A year of hitting new heights in education

A year of hitting new heights in education

As her first year as headteacher at JFS draws to a close and a new term begins, Rachel Fink reflects on  the school’s future and her role within it

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

JFS Year 11 leavers’ party. 
JFS Year 11 leavers’ party. 

Starting a new role is a bit like learning to drive a car. Anyone with a vehicle licence will tell you that you only develop real expertise once you have passed your test.  Recently I was driving behind a car whose number plate was TII EAM.  I thought to myself, did nobody ever tell you there is no ‘I’ in TEAM? 

Walking in to any organisation ‘at the top’ is markedly different to taking over the helm in a place where you have already worked for many years. While the fundamentals are the same from school to school, each has its own personality, characteristics, and context.

The first few months of leading JFS was dedicated to getting to know staff, students and families in order to prioritise how to take this magnificent school forward.

In any organisation, the greatest assets are the people. JFS has incredibly dedicated staff, highly talented students and passionate parents who care deeply about their children’s educational experience.  The challenge was to encourage everyone to work together and, like every good company, knowing and understanding the vision and values is key to achieving that.

If you ask a current member of the JFS community what is the school motto and how does it reflect the goals we have for our students, I am confident they would be able to tell you. Orah Viykar represents the ideal that JFS students should be bringing ‘Light and Honour’ to themselves and the world around them through their actions and behaviour.  I am not convinced that, a year ago, this question could have been answered by everyone.

Rachel Fink

Coming together under a clear banner that highlights a Jewish idea we recall weekly at Havdalah and in the Purim Megillah has helped us redefine who we are as a school and create that all-important team mindset.

School rules tend to create a groan among young people and frustrate those who need to ensure their implementation. My approach has been to focus on the concept of ‘behaviour for learning’ and every rule reflects this.  School is about providing all types of education, and anything that detracts from that, including behaviour, needs addressing.

Learning how to respect the environment and being considerate of others around you are the founding principles of any productive society. In schools, these expectations aid learning and decision-making, and in the wider world they enable us to become responsible and engaged citizens. Schools must also ensure that every student and family feels supported when life becomes more challenging.

I am very proud of the systems and structures we now have in place to assist our students. With thanks to support from the WOHL foundation, we have established a range of services and educational programmes led by our multidisciplinary team that focuses on well-being and mental health. Being part of the Jewish Leadership Council pilot project on this important topic is also a huge bonus.

The secret to success is finding the balance between creating that disciplined structure while helping those who need it.  Most young people will
agree that they don’t mind boundaries if they know there is also help and understanding when the need arises.

This is what makes them feel safe and supported.

This first year has enabled me to experience each school event as the calendar cycle turns and using a well-known teaching phrase understand ‘what works well’ and ‘even better if’ to implement new initiatives or develop some wonderful long-standing traditions.

JFS is an exciting place to study and the children of our community are supremely privileged to have the wide range of opportunities we offer above and beyond the regular curriculum. All they need do is engage with the ones that spark their interest.

This year, aside from excellent public examination results, JFS students have topped the leader boards of all sorts of competitions in sport, music, Jewish knowledge, science, charity and art, to name but a few. The positive energy that is being generated is palpable both in the classrooms and corridors. It is fueling an exciting future, which I am certain will take the school to even greater heights.

As Rosh Hashanah approaches and I reflect on the past few months, I know that this is an exciting time to be part of the JFS family.

With continued supportive partnership between home and school, my hope for the coming year is that every JFS student finds their own personal success and that the school can provide them with the setting to work out how they can better themselves, how they connect to our community and how they can live a balanced and meaningful life.

It has been several months since I confidently removed my JFS L-plates, and while I may now be firmly in the driving seat, nothing would happen without the collective leadership and team effort across the school. The exceptional commitment of so many people ensures
that JFS continues to be the beating heart of
our community.

Perhaps the driver of that car I was following knew better than me, and the II in the registration T11 EAM registration is really the number 11 – to paraphrase a well-known quote: ‘This school goes to 11’.

Above: JFS Year 11 leavers’ party. 

Inset: Rachel Fink

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