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Denver Jewish Day School CEO helps parents make intelligent school choices

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Avi Halzel is the head of school and chief executive officer at Denver Jewish Day School, the largest Jewish school in Colorado. A recognized authority on Jewish education, Mr. Halzel understands what parents go through in choosing to send their children to a Jewish school ahead of a highly-regarded secular school.

Addressing prospective Jewish school parents, Mr. Halzel suggests that - before making a final decision regarding their child’s educational future - they consider five metrics, including what current parents have to say and the value system held by the community.

Mr. Halzel’s full report on “What to Watch For in Choosing Your Child’s School,” submitted to Examiner.com’s Maxwell Rotbart for publication, is included below. Those parents who wish to learn more about Denver Jewish Day School may contact admissions director Shayna Friedman at 720-449-9550.

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Post-winter break in the education world means schools are deep into the admission season. As a Head of School and parent of four, I can say with confidence that scheduling a school visit is a must. Seeing the school(s) you’re considering in action will help you determine what makes the right fit for your family.

At Denver Jewish Day School, our director of admission – with the help of parent and student ambassadors – offers tours almost every day. This is a fantastic opportunity for parents who are researching schools to get a taste of what we offer and gain answers to their thoughtful questions.

Here are five suggestions for making the most of your school visit experience:

  • Look around… you can learn a lot with your eyes. Of course, school pride is communicated in the way the building looks, and a beautiful building is certainly a bonus. But pay attention to more than just the grounds. Notice how the building is used. What is on the walls? A school that makes its students’ work visible takes pride in its students and their learning process. You can also learn a lot about a school’s curriculum and values by stopping along the way to examine the work you see in the hallways and inside of classrooms. For example, a ceramics display will tell you that the school likely offers a mixed media art program. And writing samples can help you understand the literacy program. By looking closely at several samples in the same grade, you can get a sense of how the school nurtures student creativity and fosters academic comprehension.
  • Pay attention to the students. Are they actively participating? Do you see students collaborating at any time during your visit? Can you hear their voices? Best practice in teaching indicates that students learn best when they are engaged in a process of inquiry and discovery. Look for classrooms in which teachers facilitate classroom discussion by seeking the input of the entire group, allowing students to work together to solve problems, and asking students meaningful questions about the subject matter.
  • Consider the school’s values. Are they consistent with your own? If you want your child to learn to be a good human being in addition to being academically prepared for the future, you need to make sure the school they attend considers that to be important as well. Find out what programs exist in the school to promote the value(s) that matter to you. For example, I’m sometimes asked how our school deals with its perceived lack of diversity. I explain that our population is actually quite diverse, and also touch on the fact that one of our core values is Respect, and as such, we spend time every day helping students hone that skill through a number of curricular and extracurricular choices.
  • Find out what other parents have to say. Parents can be some of a schools’ best advocates, and most schools are more than happy to put you in touch with current parents who can give you the inside scoop. Ask parents what they love about the school, and don’t be afraid to question whether they’ve had challenges. While most people will acknowledge that their child’s school is not perfect, it can be enlightening to understand why, despite a few challenges, people feel their children thrive at their school of choice.
  • Ask for data. Schools want to put their best foot forward. Ask for empirical data that indicates success, such as: college acceptance and matriculation, merit money earned for college, and standardized test scores (just make sure you understand what percentile rankings really mean). Sometimes empirical data can serve to reiterate the school’s value message. I love telling families, for example, that last year, our students in grades K-5 raised nearly $8,000 for local charitable organizations, because that really shows that we are living another of our core values: Righteousness.

There is a lot to consider when choosing a school, and our community is fortunate to have so many wonderful and diverse choices to meet the wide array of student needs. I wish you the best in finding the right fit for your family and hope you find my suggestions helpful.

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