It was the first week of summer recess and the halls and classrooms at Krieger Schechter Day School were almost empty. But outgoing middle school head Shelley Hendler and incoming middle school head Robyn Blum had work to do. Hendler was putting the finishing touches on her 14-year legacy with the school and Blum was preparing for a new challenge as Hendler’s successor. Both said they were looking forward to the next chapter in their lives.
Though outsiders to the school might have been surprised by her decision to call it quits at the end of the 2013-2014 school year, Hendler, 56, said it was carefully thought out.
“I’ve been considering this for a while,” she said. “I knew I wanted to be here to help make the transition for two years with Bil [Zarch, KSDS head], and for a year between [former lower school head] Saundra Madoff and Josh Bender, who just finished his first year at the school.”
Hendler said she found the change in leadership over the past two years, and the new ideas and conversations it has generated, “exhilarating.”
“Having a change in the head of school does put you in a place where you look at yourself,” she explained. “I’ve valued that — the push for the faculty to look at themselves and to explore and look at instruction creatively.
“For instance,” continued Hendler, “this year, a number of us received training in a program called Facing History and Ourselves, which looks at social justice and has far-reaching components. We were also part of a cohort called Digital Badge for the sixth-graders. The program is about communication and includes Internet safety. We also rolled out a program called STEAM, in which our eighth-graders created innovations. Programs like these breathe new life into the school.”
Regardless of the new programming, Hendler, who became middle school head in 2012, said that the middle school has remained relatively unchanged.
“The faculty is a nice blend of experienced and new teachers,” she said. “Robyn and I had already been working together — she has moved from the classroom to head of Judaics to assistant middle school head and now to head. It was a natural progression.”
She admitted that it will be strange to say goodbye.
In the past two years, Hendler has chosen to “live Krieger Schechter,” she explained. “I really wanted to be here 100 percent to the very end. I didn’t want to take time off to think about next steps. I wanted to embrace the end of the year.”
As she looks back on her legacy, Hendler said, “I’m most proud of creating a culture in which teachers love to learn and love to learn from each other.”
Meanwhile, Blum, 39 and a mother of two, said she has felt well-supported in transitioning to her new position.
“It’s going to be a very exciting year,” said Blum, a Harvard graduate who holds an M.A. in Jewish Education from Jewish Theological Seminary and is completing her doctoral dissertation at the University of Maryland in curriculum and instruction in the social studies. Blum said she sees a lot of similarities between the study of Jewish texts and the study of history.
“It was important for me to have both,” she explained. KSDS is “a wonderful community. We all love the school and hold its mission in our hearts. It’s all a partnership, and we all come together.”
Blum credited Hendler and the school’s past and present leadership and faculty for making the school what it is, but she acknowledged that the new leaders have made some changes over the past two years.
“We are building upon what others have done,” she said. “I think the changes are responses to where our community is. For example, anyone would have seen that we need to be very thoughtful about technology. We’ll continue to face the challenges and the opportunities that technology offers. How can we harness this tool in a meaningful, enriching and educational way?”
Blum stressed that students need to be taught the beauty of technology in combination with the responsibility of being a good “digital resident.”
Also, I think that families today are looking for communities where they and their kids are valued and their contributions to the community are valued.”
Dr. Randi Braman’s involvement with KSDS began with her daughter, Maddie, who was at the school from kindergarten through the eighth grade. Maddie will be a senior at Garrison Forest High School this fall. Braman’s son, Sam, will be a seventh-grader at KSDS. A primary care physician who lives in Owings Mills, she said she and her husband, Baltimore attorney Darrell Braman, have been consistently pleased with the school.
“It’s a close community that creates a love of learning,” she said. “They have good students and get the best out of them. It was great for my daughter. She’s become an independent thinker who really enjoys learning. And Shelley was a huge part of the middle school experience. She’s haimish — a combination mother, administrator and cheerleading section for each child. When there’s drama in the class, Shelley is the voice of reason. The kids knew they could count on her to be level-headed. She doesn’t lose her cool.”
Braman is also confident about Blum.
“Robyn is smart,” she said. “She has a good handle on the school’s mission and an eye on the school’s emphasis on derech eretz. She’s always working on that. When it comes to Judaics, kids feel comfortable sharing their opinions. I think it’s important for kids that they don’t feel that they are being force-fed Hebrew and Judaics and Israel politics. It’s important that the school continue to be forward-thinking.”