The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School (CESJDS) in Rockville recently announced the appointment of Rabbi Mitchel Malkus as the new head of school.
Malkus’ new position follows a 12-year run as head of school at The Rabbi Jacob Pressman Academy of Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles, where he expanded enrollment and established education programs such as a Hebrew immersion program.
Receiving a master’s degree in Judaic Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York, Malkus received rabbinic ordination in 1999 and was the first person to be awarded a Doctor of Education from the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at JTS. In addition to education leadership, Malkus has written many articles on educational issues.
He recently spoke to WJW about his new position and plans for CESJDS.
How are you enjoying your time at the school so far?
My short time here has been really wonderful. I’ve really felt welcomed by the school and Jewish community here. I’m even more impressed with the school than I was when speaking about the position.
Your last position was head of school at the Pressman Academy in L.A. How has the transition been from that position to this one?
That school was early childhood through eighth grade. The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School is kindergarten through 12th grade. In terms of the role, I feel very comfortable. One of the reasons I chose to come here is I’m excited about the opportunity to lead what I believe is the most outstanding Jewish day school in the world, and the professional challenge to take school to the next level.
As head of school, what educational issues are you looking to tackle?
I worked together with the educational faculty and staff in all of the different areas. As I’m just getting settled in, one of the priorities is continuing the academic excellence of the school. Right now I’m learning about the fabulous programs the school has and what areas the school has been interested in enhancing.
I’m also learning about the different areas and discussing what the new areas we want the school to go forward in.
What are your thoughts on pluralistic schools compared to denominational schools?
I’m really excited to be leading a pluralistic community school.
I think that having a pluralistic community school is an incredible opportunity for its students and families to come together.
There are also challenges because we have to find areas of agreement. Unlike a denominational school, where focus is limited and narrowed, here we’re focused on the entire community and that’s very exciting work.
What are your short-term and long-term goals for the education program at Charles E. Smith?
The short-term goal right now is to ensure the school’s excellence. The long-term goal is to build on that. I’m very interested in the partnerships and collaborations that the school can have with other organizations, both Jewish and non-Jewish, and educational. I believe that one thing we can really do here, because of the school’s nature, is develop many different partnerships and relationships.
One specific goal I have now [involves our] two campuses. It’s a challenge to have two campuses because we have students who go through the entire program. In the short run, I want to make sure there is continuity on each level. When we think on the curricular level, student experience and family level, we really have a cohesive K-12 experience.
[In terms of] bigger goals, I believe Charles E. Smith is one of the premiere Jewish day schools in the world. Because of that, we have an obligation. One of the things I’m hoping to do is partner with other schools to help them and be a model for what they can [become].
Can you elaborate on partnering with organizations?
One of the issues all Jewish day schools face is the question of affordability. There may be families who would love to have their child attend a Jewish day school, but the cost is a roadblock they need to overcome. This is not a Charles E. Smith problem. It’s a field-wide issue that all Jewish day schools have. It’s one area where we not only want to look for partners, but it’s imperative we address the issue. I’m hoping we can work with communally minded organizations to do so.
What do you enjoy most about the job?
I enjoy that it involves so many different aspects. My day could involve teaching in a classroom, working with faculty, meeting with parents and working with donors to realize a new vision. I like the fact that my job is varied and that I get to meet and speak with so many different constituents during the day.
Why move from L.A. to here?
I had a fabulous community in L.A. I wasn’t looking to move to another school. There were maybe three or four other Jewish day schools in the country I considered moving to. Charles E. Smith was so outstanding, and I was excited when offered the opportunity to be the next head of school.