Testimonials from DSLTI Alumni

Rabbi Marc Baker
Head of School, Gann Academy, Waltham, Massachusetts

DSLTI has been, without question, the finest program I have ever been part of. The level of thoughtfulness and professionalism that Fran, Cheryl, and our mentors have put into designing the curriculum and creating and facilitating our sessions illustrates not only their talent, wisdom, and experience, but also their deep respect for their work and the fellows.

It is scary to think that I might have become a head of school without having participated in DSLTI. Although I will surely make many mistakes and learn many difficult lessons, I am convinced that this program has accelerated my learning curve and helped me avoid perhaps years of painful transition into a job that, especially in the first few years, devours so many people. Since day one, Fran, Cheryl, and our mentors have reinforced—both in words and in practice—the message that to be the best leader you can be, you have to know yourself.

I graduate from DSLTI with a toolbox full of skills and knowledge that will empower me to succeed as a Jewish educational leader. But as important, if not more important, to my success and happiness, I leave with the two greatest gifts of all: profound awareness of how much I do not know, and a community of colleagues who will eagerly pick up the phone when I need to ask questions.

Dr. Marc Lindner
Assistant Head and Principal of Middle School, Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School, Northridge, California

As the formal portion of my DSLTI experience comes to a close, I'm emerging brimming with confidence. This confidence undoubtedly stems from the broad base of cutting-edge information regarding Jewish day schools I've acquired. But to reference only knowledge acquisition does not do justice to the heart and soul of this program. The mentors placed tremendous responsibility in my hands, along with the rest of the fellows. We, as fellows, were charged with developing our own understanding of the role of the head of school, the relationship of the head to the board, the dynamics of donor behavior, instructional leadership, and a litany of other aspects of the schools in which we work. Having learned in this type of organic fashion, if you will, I'm walking away with an internalized, visceral memory of the lessons I've learned—the type of memory that can be quickly brought to the surface and serve as a catalyst for decisive action.

Ilisa Cappell
Head of School, El Paso Jewish Community Day School, El Paso, Texas

I am struck by how much I have been affected by this transformative educational experience. In a field where there is a dearth of heads of schools, DSLTI has helped me to realize the challenges of this demanding profession and its joys, while at the same time providing me with a support system dedicated to my personal growth and success. The DSLTI curriculum balances critical analysis and theoretical discussions with practical tools and applications, providing a well-rounded and comprehensive program for aspiring heads of schools.

DSLTI has had a profound effect on my personal and professional lives. I feel privileged to work with a group of individuals passionate about Jewish education and dedicated to the future of the Jewish people; our cohort has formed such a deep connection and respect for one another. I am privileged to have colleagues and friends who support, understand, encourage, and believe in me.

As I make the transition from fellow to alum, I realize that what I will take with me goes way beyond the content knowledge and practical tools for becoming a head of school. It is the deep emotional connections that will endure. In Ethics of the Fathers, it says aseh l'cha rav u-k'nei l'cha chaver ("make for yourself a teacher and acquire for yourself a friend"). What a blessing in life to have found such wonderful teachers and friends in the same individuals.

Alina Gerlovin Spaulding
Head of School, Akiva School, Nashville, Tennessee

In my family, we celebrate June 19 as if it were Thanksgiving Day. My courageous mother and father, who had lived as refuseniks in the '70s, had been rescued from Kharvov, Ukraine. On June 19, 1979, we landed on American soil.

This June 19 was different than the others. It was marked with personal accomplishment and pride. It marked 33 years of our life in this country—and also something far greater: it marked my seventh day of work as the head of school at Akiva School of Nashville. To bring families and young people to Judaism in a meaningful way; to inspire informed Jewish living; to build passionate, powerful Jewish leaders who will do for others what has been done for me—I will be doing that at Akiva School, at a critical moment in time for our people. And I will be doing that for two reasons: because at a critical moment in time my parents and I were rescued, and also, because at a critical moment in time, DSLTI gave me the exact skills and support I needed to live my dream. I am eternally grateful.

Lori Skopp
Middle School Head, The Abraham Joshua Heschel School, New York, New York

DSLTI has helped me to become a self-reflective and more deliberate leader in a Jewish day school. It is a program that supports real-life, on-the-job training, providing invaluable mentoring and collegial relationships that support complex work within a school. Moreover, through the program I have gained perspective on my work and have been able to step back and respond to situations more thoughtfully and analytically.

