Be Informed: Summer Newsletter | July 21, 2021

Faculty and Staff Professional Development Update
  • Faculty and Staff

After an unusual and demanding year in the classroom, Bernard Zell teachers have more than earned their summer breaks. Even so, many of our incredible faculty are continuing to hone their skills or learn new methodologies through a variety of professional development opportunities. Below are just a few of the many conferences, seminars and trainings that our educators are engaging in this summer.

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Yad B'Yad Committee: Backpacks for Children
  • School Announcement

Join Yad B'Yad for our first event of the year as we gather backpacks for children in our community. While shopping for your back-to-school items, we encourage you to consider picking up an extra backpack (or two) for a child in need. All backpacks will go to the Common Pantry whose mission is to meet the emergency needs of our local community by providing healthy food, kinship, and support to help overcome poverty-related challenges.

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BZ Beyond 2021-22 Update
  • BZ Beyond

Open registration for BZ Beyond will begin on Monday, August 9. BZ Beyond will provide after school child care from the end of the school day until 5:30 p.m. (4:00 p.m. on Fridays). Look for more details in the coming weeks including pricing and COVID protocols and policies.


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Be Informed: Summer Newsletter

July 7, 2021
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Key Calendar Dates for 2021-2022
We are very pleased to offer a tentative calendar for the entirety of the 2021-22 school year. *Please note the calendar is subject to revision and changes. The calendar is always accessible by visiting or by clicking the button below.
Dismissal on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday every week will occur at 3:30 p.m. 
Dismissal on Wednesday and Friday every week will occur at 2:45 p.m. We look forward to the return of BZ Beyond in the 2021-22 school year. Additional details will be forthcoming. Be sure to also note our most recent COVID-19 protocol update including travel restrictions for July 7, 2021.
2021-2022 Calendar
Summer Reading at Bernard Zell
One of the best things you can do for your child this summer is encourage them to read. Just as we want our children to take full advantage of being outside to use their bodies, we also want them to exercise their “reading muscles” to reinforce their progress from this school year.  
Summer reading is fun and easy and online. To learn everything you need to know about the Bernard Zell Summer Reading program for students entering first through eighth grades, visit to quickly access reading logs and book recommendations. 
Every student who completes their summer reading will also receive a fun reward when school resumes in the fall. Perhaps best of all, any book that you read to your child can count toward their summer reading! Contact Library Director, Andie Townhouse with any questions regarding summer reading.
Summer Reading at Bernard Zell
COVID-19 Protocol Update
As students return to school this fall, we anticipate that COVID health and safety protocols will remain similar to those that were in place in the spring of 2021, as the majority of our student population remains unvaccinated. Even though the city and state are in Phase 5 of reopening, additional mitigations are required for schools that may not apply in other settings. While Bernard Zell leadership continues to await updates from state and local agencies that may impact our operations (Illinois Department of Public Health, Chicago Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Board of Education), the following is an overview of our plans, based on the guidance that is currently available:
  • Masks will be required for everyone at all times, including individuals who are fully vaccinated, while on-campus. There may be select instances where masks may be temporarily removed with permission from a teacher or administrator (while eating, playing a musical instrument or when outside and physical distancing can be maintained).
  • International travel restrictions and quarantine seven (7) days before the start of school for all unvaccinated individuals, regardless of age, (August 23-29, 2021) will be in place, consistent with current guidance from the Chicago Department of Public Health. Domestic travel will be subject to current CDPH travel restrictions.
  • Surveillance testing will continue to be conducted on a weekly basis, beginning the week before school (week of August 23, 2021) additional details will be provided in future issues of the Be Informed summer newsletter.
  • The School Pass symptom tracker and health certification will continue to be required on a daily basis for all students, faculty and staff.
Most events, including Back to School Night and Classroom Preview, will continue to be held virtually. We hope to return to in-person events once it is safe to do so.
Place Your Order for School Supplies by July 11
In partnership with the PTC, we are happy to offer you an easy way to get your school supplies for students entering 1st through 8th grades. Supply lists for Early Childhood families can be found here. This streamlined service is being provided to you as a convenience, so while it is not required, it is highly recommended. We think you’ll find it to be easy, quick and reasonably priced.
Each kit, organized by grade level containing all of a student's required supplies, has been vetted and approved by Bernard Zell, and is being provided by EPI (Educational Products, Inc.) at competitive pricing. Your kits will be delivered directly to Bernard Zell and will be waiting for your child(ren) on the first day of school.
Supplies such as calculators, headphones and zipper binder systems are also available for purchase upon checkout if your child needs them for the first time (5th grade) or if they need to replace their items from years past. 
Please be aware that Educational Products, Inc. does not carry locker organizers that fit BZ lockers. If your child is entering Middle School next year or needs a new organizer, those can be purchased from Amazon.
Click here to place your order. The School ID is ZEL010 (3 letters/3 numbers). Please also note that the deadline to order is midnight, Sunday, July 11.
A portion of each order is donated back by EPI and will be added to the Grade Fund, to be used for each class's 8th grade end- of- year celebration. If you have any questions about grade supply lists, please contact Abby Aloni for Early Childhood, Karen Leavitt for Lower School and Stephanie Bloom for Middle School.
Faculty Departures and New Fall Employees
Each year in the space between the conclusion of one school year and the start of the next, we’re afforded the opportunity to pause and offer gratitude to Bernard Zell faculty and staff members who have given so much of themselves to our students and the community at large. For some, this annual interlude is a moment to transition into new professional opportunities or to make a move to a new city. But no matter the reason, each individual below has been a crucial piece of our community and we collectively wish them well in their future pursuits. 
Even as we say our fondest farewells, we’re excited to welcome new educators and administrators to Bernard Zell, each of whom has a demonstrated history of excellence in their respective fields. We can’t wait for you and your children to meet them when our 75th anniversary year begins this fall. 

