Business Leaders Running Jewish Day Schools – A Good Thing?

By Mark Springer

In 2016, I retired from my position as principal of the Mason-Rice Elementary School in Newton, Massachusetts, a high performing public school district outside Boston. My retirement concluded my 38 year career as a teacher and administrator in the public schools of Massachusetts. Within a few months of my retirement, I was approached by members of the Board of Trustees from the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston about becoming the new Associate Head of School for Program and Instruction. They explained to me that they had just hired Rebecca Lurie as the new Head of School (HOS) right out of the business world with no experience in the world of education. I’m sure I smiled; I imagine I raised my eyebrows; I know I thought they were out of their minds. After meeting Rebecca, however, I was inspired and I agreed to join her team as the Associate Head of School for Program and Instruction following my retirement from Mason-Rice that summer.

Those of us in the public schools have always blanched at the thought of business leaders and politicians telling us how to educate our children. While everyone considers themselves an expert in education because they all went to school, those of us in the field know full well the many challenges presented to educators in today’s world. We know there are no easy answers. Our challenges are immense, the solutions nuanced and complex. How would a person steeped in the business world attempt to solve the problems facing one Jewish day school in suburban Boston?

Private schools are quite different from public schools, and Jewish day schools face their own set of unique challenges given changing demographics in the Jewish community across the country. Schechter was facing the very common problem of declining enrollment and unsustainable budget shortfalls.

To address the startling challenges in front of them, Schechter’s Board of Trustees took the bold step of reaching into the business world to find a leader who would rapidly change our present course. This individual was uniquely qualified in a number of other ways than many traditional candidates. She was a Schechter graduate with a double degree from Barnard College and the Jewish Theological Seminary, majoring in Talmud, with her three children enrolled in the school. As a member of the Board of Trustees, Rebecca was intensely involved in the challenges facing our school, and possessed the self-confidence, humility and cheerful optimism that attracted the attention and deep interest of the board. Her background leading Talent Management at Staples, Inc. was also seen as an incredible strength as any school is only as good as the teachers tasked with instructing its students.

Being a HOS at a private, 15 months-Grade 8 Jewish day school is a far different role from that of a public school principal. It is more similar to the role a superintendent of schools would play in the public sector. Yet, where the public schools are funded through property taxes, a private school is funded solely through tuition, grants, charitable contributions and other established revenue streams (i.e. rental income). Our new HOS’s immediate challenge was to stem the departure of students from our school, provide faculty and parents with an optimistic and hopeful view of the future, and dramatically improve the financial position of the school. Donors would only donate if they had faith in school leadership and the belief that their investment was a sound one.

I have learned that individuals with a business background possess a unique skill-set that is rarely found in those cast in leadership positions in education. A strong business background brings many important qualities to the HOS position.

  • These individuals are often well-versed in setting goals and holding people accountable in reaching those goals.
  • Individuals from the business world often have a strong sense of how to engage in strategic thinking and planning – tackling both the macro market trends and the challenges the individual institution faces – and establishing implementation plans to ensure the strategic plan gets executed.
  • With a strong business background, the school leader understands a balance sheet and an earnings statement, and can very capably handle him/herself in working with a demanding Board of Trustees who can be driven by financial statements, but truly want what is best for children and the future of their school.

Yet those skills alone will not get the job done. Adam Bryant, author of The Corner Office, identified one of the single greatest challenges facing top executives as understanding the value relationships play in building any successful organization. Numbers and spreadsheets and financial statements are easy, Bryant claims, in comparison to understanding the subtlety of being able to get the best work out of its employees. For a person with a business background to thrive, the following skills are necessary in abundance:

  • Acknowledge they don’t know all the answers.
  • Seek and accept constructive feedback.
  • Remain steadfast in building a school where teachers love coming to work and children love coming to school.

