Tom Elieff becomes new head of school at Ann and Nate Levine Academy
By Rachel Gross Weinstein
Returning to Dallas has been a homecoming for Tom Elieff. As the former head of the upper school at the St. Marks School, he is happy to be at Ann and Nate Levine Academy and back in the city that has meant so much to him.
Elieff, the new head of school at Levine, officially began last month. He took over for Mark Stolovitsky, who made aliyah to Israel with is wife Gail last month.
School begins Aug. 18 for the Early Childhood Center and Aug. 20 for kindergarten through eighth grade. Although Elieff said the job has already been exhilarating, he is excited for the students to come.
“To be able to see the students in action and observe things up front is amazing,” he said. “I am really desirous to see the teaching. My slogan is ‘hit the ground learning.’ I always knew about Levine when I was at St. Marks. Levine had always been in the back of my mind, but I never had the opportunity to be part of it before. I feel honored and humbled to be part of it.”
Over the last month, Elieff has focused on reaching out to different constituents, meeting with staff and even holding a team building retreat. Already being familiar with Dallas and the Jewish community here has made the transition even easier for him too, he said.
Elieff has many aspirations for Levine. His immediate objectives are to calibrate the school’s professionalism and best practices approaches; regulate the curriculum to be a model day school on both the regional and national level; and to take on a strategic plan process beginning in the fall.
“Collaboration is a big mantra of mine too,” he said. “I want to inculcate a growth mindset, which also means a professional and flexible mindset. The metaphor I like to use in schools is that we need to be the school that looks out the window and practices rather than looking in the mirror and being complacent. I really feel that schools begin to slide quickly when complacency, cynicism and entrenchment fester without an effort to challenge them.”
Elieff has been an educator since 1985 and worked at Jewish day schools for almost 10 years. After attending Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, he moved to Chicago and received his master’s in English from Northwestern University. That’s when he began taking on different teaching roles.
He taught high school English at the Lake Forest Academy outside of Chicago and also served in administrative roles there, including interim headmaster. He then moved to Dallas to take on the role at St. Marks.
In 2005, Elieff became the head of school at the Jewish Day School of Metropolitan Seattle. This was his entry point to Jewish education and he hasn’t looked back since. For the past six years, he served as head of school at Beth Yeshurun Day School in Houston.
Elieff knew Levine would be a great match for him and said he is looking forward to making an impact at another day school.
“I picked up from Levine that it has a fantastic entrepreneurial spirit and they make a big deal of multi-generational commitment,” he said. “Those are great core factors in being able to move a school forward; I care about helping schools evolve. As a head coming in, you look for investment, one much more than in dollars, but in time, talent, heart and hands. There seems to be a lot of care at Levine and that’s what’s great to be part of.”
His passion for education and fun loving attitude is what makes Elieff’s job so gratifying.
To influence a school like Levine, which has students from a wide range of Jewish backgrounds, is what’s most important for him.
“My style is to be in classrooms everyday and I’m always bopping down the hallway and hanging out with kids,” he added. “I’ll always do fun things like sneak an A+ on their papers when they are in the middle of a test as a joke. Education is a fascinating field to be in and is very rewarding.”
Tammie Rapps will lead Akiba as first female head of school
By Rachel Gross Weinstein
Tammie Rapps has spent most of her career working in day schools—first as a teacher, then in administration. Becoming the new head of school at Akiba Academy is the natural next step for her.
Rapps assumed her new position July l. She succeeds Rabbi Zev Silver, who moved to Baltimore this summer.
As a collaborative and creative leader, Rapps said she is eager to have an impact at a school like Akiba that has such a rich history in Dallas. She has been humbled by the warm welcome she and her family have received so far from the community.
“It has been so nice for everyone to be so warm and welcoming,” she said. “Work has already been fabulous and this is a tremendous growth opportunity for me. This is a chance to make a difference in a school with a 50-year plus history that is looking toward the future and long term longevity, sustainability and growth.”
Rapps had never been to Texas before interviewing for this job and is excited to learn the culture and community. This is going to be a family affair for Rapps as well — her two younger children will attend Akiba, while her older daughter will go to Yavneh Academy where her husband, Josh, plans to teach math.
Learning is always an important part of the first year of a new job, but there is also a lot Rapps would like to accomplish from the start. She wants to strengthen Akiba’s ties with the greater Dallas Jewish community; create a sense of communal belonging on campus; engage parents in learning, while also having Akiba be a center for learning in the community; and instill in the students a love of being Jewish.
Her other goals are to enhance the science, technology, engineering and mathematics offerings; refocus a dedication to the arts; and to move Akiba into the 21st century.
“I want to learn what makes Akiba special to stakeholders,” she said. “Parents have been forthcoming with rave reviews about what they love about the school, and also where we can grow. I hope to use all of that to move forward strategically and plan for the future.”
One of the reasons Rapps is so passionate about Jewish education is because she is a product of Jewish day school. Growing up in the Los Angeles area, she attended day school and after high school, lived on a Modern Orthodox Kibbutz in Central Israel.
After getting her degree in English from Princeton University, she wanted to be a Jewish educator. She went on to study at Columbia University, finally getting her master’s in secondary English education.
Her first job was as an English teacher at Yeshiva University’s High School for Girls in New York. For the past 20 years, Rapps and her family lived in Silver Spring, Maryland and she was most recently the lower school assistant principal at the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville. She also had a short stint at the magazine called Babaganewz as the teacher’s guide editor.
Rapps said she knew she wanted to be in a community that strives for excellence and has a vision for the future.
“What I love about Akiba is that the teaching here is authentic and this is what Judaism looks and feels like,” she said. “When we talk about teaching about Jewish unity, this is it, right here, under one roof learning authentic Judaism and it’s amazing.”
When school begins Aug. 18, Rapps will be found meeting all of the children, going into classrooms and taking note of the transformative power of Jewish education.
“In my brief interactions at school so far, seeing the way the children here treat and respect each other and everyone on campus is a huge sign of success,” she said. “It shows that they are carrying over the lessons they are learning in their classes to their everyday lives. I am passionate about education in general, and particularly for Jewish kiddos. With Jewish continuity and Jewish survival, education is the foundation of all of that, and that’s why the Jewish piece is so important.”