By Malka Eisenberg
A standing room only crowd of over 1,300 educators and administrators filled the gym at Hewlett High School on Nov. 11, Veterans Day, for the first Joint Early Childhood and Yeshiva Day School Education Conference.
“It was an awesome sight,” said Rabbi Dr. Martin Schloss, director of the Division of Day School Education for the Board of Jewish Education. “When you stand at the podium and look out...You can sense the power of the work they do. To sit among a strong vibrant group of people is remarkable and inspirational.” Jewish teachers from across the religious spectrum poured into the gym and flowed through the hallways past vendors and educational displays.
“It was the first [conference] of its kind and very significant,” Rabbi Schloss said, noting that previous events were held separately for early childhood and elementary grades. “They joined forces because early childhood and early grades need to provide a seamless transition, not two independent systems, with the potential that skills lost in transitions are harmful to children’s learning.”
According to Rabbi Ellis Bloch, director of the Department of Yeshivot and Day Schools of the BJE, the concept of programming for teachers on Veterans Day began 37 years ago, since it was a day off with no bus transportation. He explained that the BJE was founded over 100 years ago “to create some system, a curriculum and standards for general Jewish education.”
He emphasized that there were no more than two or three day schools in New York City at the time. Other Jewish school systems, such as some Charedi institutions in Brooklyn, also provide teacher training on Veterans Day.
The goal of the conference, said Rabbi Schloss, “is to take a look at quality teaching, what good teachers ought to do to make their instruction successful and students reach their maximum, how to deal and relate with students, to be the kind of teacher that inspires and motivates students to achieve high levels of competence.”
The morning began with greetings from Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, who praised the merits of parochial school education and announced an effort to form a non-public school council of representatives of non-public school systems to communicate their concerns directly to the County Executive.
Suozzi, Dr. Les Omotani, the Superintendent of the Hewlett-Woodmere Public Schools and Tom Hogan, the Supervisor of the Office for non-public schools in the New York State Education Department all received public service awards from the BJE. Rabbi Hershel Billet of the Young Israel of Woodmere gave a dvar Torah.
The keynote address, “What Great Teachers Do Differently,” was presented by author and inspirational speaker Dr. Todd Whitaker, professor of Educational Leadership at Indiana State University.
“Teaching is the profession that makes all other professions possible,” he said.
He also noted that if you “treat students as if they are good, then they act good” and that “the best teacher in the school sits by students most likely to converse during an assembly.”
Elana Fertig, Early Childhood Director at Yeshiva of South Shore noted that it was the first time the meeting was held in a public school. “They care about all the children,” she said of the school district leaders. She also expressed her satisfaction regarding the many different courses that were open to teachers at the conference.
“Most people will be better teachers tomorrow as a result [of attending the conference],” predicted Nechama Halpern, a Judaic studies teacher at HALB.
“It’s so invigorating to see so many people coming together,” said Rabbi Elimelech Chanales, principal of Yeshiva Derech HaTorah. “The chizuk propels the teachers for weeks and months.”
“It’s a very momentous event for the entire Jewish community especially for the Long Island schools,” said Rabbi Shmuel Klammer, principal of HALB. He praised Jim Hennessey and Dr. Omatani for being “visionary leaders” of school district 14 and “true friends of all constituents.”
Rabbi Kalman Fogel, principal of HANC elementary school in Plainview, described the conference “excellent.”
“All of us feel like part of a movement, part of something larger than ourselves,” he added.
The conference was presented by the Division of Day School Education, The Department of Yeshivot and Day Schools, The Department of General Studies, the Early Childhood Education Department and the Yeshiva Elementary School Principals’ Council of the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York, a beneficiary of UJA/Federation of New York.