Rebecca Lurie does not have an education background and she does not pretend to have one. Instead she relies heavily on our two building principals, our Associate Head of School for Program and Instruction, our Director of Marketing and Enrollment, our Development team and our Director of Jewish Life and Learning. She asks the important questions, listens intently and reflects deeply on what she hears. She is a leader and a learner, and regularly seeks out feedback from her team, students, faculty and parents. She has an uncanny ability to connect the dots among many disparate pieces of information culled from a variety of sources. Successful school leaders possess a true commitment to building relationships with all of the people around them and being very aware of their needs and desires, and Rebecca models that every day.

Only a year and a half into Rebecca Lurie’s tenure as HOS, there is an undeniable hope that pervades our school community. While she commands the respect of faculty, students and parents, she possesses a wonderful sense of humor, a warm smile and a genuine and deep care for the entire Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston community that has everyone believing that our school’s future is bright.

Mark Springer is Associate Head of School for Program and Instruction at Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston.

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Schechter Students Shine in Analogy Competition

The WordMasters Challenge™ is a vocabulary competition based on completing analogies. We are pleased to share that out of 81 schools, Schechter’s eighth grade was ranked SECOND IN THE NATION and Schechter’s seventh grade was ranked FOURTH IN THE NATION out of 79 schools. One Schechter seventh grade student received a perfect 20 out of 20 score on the test. Mazal tov to all of our students and their teachers!

Wrapping Hanukkah Rap

Here’s the first installment of our Hanukkah Rap! See details below for more information.

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Students in Grades 1-3 are invited to participate in creating a song about Hanukkah in the form of a rap. Students will write the lyrics, come to the music room for a recording and have the song featured here on our blog. Lyrics either in Hebrew or English are welcome! Click below to listen to the beat and first verse.

“So they fought the Greeks heroically

And they boogied to the Temple in jubilee

They cleaned the dirt took the idols out

And when they were done the all began to shout”

This project allows students to:

  • Develop creativity in a new form
  • Learn about Jewish holidays through music and composition
  • Use technology during recording sessions
  • Build school community as we make one song with many verses, showing  the students’ thoughts about Hanukkah miracles and freedom

Deadline: Sign up your child for the project before November 1 by emailing

Students will then need to bring the lyrics to Gene by November 13.

Recording sessions with Gene will take place at the Lower School on November 28, 29, 30.


Meet Rachel Chiel Katz!

Rachel is excited to return to Schechter for her 12th year as a Middle School teacher. She will teach 8th grade Language Arts this year, while having also taught 7th grade Language Arts and 7th grade Social Studies in the past. She holds a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. Every year, Rachel looks forward to getting to know a new group of students and observing their insightful and creative discussions of literature.

In her free time, Rachel loves reading mysteries and historical fiction. She also enjoys making paper cuts and creating other types of art.

Rachel feels #SchechterPride because she is not only a teacher, but an alumna and a Schechter parent. She knows her children are in excellent hands and feels lucky to work with such talented and committed educators.

Rahel Berkovits ’83 and Jackie Schon ’99 as recipients of the school’s Outstanding Alumni Award

Schechter has named Rahel Berkovits ’83  and Jackie Schon ’99 as recipients of the school’s Arnold Zar-Kessler Outstanding Alumni Award. Created in 2014, the alumni award is given in honor of former head of school, Arnold Zar-Kessler, and his 21 years of dedication to and leadership of Solomon Schechter Day School.

rahel-berkovitsRahel Berkovits ’83 was selected for being a trailblazer in bridging the worlds of feminism and halacha in the 21st century.  She is on the Faculty of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, where for the past twenty years she has been teaching Mishnah, Talmud, and Halacha.  In 2015, Rahel completed her studies at Beit Midrash Har’el and received rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Herzl Hefter and Rabbi Daniel Sperber, making her one of the first women ever to be ordained as an Orthodox Rav.  She is a founding member of Congregation Shirah Hadasha, a progressive halakhic minyan, which is enriched by both male and female participation in synagogue ritual and has published the book  A Daughter’s Recitation of Mourner’s Kaddish. Many of Rahel’s Talmud students at Pardes have gone on to become Jewish Studies teachers at SSDS Boston. Schechter classmate Glen Schwaber writes, “As an outstanding educator, an outspoken and effective community leader, a Zionist, a devoted spouse and parent, and a committed and proud Jew, Rahel’s life exemplifies Schechter’s vision and mission to the fullest.”

