and inclusivity, and for being innovative educators always seeking new ways to inspire children to learn and grow.