Susan Friedman, the middle school principal at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, is retiring after 40 years in education.
Susan Friedman finally has the chance to sleep in past her usual 4:30 a.m. wakeup call.
Then again, she’s not breaking her routine that easily.
Friedman, the middle school principal at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, is retiring after 40 years in education.
Of those 40 years, she spent three at Barrack as a result of the merger between Robert Saligman Middle School and Perelman Jewish Day School.
Her last official day is June 30, and Friedman, who has three graduate degrees in education, will be spending a lot of that time packing up her office — not an easy thing to do with 40-plus years of memories.
But the memories certainly won’t stop, even after the last day of school on June 10. The tradition at Barrack is to have a “move-up day” for the eighth-graders heading to ninth grade in the fall, and just about the entire middle school will celebrate at Dorney Park.
“Sixth grade has really been my grade most of my life as a teacher,” said Friedman, who spent 18 years doing administrative work and is also certified as a teacher, guidance counselor and a principal.
“And I’m one of those crazy individuals who has always adored working with middle school kids. They come in as children, and many of them leave at the end of eighth grade starting on the beginning of their road to young adulthood. The transformation and the changes that occur in middle school are extremely thrilling for me, and it’s always been a tremendous pleasure and honor to be involved in the lives of my students.”
But just because she’s retiring doesn’t mean she’s slowing down.
As a congregant of Temple Sholom in Broomall, she will become the lay person to oversee the educational programs at the synagogue.
“I love my synagogue, I love everyone there,” she said. “There couldn’t be a more perfect transition.”
She’s also a member of the DMAX Foundation, an organization named in memory of 18-year-old Dan Maxwell, who took his own life a few years ago. His parents created the organization to try to prevent suicide and spread awareness.
And she’s joining the board of an organization called Heart of Hope, which started in memory of her friend’s granddaughter, who passed away at the age of 21 months after two heart transplants. The organization supports families going through similar ordeals.
“For starters, that’s what I’m doing,” she laughed. “I hope to be able to go to the gym more. I probably could add a few more things, but I’m trying to be cautious.”
And, of course, if Barrack ever needs her, she’s happy to help.
But when she’s not there, the new Susan B. Friedman Jewish Continuity Fund can help students and their families. The fund focuses on experiential learning — learning that does not take place in a formal classroom, which Friedman thinks is just as valuable if not more than in-class learning — and supports families who aren’t able to afford certain costs.
Since the merger, for example, Barrack has incorporated an eighth-grade trip to Israel, which can run between $3,000 and $3,500.
In order to make the program part of the curriculum, the school must be able to help families who can’t afford it, she said, among other trips and programs.
“Those are the experiences that kids remember for rest of their lives,” she added. “I’m going to miss the kids. I love the kids, how happy they make me and the joy they bring to my life.”
For Barrack’s 14th annual gala event in March, the school honored Friedman with a tribute video filled with testimonies from students and faculty explaining what makes her so special.
She said the former student who made it was kind enough to send her all the rough footage — everything that had to be cut as to avoid a feature-length film.
“I got to see and hear what everyone said at length,” she said, adding that being an honoree was one of the biggest surprises of her lifetime.
“It was the most unforgettable moment of my life, aside from the night my grandson was born,” she said. “It is the most that any human being could dream of. To end a career, I have loved what I’ve done, every second of it, and this was many layers of icing on the cake. It will live in my heart forever and ever until the day I die.”
Friedman hopes to continue to stay in touch with her students because everyone she’s met along the way has “treated me like gold” and “enriched my life.”
She always had a giant bowl of chocolates on her desk, and everyone was welcome to have a piece, but only if they greeted her or others and shared something about their day or how they’re feeling.
“It enabled me to get to know everybody very well,” she said, considering most everyone loves chocolate. “One big savings will be the money I save on the purchase of chocolate because I really spent a fortune on it, but it’s worth its weight in gold.”
As for her legacy, that will remain in the minds of her students.
She always taught them to reach their mental height, striving for advocacy and resilience through meaningful experiences and a zero-tolerance policy for bullying.
“Life is hard, and they need to advocate for themselves when things aren’t going right,” she said. “I’ve taught them a variety of ways to do that, and I think we unfortunately live in an age where parents love their children so much sometimes parents forget to teach their kids how to be resilient. I think sometimes failure can be a very rich and meaningful experience.
“But I’d like to think that I’ve taught kids how to be good to one another and how to appreciate one another. And I hope that’s a legacy that I’ve left, in addition to liking chocolate.”