Jewish Schools Awards 2018: Putting the class in classroom

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Jewish Schools Awards 2018: Putting the class in classroom

We preview the finalists ahead of this week’s annual Jewish News–PaJeS Jewish Schools Awards, being held at JW3

Last year's winners on stage with Jewish news editor Rchard Ferrer PaJeS executive director Rabbi David Meyer, educational philanthropist Benjamin Perl and JLC chairman Jonathan Goldstein
Last year's winners on stage with Jewish news editor Rchard Ferrer PaJeS executive director Rabbi David Meyer, educational philanthropist Benjamin Perl and JLC chairman Jonathan Goldstein

At Jewish schools, as with anywhere else, there are some people you just cannot live without. Some you can’t help but notice; others go about their work without making a fuss. We like to think that they know they’re valued, but that can be a dangerous assumption to make. Awards are a far safer bet.

So it is with great pleasure that Jewish News celebrates the stars of Jewish education for the third year running at a glittering awards ceremony next week, in a joint initiative with Partnerships for Jewish Schools (PaJeS).

For the first time, non-teaching staff are to be recognised in one of the four categories, which covers both primary and secondary education and showcases the top talent from 120 Jewish schools, with awards of up to £5,000.

In previous years, excellence has been rewarded in areas such as information and communications technology, school leadership, Modern Hebrew and special educational needs, with other categories honouring the best emerging teachers in their first three years of their teaching.

This year’s awards will pick the community’s top support staff as well as name those doing some of the best work around mental health in schools, an increasingly important issue. Those teaching secular and Jewish Studies to the highest standard will also be picked.

The three contenders for Excellence in Secular Studies at primary school level are Sara Halter from North West London Jewish Day School, Liz Papier from Akiva and the wonderfully-named Daniel Sunshine from Menorah.

Awards host, JLC chief executive Simon Johnson

Daniel is described as “enchanting” and is credited with creating a ‘Historical Oscars’, while mentor Liz, whom Ofsted inspectors picked out in their recent report, could patent Akiva’s ‘A Factor’ talent contest.

Sara, meanwhile, is said to have “transformed science” at North West London Jewish Day School. That’s when she’s not being Deputy Senco (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) and EAL (English as an Additional Language) Co-ordinator too.

At secondary level there’s Tracy Basgar at King David High School in Manchester, Adam Boxer at JCoSS and Lelanie Grobler from JFS. With a “fearless intellect”, Adam has made a “dramatic” impact on science at JCoSS in only a year, they say, while Tracy has received the approbabion of colleagues for facilitating a school-wide increase in KS4 Progress 8 reports, helping students to exceed their targets at A-level. Not to be outdone, Lelanie “has made Psychology one of the most popular sixthform subjects”.

The three contending for Excellence in Jewish Studies at primary school level are Rachel Coleman at Mathilda-Marks Kennedy School, Jo Jacobson from Wolfson Hillel and Rabbi David Wilk at North West London Jewish Day School.

Rachel is said to have “kindled a love of Jewish Studies for the pupils she teaches,” while Jo – whose Purim costumes are the stuff of legend – is described as “an inspiration, mentor and friend to every child at Wolfson Hillel”. A little more experienced, Head of Kodesh Rabbi David “teaches from the heart” and has done for 10 years at North West.

At secondary level we have the “remarkable” Katie Abrams from JCoSS, Hasmo’s “meticulous” Pamela Simonsson and Immanuel’s “outstanding” Danny Baigel. Danny’s impact is felt in things like the school’s ‘escape room’ style activity on erev Pesach, where students “escape from Mitzrayim.”

As Director of Learning, Pamela pushes her team hard to reach the same standards she does. Katie is praised for “her use of Jewish terminology across all her classes and her application of Jewish values”.

Keynote speaker Dame Helen Hyde at last year’s event


Many within the community will be pleased to see support staff being recognised, amid a growing understanding around the level of backroom support needed to help teachers teach. Among those up for awards at primary school level are Angela Bass, PA to the Headteacher and Admissions Co-ordinator at Wolfson Hillel; Dalia Fraser, PA to the Headteacher and School Administrator at Etz Chaim; and Moses Kirosingh, Premises Manager at Eden Primary School.

Known as the “heart of Hillel,” Angela is “a linchpin” and the school’s go-to person for any number of things, while Dalia should be cloned and distributed across the Jewish school network, such is her sense of humour, ability to multi-task and encyclopaedic memory. Moses, meanwhile, is a whirlwind of warmth, empathy and kindness towards the children. Described as “extraordinary”, he instils in them “a sense of pride and teamwork”.

At secondary level, fighting for the winner’s medal are Jo Bernard, Headteacher’s PA at Yavneh College; Claire Gelband, Trips Co-ordinator at JCoSS; and Kevin Lutchmeenaraidoo, Site Manager at Hasmo Girls. Colleagues of Jo’s tell judges that “her attention to detail is second to none”, while anyone who —- – like Claire -– manages to take up to 100 groups of students (some autistic) abroad every year whilst being “a byword for calmness” needs at least a pat on the back, if not some prize money. Kevin, meanwhile, is described as “the most dedicated site manager any school could wish for… nothing is too much trouble” –— a rolemodel for site managers everywhere.

Last but not least is the Mental Health category, a hot topic as the Jewish community seeks to rid itself of any stigmas and emulate best practice across the country. We now know, for instance, that it is important to start kids thinking about this from an early age, so with that in mind, the three nominees for excellence in this area at primary level are Anna Livoti from Wolfson Hillel, Alexis Gaffin at Immanuel Prep and Danielle Petar at Sinai.

Anna “never falters in the kindness and patience she shows these children”, say colleagues, and parents of children with different needs say she’s transformed their lives.

Alexis is credited with ensuring that “student wellbeing is part of the school’s curriculum and that the school takes part in national initiatives”. Danielle, an “exceptional inclusion leader”, is the brains behind a number of clubs for children with different needs, including a Lego and Minecraft club. Colleagues say she goes “over and above,” and corresponds with parents in her own time.

At secondary level, where mental health comes face-to-face with hormones, nominees include Hasmo’s Amit Kalley, Immanuel’s Beth Kerr and Geniece Watson from JFS. If feedback is key then Amit must be in with a good shout, because students, colleagues and the headteacher are all gushing about him. One student says: “Never have I witnessed a teacher go to such lengths.” Colleagues of Geniece, meanwhile, say: “She’s only been at the school two years but it feels like forever.”

Finally, if anyone has done more to boost the importance of mental health in Jewish schools than Beth, we’d be impressed. As well as introducing “mindfulness mornings” every Tuesday, she’s ushered in initiatives on anti-bullying, healthy eating, a social media evening for parents and sessions “to help students feel that it is OK to talk about mental health”. She also wrote a ‘good practice’ guide on eating disorders in Jewish News last year, helping other schools get to grips with it, as she’s done.

So, there you have it: 24 amazing people doing amazing things every day in Jewish education, helping tots to teens and everyone in between.

To all those incredible people either teaching or supporting at Jewish schools who didn’t get a mention this year, we salute you and urge you to nudge colleagues in time for next year!

To those up for awards next Wednesday evening, we salute you too and remind you to get your outfit ironed.

And to everyone in Jewish education across the UK, whether they are up for prizes or not, we say thank you on behalf of the next generation.


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