Berman Academy names new head

Rabbi Yossi Kastan will become head of the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville in July 2018.
Photo courtesy of Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy

Just weeks after the start of the school year, Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy has announced it has hired a new head of school for the fall of 2018.

Rabbi Yossi Kastan, head of Brauser Maimonides Academy in Hollywood, Fla., was chosen because of his extensive background in Jewish education, according to David Sloan, president of Berman Academy, a modern Orthodox day school in Rockville.

Kastan will begin his tenure in July 2018, one month after the current head of school, Joshua Levisohn, departs.

Sloan cited Kastan’s 20-year career teaching Hebrew, Jewish civics and Jewish history at multiple Jewish institutions for middle and high school students. Kastan is also known for what Sloan called a 21st century approach to education, which includes an online filmmaking class focused on Jewish and Israel studies. Sloan said his experience was an attractive quality to the school board.

“He has a proven track record helming the administration of a large multi-division day school where he improved academic programs through an innovative and inspirational educational vision, managed a balanced budget each year, and significantly increased fundraising revenue,” Sloan wrote in an email.

The timing of the announcement allows a transition period between Levisohn and Kastan, said Hannah Olson, the school’s marketing director. During the next eight months, Kastan will visit Berman to become comfortable with the school community, she said.

Levisohn announced in December 2016 that he would leave Berman Academy in June 2018. At that time, he said he made an early announcement because he didn’t want to hide his job search and because the school might need that much time to find his successor.

Levisohn said his plans “are still up in the air. I’m exploring a number of options inside and outside the educational world.”

“When you lose a great head of school, there’s always some concerns for the community and students and the staff,” Olson said. “We have this eight-month process where the rabbi can get to know the students and stakeholders ahead of time, versus throwing him into the giant pool of, ‘Here’s what needs to get done.’”

That was more or less the condition Levisohn found the school in when he was hired in 2006. The school’s enrollment had dropped, and it didn’t have the budget for an executive director position, so lay leaders were running the school day-to-day. Headmaster William Altshul was leaving to make aliyah.

Levisohn has been credited turning the school around.

Sloan said that Levisohn and others will help Kastan make the transition during the rest of this school year.

“Our board will be guiding this transition, helping Rabbi Kastan understand the opportunities available in our Greater Washington Modern Orthodox community, and making sure that strategic objectives are in place so that he can hit the ground running,” he wrote in an email.

An eight-member committee began the search for Levisohn’s successor 10 months ago. The committee enlisted the help of Jewish day school consulting firm Prizmah and came up with a list of 40 possible candidates.

After a series of in-person and Skype interviews, the committee had its two top candidates by the time of the High Holidays, Olson said. Those finalists met with students and teachers, as well as rabbis and business professionals in various settings.

“Some [settings] were presentations we asked them to make, some were working groups and some were questions and answers,” she said.

Just before Sukkot, the committee decided on Kastan, Olson said. But the board of directors did not meet to approve the decision until Oct. 15 because of the school’s holiday break, she said. There were also a few last-minute details that needed to be worked out.

“They needed a written letter of intent to make sure everyone was on the same page as far as compensation and package and everything,” she said.

Sloan said a key part of the search process was hearing feedback from student and parent surveys that were based on interactions they had had with the candidates during their visits to Berman. The feedback about Kastan, he said, was positive about his passion for modern Orthodox Jewish education and approach to community building.

“On paper, Rabbi Kastan is impressive. In person, he’s inspiring,” Sloan wrote. “He can paint a clear picture of a challenging goal, and generate the optimism and excitement needed to galvanize a team to make it real.”

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