New academic year brings changes to local Jewish schools
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New academic year brings changes to local Jewish schools

Back to school brings new buildings, educational opportunities and greater financial support for staff

Elke Goldblum, CDS's Social Emotional Learning Program Coordinator leads a student huddle for Yom Ha'atzmaut activities. Photo courtesy of Community Day School
Elke Goldblum, CDS's Social Emotional Learning Program Coordinator leads a student huddle for Yom Ha'atzmaut activities. Photo courtesy of Community Day School

As the late summer sun scorches Pittsburghers, school leaders are feverishly preparing for the start of the academic year. With weeks remaining until classes begin, Jewish educators are finalizing curricula, professional training and, in some cases, new buildings.

At Community Day School, administrators are reinvesting in their staff. Through the creation of program coordinator positions, teachers will have the opportunity to “dig deep within a specific domain,” work with instructional coaches and bolster the wider school community, CDS’ Director of Marketing Ilana Kisilinsky said.

Kisilinsky pointed to one teacher’s commitment to social emotional learning. By becoming a program coordinator, the teacher can partner with instructional coaches, develop a curriculum around social emotional learning, integrate associated activities — including mindfulness — and share outcomes through regular presentations to faculty.

Avi Baran Munro, CDS’ head of school, said being a program coordinator will enable teachers to develop leadership skills while enhancing the school. And because increased responsibilities require additional time, participants will receive a stipend.

“We want to leverage the talent that’s on our staff,” Munro said.

Additionally, surveys of teachers showed they “would like to have a career ladder,” she said.

Teachers who become program coordinators can “add this designation to their job titles and build on them for future growth,” Munro added.

At Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh, educators are rolling out a “new immersive Ivrit (Hebrew) program,” Rabbi Sam Weinberg, principal of the school, said.

In partnership with Duolingo, students will develop Hebrew language skills through chugim (clubs); so whether focusing on sports, nature or music, Hebrew will become less a foreign language than a lived experience, he said.

That’s not all that’s new at Hillel. After months of construction, the school’s 6,000-square-foot renovation is nearing completion, Weinberg said.

“There’s a new roof and HVAC, but having an elevator and becoming fully ADA-compliant, allows us to be more inclusive and serve students with diverse needs,” he said.

The renovated Fayth Aronson-Berkowitz Girls High School’s new STEM laboratory enables the school to offer more advanced placement courses, including chemistry and physics; additionally, a “fab lab,” or digital fabrication laboratory, allows students to develop robotics and engineering skills by promoting innovation, creativity and growth.

The new building houses a beit knesset (prayer space) and beit midrash (study hall) for students to not only engage in “tefilah (prayer) in a beautiful environment but support introspection and group learning,” Weinberg said.

Photo by KSChong via iStock

Several miles down the road, Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh is also putting the finishing touches on a new space, as renovations to the former St. Rosalia School in Greenfield near completion.

Once an occupancy permit is granted, the boys high school will move in, Yeshiva’s Head of School Rabbi Yossi Rosenblum said.

The 48,000-square-foot structure will permit Yeshiva to welcome more “out-of-town students,” he said. “We weren’t able to recruit as much in the past because we didn’t have as much room; now, we have more.”

Changes are also underway in Squirrel Hill as Yeshiva transitions its kindergarten from early childhood to its elementary school.

“We felt it was a better educational, social, emotional environment,” Rosenblum said.

Rabbi Zalman Raskin, Yeshiva’s new assistant to the head of school, is tasked with focusing onstudents’ emotional needs throughout the institution.

“We are a trauma-informed school and we deliver chinuch (education) with care, and Rabbi Raskin will be focusing on that,” Rosenblum said. “He will be making sure all of our stakeholders feel safe, supported and secure.”

Raskin will also mentor and onboard instructors.

“We need to invest in staff and teachers,” Rosenblum said. “They are the frontline people who interact with students, and in today’s climate we need to make sure they feel cared for.”

Educational developments are underway throughout the city, but one institution is decidedly focused on the past.

At J-JEP, a joint religious school between congregations Beth Shalom and Rodef Shalom, the curriculum has been revamped.

“We had one that worked very nicely for the pandemic, but we’re going kind of classic,” J-JEPS’s director, Rabbi Larry Freedman, said. He pointed to the school’s focus on rabbinics — “which no one ever does in a classic religious school Sunday morning program.”

Along with hearing stories about Mishnaic, Talmudic and Gaonic sages, students will learn “how to ask good questions, like the classic commentators did,” Freedman said.

Because J-JEP is a collaboration between a Conservative and a Reform institution, students will be exposed to topics that are central to each movement.

“In the Conservative world, they really want their kids to know about Hillel, and Akiva, and Rashi, and Maimonides and other rabbinic sources,” Freedman said. “The Reform movement loves talking about social justice, values, meaning and understanding of our heritage, and we are bringing that in there.”

Freedman credited staffers from each congregation with partnering on the educational endeavor.

“This is not like anything you’ll find anywhere else,” he said. PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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