At the Yeshivah of Flatbush Joel Braverman High School, alumni make a difference every single day—as faculty. We are proud and blessed to be able to say that over 35% (45 out of 125) of our educational team are graduates of the school they now work in. This astounding figure is not accidental and has major implications for the Flatbush experience. In this article, I hope to summarize some of those consequences with the aim that those findings will be helpful for other schools as they consider their staffing needs. Rather than simply list the benefits alumni staff have on our school, I’ve chosen to describe certain individual staff members who are exemplars of those benefits.
Our process for hiring a teacher or other staff member is designed to help us get to know potential employees to determine their capabilities and suitability for a particular position. This includes and is not limited to a resume review, an interview, a model lesson and reference checks.
When we hire alumni such as Renee Harari, who teaches math to ninth and tenth graders, however, our knowledge of the candidate runs much deeper. From her time as a student in school, Renee was one to assist her peers with their math work. Her ability to clarify complex equations for teenagers was already being utilized in class when her teachers would call her up to the board to demonstrate for others. Our math leadership team knew Renee could teach in high school even before she graduated. She is one example of many of our team members whose qualities were known and understood before they were hired. Effectively, we trained them.
One of the great challenges any school experiences when hiring a new staff member is determining whether or not a particular candidate for a position is aligned with the school’s values. Because they have been through our school system, our alumni know what we stand for and they have been raised on those values. The father and son duo of Rabbis Raymond and Avi Harari are excellent examples; Rabbi Raymond Harari served as head of school for 17 years and continues to teach Talmud, while Rabbi Avi Harari is our rosh bet midrash and leads an alumni learning program. They are living models of what our school aims to develop in a graduate: people of character, compassion, scholarship and commitment to our values. One of the most significant and effective ways we transmit our values to our students is through living examples; alumni accomplish this naturally.
Alumni staff once sat in the same desks (literally) as our students do and are therefore familiar with the features which are particular to our school environment. Sarah Marcus is a case in point. She teaches English to tenth and twelfth grade students and also serves as our student activities coordinator. She is passionate about connecting with our students on a personal level, leading monthly town hall meetings with students and administrators to ensure student voice plays a crucial role in school decisions.
Sarah is so invested in the idea that staff need to appreciate the student experience, she actually strapped on a knapsack one day and came to school as a student for a full day, from arrival to dismissal. She wanted to refresh her memory of what it is like to be a student in our school and shared her experience with colleagues at a professional development session. Sarah is one example of many in our school who demonstrate that when teachers can see the world through the eyes of their students, teachers can better prepare learning experiences which are suitable for them.
One of the significant benefits our alumni staff provide is institutional memory. Especially in a school with longstanding and established traditions, having students as faculty can provide a sense of history to the rest of the staff and our students. After serving as a teacher for five decades subsequent to attending our school, Dr. Joel Wolowelsky can regale colleagues and students alike with stories about our founder, Joel Braverman, as well as legendary figures such as Amnon and Dina Haramati, Rabbi Yosef and Abraham Raful, and Abraham Carmel. Students and staff get a sense that they are part of an institution which spans multiple generations.
Aside from providing the richness of history, there is a purely pragmatic side, as well. It is not unusual for us to rethink a policy or procedure. Alumni staff members will often remember when a particular policy was developed and why, helping us evaluate whether the reasons are still valid and should be continued.
One of the fundamental values we seek to instill in our students is that when they graduate, we aspire that they not only succeed but find ways to lead and serve, to give back to the communities which produced them. What better way to get that message across than for them to see a variety of people they look up to, their teachers and mentors, doing just that. One excellent example is Jeffrey Dweck, who takes time out of his busy law practice to teach a business law class each morning and to coach our mock trial team.
Having as many alumni faculty as we do has led to a large number of faculty parents: 32 current members of our staff have had their children attend our high school. Not counted in this number is a significant number of faculty who send their children to our elementary school. This has generated an identification with what we do, a pride and a sense of ownership which is priceless.
As a result of all of the above, our school community has a family feel despite our relatively large size. It’s our belief that non-alumni faculty are positively influenced by working as part of a team with so many alumni. They see the commitment, connectedness and the values in their co-workers, and these are infectious. In a way, they see what their efforts will ultimately yield, as their students will become the type of people they go to work with every day.
There are many factors which contribute to the fact that we have as many alumni staff members as we do, but one of those factors is the conscious decision to look at our alumni base when we are seeking to fill positions. Based upon our positive experience, we would recommend other Jewish day schools consider a similar approach.