Principals Perspective (September 2022) - Dr. Lisa Vardi
Dr. Lisa Vardi

How We “Keep” in the High School

We welcomed 333 excited, energetic, and joyful high school students to the Annette M. & Theodore N. Lerner Family Upper School Campus on our first day of school: 85- 9th graders, 80- 10th graders, 92- 11th graders, and 76- 12th graders.

Entering into my second year as High School Principal, this year I am thrilled to also serve as 9th Grade Advisor, 12th Grade ADV English Composition Teacher, 9th Grade Experiential Education Chaperone (follow me on Instagram, @cesjds_hs_principal, to view photos from our September 1 trip to Sandy Spring Adventure Park), Shabbaton Leader, and Club Sponsor. These roles allow me to build meaningful connections with students, to model curiosity, a growth mindset, perseverance, and to empathize with our faculty’s experience.

All of these characteristics are highlighted in Michele Borba’s book, Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine, which encourages schools to develop these traits in their students. Frankly, all these experiences make me a better leader and principal! I love learning from and with our students!

When deciding what I wanted to share with students at our assembly on the opening day of school, I pulled from a text by Ted and Nancy Sizer, two educators who have influenced me tremendously since the start of my career. They explore what American high schools might look like, most closely in their book, The Students are Watching: Schools and the Moral Contract. The Sizers share, “To find the core of a school, don’t look at its rulebook or even its mission statement. Look at the way the people in it spend their time—how they relate to each other, how they tangle with ideas…Judge the school not on what it says but on how it keeps.”

How do we “keep” at CESJDS? Human interaction is what bonds us in the CESJDS High School. The Sizers call it “a tangle of ideas,” an ongoing dialogue between the students and adults in a school that leads to a strong foundation of trust. Teachers and staff model for students how to dialogue and how to act. We know that students learn from watching us.

Yes, we have a HS Family Handbook which contains rules, expectations, and policies to guide our students and families. We have a mission statement, to provide an exemplary and inspiring Jewish and general education, which guides the school’s decision making. These are important; however, not as important as the interactions between students and faculty in our school building. The adults in our community model Torah Lishmah/Love of Learning and encourage a “tangle of ideas” so that our students can develop as critical, independent thinkers who commit to Tikkun Olam/Repairing the World. 

How do we want our students to “tangle with ideas,” interact with one another, act in the hallways, or treat the beautiful space that we inhabit and our facilities staff maintain so well? Guided by Derekh Eretz/Ethical Decency and Achrayut/Personal Responsibility, we want students to dialogue and act with Kavod/Respect, with integrity, with humility, with curiosity, and with empathy. We want students to spend their time taking advantage of all opportunities afforded them at CESJDS. 

“Schools,” the Sizers write, “exist to change young people. The young people should be different—better—for their experience there.”

We, the CESJDS faculty and staff, guide students, model for them, support them, encourage them to be different, be better. We give students the tools to lead meaningful lives and engage the world through Jewish values. 

However, as I explained to our students, they must partner with us. They must take responsibility for their actions, hold themselves and their peers accountable and be with us on their journey to build a high school K’hillah/Community where all students and adults thrive!