The typical fanfare surrounding the first day of school at Hebrew Academy was heightened this year, as faculty, staff, students and parents welcomed their first-ever head of school in the institution’s 48-year history.
The arrival of Dr. Kalman Stein from Teaneck, New Jersey, marks the beginning of a new era at Hebrew Academy, where a Leadership Team comprising Executive Director Linda Lehrer, Elementary School Principal Shauna Joyce and High School Principal Laura Segall have done a formidable job of administering the school since the departure of its educational director in 2014.
A Jewish school administrator for the past 38 years, Dr. Stein served as principal of The Frisch School in Paramus, New Jersey for fifteen and as headmaster for the past two years . Under his leadership and guidance, Frisch has become one of North America’s most respected day schools. Dr. Stein holds a M.A. and a Ph.D. in Modern European History from Columbia University, and has also served as principal of Maimonides School in Massachusetts and of Hillel Yeshiva High School in New Jersey.
Following is an extended interview with Dr. Stein:
HA: Why did you choose to come to the Hebrew Academy?
Dr. Stein: Last fall, as I began my thirty-seventh year as the administrator of a Jewish school, my seventeenth year at The Frisch School of Paramus, New Jersey—fifteen as principal and two as headmaster—I fully expected that just about now I would be entering semi-retirement as I stepped down from my administrative position and began the last phase of my career in Jewish Education and a consultant for Frisch and another yeshiva high school. And then out of the blue I received an email from Alvin Suissa, the then president of Hebrew Academy: “We are currently in the process of searching for a Head of School for the 2016/2017 academic year. We are just beginning our search, and your name was mentioned several times as a great resource for this type of search.”
Over a period of months Alvin, the current president, Shlomo Drazin, and members of the Hebrew Academy’s Search Committee and Board coaxed me to consider undertaking one more opportunity and adventure in the world of Jewish Education. But it was my visit to Hebrew Academy last November which sealed the deal for me. To put it simply, in just one day I fell in love with the school. As I met with administrators, faculty, lay leaders, and, perhaps most important, students, it quickly became apparent to me not only that Hebrew Academy is the flagship educational institution of Modern Orthodoxy in Montreal but also that it would be a joy and a privilege to work with the school’s professional and lay leaders and faculty to help an already fine school achieve new heights while preserving and fostering its unique environment of warmth, family and community.
HA: What is your educational philosophy?
Dr. Stein: Truth be told I’m not sure I actually have an educational philosophy, at least not in the sense of a theoretical construct such as one would explore and evaluate in a graduate school of Education. Like many Jewish educators of my generation who to a great extent learned and developed on the job my approach to education is predominantly based on decades of experience and trial and error rather than on commitment to any one particular theory of education. I would say that rather than an educational philosophy I have developed a core of disparate principles and methods which together create the school environment I believe works best for all of a school’s stakeholders — parents, children, community, faculty, and professional and lay leadership.
So, in a more or less stream of consciousness form these are some of the axioms which I think come together to make a good school when they are properly balanced and prioritized:
I believe that on the most basic level all relationships between members of the school community must be based on mutual respect. Students are the best judges of whether they are learning effectively and are being encouraged to stretch themselves. Parents do know their children and should have a strong voice in their children’s education but the school, which has the much broader perspective of having dealt with thousands of students, often has equally or more pertinent insights into what is best for an individual child.
Schools, like any other businesses, which rest on their laurels, no matter how impressive, are doomed to failure. Schools, therefore, must be engaged in ongoing introspection, evaluation, change, and improvement. This is especially true in our era of rapid change in the methods all of us use to acquire, evaluate and use information. Schools which serve children from early childhood through the secondary years must be sure that at every step the educational program is designed with a clear sense of its vision of an ideal graduate.
Students deserve to be exposed to the most sophisticated ideas and level of intellectual discourse. No two students are identical, so a good school caters to the individual needs, in terms of both strengths and weaknesses, of each child. Pursuit of excellence is not the hashtag of someone’s Twitter account; it should be the goal toward which all of us who spend our days at the Hebrew Academy consistently work. The key metric in a good school is learning, not teaching. The goal is never a technically good lesson, it is the facilitation of learning and of a desire to broaden horizons—Just think of how our jobs would be if we never experienced enticing challenges or wholesome excitement.
Principled, consistent Modern Orthodoxy isn’t easy: It is a challenging, but so spiritually rewarding, way of life for adults; it’s even harder for adolescents. Modern Orthodox schools, therefore, need to consciously help young men and women see and appreciate this religious way of life as both authentic and meaningful not, as too many do, as a tepid compromise.
Happy children learn better and are more open to serious consideration of that which is being presented to them. This is especially true for adolescents in Jewish schools: Teenagers often decide how much they love or do not love Judaism based on how much they love or do not love their school. It, therefore, becomes the school’s task to walk that fine line between upholding the highest academic standards and encouraging hard work, on the one hand, and, on the other, not depriving children of their childhood and fostering respect and affection for the school and its mission. A little bit of fun and showing students that the school cares, really cares, about them as unique individuals goes a long way in this regard.
This set of ideas, and many others far too numerous to fit into one interview, come together in an intricate crystal through which all policies and methods, old and new, are filtered and evaluated and become the core principles of an effective and exciting school.
We wish Dr. Stein Mazel Tov and Hazlacha Rabba in his new post, and look forward to a wonderful year together!