JackieJackie Schon ’99  was selected for her innovative business model, community service work and vision-driven leadership. In 2010, Jackie’s artistic background and “no option to fail” attitude positioned her to co-found The Paint Bar, Boston’s first “paint and sip” business (and the first business of its kind in the Northeast) with her mother, Jill Schon. Since its opening, Jackie has led and guided The Paint Bar’s creative team, to inspire more than 50,000 customers with little or no artistic background to discover their inner artist. In addition, The Paint Bar has hosted fundraisers for hundreds of non-profit organizations, contributing thousands of dollars on behalf of their supporters. Jackie’s sister and fellow alumna writes, “My sister, Jackie, applies sensitivity and originality to every task she approaches, whether it is volunteering with Jewish Big Brother Big Sister, painting a still life, or organizing Schechter’s 50th Anniversary event. She is an intuitive and gifted artist and businesswoman; this has served her well as she has the unique ability to channel her inspiration and energy. She sees the world through a colorful lens and inspires those around her to do the same.”

The awards will be presented at the school’s eighth grade graduation on June 20 at 6:30 p.m. at Temple Beth Avodah in Newton, MA. The Arnold Zar-Kessler Outstanding Alumni Award is presented annually to an alumna/us whose life embodies Schechter’s vision and mission. Nominations to the Director of Alumni Relations are due each year by March 15.

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Poet Visits Fourth Grade Students

Thanks to the Parent Association’s Creative Arts and Sciences Program, Andrew Green returned to our fourth grade again this year as our poet-in-residence. Fourth Grade General Studies Teacher Evie Weinstein-Park shared,”Following an interactive poetry reading of his own poems and those of some other published poets, Mr. Green taught each of the fourth grade classes for a one hour writing workshop, where he focused on word choice and how to create vivid imagery and use our imaginations. He also gave us some revising strategies. Everyone reconvened at the end of the day, when our students proudly shared the poems they had written (and which were quite impressive).”

IsRAPelites: Schechter Students Create a Rap for Israel!

Lower School students wrote lyrics and recorded their voices to create a rap about Israel for Yom Ha’atzmaut! Through this unique opportunity with Lower School music teacher Eugenia Gerstein, students used their creativity to connect to Israel through music and composition, learning about new technologies to record their voices and coming together as a community of many voices to make one song showing our love for Israel!

Click below to listen to Recording #1.

Click below to listen to Recording #2.

Click below to listen to Recording #3.

Click below to listen to Recording #4.

Click below to listen to recording #5.

Kol HaKavod to the 49 students who participated in this project!

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Schechter Students Continue to Excel in State and Nationwide Contests

Recently we received some very good news about two of the contests in which Schechter students participate: the National WordMaster Analogy Test and the Statewide Will McDonough
Sports Writing Contest.

In the second Session of the National WordMaster Analogy Test, our seventh graders placed third in the nation and our sixth graders placed sixth in the nation. Five Middle Division students received a perfect scores of 20 out of 20!

In the Statewide Will McDonough Sports Writing Contest, a Schechter sixth grader who
wrote about the beginning and the vital importance of the Special Olympics won first place for the sixth grade level contest. Out of the top 10 winners in the state for the sixth grade level, four were Schechter students! Out of the top 10 winners in the state for the seventh grade level, two were Schechter students! One student, who placed second in the state, wrote about penalties for “excessive celebrations” in the NFL.



Grade 5, Curators of the Egypt Museum

Where can one learn about the Great Pyramid of Giza, Abu Simbel, Egyptian gods and goddesses, King Tut, and more?  Students from the fourth grade and from Gan Shelanu found out when they visited Grade 5’s Egypt Museum today. As a culmination of their study of ancient Egyptian civilization, fifth graders gathered and organized important facts and details about specific topics, wrote research reports, and prepared fabulous displays to present at their museum exhibits.