 

Nancy Leaderman
Incoming Head of School, Shalom School, Sacramento, CA

We learn in Pirkei Avot to “choose a teacher, acquire a friend.” As simple as this might sound, many of us know that finding teachers and friends who really resonate with us can be a difficult task. If I had to sum up briefly what DSLTI has meant to me, it would be this: it has given me friends and teachers.

The other fellows are an incredible resource and support, and learning with them has made an enormous difference to me personally and professionally. The extensive group work of the program enabled me to get to know all fourteen other participants well, and the variety of their experiences, strengths, and visions, along with the opportunity to figure out how we could collaborate on different projects, allowed for a richness that would be impossible to duplicate. I learned from each person in the program, and I formed lasting professional relationships as well as personal friendships that I know will continue to enrich my life in the future.

I also learned from each of the mentors. Again, the variety of experience and points of view was a real strength of the program. I very much appreciated the perspective that each mentor brought, as well as the overarching message that there are different approaches that work well in different contexts. I think this serves the fellows well, not teaching us one correct answer but instead preparing us for the reality of the life of a head of schoolthat the individual contexts and challenges we face require flexibility and a repertoire of skills rather than a dogmatic, one-size-fits-all mentality. I believe that the case studies, opportunities for discussion, and inquiry-based learning activities that make up the bulk of DSLTI encourage just that kind of flexibility.

I believe that the individual guidance, coaching, and support I received from my mentor had an even greater impact on my growth and development over the past eighteen months. The work she did with me both during the summers and over the course of the school year broadened my thinking and served to get me through tough situations in practical ways and enhance my ability to reflect upon and learn from my experiences.

Overall, DSLTI is the most valuable professional development program in which I have ever participated, and I feel that is has enhanced my leadership skills in many, many ways. I am very grateful for the opportunity to have participated and would certainly encourage colleagues to consider it if they are at all interested in becoming a head of school.

Daniella Pressner
Director of Judaic Studies, Akiva School, Nashville, Tennessee

DSLTI provided me with an experience that is unparalleled in the field of Jewish education, and the impact of this experience will undoubtedly last forever. Through case studies, seminars, book talks, and sessions led by both the mentors and the cohort, I have been able to see leadership from multiple perspectives and a refreshing blend of incredibly successful and talented leadership.

I have learned about the value of vulnerability and the strength in taking risks. I have also had the opportunity to think about the value and power behind reflective leadership and leadership that creates space and invitation for your own growth, as well as the growth of others. I have also learned how to look at challenges in the field with multiple lenses and to lead using strategy and a focus on mission and vision.

The mentor is a person with whom you can reflect, share ideas, gain strength, and build a more practical and empowered understanding of what it means to lead with precision, intent, and presence.

Finally, the cohort and extended DSLTI network is a group of people who are committed to transforming their practice and the practice of others to help infuse, ensure, and enrich the future of Jewish day school education and the Jewish people. I leave completely humbled by our future leaders and touched by the light so present—a light I hope continues to be present in day schools across North America, a light strengthened daily by the support and encouragement provided in the DSLTI experience.

Dr. Susie Tanchel
Head of School, JCDS, Boston's Jewish Community Day School, Watertown, Massachusetts

DSLTI has been an amazing experience. The visionaries behind this program understood well that heads of Jewish day schools need to be well versed in education so they can serve as the instructional leaders; be steeped in Jewish tradition and have facility with Jewish texts so they can be the moral and ethical guides; and be knowledgeable on matters of finance and development so they can lead financially sustainable institutions. Thus, they created a program that has given me foundational knowledge in each of these areas. At DSLTI we have learned theory that informs practice. We have opportunities to learn together, read books together, and then practice our new skills. DSLTI has given me the chance to think of big-picture ideas like the mission, vision, and philosophy of my organization, as well as the ability to concentrate my time and energy on the social skills I need to work a room.

A phenomenal part of the program has been my experience with my mentor. She played an instrumental role in helping me grow my leadership practice. On a weekly basis my mentor gave me the opportunity to reflect on dilemmas in my practice and, when appropriate, offered me her extensive wisdom of practice. Both were invaluable to me, as I grew into my new job.

Along with how DSLTI helped in building my individual skills and capacities, I appreciate how it simultaneously emphasized the group process. Through this I gained a new group of colleagues from all over the country with whom I have developed a shared language and a shared vision of excellence.

These are people I can count on to share successes with me and to be there for me during the challenging times.

What a blessing it has been to be a part of DSLTI.