Located in the heart of Pikesville, Ohr Chadash Academy is surrounded by a bustling Jewish community. Parents can grab deli lunches from Seven Mile Market, while older children head to Chabad of Park Heights for activities. Then the family can gather again at a number of other synagogues just feet away.
“Providing opportunities to learn Torah and an environment in which to perform mitzvot are what ensure the continuity of the Jewish people,” said Rabbi Evan Weiner, OCA Judaic studies principal. This connection is part of what attracted the school’s new faculty member, Deborah Rapoport, appointed as the new head of school beginning Jan. 15.
Rapoport has spent more than 20 years in Jewish day school education as a high school administrator, learning specialist, and neuroscience and biology teacher. In 1997, she and her husband moved from Rochester, N.Y., to Baltimore, where she worked for Beth Tfiloh High School. She left BT in 2016 for Johns Hopkins University, where she pursued a doctoral degree with a focus on the brain and its relationship to education. While she worked on her dissertation, OCA asked her to serve as interim head of school for one year.
“But after spending just a short time at OCA, I felt right at home,” Rapoport said. “I knew that I would want to put down roots to help our special school community grow into the future.”
Six months later, the academy’s board of directors unanimously approved her hiring as permanent head of school. The search committee, chaired by Ari Taragin, reviewed dozens of applications and conducted interviews with reference checks first, according to Lanie Carter, OCA marketing chair.
Rapoport wants to help OCA actualize the school’s vision of community, individuality, and excellence. “In order to achieve that goal, we work hard every day as a team to ensure that every decision we make is based upon our mission, vision, and educational philosophy. Creating a strong organizational infrastructure, establishing clear and open channels of communication, and building opportunities for collaborative professional growth are key to the growth we have already observed this year,” Rapoport said.
Randi Orshan, general studies principal, agreed that the team has already been able to implement necessary changes. “Her knowledge base and expertise in certain areas have allowed the staff to learn from her and grow in their own practice,” Orshan said.
Carter, too, pointed out that Rapoport’s specific commitment to OCA’s mission impressed her.
“She has helped us to examine everything we do at the school through the lens of those values … so that we can be certain that everything at OCA is fully in line with the vision that was established nine years ago at OCA’s inception.” Carter said she was also impressed that Rapoport has already built meaningful relationships with the school’s community.
The parent body, whose approval was also necessary, shared the sentiment. The board of directors approved as well.
“Since Mrs. Rapoport’s hire as interim head of school last July, her level of professionalism, expertise as an educational leader, and unwavering commitment to the vision, mission, and values of OCA have been abundantly apparent,” Mel Pachino, president of the board of directors, said in a press release. “She has demonstrated a commitment to bringing out the best in our students and faculty members alike.”
Weiner said that Rapoport was a unique choice because she understands the science of education. “Her vast knowledge of how the brain works was a significant resource in developing plans for how to provide support to each individual student. Her professionalism and unswerving pursuit of excellence made it clear that regardless of the title of interim head of school, she would be using the time wisely to help continue to raise the bar for Jewish education in Baltimore.”
Rapoport said she chose this career because she “cannot envision a more gratifying professional path than to nurture a community of enthusiastic and passionate learners.” She said that OCA is a unique place for this because it is an interactive and personalized student-centered experience. There is a cohesive joy in the community, she said, “in the learning of Torah, in the celebration of individual and collective success, and in the building of the Jewish future. If I could select several more words, I would choose growth-oriented, student-centered, empirically based, and mission-driven.”
Rapoport enjoys the school. She said she loves to hear the second graders daven “with full hearts,” and admires the intelligence of the students, from when they study parshah to Mad Science night, when middle school students demonstrate scientific principles using hands-on activities.
She just finds one thing difficult: “The days go by too quickly.”