TI program nationally accredited

BY MIKE SHERWIN, STAFF WRITER

The dozen 5- and 6-year-olds in Susan Epstein’s religious school class at Temple Israel are joyfully at work, gluing together sugarcubes to create ancient Egyptian pyramids, as part of Passover lessons teaching about the Exodus story. With a mix of readings and interactive activities, the students seem to be quite happy to be learning, even at 9:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

Epstein’s students are just a few of the approximately 350 students at Temple Israel’s religious school who attend classes each Sunday at the temple’s Goldstein Education Center.

The smiling children in Epstein’s class might have been unaware that Temple Israel’s religious education program has received national recognition for its excellence in education. The National Association of Temple Educators awarded Temple Israel with NATE accreditation in December, after a one-and-a-half year voluntary accreditation process.

“I think we’ve worked really hard, particularly over the past few years, to make this school a place where our students want to come,” said Carol Cohen, who chaired Temple Israel’s accreditation committee, and who is currently the chairperson of the youth education committee. “The kids want to learn, and they want to be here. We’ve been able to strike that balance of fun and learning and social interaction.”

Debbie Morosohk, Temple Israel’s director of education, said the accreditation required a thorough self-examination by staff and members of Temple Israel, and also observation and critique by a team from NATE.

The process had three steps, Morosohk said — an administrative checklist which reviewed the religious education program’s administrative forms (for student records, health records, hiring teachers, and registration forms) and its bookkeeping process; an extensive portfolio and the final step was a site visit by a NATE accreditation officials, who observed classes and spoke with Temple Israel’s accreditation committee and the board of trustees, teachers, with testimonials from students’ families, teachers and professional staff.

Morosohk said the portfolio was the most time-intensive part of the process. The accreditation committee solicited feedback from the students’ parents, members of the congregation and community, and teachers and staff at the school to find out how well the religious education program was fulfilling congregants’ needs. The portfolio included the schools’ curriculum, lesson plans, documentation of teachers’ qualifications and training, photos of the facilities and of classes, and observation of classes by members of the committee.

“Almost everyone has asked us ‘why would you put yourself through this?'” Cohen said.

“But as with any type of accreditation, it’s a good form of self-evaluation and self assessment, and we stand to learn from it, identifying our own strengths, which is always beneficial,” Cohen said. “It’s also very good to look inside and be able to identify areas of weakness, whether we were aware they were weaknesses or not.”

Morosohk said the accreditation report issued by NATE will help the education committee and the school identify goals to work on in coming years.

“It’s a seven-year accreditation,” Morosohk said. “And one of the criteria for the next evaluation will be how much progress we have made on the suggestions from NATE.”

The NATE report suggested the religious school utilize more technology, incorporating more computers and work the Internet into classroom work, and it called for some changes to administrative guidelines for the education committee and more outreach projects, particularly to the interfaith community.

However, Cohen said the report was overwhelmingly positive, commending the school and its leadership.

“I think the thing that came through loudly and clearly was the commitment that the temple has made to our youth education program, and they were extremely flattering toward Debbie,” she said.

Morosohk said she was particularly proud of one of the report’s commendations, that the school fostered a ‘climate of respect’ between the children and the adults, and she said the school’s 35 or so teachers also deserve much of the credit.

“Our teaching staff really stands out. We have incredible tenure — our teachers stay. Some of our teachers have been here for over 30 years; we have several more who have been here more than 20 years,” she said.

“One of the quotes that stands out in the report for me,” Cohen said, “was from one of the teachers who said, ‘Graduates of the program see themselves as Jews who can make a difference in the world.’ What more could we want for our children?”

“To say there is a nationally recognized group that says, ‘you’re right on and you’re doing what you need to be doing, and we think this is a quality educational program,'” Cohen said. “That’s certainly something to be very proud of.”

Sign up for Your Morning Light