During her eight-year tenure leading the Perelman Jewish Day School, Judy Groner presided over a generational change in the teaching ranks.
Now, the retiring Groner is handing over school leadership to the younger generation, too.
When the head of school retires this summer, Mitchell Daar, 36, will replace her.
The board of directors for the pre-K-5 Montgomery County institution announced the hiring with a letter to its community on Jan. 10.
“We are delighted to announce that we have secured our first choice for this essential role,” wrote Nancy Black, the board president.
Black’s kids, a son and a daughter, graduated from Perelman in 2008 and 2013, respectively. But Black, a Bryn Mawr resident, remains a donor to the institution and an active participant in its affairs.
She stayed involved because she loved what Perelman did for her children “during their formative years,” she said. It gave them a strong foundation of Jewish identity and values.
“That school has a warmth that really shapes who they are,” Black added.
During the search process, Black felt that same warmth and openness from Daar. The president called the new head of school dynamic, engaging, thoughtful and analytical.
“You need someone who can bring people together,” Black said.
Daar may seem capable of bringing people together, but he has not yet done it as a head of school. When he starts his new role on July 1, he will take over as a building leader for the first time in his career as a Jewish educator.
But Daar feels ready for it, he said.
He’s the director of enrollment management and strategic initiatives for the Rodeph Sholom School, a nursery-eighth grade institution on New York City’s Upper West Side. Daar has held that role for three years, serving more than 400 students.
Before that, he was the associate head of the middle school at the Abraham Joshua Heschel School, also on the Upper West Side.
Before relocating to New York, Daar spent more than 10 years at his alma mater in Chicago: the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School. He was a math teacher before moving to a variety of administrative roles, including director of educational operations and high school counseling.
Daar also earned an MBA to supplement his educational experience with business acumen. Both experiences molded him into an educator who could run an institution, he said.
“At my core, I’m an educator,” Daar continued. “But I have the understanding of how systems work; how to create change in an organization.”
Daar grew to believe he was ready to run a school during his current role at Rodeph Sholom.
Part of his job is making sure enrollment is healthy, and he has launched rebranding and marketing efforts to make the school more “accessible to families that are a fit for our community,” he said. One such group is families who have been in public school education.
“We need to remove the idea that Jewish education is only for incredibly affluent Jewish families,” Daar said. “We need to make it for anyone who wants to be a part of it.”
Daar was ready to implement that approach as a head of school even before he got the Perelman job. Through a recruiting firm, DRG Search, he interviewed for a different principal job but didn’t get it.
That same firm, though, led Perelman’s search and reached out to Daar last summer. As Daar started researching the Philadelphia-area school and interviewing for the role, he began to get excited.
With its use of technology and experimental classrooms, Perelman had “a culture of innovation,” as Daar described it. He also liked how Perelman melded Jewish identity and the Hebrew language with secular subjects like math.
But perhaps more than anything, like Black described, it was the school’s sense of community that sold its new head.
“Everyone that’s a part of Perelman praises it, and it’s near and dear to their heart,” Daar said.
After he announced his decision to his Rodeph community, he had multiple parents reach out to him about his new school.
“To say they went to Perelman, and it’s such an amazing school,” Daar recalled.
In the summer, Daar is marrying his fiancee, Gillian Miller-Lewis, and moving to the Philadelphia area. Then he’s going to start figuring out how to build on Groner’s progress.
“I’m most excited to just play a strong part in such a strong community,” he said. “I’m so humbled by this role.”
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