Rabbi Lee Buckman, who oversaw innovations in curriculum and developed a far-reaching strategic plan for the Anne and Max Tanebaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, is leaving as head of school in August. He will stay on to help with the transition until December 2017.
Jonathan Levy, 43, who was the principal at the school’s Kimel campus in Vaughan for six years and is currently the principal at the Wallenberg campus, will become head of school in September 2017.
Rabbi Buckman, 54, who took over as head of school in September 2013, will be making aliyah with his wife.
During his tenure at TanenbaumCHAT, Rabbi Buckman oversaw the development of a strategic plan that financially supported the school’s two campuses, called for more aggressive recruitment of students and emphasized finding new sources of funding.
Among his achievements, Rabbi Buckman pointed to a new engineering and robotics program at the school.
“The goal of the program is not just to introduce students to the field of engineering, but to introduce students to a new way of thinking about how to approach complex problems that don’t have easy solutions,” he said.
The high school has also been re-evaluating its Jewish studies curriculum.
“Jewish studies is what distinguishes CHAT from other good schools. If the program is not inspiring and relevant… we’ve missed out on the only thing that dramatically distinguishes us from other schools,” he said.
“We brought a process called standards and benchmarks to the school that has enabled us to embark on a long-term and very sustained reflective project to evaluate our Jewish studies curriculum and to improve it. It’s a huge commitment on the part of our teachers… and our students have reaped the benefits.”
The greatest challenges facing the incoming head of school will be affordability and dropping enrolment, problems confronting every day school, Rabbi Buckman said.
In September, the north campus of the Leo Baeck Day School, an elementary school affiliated with the Reform movement, will begin sharing space with TanenbaumCHAT’s Kimel campus on the grounds of the Lebovic Jewish Community Campus in a bid to shore up both school’s declining enrolments.
Despite its challenges, the school, which has 966 students on two campuses, is in good shape, Rabbi Buckman said.
“I’m leaving it in excellent academic shape,” he said. “It’s in a condition where people are thinking strategically both educationally and institutionally.”
Ray Rubin, president of TanenbaumCHAT’s board of directors, said the board was surprised to receive Rabbi Buckman’s resignation.
“There was no reasonable expectation he was going to leave,” she said. “Rabbi Buckman is an outstanding leader. He’s left a tremendous legacy. He’s created a vision that we hope will be implemented over many years to come.”
Levy had already been identified as a potential successor, and after consulting “a number of executive recruiters,” the board concluded that “Dr. Levy was our guy,” Rubin said.
Levy, who was raised and educated in Montreal, came to Toronto in 2009, after serving as assistant principal at Montreal’s Hebrew Academy. He earned a PhD in social welfare, studying how schools could assist troubled ultra-Orthodox boys.
Although he has been a principal at TanenbaumCHAT for eight years, Levy said he was going to take time to study the entire system as head of school before announcing any initiatives.
“We have a number of new projects that we’ve started and I think it’s important to see the school from a new perspective before I jump to any quick changes.”
Rabbi Buckman, who had been head of Greenfield Hebrew Academy in Atlanta, Ga., before coming to Toronto, said he and his wife will be moving to join one of their four sons who lives in Israel.
“It was a short but productive 3-1/2 years. We’ve always intended to make aliyah… we decided this was the time to do it,” he said