Maayan named new head of Saul Mirowitz Day School-RJA


The Saul Mirowitz Day School-Reform Jewish Academy has hired a new head of school to replace Philip Dickstein who announced his resignation from the post in May.

Cheryl Maayan, a native St. Louisan who has taught at the day school since its second year in existence, was signed to a multi-year contract to lead SMDS-RJA at the beginning of this month. SMDS-RJA board president Marc Bluestone said Maayan had just the blend of qualities that the organization was seeking in a new head of school.

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

“We were looking for a visionary leader who would understand our mission and understand our values and not just lead us towards that but also add to it,” he said. “We’ve got a really good sense for who she is and what she’s all about and we are very, very confident that she is the right person to lead us into the future.”

Bluestone said the search process was a very active one and that a variety of candidates from different backgrounds were interviewed. The board’s eventual decision to hire Maayan was unanimous.

“I think it just became clear to everyone in that process when we spoke with Cheryl that she was the right person for us,” he said.

Maayan said that she is excited about her new position and feels SMDS-RJA is very much on the right track.

“The school is going in great directions already,” she said. “My task is to help move it along.”

Maayan cited recent collaborative efforts with parents, board members and Washington University to upgrade the school’s science program as an example of the kind of ideas she hopes the school will move towards under her leadership. The university provided professional development for teachers as well as educational materials to supplement the learning experience.

“That is just a wonderful model for what I’d like to see happen with our other curricula,” she said. “What it does is it makes it possible for us to do what we know is effective for teaching science.”

Maayan said that right now there are no immediate plans to take on additional grade levels past grade five but in the more distant future such ideas may be possible. Right now she classified enrollment as “steady” but said that she hope to increase it and would collaborate with the SMDS-RJA team to that end.

“We have Patty Bloom taking on admissions and marketing as a full-time professional and Beth Manlin, who is going to head up the development department at our school,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to working with both of them.”

She said that she felt fortunate to work with a talented group of teachers, faculty and staff and that there is a “positive energy” pervading the school.

“Because I have been working with the teachers there for seven years, I feel that I can capitalize on the gifts they bring to the students,” she said.

Maayan grew up in St. Louis at Congregation Shaare Emeth and described herself as an active member of camps and youth groups. After doing undergraduate work at Washington University, she attended Hebrew Union College where she earned her Master of Arts in Jewish education. She spent two years in Israel. Later, she worked as a Hebrew school director at Temple Shalom in Newton, Mass. Before moving on to the Rashi School in Boston, a Reform day school. That’s where she found her true passion.

“I discovered Reform day school,” she said. “Something clicked for me. I discovered that everything I was excited about was embodied in this idea of Reform Jewish day school.”

Maayan said she and her husband had always talked about returning to their hometown one day.

“I told my parents that if they ever open a Reform Jewish day school in St. Louis, we’ll be back in a flash,” said Maayan. “That’s exactly what happened.”

Maayan’s family relocated and she began teaching at SMDS-RJA in its second year. She has now been full-time at the school for five years where she has taught third grade. In 2005, she earned the Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award for Excellence in Jewish Education and the Stuart Raskas Outstanding Day School Teacher Award.

Maayan said that the fact that there are few Reform Jewish day schools in North America presents both possibilities and responsibilities.

“We get to set a model for the potential of Jewish education in the Reform Movement,” she said. “So it’s not so much a challenge but it is a unique opportunity that we have.”

Maayan said that it is important to keep in mind that SMDS-RJA is truly a gift to the children.

“I feel like what we do at the school is that we are providing not only a superior education for the kids but we are giving the minutes of their days a sense of meaning,” she said. “They engage in intelligent conversations. They think about things that matter at our school. They develop not only as academicians but as moral human beings.”

She also said that she feels that the Reform Movement is growing.

“I think the Reform Movement is healthy. It is expanding. It is providing a deeper sense of Judaism to people,” she said. “What I think it does is it affords Reform Jews the opportunity to explore the meaning of Judaism in a comfortable way.”

Maayan, 40, lives with her husband, Jonathan, himself a graduate of H.F. Epstein Hebrew Academy and Block Yeshiva High School. They couple has two children Gabriel, 10, and Ari, 8. Both attend SMDS-RJA.