New leadership, new vision at Schechter

Dr. Phillip and Arleen Korenblat watch Sofer (scribe) Zerach Greenfield write the final letters of the Torah at the Solomon Schechter Day School gala marking the school’s 30th anniversary.

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

A new interim head of school, a new Torah and discussion of a new mission are all on the agenda as an active school year draws to a close at Solomon Schechter Day School.

William “Bill” Rowe, head of South County’s Thomas Jefferson School, has been named to lead SSDS on an interim basis, effective the first week of July. The 66-year-old, who will serve one year in the position, replaces Rabbi Allen Selis who announced his intention to depart in December.

Selis, now in the closing weeks of his term, has accepted a position as head of school at the South Peninsula Hebrew Day School in the San Francisco area.

Rowe has been head of school at Jefferson, an independent private institution since 2000 but his history with the school goes back much further. The native St. Louisan was a student there for his last three years of high school and took a teaching job at the facility for his first position out of college. Involved with Jefferson for more than four decades, he spent 20 years as its director of admissions. Rowe is not Jewish, however, he is familiar with classical Hebrew, a language he called part of “the groundwork of our civilization.”

“I think the school will probably have the opportunity to learn a lot from him and his experiences as to what we do and what we have in place,” said Galia Movitz, incoming co-president of SSDS. “He will probably make very substantial recommendations as we look to the future with a more permanent head. He probably will help us in that search.”

Her husband Milton Movitz, also an incoming co-president, agreed. He said Rowe will bring a calm demeanor to the position and that Rowe truly comprehends the fiscal aspects of education.

“That’s what excited me about Bill,” he said. “You have someone who really understands budget and finance, understands how to keep people working in the right direction, understands fundraising.”

Milton Movitz said boosting enrollment and facilitating effective communication with parents were going to be top priorities.

Sue Albert, director of administration and admissions at SSDS, called Rowe a “consummate professional” and said she even wrote an email to the head of the search committee thanking them for the hire.

“I really like that the search committee and the board is going to take the time to find the right long-term person rather than rush into something,” she said. “That shows a thoughtful planning for the future.”

Missy Korenblat-Hanin, outgoing president of the school, called SSDS a “crowning jewel” and said Rowe’s record of academic excellence as an educator and administrator is impressive.

“He brings decades of experience in a small, independent private school,” she said.

Selis also had high praise for his successor.

“I’ve worked with him in the context of other things in the independent school community,” he said. “[Jefferson] is a powerhouse, an amazing place and he’s the kind of person who has built an institution that’s incredibly strong academically. He’s a great pick.”

Rowe, who resides in Webster Groves with Margaret, his wife of 35 years, said he was pleased to accept the temporary job and looked forward to advancing the reaccreditation process presently underway at SSDS. Schools are examined every seven years by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States. It’s a process his former institution recently completed.

“Because of the timing, they are just about to get their report soon so I’ll be helping them with whatever goals the ISACS team has for them,” Rowe said of SSDS. “It’s something a little more definite than many interims would face because it ties in with this process.”

Rowe said he had informed officials at Thomas Jefferson two years ago that he was planning to retire but he always knew he wanted to retire to do something else as opposed to leaving the work world. The SSDS position came as a surprise, he said.

“The process was fairly rapid,” he said. “Within the space of a couple of weeks, I had half a dozen different meetings with the search committee, board, parents, administrators and faculty. Every step just felt a little better and a little stronger so I’m very happy they’ve given me this opportunity.”

The naming of Rowe comes at a time of larger discussions about the school’s direction. Milton Movitz said the board recently voted to create a task force that would explore the possibility of moving toward a Jewish community school concept. Presently, SSDS is a Conservative institution though it is open to all students.

He envisioned a one- to-three-year process that would, if adopted, shift the school into a different role.

“We have the perfect building for it at this point,” said Milton Movitz. “It’s a relatively new building that’s got everything to offer. The technology is here and the school can hold 300-350 kids.”

He said the new interim selection would be a good fit if SSDS decides to move forward with such a plan.

“Bill Rowe brings a lot to that area,” he said. “He could certainly help mentor us through that if that’s really where we are going to be heading.”

Galia Movitz said similar workable models exist in other cities and the idea here is in a “study” stage.

“Before Schechter can take that step into the future, we’re doing our homework,” she said.

Lynnsie Balk Kantor, chair of the search committee, said Rowe had a “gentle strength” to which others respond.

She said SSDS is continuing a national search for the next permanent head of school.

“We are looking forward to finding someone who will lead Schechter, whether it’s a community day school or a Conservative day school, into the future while maintaining strong academics and Jewish traditions,” she said.

The Rowe announcement coincided with last Sunday’s annual scholarship dinner, which marked the school’s three decades in existence and featured the chance for families to work on a section of the school’s new Torah. The scroll, originally from 1930s Poland, is being restored. The school’s first Torah was dedicated in honor of Anne and Bernard Meyer by their children, Arleen and Dr. Phillip Korenblat.

“According to the 613th and final commandment every Jew is to write a Torah during his or her lifetime so Schechter is celebrating its 30th anniversary by sharing this opportunity with our community,” said Korenblat-Hanin.

Bill Solomon was a special honoree for the evening and 14 of the school’s former presidents were given a special recognition. Rabbis Mark Fasman, Bernard Lipnick, Mordecai Miller, Carnie Shalom Rose, Zalman Stein and Ephraim Zimand were honored with the Yad Hazakah Award.