Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series on changes at area day schools. Next week: Akiba Academy
By Rachel Gross
Mark Stolovitsky has spent his life in Jewish education as a student, teacher and headmaster. This year, he is back in the saddle as the new head of school at the Ann and Nate Levine Academy.
Stolovitsky started on July 1 and has been preparing for the school year, which begins Aug. 18. His job is to run the day-to-day operations of the school and be the go-between person for the staff and board.
Stolovitsky said his immediate goals for the upcoming year are to finalize the strategic plan, get the message out about Levine and its appeal, and grow the school; 419 students are enrolled for the 2010–2011 school year. He believes this can be accomplished by everyone working together.
“I want the year to get off to a smooth start with everyone on the same page,” he said. “One of the things I’m going to do is look at the ethical covenant and make sure it’s deeply felt amongst everybody who’s associated with the school. I want the kids to be able to reflect on their own behavior and as they go through life, say they learned about integrity. It’s about building on a sense of ‘we.’”
Stolovitsky came to Dallas in 2004 and was headmaster at Akiba Academy until 2009. There, he increased enrollment, participated in all recruitment and retention efforts and worked to achieve a balance between Modern Orthodox and community elements of the school, among other things.
Previously, he worked at Kadimah, in Buffalo, N.Y.; the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in Kansas; and Akiva Academy in Calgary, Canada.
Although Stolovitsky considers himself Modern Orthodox and is a member of Congregation Shaare Tefilla, he said that doesn’t play a factor in how he will run Levine, a Conservative school. He believes Jewish day schools don’t focus much on denominations today, but more on inclusion.
“Jewish education has gone past pure denominationalism,” he said. “It’s not as black-and-white as people want to believe. We want to focus on what’s common and want kids to be mensches, love the Torah and Israel, and be future leaders. This is an inclusive approach and our goal at Jewish day schools is to get committed Jews who love being Jewish. That which divides is not as important as what unites. That’s a core value of mine.”
In addition to serving as head of school, Stolovitsky will teach eighth-grade Jewish history. He was a substitute in the fifth and sixth grades last year and knows many of the kids. He taught Melton courses, mentored a new teacher at Yavneh Academy and taught algebra at the Dallas County Detention Center last year as well.
Stolovitsky has also volunteered in the Dallas Jewish community. He is the chair of the interreligious committee at the American Jewish Committee, and has worked with the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas.
Stolovitsky, or “Mar S.” as he is referred to by students, said his biggest challenges will be making day school affordable in the current economy and delivering the best education possible. With his past experience, he is confident he can achieve this.
So, what does it take to be a successful headmaster? He said it’s about business, fundraising, marketing and, most importantly, education.
“A headmaster needs to be open, communicate the message of the school, lead both on the educational and board side and do it with joy,” he said. “People ask what type of Jew I am and I say I’m a member of joyful Judaism. It’s a great job. Learning should be enjoyable and the more you are invested in it, the more something positive happens.”
Stolovitsky added that he is most looking forward to meeting all the kids. He recently hosted a pizza party for the eighth-graders and visited the Early Childhood Center camp, where he led a service with them.
He said his love for education and growing up at day school got him where he is today. Stolovitsky holds two law degrees, but said education is where he wants to be. His wife, Gail, whom he met at a Jewish high school, is involved with Melton and is a special needs educator.
Overall, Stolovitsky hopes to provide kids with the same experience that he had, allowing them to become well-rounded people and develop a greater sense of Jewish identity.
“What I love most about teaching is watching students grow their minds and take in concepts,” he said. “I enjoy watching them develop skills they didn’t know they had. By creating an open learning environment, you get real learners. I love teaching and learning law, but I love education. The worst day in education is still a great day and I have very few bad days.”
Levine Academy Principal Susie Wolbe anticipates that Stolovitsky will lead Levine to excel and improve.
“Mark has an incredible sense of who our stakeholders are and the ways to help them see all of the magical things we do at Levine. He will be able to convey that message well, along with a sense of calm, well-being and fun,” she said. “We were lucky to have him teaching our kids last spring, so he is able to see us from many points of view: former head of a different day school, as a teacher here, and now Levine head of school. It’s going to be a year of excitement.”
Randy Fleisher, president of the Levine board of trustees, said Stolovitsky will bring a sense of warmth.
“Mark will bring tremendous passion and energy,” he said. “He knows Dallas and is an experienced educator. He is the driving force to advancing Levine to the next level, executing the mission statement and strategic plan, and will provide leadership to the faculty and staff.”