This summer will usher in a new era at Saul Mirowitz Day School-Reform Jewish Academy.
July 1 will mark the first day at work for Philip Dickstein, the institution’s new head of school. Dickstein will replace the retiring Marsha Grazman who has lead the school since its inception. Grazman will remain head of school until Dickstein’s installation.
Dickstein, who has spent the last two decades as principal of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Nassau County, New York, said he is excited about the move to St. Louis.
“I’m really very much looking forward to it,” he said. “I’ve been out to St. Louis twice spending time at the school and in the community. It is truly a remarkable place to be. The care, the warmth just pervades everything the school does.”
Rabbi Jeffrey Stiffman, who chaired SMDS-RJA’s search committee, said that Dickstein was indeed the right choice for the job.
“We were impressed with his education, his background, his references as a very caring individual and the fact that his educational philosophy was absolutely in sync with the school’s philosophy of education,” he said.
Stiffman said that Dickstein was a fortunate find since the committee, which began meeting in September originally thought it might need a year or more to find a new head of school due to a shortage of Jewish educators.
Dickstein’s own educational back ground was one key to his hiring. He has undergraduate degrees from Columbia University and Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where he also holds a principal’s diploma. He has a master’s degree in Jewish education from Hebrew College in Brookline, Mass., and a doctorate in policy and administration studies from Hofstra University.
Stiffman said Dickstein’s attitude was also important in making him a suitable replacement for Grazman.
“When he came in and interviewed not only with the committee but with the faculty, the feeling was that his way of dealing with people and his educational philosophy were very similar to hers and that he would be a wonderful successor,” he said.
Dickstein, 54, said that one challenge facing SMDS-RJA is to keep the school’s welcoming atmosphere while growing its student body.
“Clearly, in terms of increasing enrollment we always want to make the school available to greater numbers of kids, yet at the same time retaining very much the sense of family,” he said. “One of the wonderful things about the school is the great foundation that it does have in terms of building a strong sense with each child of how much he or she matters, and what a tremendous difference kids can make.”
Stiffman said that Dickstein’s experience was also a deciding factor.
“It’s very unique that he has been in a Schechter school for all these years and is very committed to his traditional Judaism and yet feels very comfortable leading a Reform Jewish Day School.”
Dickstein agreed, noting how impressed he was with the community’s spirit.
“I don’t have a concern about entering the Reform community,” Dickstein said. “Its sense of passion for social justice just speaks very loudly to me. All the kids there, the families that I’ve met are just proud to be part of a Jewish day school world, giving their kids a solid education.”
Dickstein likened his philosophy for educating the next generation as viewing children like butterflies coming out of a coccoon.
“At some point, they emerge into the larger world, sure of who they are,” he said. “But it’s that sense of purpose, that sense of having been nurtured, of knowing who they are that makes that introduction into the wider world around them such a positive step. They enter that world as proud Jewish-Americans.”
Dickstein has a wife, Shellie, 52, and three grown children, ages 19, 25, and 27.