Early Childhood

Within the Early Childhood team, we offer thanks to Riva Cohen, Marissa Fujinaka and Jennifer Levine, all of whom will be moving on to new endeavors. Among this group, Ms. Cohen will be heading to Hyde Park where she’ll serve as the Assistant Principal of Lower School at the University of Chicago’s Laboratory Schools while Ms. Fujinaka will be heading further west to teach SK at Oakland California’s Head-Royce School.
Joining the Nursery team this fall is Maggie Martin who comes from Northfield’s Banner School. Ms. Martin also founded the Little Acorns Grow summer camp and school-year enrichment program for children ages 3-9. Additionally, Elisabeth Kaiser will be joining the Bernard Zell JK team from her most recent role as a kindergarten teacher at the Heller JCC. Ms. Kaiser is currently working at the J’s Apachi Camp as an art specialist. Finally, Carly Silverstein comes to us after two years at the Heschel School in New York where she was an assistant teacher in second grade. She will be teaching in Ms. McKenna’s classroom while she’s away on maternity leave before moving to first grade to support their team as an associate teacher for the remainder of the year.

Lower School

While many knew Johnny Krug as Bernard Zell’s Auxiliary Program Manager overseeing BZ Before and BZ Beyond programming, he also stepped in and served as Ms. Brauer’s long-term substitute during her maternity leave this past year. We wish Mr. Krug well as he moves on to a teaching position at Quantum LEEP Academy while also finishing his master’s degree at DePaul University in Clinical Mental Health.

Middle School

Departing Bernard Zell’s Middle School are educators Amy Heller who will be pursuing curriculum work, Bridget Porterfield who will be exploring new opportunities outside of education and Doug Davis who, after nineteen years, will be taking some time off to rest and recharge before his next professional chapter. During his incredible tenure at BZ, Mr. Davis has taught nearly 700 students including his own two children.
Joining the Middle School this fall is Jamie Wendt. Ms. Wendt previously taught high school English in Elmwood Park and is also a published writer and poet. She will teach sixth-grade humanities. Finally, after a one-year leave, Dani Steele will be making her return to the Middle School team. Not only is Ms. Steele a BZ alumna, she’s also been a beloved eighth-grade Humanities teacher for over a decade. 

Student Services

On our Student Services team, we’re sad to be saying goodbye to Bridget McKenna who has moved to the suburbs, Emily Twomey who has moved to Massachusetts with her family and will begin a new role as a literary specialist there, and finally Melissa Mack, who after eight years at Bernard Zell will be taking some time off to be with her family. 
Joining Student Services as Lower School Learning Specialists are Sarah Patterson and Caitlin Mundt, both of whom most recently taught at Saint Clement School in Lincoln Park. Ms. Patterson spent the last six years teaching fourth grade and prior to that spent two years earning her Master of Education from DePaul University. Over the last five years, Ms. Mundt has taught kindergarten, second grade and served as a K-4 learning specialist. In the role of Middle School Math Specialist, we’re pleased to be welcoming Jennifer Mengedoth who, for 11 years taught Mathematics, Language Arts, Writing, and Literature at the Princeton Friends School in Princeton, New Jersey and for the last two years has taught Math at CPS’s Coonley Elementary School. 

