Hillel and Farber, under new leadership during a tumultuous year, plan to hold in-person instruction.
With COVID still jeopardizing the classroom for the upcoming school year, two local Jewish day schools have new leadership to help guide them through these unprecedented times. As of press time, both Hillel Day School and Farber Hebrew Day School are planning to re-open their physical buildings to all students this academic year, while preparing for all-virtual backup options.
Dr. Darin Katz, Hillel Day School
When Hillel Day School students return to class on Sept. 1 for the first day of school, they will encounter a new head of school.
Following an eight-month search process, Hillel announced Dec. 6 that Dr. Darin Katz would serve as the next head of school. He replaced interim Head of School Naty Katz (no direct relation) in July.
“I have a mix of emotions, as you would expect,” Darin Katz told the JN. “I’m a bit nervous, but very, very excited and confident that we can meet the expectations of students and parents and provide an outstanding education, regardless of whether instruction takes place in-person or remotely.”
Katz attended Penn State University for his undergraduate studies and received his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania. He was a member of the Prizmah YOU Lead Program and the Harvard University/AVI Chai Principals’ Center, which are Jewish leadership developmental programs that help school professionals improve their skillsets.
Previously, Katz worked at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Philadelphia for eight years, starting in 2012 as the school’s academic dean before becoming the director of the upper school in 2016. Katz has also taught science for two decades.
Katz and his wife, Dr. Marsha Pincus Katz, a small animal veterinarian, have been married for 25 years and have two sons, Eli, 22, and Jonah, 18.
Originally scheduled to arrive in Michigan in June, Katz had to change his plans due to the coronavirus pandemic. He officially arrived in the Metro Detroit area at the end of July. His family will join him at the end of the next school year after his youngest son finishes high school in Pennsylvania.
“There are dozens of reasons that attracted me to Hillel. Hillel is a national leader among Jewish day schools for our innovative approach to education,” Katz said. “Our facility is simply breathtaking and provides for creative and flexible teaching methods. Hillel’s approach to Jewish pluralism aligned closely with my own view of Judaism and Jewish education. As soon as I stepped onto campus, I sensed the incredibly warm and supportive environment among students and parents.”
Although his term officially began in July, Katz has been deeply engaged in all aspects of planning for months preparing for the students’ return to campus this fall. He’s been sending out weekly emails to parents, keeping them abreast of the school’s changing COVID-19 plans. Although he knows that things can change in an instance, Katz is confident in what the school has done to prepare for the arrival of their students.
“The transformation that this building has undergone in order to be prepared for all of our students to return to in-person learning five days a week … has been nothing short of remarkable,” Katz said. “I knew it was happening but seeing it in person is a totally different experience. When I walked around the building, I saw what we had been planning on doing for months.”
As for Hillel’s reopening plan for this fall, it plans to welcome back all students for in-person instruction. In addition to the precautions it has taken for the students’ return, Hillel has also revamped its virtual learning, in case of a shutdown, and also provides parents a choice to keep their students enrolled in virtual learning if they are not ready to send their kids back or if there are underlying health concerns.
“We began planning for the 2020-2021 school year back in early May. Two task forces have met weekly since then and [have] devoted hundreds, if not thousands, of hours on every aspect of our path to reopening,” Katz said. “We have the blessing of a large building with flexible spaces that allows us to bring all students back to campus safely five days a week this year. We have left no stone unturned and will employ the most stringent of safety protocols to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in our school community.”
The plans for Hillel also include the wearing of masks, physical distancing in class by keeping small class sizes and spreading out desks, daily screening for parents and faculty, daily cleaning and more.
“I consider myself to be a decisive person who is not afraid to make a hard decision and take responsibility for it. Having said that, I am blessed to have the best leadership team of any school in the country who helps me to solve problems,” Katz said. “I believe resilience is one of the most important social-emotional competencies that an individual can have.”
Farber’s Dr. Josh Levisohn
On March 13, Farber Hebrew Day School announced the hiring of Dr. Josh Levisohn as its new head of school, replacing Rabbi Scot A. Berman, who made aliyah to Israel with his family this summer. Levisohn’s term officially began on July 1, but he’s been involved with school decisions since the announcement in March.
Although Levisohn’s term has officially begun, he will continue to reside in his current home of Silver Spring, Maryland, until next summer after his daughter Yonina graduates from high school. He plans to spend time with his family but make trips to Farber each month. The Levisohns will relocate to Michigan at the end of the 2020-2021 academic year.
Throughout his younger years, Levisohn attended Jewish day schools from kindergarten all the way to his senior year. Levisohn earned his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, and his Ph.D. in Jewish studies from Harvard as well.
Levisohn began his career teaching Jewish history at Maimonides School in Boston and served as principal of Jewish Studies at Akiba Hebrew Academy (now Barrack Hebrew Academy) in Merion, Pennsylvania, for eight years. Beginning in 2006, Levisohn was recruited and became the head of school at Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, Maryland. He served in that position for 12 years.
“As soon as I started, I fell in love with it. I love the environment, and I love being with kids and developing relationships with them and watching them grow,” Levisohn told the JN. “It is such a dynamic environment.”
In 2018, he stepped away from school administration to work as an educational consultant with EduCannon Consulting, which works with schools to advise and support sustainable changes, where he was involved in a number of projects, including leading the merger of two day schools in West Hartford, building the new Coaching Institute for Prizmah, the network for Jewish day schools across North America, to support day school leaders, and providing advice and consulting to other schools.
But, after two years of educational consulting, Levisohn was ready and eager to return to day school leadership. As he began his search for a new position in day schools, Levisohn focused heavily on finding an area with a warm and welcoming environment.
“We were looking for a place that has the right environment, and someone said, in one of the interviews here, that this area is a great place to raise kids. That’s exactly what my wife and I were looking for,” Levisohn said. “Although all our kids are older, we are both heavily involved with children. Detroit is also a resurgent community and offers a lot of growth opportunities.”
Levisohn and his wife, Dr. Lisi, who is a developmental neuropsychologist, have three children: Ari, 23, Tani, 20, and Yonina, 17.
Not only is Levisohn tasked with the transitional phase of becoming a new head of school, he has also been heavily involved with determining plans for this upcoming school year in response to the coronavirus.
“I have been involved in a lot of decision making and planning from March on, partially due to Rabbi Berman’s credit,” Levisohn said. “Obviously, being someone who is new to the Farber team, someone who is new to the community and someone who is not even physically there yet has been a significant challenge.
“But, the truth of the matter is that it has been a challenge for everyone in the day school world. Everyone is trying to prepare for an extremely unusual year in person, with all the requirements, restrictions and guidelines that we are putting into the place, which are very extensive. At the same time, also trying to prepare for the eventuality of the possibility that we will end up going virtual at some point.”
As far as Farber’s plan, it will welcome students for in-person education Aug. 24. It has put all the precautions in place, including the wearing of masks, hand sanitizers, hand washing, limiting the number of people in spaces and keeping class sizes small. Farber is a smaller school, normally averaging 13 middle schoolers in a classroom and graduating only eight seniors in the 2020 class.
“We are trying to do this as best as possible. But obviously, this makes for a new start in a new place quite different than I was anticipating,” Levisohn said. “If the governor’s orders change or the situation in the community changes, obviously we will need to reconsider our plan based on what is best for the public’s health and what is best for the safety of our kids and our staff.”