Barrack Academy Gets a New Head


When Steven M. Brown stepped down almost a year ago as head of school at the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, faculty member Sharon Levin was tapped to fill that role on an interim basis while the board conducted a search for a new leader.

But on April 3, the board unanimously appointed Levin as the pluralistic day school's official head of school.

Board president Ariele Zandman Klausner and president-elect Cecily Carel notified the Barrack community in an email.

"Sharon's strong educational and administrative experience, leadership abilities, enthusiasm and commitment to Jewish life, learning and community, make her the ideal person to lead Barrack at this time," they stated in the email. "She has all the necessary attributes to meet challenges as well as spearhead great growth opportunities."

Levin has taught at the middle and high school since 1986. For 20 years, she served as chair of the school's department of humanities. She's also the parent of two alumni.

In addition to her work at the school, the Main Line resident has played leadership roles in the wider community, serving on the boards of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia and Camp Ramah in the Poconos. She is also a former campaign chair and president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Women's Philanthropy division.

Barrack, formerly known as the Akiba Hebrew Academy, is located in Bryn Mawr, and serves about 275 students in grades 6 through 12.

Brown's departure last June came to many as a surprise. Initially, Brown's selection was widely seen as a major boost for the school. He has a national reputation in the field of Jewish education and previously ran the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

But during his three-year tenure, Barrack had some rocky moments, including a 2009 middle school merger deal with the Perelman Jewish Day School that fell apart at the last minute. Later that year, a faculty strike brought classes to a halt for two weeks. Currently, he's coordinating the doctoral program in education at Gratz College.

Levin acknowledged that the school has faced some challenging times.

"When I came on this year, I felt the sense of urgency that everyone felt," Levin said, referring to taking the interim position. "We had a location change, a name change and a rather abrupt head of school change. We just couldn't sit on our hands."

Levin said she's already implemented some changes during her year as interim leader including the introduction of a new schedule that she said will allow for more flexibility and make optional student prayer time more feasible.

She added that Barrack had a successful year in terms of fundraising.

With the retirement of long-time director of admissions Vivian Young, Levin hired alumna Jennifer Groen for the job.

The goal, said Levin, is to make it known that Barrack provides a top-notch education and is an alternative to the region's best-known private schools.

It also faces competition for students from Perelman Jewish Day School's Saligman Middle School and the Kohelet Yeshiva High School that last year opened on the Main Line. Kohelet is an Orthodox institution.

Currently, enrollment is at about 275 students. Levin said she hopes to boost enrollment to over 300 in the next year or so.

She noted that "sustainability" will be one of her primary focuses, meaning that, over the long term, fundraising and enrollment numbers need to be better in order for Barrack to be fiscally sustainable.

"We need to be on everyone's radar," she said. "I always feel that we are the best-kept secret in the community and I don't get it. I feel so sorry for people that don't send their kids to our school."



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