Sharon Freundel thinks Jewish education needs a shake-up.
This summer, the longtime educator will take over as managing director at the Mayberg Foundation’s Jewish Education Innovation Challenge (JEIC), which aims to “reinvigorate” Jewish day school education with new initiatives and techniques.
“Jews are the people of the book, we should be setting the standard for innovation in education,” Freundel said. “Unfortunately, a lot of Jewish day schools are lagging behind and trying to catch up on innovative 21st century education.”
Freundel announced in a Jan. 11 email that she was stepping down as Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School’s director of Jewish life. In an interview, she said she will complete the school year at the school, where she’s filled a number of senior roles for 12 years. Earlier, she taught at the Berman Hebrew Academy.
She will begin her new job in July.
“We needed somebody who had the administrative know-how and gravitas as an educator to take us to the next level,” said Todd Sukol, executive director of the Mayberg Foundation. “We believe that there are incredible Jewish educators of diverse backgrounds and practices and educational philosophies who need to collaborate together to discover or invent those models that work.”
(Louis and Manette Mayberg, trustees of the foundation, are members of the ownership group of Mid-Atlantic Media, which publishes Washington Jewish Week.)
According Sukol, Jewish education is too often staid and uninspiring, and fails to build strong, lifelong Jewish identities in students. The operating philosophy of the Jewish Education Innovation Challenge is to bring some of the brightest minds in Jewish primary education together and see what they come up with.
Freundel said she plans to adapt some of the most cutting-edge educational philosophies and techniques for Jewish schools. She already brings experience in the Reggio Emilia philosophy, Harvard’s Project Zero (which emphasizes learning through the arts) and expeditionary learning, which teaches students through the real-world applications of their work.
She put the latter to use when Milton students studied the environment and immigration for voter guides they passed out at polling places in 2016.
“If there are real-world applications where they’re making a difference, there’s much more reason to throw yourself into it,” Freundel said. “They knew that people were actually going to look at this.”
Sukol said it was that kind of creative outlook that drew the Jewish Education Innovation Challenge to Freundel.
“All kinds of things make it hard to really implement the most cutting-edge models for Jewish education,” he said. “But she’s been so successful in doing that at Milton.”
Naomi Reem, Milton’s head of school, called Freundel’s exit a big loss for the school. Freundel was a great resource for students, parents and fellow educators, she said.
“She’s created programs that have a very strong spiritual component, which the kids are not only learning but also developing themselves as spiritual beings,” Reem said. “Her genius is her ability to make everybody at ease in the programs she created.”
Freundel will stay on as a consultant with Milton, but she won’t be spending as much time with students, for whom she advised several clubs and was generally a sounding board, according to Reem.
What will Freundel miss most?
“To be honest, the children,” she said. “The children are the soul of any school. I’ve spent 40 years in Jewish education and 40 I still jump out of bed every single morning because I know I’m going to see the kids.”