Temple Israel Day School: Excellence in Scholarship Basks in The Warmth of Community


"Creative, Compassionate, Ambitious, Prepared" The school's tagline says it all!

My first introduction to the Temple Israel occurred when my son was a toddler and we joined the “Parent and Me.” For almost two years, we’d meet in the preschool for playtime, songs and of course, Challah bread. My son loved this program and he met one of his first friends there. So, it was nice to return to Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH ) for a recent tour of the Day School.


Temple Israel’s Day School is a small school with a huge heart. It is a 200-student developmental Preschool-6th grade program with a broad mission that encompasses academics, community and creativity. I have several friends who are parents in the Day School and they speak highly of it, both for their kids and their families. At TIOH, it is virtually impossible to separate the strong sense of community from the learning that takes place in this urban campus located in an easily accessible residential section of Hollywood. Having a meaningful life is essential to the mission of the school, located within a Reform Temple.


The main corridor


Glenda Dragin is the Day School’s admissions director. Walking through the school, talking with her about all aspects of its K-6 program, stopping in classrooms, chatting with teachers, students and specialists, I learned a lot about this gem of a school in just over an hour. As a former teacher, Glenda is very well versed in the big picture curriculum and programs, as well as details that are happening within the classrooms at a given moment. She seems to know each kid by name. Her ability to explain the school’s mission as well as both teacher and specialist led programs is something to note for parents who plan to tour the school. Glenda’s tour is thorough and doesn’t miss a thing. She is gregarious and friendly, with a great sense of humor and a sincere interest in showcasing the school’s impressive array of programs.


One of two kindergarten classrooms


TIOH has a unique clarity of purpose. It is a school that is synonymous with both academic achievement and a strong community of faith and service to others. The TIOH community includes interfaith families, gay and lesbian families, single moms and mixed race families. It is not a school for one type of family. It welcomes families of various backgrounds. Hebrew is taught and membership in the Temple is required.


Kids' art adorns the hallways


After touring the school with Glenda, we joined Rachel Lewin the head of school in her office. I was interested to meet her and learn about her perspective on education at TIOH. Rachel is smart and direct with a very sophisticated world view and the wisdom that comes only from experience. She’s an engaging educator who sees herself as an advocate for both students and parents. As a mom, she understands how difficult parenting can be and she wants to ensure that TIOH families receive education for their kids and support for their efforts as parents. Her calm demeanor made me want to ask her a million questions about parenting my own tween daughter!


Rachel accurately conveys the impression that kids at TIOH are in very capable hands. She is a head of school who values the big picture.  In her fourth year leading the Day School, Rachel has created a path to achieve carefully selected goals. Importantly, she is confident enough to keep her eye on new developments happening in the education field and bring those ideas and resources to TIOH, even if it means overhauling a program or adding a new one. It is noteworthy that her vision encompasses a focus on social awareness right in TIOH’s local community.


Rachel explained a new (and guaranteed to make an impact) program for the upper grades, where kids will learn about—and find solutions to–what it means to be hungry. The Hunger Banquet will be a dinner where the experience of lacking enough to eat will hit home for the kids, literally. Some students will get a tiny bit of rice to eat at the Hunger Banquet, the amount based on what people in the world eat as their daily intake. Other kids at the dinner will receive oversized American style portions. Then, there will be a call to action, which includes having students help make Christmas dinner for a local church to feed the homeless.


Outdoor sports and play


TIOH’s elementary school is housed in a compact, attractive building with an outdoor sports court/play area. It is much like the schools on the East Coast, urban and functional. Classrooms are large and bright, set up with a variety of seating arrangements and stations. Kids move around within the class, depending on what they’re working on. The curriculum, including the school’s state of the art technology program, is integrated so that classes relate to each other, rather than standing alone as individual subjects. Project- based learning is also an important component of the school, carefully planned and implemented by teachers in order that students are not merely handed a project, but instead work collaboratively to complete it using a range of important skills. Beginning in 4th grade, there is a 1:1 iPad program and every classroom has a Smart Board. Ipads help make learning more efficient, says teacher Julie Hersch.


Inquisitive educators and kids alike make this school a place that is humming with energy. Visiting the 6th graders and listening to them tell me what they love about the school showed me a vibrant, upbeat learning environment with a wide range of programs.


TIOH has a totally awesome art teacher! Walking into Larry Garf’s art classroom was reminicient of a few of my college professors at U.C. Berkeley. Maybe that’s because in addition to teaching at TIOH, Larry teaches at a local college. He is visionary and totally cool, living in a Geodesic Dome in Topanga Canyon (my hometown). I loved his passion, his big personality and his down-home friendliness. Larry is also the school’s Child Development Specialist.


Everyday objects are transformed into magnificent sculptures!


