Epstein grad to return as head of school

Rabbi Avi Greene and his family.

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

A former student of the H. F. Epstein Hebrew Academy will soon return to St. Louis to take over as the institution’s new head of school.

Rabbi Avi Greene, 37, a graduate of both Epstein and Block Yeshiva High School, is set to take the reins at the academy July 1. A graduate of Brandeis University where he received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Near Eastern and Judaic studies, Greene was ordained in the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in New York and is now completing his doctorate in educational supervision and administration at Yeshiva University.

The rabbi has served in managerial, administrative and teaching positions at a variety of Judaic schools on both coasts for more than a decade, including Rabbi Jacob Pressman Academy in Los Angeles, and North Shore Hebrew Academy High School in New York. His most recent position was founder and principal of Atid School in Los Angeles.


Born in New York City, Greene is the son of Rabbi Kenneth Greene, formerly of Shaare Zedek Synagogue.

Greene said he is looking forward to his return to St. Louis and his wife Sara and two daughters, Elisheva, 8, and Shoshana, 4, are no less enthusiastic.

“They are excited to go back and see where I grew up,” he said. “I’m excited to come back and raise my own kids in St. Louis. It’s a really nice feeling to be able to come home and contribute to the community.”

The rabbi said that he feels the most valuable experience to prepare him for his upcoming duties may lie in his work at Shalhevet High School, where spent three years as director of Judaic studies. During most of that period, he was teaching as well.

“By the time I was finishing up there I really was dealing with all the aspects involved in running a school,” he said. “We were doing budgeting, scheduling, hiring teachers. I think that really gave me the perspective that I need to come into a school and take that buck-stops-here position.”

Greene said he will bring a constructivist educational approach that stresses guided, hands-on instruction for Epstein students.

“One of the things that I heard over and over again that is at the top of the priority list is academic excellence and rigor,” he said. “That means setting priorities like school accreditation and working to get the curriculum to the highest possible level while still giving students the warm, caring feeling that the academy has always been known for.”

While he intends to bring a strong focus on academics, Greene said he is not preparing to make any quick changes at the school.

“I certainly don’t see anything happening that is drastic immediately,” he said. “Even though I grew up there, I’ve been away for several years and I really feel like I need to come in and get a feel for the culture, a feel for the community and do that in consultation with a number of constituencies.”

Greene said he gets the sense that the school has a healthy supply of supportive parents and community members as well as a top-notch staff that will make his job easier.

“It’s an exciting time to be there,” he said. “I think that St. Louis has the opportunity to be a community of Jewish leaders and that’s part of what excites me about coming back.”

Greene’s St. Louis adventure began with a 21/2-day trip to the city earlier this year in which the rabbi met with community and synagogue leaders and was introduced to some of the school’s procedures. He is expected to return later this month as part of the ongoing transition.

His hire was the result of a search process that began in January, said Epstein board president Mark Drazen.

“The board of directors decided they needed a new style of leadership,” he said.

Drazen cited Greene’s experience with teaching, administration and fundraising as keys to the hire.

“He came highly recommended,” Drazen said. “People on the board and the teachers found him to be accomplished and personable.”

Rabbi Shmuel Kay, who has served as Epstein’s head of school since mid-2005, was out of town on school business and could not be reached for comment.