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Lisa Schopf, the Middle School Director at the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital (JPDS-NC) in Washington, D.C. took twenty minutes to sit down with Shira Loewenstein, the Director of YOU Lead to talk about her experience in the program and reflect on the year since.

Before YOU Lead…

I was a sixth-grade Social Studies teacher and a mentor.

During YOU Lead

I was named the Founding Middle School Director at the JPDS-NC, soon to be the Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital.

YOU Lead influenced me as an educator in that…

there is not a day that goes by that I do not bring forth something that I learned in YOU Lead. It has been the most formative professional development experience for me thus far in my career. I think back to the program’s Simon Sinek module, when we explored “knowing your why.” It had been a foundational concept for us. As a school, we always come back to the question of WHY as we keep our eye on the main objectives of what we do. It also helped me with the practical pieces, such as questions to ask during the hiring process, being able to understand the spreadsheet for budgeting, and structuring my day. I was also inspired by Steve Freedman’s [Head of School of Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills, MI] module on space and how physical space serves the school program. As part of our extensive research into best practices and use of space in schools across the country, we visited Hillel to tour and look at the way they built their school. In fact, YOU Lead helped me both as an educator and as an administrator who is in the process of working with a creative and talented team to create a new middle school program and an intentional space that serves our educational goals.

“There is not a day that goes by that I do not bring forth something that I learned in YOU Lead.

It has been the most formative professional development experience for me thus far in my career.”

I think the most important thing I took away from the program was…

that it is so important to be part of a group of professionals where we can have frank, open, and thoughtful conversations. Being able to talk to other administrators and connect with a group of peers has provided me with support and enabled me to process new ideas. I hear that people say that being an administrator can be a lonely job, but being part of the YOU Lead community has been one of the essential elements in a new role, and I am grateful for that.

I keep in touch with…

one of my cohort members on the phone. We wanted to be able to present difficult conversations and role play them with one another. We share our challenges and successes with each other and there are others who I connect with by email once in awhile. We also still have our cohort Whatsapp group which is a great forum to connect with everyone and we occasionally have book club video conferences for our cohort and YOU Lead staff to share ideas and inspiration. We are all so busy, but it is nice to know that there is a group of people who are there for you. 

YOU Lead is different than I initially thought it would be…

because there is something invaluable in participating in a long-term professional development program as part of a small cohort. I had seen it as an opportunity – something that could help me professionally – but I didn’t realize how much I needed it in my changing role. In general, I always like to have the opportunity to learn more, but this experience impacted me on a more personal and relevant level than I first anticipated it would. During the year I was in YOU Lead, when I would meet with our head, some topic would come up and I would invariably say, “That’s crazy because we were just talking about that in YOU Lead!” I had already articulated and clarified my thinking, and I was able to share it back. Suddenly all of these points of connection kept coming up.

“During the year I was in YOU Lead, when I would meet with our head, some topic would come up and I would invariably say, ‘That’s crazy because we were just talking about that in YOU Lead!’ I had already articulated and clarified my thinking, and I was able to share it back. Suddenly all of these points of connection kept coming up.

I can’t decide what I looked forward to more each week…

I liked being able to distill my thinking through writing. Giving a response in writing was helpful to concretize my thinking based on our readings. I also loved reading other peoples’ comments. But there was nothing like seeing each other and talking on the conference calls. And, while it was hard to go away and leave my family, it was great to connect in person a couple of times that year.

Words that come to mind when I think of YOU Lead are…

essential (on every level)…foundationalit is a community

Right now, I am working on…

everything involved with building a Middle School! We are working with architects on physically building the school, and I’ve been working with colleagues and consultants on creating an innovative curriculum and distinctive program elements. We are building relationships with other schools in the area to help further broaden our students’ network, putting together an expert team of teachers committed to students’ academic and personal success, and working with the students who will be in our inaugural grade to meet their needs and interests. We are creating multiple opportunities for our students to contribute to and guide their learning as they consider how they can have an impact as 21st century learners. For example, next year, our students will work with Judaic texts, learn from local experts, and delve into archives as they create a documentary to mark our school’s history as the only Jewish day school in Washington, D.C.  This documentary will help our school mark its thirtieth anniversary in 2019. It’s inspiring to have our students explore the ways our school came into being – from vision to reality – just as we are taking our vision of a middle school and making it a reality.

I’ve always dreamed of…

creating a school program that is guided by what could- and should- be, and not what always has been. As someone once said to me, “It’s not just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; it’s a once-in-an- institution’s lifetime opportunity.”

Click here to learn more about YOU Lead and to apply. Questions? Be sure to contact Shira Loewenstein.