Jewish Studies

Among our treasured Jewish Studies faculty, we’re sad to be saying goodbye to Jonathan Horowitz who, after four years at the school, will be moving to New York with his wife and former BZ Business and Development Associate, Sarah Horowitz. Jonathan will begin this fall at Solomon Schechter of Long Island, where he’ll be teaching fourth-grade Jewish Studies. Sarah has already begun her work remotely as a Project Manager with the Jewish Funders Network. Making even further moves away from Chicago are Bracha Dror and Shuli Abergel who have served at Bernard Zell for 11 and 10 years, respectively. Both will be returning to their roots in Israel. Finally, Hagit Lewis, will remain in her role leading JEFF—Jewish Experiences for Families—but will be taking a leave from her other responsibilities. We look forward to seeing her back at Bernard Zell in future years. 
Stepping in to teach Jewish Studies in Early Childhood will be Rena Grosser, who has been a member of the Bernard Zell community since 2015. Ms. Grosser is not only a beloved faculty member but also has a background in art therapy and art appreciation. Also joining the Jewish Studies team will be Charone Ousley who will serve as a sixth-grade Hebrew, Jewish Studies and history teacher. Most recently Ms. Ousley was a lead teacher and EC Coordinator at JCC Chicago at Beth Emet in Evanston and previously spent six years as a Lead Teacher at Skokie’s Solomon Schechter Day School.

Administration and Elsewhere at Bernard Zell

After helping to guide Bernard Zell through the construction of a new facility and the countless public health hurdles presented by the pandemic, Chief Operating and Financial Officer, Audris Wong, officially had her final day on the job last week. Ms. Wong will be taking some much-deserved time off before deciding on her next challenge. Library Director, educator and literary advisor to countless students, Rena Citrin, is now enjoying retirement after an incredible 23 years at Bernard Zell. Ms. Citrin’s mentorship to students and faculty alike will be greatly missed. Finally, as previously announced in Ma Nishma, school nurses Kristin O’Connor and Sadia Shah have moved on to new opportunities as well. 
Taking the reins from Audris Wong will be Barbara Vijuk. Ms. Vijuk has been the Director of Administration at LEAP Innovations for the past six years. LEAP is a non-profit focused on transforming learning to provide holistic, tailored experiences for every student. Previously, she spent 14 years as the Assistant Executive Director at the Jewish Council for Youth Services. Bernard Zell’s current Library Associate, Andie Townhouse, will take up the baton from Ms. Citrin as Bernard Zell’s new Library Director. Also joining the administration later this month will be Lindy Dembowitz who will step into the role of Director of Development, previously held by Rachael Fenton, who departed for a new opportunity at Keshet back in March. Ms. Dembowitz comes to Bernard Zell from the Jewish United Fund where she served as the Director of the JUF Professionals Network. Finally, we’re pleased to be welcoming Samantha Farby as Bernard Zell’s new full-time school nurse. Ms. Farby is an RN who most recently worked at Advocate Aurora Health.
As we move through the summer a few additional faculty and staff members will be joining our community. We look forward to making a full set of introductions when school resumes in the fall!  
Parent Survey Results
After a school year with new challenges and concerns over health and safety, Bernard Zell leadership was interested to hear authentic feedback through our annual community survey—a tool that helps to ensure continued excellence. Due to the extraordinary circumstances of the ongoing pandemic, Bernard Zell broke from the usual questionnaire cadence, and surveyed families twice in 2020-2021—both at the beginning of the school year (October 2020) and again at the end (May 2021). 
With an unyielding commitment to continuous growth, school leadership continues to read all quantitative and narrative feedback in order to formulate action plans that will lead to the best outcomes for students. Below are some high-level findings with a particular focus on the spring results. 
  • While the overwhelmingly positive perceptions of Bernard Zell that were measured in October of 2020 receded marginally—as expected—we continue to see an overall upward trend in increased satisfaction scores beginning with those measured in the 2018-19 school year. On a ten-point scale, those answering eight and above were greater than 80% for questions on the quality of education, responsiveness and preparing students for their next level of education.
  • Parents expressed an overwhelmingly positive response to the school’s handling of the pandemic and the ability of teachers and leadership to safeguard student health, maintain educational quality and support social and emotional wellbeing.
  • In a year when issues of diversity, equity and inclusion were front and center in world news, many parents were happy to see this content discussed in a safe classroom environment but at times had concerns about the frequency of these topics relative to others, as well as the need for a Jewish intersectional dialogue to be infused into the subject matter.
These findings, along with division-specific results, will be further explored throughout the summer in order to deliver the best education for all Bernard Zell students in the 2021-2022 school year and beyond. We’re grateful for your candid feedback and support.