Head of School Update #2: Summer Preparations for the First Day of School!

August 25, 2023

Dear Mishpachat Berman,

Elul is an important time of introspection, reflection, and preparation, and this year anticipates a special opportunity to reflect–it is our 80th year, which in gematria, is a number that is represented by the letter פ. Peh translates as “mouth,” and its form reflects the same function, appearing like an opening mouth. I would suggest, then, following the Sefat Emet’s commentary on the liberation and celebration of language on Pesach, that the 80th year at Berman is a year to freely articulate, celebrate, and share widely and proudly our school’s legacy. It is also clear that we are celebrating this year a school that is both historic and renewed, that has a strong foundation and is constantly learning, building, and recreating. And so as we near opening day and finish our final preparations for welcoming back our dear students, I am thrilled to take a moment to celebrate all that our faculty and staff have been learning and building this past summer.

First, as someone who is living–and loving–the Berman calendar for the first time, I am delighted to spotlight the tremendous investment of faculty and staff over the summer weeks and months in anticipation and preparation of the school year. Indeed, it was incredible to see and hear how the building was alive and abuzz throughout the summer! I couldn’t believe how frequently I would bump into teachers busy preparing materials and classrooms for the year, and along with those same teachers, I was overwhelmed by navigating the various construction projects throughout the building.

Throughout the summer, I’ve also continued my listening tour and met with members of all areas of the Berman community. While I’m just getting started and while there’s still so much more to learn, I’ve already learned that students love coming to school, parents are deeply trusting in the school and are profound partners with their children’s educators, and faculty are passionate, smart, and reflective about their practice.

I also had the opportunity to lead, join, and observe professional learning throughout the summer. On our leadership retreat in early August, division leaders gathered to share vision, goals, and practice with one another–as well as build and rebuild our leadership team. Throughout in-service week for faculty, I was inspired by the sincerity and commitment of both new and seasoned Berman faculty. In my own sessions, new faculty shared their journeys to Berman, and experienced faculty reflected on their mentors and callings. And as part of my continued listening tour, all faculty reflected with me on the resonance of Berman’s mission, vision, and values of the school, and I shared my own initial goals: to understand Berman’s lived mission and culture, to build relationships with members of all constituencies, to support and grow school leadership capacity within and across all divisions, and to serve as an ambassador of Berman in the community. I also previewed my next steps for continued listening and data gathering, subsequent sense making, and, ultimately, goal prioritization.

As the past week of in-service progressed, I saw first-hand how Berman school leaders lead. The days were full with Torah and professional learning, sharing professional practice, building teams and curriculum, and of course, preparing your children’s classrooms. While it would be less of an update and more of a discourse to share everything that each division managed to prepare this past week, here are a few glimpses into some highlights by division:

  • The Preschool is simply bursting this year, and so navigating both the literal creation of new classroom space and hiring of personnel with Mrs. Gautieri was a wonderful opportunity to observe a masterful division’s vision for continuing to shape our school’s foundation.
  • With Mrs. Israel at the helm, our Lower School is settling into a new leadership structure, along with Mrs. Cohen and Rabbi Meyers, that will serve its dual goals of both student-centeredness and academic rigor.
  • In the Middle School, Dr. Loewenstein took her own Grade Deans on a mini-retreat to build their capacity as distributive leaders, and she coached her faculty, through the lens of their summer reading and learning, on restorative discipline and social-emotional education.
  • And in the Upper School, Rabbi Houben introduced and trained faculty in both differentiated instruction and student citizenship, among many other things. Personally, I am humbled to join the English department alongside two of my own English teachers, Ms. Plaza and Mr. Virgilio.

I’m so excited for your children to experience these and many more update this year. What you will notice immediately, however, are some necessary and aesthetic renovations to our physical plant, and all of which are a tribute to our Executive Director, Shmarya Gasner, Director of Institutional Advancement, Jennifer Zukerman, and Director of Facilities, Fil Rodriguez. Besides the updates to furniture throughout the building, the gym’s walls are now properly covered; the Beit Midrash/Kehilat Pardes hallways are brighter; the new preschool classroom is expansive; and our main walkway is now fully accessible, repaved, and illuminated.

As we continue our seven week march of consolation and joy, of the shiva d’nechemta from Tisha B’av to Rosh Hashana, from the depths of the summer to the renewal of a new year, I continue to be grateful for this opportunity to speak and celebrate with you all of the great strides we’ve made to prepare for the academic year of 2023-2024, the year of the speaking and celebratory peh.

With excitement and blessings for a good and sweet first day of school for what will be, b’ezrat Hashem, a good and sweet new year,

Rabbi Dr. Hillel Broder
Head of School