By Alanna Berman
When someone who has moved steadily up the ladder his entire career and seems destined to one day to take the upper-most position in his workplace then suddenly leaps to an entirely different ladder, people tend to take notice. That’s what happened, at least, when David Jaffe left his job as San Dieguito Union High School District executive director of curriculum and assessment to become principal at Chabad Hebrew Academy in Scripps Ranch this fall.
Jaffe, who began his teaching career in the district in 1993 as a middle school U.S. history teacher, had been pegged to assume the district superintendent position after serving as its executive director of curriculum and assessment since 2007. He says the decision to leave the district and move to CHA was an easy — albeit unexpected — one.
“I thought at some point I would be a superintendent of a school district, and my career arc was leaning that way even as close as five months ago,” he said in June.
But a chance encounter as part of CHA’s Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accreditation process in March led Jaffe to CHA and Head of School Rabbi Josef Fradkin. Jaffe, who volunteers as a WASC auditor, was immediately impressed with the level of enthusiasm from the school’s staff “toward the students, toward what they taught and toward each other,” he says.
“You can tell pretty quickly in education if the students are engaged or if they’re disaffected by what’s being taught, and in every classroom I visited [at CHA] they were enthusiastically participating,” Jaffe says. “The other piece of it is [that CHA is] a school that teaches its curriculum through a [system of Judaic values], because that’s the kind of stuff that makes the curriculum rich and real for students.”
Soon after the WASC visit, CHA principal Bonnie Corduan retired, and Rabbi Fradkin looked to his staff to help find the best person to replace her.
“I asked the staff about the prototype of [a good] principal, and they all said if we could get anyone like David Jaffe we would be lucky,” Rabbi Fradkin says. “In our school, the infrastructure is such that the principal is an extension of the instruction and someone to [whom we look] to lead a very strong academic environment. He made a real impression on us during the WASC visit.”
Jaffe began his new position officially July 5, but regular instruction won’t start for a few more weeks. During the down time, he plans acquainting himself with his new campus and fellow educators.
“What I’ve learned in my years in education is that what I’m best at and what I enjoy the most is being with students and teachers and working more directly with them,” Jaffe says. “The most important aspect of education is giving the students something that excites them. I see the value of infusing [Judaism’s] value system into these students’ education, such that they live their life with Judaic values, but also look at the world and interpret the world through that value system. For me [coming to CHA], is a part of my personal journey [in Judaism] as well.”
Rabbi Fradkin says it was Jaffe’s reputation in the educational community as a leader of curriculum and instruction that made him pick up the phone and call Jaffe for an interview — not the fact that Jaffe is Jewish.
“We are a Jewish school, but it is certainly not a requirement to be Jewish to work here,” he says. “What’s most important is that [the employee] is someone who understands how to drive instruction so that every single child in our school reaches their capacity — it’s something that our school’s mission is based on. The principal is responsible for all instruction and should have the entire package because they will need to lead any educators. We certainly do have a strong basis of Jewish values that he will compliment and help, but we plan to push academic success even further.”
Once a month, Jaffe will be expected to meet with staff from each grade level and review each individual student’s progress, ensuring CHA’s goal of individual instruction is being met and that each student is challenged to become his or her very best.
Jaffe’s work at the district level will undoubtedly aid in this quest. During his time there, he worked to implement instructional technologies in the classroom that provide teachers tools to better understand the performance of their students and aid in their own professional development.
“A lot of my work [at the district level] was working directly with teachers and school administrators to take a look at their instructional practices and then to work with them to better understand how they deliver instruction and understand how students are achieving,” Jaffe says. “[Being at CHA] will afford me the opportunity to get to know people and their stories again. [It’s exciting because] I’ve worked in a place where there are 1,800 to over 2,000 kids, and now I am going to a place where there are 300 kids, where I will get to know their families and all the kids by name.”
As for the future of CHA with a new principal, Jaffe is optimistic.
“This place just feels different than the public school system — it’s a much tighter community,” he says.
For more information about Jaffe, Rabbi Fradkin or the programs at CHA, call (858) 566-1996 or visit www.chasd.org.