The road hasn’t necessarily been long, but it has been rather busy.
Casey Weiss, the newest assistant principal for fifth- through 12th-graders at Hillel Academy, said the roots of her daily inspiration date to September 2013, when she started teaching preschoolers at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
“Ever since then, I haven’t stopped,” said Weiss, a Squirrel Hill resident who grew up in nearby Shadyside. “I’ve had a lot of energy my whole life. And I feel I don’t work when I’m with kids. It’s corny, but it’s true.”
Keeping track of Weiss — the second-eldest daughter of Jewish community stalwarts Amy and Lou Weiss, and the sister of journalist Bari Weiss — is a job in and of itself.
A firefighter’s wife and mother of two, Weiss spent her last seven years before coming to Hillel this autumn teaching fourth-grade English at Pittsburgh Colfax Elementary School. She also is an adjunct professor at Carlow University in the education department.
At Hillel, she’s quite busy. In addition to teaching seventh-grade boys English, Weiss is crafting a new guidance counseling program, mentoring teachers and creating assessment tools to help streamline processes for kids when they enter Hillel for the first time. She plans professional development opportunities for Hillel staff and is organizing a summer internship program for its high school students — another thread in her growing web to prepare her students for life after Hillel Academy.
And she is the Yeshiva University Model UN coach for Hillel Academy’s team.
Weiss loves Hillel Academy. It’s no coincidence her two children, Kobi and Maya, are enrolled there.
“I think Pittsburgh has an unbelievably diverse Jewish community,” said Weiss, a Community Day School alumnus and a member of the inaugural graduating class of American Hebrew Academy in North Carolina. “And I think it’s amazing at Hillel — there are so many types of Jews here.”
Tamara Sanders-Woods worked alongside Weiss for several years at Pittsburgh Colfax Elementary School, where Sanders-Woods has served as principal for the past eight years.
“She was very good at using data to drive instruction,” Sanders-Woods said of Weiss. “Casey, you don’t have to tell her what to do. She’d just lead things.”
“The kids who had the most need for support [at Colfax], she’d help them during her own lunch — she had a great relationship with the kids, always positive,” Sanders-Woods added.
“She’s a hustler — she just knows how to get the job done and is great with kids,” said Weiss’ cousin, Ben Kander, an entrepreneur who started Welly, a water bottle company, about seven years ago. “She’s fearless, but she has a lot of empathy.”
When Weiss isn’t hustling, she’s taking doctoral-level classes in educational leadership at Duquesne University — she’s about halfway through her doctorate — and recently completed a principal’s certification for K-12 students at Carlow University. She also has a master’s degree in food studies and a bachelor’s degree in U.S. history from Chatham University.
That educational zeal is tangible. At Hillel, she’s piloting a course in women’s stories in U.S. history, focusing on characters like former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in America to receive a medical degree.
“There’s been a lot of change in the last four months, I’d say,” Weiss laughed. “Hillel’s an amazing school.”
Weiss also has a fan in Rabbi Sam Weinberg, Hillel Academy’s head of school.
“Casey’s amazing — she’s the best,” Weinberg said. “The way I put it: It’s not every day talented people like Casey fall into Hillel Academy … She’s charismatic, and she cares about the kids. She wants them to do well.”
Weinberg plays down his familiarity with the Weiss family, quipping “Pittsburgh’s a small town and everyone knows everyone.”
But Sanders-Woods took that sentiment a step further. Sanders-Woods said she didn’t know the local involvement of the Weiss family until three years into Weiss’ tenure at Colfax. That made sense, she said.
“Casey wants to establish her own name and her own mark for her life,” she said. “I’d have her back time and time and time again — without hesitation, I’d have her again!” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.