- Head of School/CEO
By Avi Halzel, Head of School/CEO
In the middle of the summer, I traveled to Copper Mountain with my family for a bike race fundraiser called the Courage Classic. Sadly, COVID-19 got in the way, and the Courage Classic was canceled, much like I’m sure COVID-19 inevitably impacted many of your plans this year. This bike race has become one of my favorite highlights of each year, so my family and I decided to stick with our booked reservation, and spend the weekend in Copper. Biking is one of my favorite hobbies, and riding for a special cause through Vail Pass is an annual reminder of how grateful I am to live in Colorado. The ride up is extremely challenging, largely because it is entirely uphill from Copper Mountain to Vail Pass with grueling and steep stretches. Once you reach the highest elevation of the route, the rest of the ride is much easier allowing one to glide downhill, and soak in the breathtaking views. As I reached the peak of my ride, I realized that this ride was in essence the 2020-21 school year. This school year will undoubtedly have its challenges and limitations - moments when we will all have to continue to push ourselves and press on - but eventually, things will slowly start to get easier, and return to what we all remember as ‘normal’. I was a believer that Denver Jewish Day School would have a strong chance to open school in-person as long as the local government allowed schools in Colorado to do so, but as I reached the top of Vail Pass, I realized at that moment that Denver JDS would persevere and thrive this school year in any scenario.
Later that night at dinner, one of my kids asked me “Are you scared for this school year?” with a pretty concerned look on her face. I quickly responded, “I’m not scared of what’s going to happen. I view this school year as a challenge, and I’m ready for it.” My whole family stared at me, awestruck by my response, and then the stares quickly turned to reassuring smiles. Nobody in their right mind would ask for a pandemic regardless of the field they work in. There is no debating that COVID-19 has completely uprooted and shifted the way we all live our lives every day. Additionally, over five months into this pandemic, we have witnessed that education has easily become one of the most challenging fields to work in. Teachers all over the world are stepping outside of their comfort zones to teach remotely and in-person, and administrators are left with some of the most challenging decisions of their careers. I have been in that boat, and I am definitely still in that boat.
Midway through the summer, Denver JDS was waiting for guidelines from Governor Polis and the CDE before we as a school could move forward with our plans for the 20-21 school year. Just like most other independent schools, there were days and even weeks where things looked grim and we would grow anxious for answers. There were weeks where I would have ongoing discussions with other Head of Schools in Colorado, and we all felt somewhat lost and limited as to what we could do. If there’s anything that the year 2020 has taught us, it’s that this year is filled with challenges for everyone and that anything can change in the blink of an eye. Throughout life, we all encounter challenges and run into curveballs. Throughout life (and especially during 2020, it seems) we will encounter challenges and run into curveballs. And though I am certain that this school year will be fraught with the unexpected, the key will be how we respond.. I recognize that this school year will inevitably contain challenges and curveballs as we continue to adjust to this reality, but the key is how we all respond. Most parents spent every hour of every day with their kids for five-plus months. To suddenly change that and drop their kids off at Denver JDS for a full school day with hundreds of other kids is a significant change. Our teachers and their families have also had to shift the boundaries of their lives, widening the 'bubbles' they had so carefully crafted over the last five-plus months. Denver JDS was supposed to start the school year with individual desk shields for all students and Swivl cameras for remote learning option students. However, each company is backlogged with its shipments with hundreds of other schools seeking the same products and they won’t be arriving until mid-September. It happens. We adjusted, moved forward, and started our school year successfully without them. This all sounds so stressful, and it is extremely stressful for all of us. So why do it? Why should we go to all of this trouble? For the kids.
On the first day of school, I walked around the campus and my heart was filled to the brim with nachas. I didn’t realize how happy kids of all ages would be to see each other and their teachers. I saw smiles (even through masks) from ear to ear, heard laughter everywhere I went, and I could genuinely feel their excitement to be reunited at school. It was evident to me how much our students wanted to see each other again. Every day since, I see high school juniors and seniors gently reminding younger students to wear their masks property. I see Kindergarteners observing social distancing guidelines during their lunch for their first weeks of school. I see students of all ages finding new activities during their free time that comply with distancing and school guidelines. I see Officer Todd directing traffic in the middle of Wabash Street in 95-degree heat in the heart of pickup. I see everyone keeping their masks on - all ages - and I am truly blown away. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the entire Denver JDS community is truly in this together. The administration, the staff, the teachers, and our parents are all committed to making this school year work for our students and our community. The students are all adjusting successfully and making things work because they are thrilled to see each other again and they want to be here.
All of these things that I am witnessing every day on campus inspire me to do the absolute best that I can. Everything about the year 2020 has been different - this year is unlike any other school year I have ever experienced - but I know that the Denver JDS leadership team, our committed board of trustees, our faculty, staff, and I, are all ready for this challenge. In the coming months, I know that we will have to keep grinding and climbing, but I know we will reach our peak and things should get easier eventually. I am going to make sure that whatever ends up happening, Denver JDS will give its students the best possible education in the safest possible environment. It is our job to help shape and mold our next generation, especially in these most trying of times. Leslie Sidell, our immediate Past Board Chair, always says, “It takes a village.” Denver JDS is that village.
Head of School/CEO