New Schechter academic affairs director stresses ‘hands-on learning’

New Schechter academic affairs director stresses ‘hands-on learning’

While Daniel Jaye does not formally assume his new position at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County until Aug. 1, he is already “dreaming” about what he can accomplish there.

The Washington Township resident – principal for the last four years of Bergen Academies in Hackensack and for 34 years math director of New York’s Stuyvesant High School and director of its Intel science research program – said he is eager to enter the “warm, nurturing environment” of the New Milford school.

“People there are respectful of each other,” he said. “I’m being welcomed with open arms.”

Daniel Jaye

With the title director of academic affairs, Jaye will bring to Schechter ideas about education that he has honed throughout his long teaching career.

“I love students, and I love working with teachers,” said Jaye, who in 2005 wrote the math standards in grades nine through 12 for New York State as well as three books on math and math education. “I’ve wanted to do it ever since Al Posamentier,” his college math professor, “asked me to teach a demonstration lesson at age 19.”

Ruth Gafni, Schechter’s head of school, said it was his connection with Posamentier that brought Jaye to the attention of the school.

When the day school was considering how to enhance its math offerings as part of its strategic planning initiative, the professor’s granddaughter – a student at Schechter – suggested to Gafni that she speak with her grandfather.

“I did, since he’s a distinguished professor of mathematics at City University of New York,” she said. “He said his protégé was running a school and I should go take a look.”

Following up, she visited the Bergen Academies and was impressed with what she saw. “It was a beautiful circle,” she said of finding Jaye in this way.

For his part, Jaye said he has long been impressed with Schechter. Not only have the Academies had students who graduated from Schechter, but this year’s valedictorian is a Schechter graduate.

Jaye maintained that all institutions “can use a reinvention, a reflection on its practices.” “They need to try to raise the bar a little,” he said, “understanding that every bar is different for every person.”

He said he was being brought into Schechter, “an already excellent school,” to make sure its offerings “are the best that they can be. The school already has an outstanding program,” he said, “but any organization that doesn’t have a reflective process to look at how it is doing will become stale.”

Contending that the key to education is “active engagement,” the new academic affairs director quoted what he called his favorite Chinese proverb, and the philosophy he follows: “Tell me, and I’ll forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand.”

He pointed out that his philosophy of hands-on learning has been developed on the job.

“I’ve seen the results and they’re spectacular,” he said, offering several examples. One of his students at the Academies “came up with a unique and novel idea to create a drug to deal with hemophilia,” he said. “It’s so creative the Food and Drug Administration paid us a visit and Memorial Sloan and Rutgers are helping her gain a patent.”

While at the school, he also created a stem cell research center, nanotechnology research center, and virtual trading floor.

“People often underestimate the capabilities of children,” he said, stressing that students will never learn something if you don’t teach it. He suggested an analogy with winning the lottery – something you cannot do if you don’t buy a ticket. “You’d be startled by the amazing successes [achieved by] making available to students” learning opportunities most people would consider a “stretch” for them, he said. “They will rise to the opportunity,” he added, saying it’s not surprising if children don’t achieve “because we haven’t built on-ramps.”

Jaye said he has 15 years experience in “teacher observations,” a skill he will employ at Schechter.

“Whether its Mandarin Chinese, finance [both recently added at the school], Bible studies, or social studies, I look for the technique of delivery of instruction,” he said, adding that he also looks for group work and “the active engagement of students, the community of learning.”

“A great teacher will take advantage of all different modalities in the classroom and that’s my job – to work with teachers to make sure they take advantage of all the available technology” they and the students can access. He likened the task to “being the conductor of a great orchestra.”

Jaye, who has won numerous awards both for teaching and leadership, said he is interested in creating an interactive humanities program.

“Students get much more out of it,” he said, pointing out that math and science teachers should know what the other is teaching, while English and history teachers should do the same.

“We teach too much in silos,” he said. For example, he noted, it makes good sense – if a history class is working on the Civil War – for a literature class to assign books written during that time.

“I’d like to get some curricular themes going,” he said. “In a family setting like Schechter, it’s very easy to make the curriculum come alive. There are very natural partnerships.”

Jaye said that he’s “not going in for an extreme makeover, but I’d like to believe that every single child will graduate with a deeper understanding of each of the subjects that they’re taking, with an appreciation for how one subject is interwoven with another.”

He added that the global approach to learning is also very important, since increasingly, what happens in one country affects what happens in another.

Additionally, he stressed the importance of “leadership. I want students to stand up and give strong presentations that are well-balanced, and to make conjectures and defend them. As you advance in life, the ability to stand up is what separates leaders and makes someone a mensch.”

For her part, Schechter’s Gafni said that Schechter is “very thrilled to be able to connect with such an amazing educator. He’s a wonderful addition to our team.” She is hopeful, she continued, that “he will move us from great to award-winning, to be able to compete with the best schools of the nation.”

Jaye is equally optimistic.

“Fortunately, I’ve gotten to work with wonderful people,” he said, “but I think the best lies in front of me.”

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