For Larry, art is about helping kids develop and refine motor skills, “essential to academic success,” he points out. Art is also about creativity and “releasing the imagination within” as he describes it. His belief that everyone can—and should—learn to draw realistically resonated with me. I believe that drawing gives us confidence in other aspects of our lives and builds bridges to other disciplines like architecture. Using everyday objects, Larry showed me some of the students’ work. My favorite pieces were those where kids used toothpicks and paper ketchup cups that were then sprayed with sliver paint, creating the most incredible sculptures.  Once a year, students show their work in the school’s annual art show. Every kid can participate. This is where Larry and the kids find their groove.


The 6th grade leadership class tackles a range of topics including preparing for secondary school interviews. Students go on to attend Oakwood, Buckley, Harvard-Westlake, Milken, Crossroads, Windward, Archer, Marlborough, Campbell Hall and other public and private schools.


Words to live by


There is a quiet timelessness at TIOH that transcends extraneous bells and whistles. It is a sense that learning about what came before, what is happening now and what will happen tomorrow, are vital for each child to know in order to that he or she becomes an integral part of our next generation of well-educated, humane and respectful human beings. In other words, a Mensch.

For more information, visit www.tiohdayschool.org

Stephen S. Wise Elementary School: A Very “Wise” Choice

A compelling corner of the campus

A sunny L.A. morning last week found me visiting Stephen S. Wise Elementary School for the first time. Headed by principal Tami Weiser, this Jewish Day School is tucked away on a picturesque campus nestled in the trees, accessible from a small private drive off Mulholland in Bel Air.


Tami welcomed me graciously into her office where Beth Behar, the admissions director, joined us. Our conversation flowed from general private school observations to the popular school Tami oversees. Within a few minutes, I quickly realized this is a school with a lot to offer!


Tami is an educator with many years of experience who is constantly seeking the best scholarly ideas in education to implement at the school. She is vibrant and likable. Her mood sparkles as she proudly talks about two of their signature programs: The Gifted Education Partnership with USC and The Studio Lab.


Peak viewing!


Tradition With A Twist

When I asked how she would describe the school’s educational philosophy, she responded, “This is a traditional school within a Reform congregation.” Speaking with the confidence we all want from the principal responsible for educating our kids, Tami was quick to point out there is a lot of experiential education taking place, making the school a hybrid of new and traditional ideas.  She was also effusive in her praise for the staff and board, who help make these ideas come to life.


One of three kindergarten classes


Walking around the sprawling campus with its low slung buildings that are punctuated by open spaces, Beth, one of the friendliest and most knowledgeable directors I’ve met, was happy to showcase the school. From the kindergarten classroom to the kindergarten play yard, kids dressed in their blue uniforms, were happily buzzing with activity.


The kindergarten playground


Stopping by a math class, we saw kids gathered on a rug as the young, energetic teacher discussed a math concept. They were focused and engaged. Science class students were finishing up a project.


Earthworks: The school garden


Gifted Education, Re-interpreted

One of the school’s signature programs is its unique partnership with USC Professor Dr. Sandra Kaplan, a gifted education expert. Putting their combined talents to work, the elementary school and the University have created implemented a program that ensures “every student is exposed to a gifted curriculum and high level learning experiences.”* This collaboration between the principal and the professor is an integral part of the school’s curriculum for every kid, not only those who are gifted.


Weiser shares, “It is our belief that children are gifted in different ways; be it intellectually, creatively, artistically or athletically. Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School recognizes and cultivates these gifts.” *


According to the school’s website, “Our program provides a variety of teaching and learning strategies by grouping children according to their achievement in reading, math and Hebrew; and in homogeneous groups in writing, social studies and specialist areas of technology, science, music and art. These learning experiences provide children with the opportunity to build critical, problem solving and research skills, be creative and innovative, and exhibit leadership and responsibility.


Project Studio: Innovation happens here


Project Studio

Entering Project Studio, teacher Jason Meth was busy setting up maps on the floor of a large open classroom before his students arrived. He explained that Project Studio is a space for kids to explore, solve problems and learn in a space without the constraints of tables, chairs and desks. This encourages connection and collaboration between students and between teacher and students. A smart board and other technologies are at the center of this inquiry-based program.


It is important to note that Jewish education is a major theme at Stephen S. Wise. Jewish ethical and spiritual values, along with Hebrew as a second language are taught.


How cool! Fun and safety in the pool

There are 350 students in the school, with two teachers per grade. Importantly, the school disburses $800,000 annually in financial aid (that’s a lot of money that is most welcome in these uncertain economic times).


Where Graduates Go

Most of the school’s graduates attend Milken Middle School and Milken Community High School of Stephen S. Wise Temple, but of those who did not, all 21 were accepted at secondary schools of their choice. Graduates attend Milken, Harvard-Westlake, Brentwood, Buckley, Windward, Campbell Hall, Oakwood and Archer.


My experience touring Stephen S. Wise Elementary School provided me with an up close look at a remarkable school.


For more information, visit, www.wiseelementary.org

* Source: Stephen S. Wise Elementary website