AJA Selects Rabbi Avi Levitt
On January 18, 2023, AJA Board President Mrs. Leanne Kaplan announced Rabbi Avi Levitt’s appointment as AJA’s next head of school, concluding what she called in her letter to the AJA community “a comprehensive and competitive search.” This extensive process, led by a Search Committee co-chaired by Mr. Jeff Stein, a past board president, parent, and grandparent at AJA, and Mr. Davi Kutner, a parent and current board member, began last spring. Mr. Stein likened the search process to “a funnel,” elaborating that the Search Committee partnered with Scott Goldberg Consulting firm to “cast a very wide net at the initial stage of search.” He estimated that Dr. Goldberg’s firm engaged in preliminary discussions with 50 to 60 possible candidates and selected a core group whom the Search Committee interviewed.
Mr. Stein, who has participated in past head of school searches, noted the high caliber of the “tremendous pool of candidates.” Mr. Kutner agreed, adding that their “impressive” nature made it challenging to “narrow down the field” and “define who is the right person… at this point in time.”
Paring down the number of candidates involved identifying the values that are important to both AJA as a school and the individual applicants. The Search Committee developed a scorecard rubric, which outlined criteria for a future head of school, and evaluated each candidate based on the scorecard during two rounds of interviews. Determining “the priorities that parents and other stakeholders in the school had for a future leader” formed the basis for these interview scorecards and the search process as a whole, according to Mr. Kutner. As another method of discovering the school’s priorities, Scott Goldberg Consulting firm spent the summer and early fall acquainting themselves with the school community and its needs through ten parent focus groups and meetings with teachers, administrators, students, board members, and other community constituents.
Mr. Stein explained that the Search Committee and Scott Goldberg Consulting tackled the essential question of, “What do we need?” He elaborated, “Are we looking for the visionary, are we looking for the operator, or strategist? Are we looking for the fundraiser, or are we looking for a role model?” After answering such questions, the Search Committee compiled the most important of its priorities into an Opportunity Statement, which described AJA as a school and outlined the makings of its ideal candidate.
Mr. Kutner appreciated how engaging with prospective candidates “stimulated the dialogue amongst the search committee and amongst the board” regarding AJA’s “top priorities right now… to work on and to focus on.” Compared to his experience in past search committees, Mr. Stein observed that there was a “strong consensus” regarding the school’s “mission” and “strategy.” He noted that this year’s search effort and strong pool of candidates highlighted the “cohesiveness and fabric of the community.”
When working to define the school’s priorities and selecting a head of school, the Search Committee involved a diverse body of community stakeholders. Parents contributed heavily from start to finish by attending focus groups, submitting questions for town hall meetings with the four finalists, and providing feedback along the way via “a dedicated email address that the search committee monitored,” according to Mr. Kutner. He added that students also contributed to the search, as a group of high schoolers and middle schoolers joined the four finalists for lunch during their respective visits to campus. This allowed the candidates to appreciate, in Mr. Kutner’s words, “a sense of the student body and ask some questions of them.” Finally, he explained that faculty and staff contributed by submitting feedback in forms regarding their “general feelings of the workplace.” A variety of faculty, staff, and administrators met with the four final candidates for on-site interviews during their visits as well as for in-person faculty meet-and-greet sessions. In addition, Mr. Joel Rojek and Ms. Sylvia Miller, two administrators, served as faculty representatives on the Search Committee and voiced input from their internal perspectives.
Mr. Stein explained that the “composition” of the Search Committee itself provided a range of input. Specifically, committee members provided “broad representation from different communities within Atlanta” as well as AJA’s four divisions, according to Mr. Kutner.
For Mr. Stein, including so many different constituents in the search process proved difficult from a logistical perspective, especially when consolidating town halls, meet and greets, and other conferences in the final four candidates’ brief two-day visits to Atlanta. Nonetheless, he appreciated the diverse perspectives throughout the search process and found it “gratifying to jump into school leadership and to see the new people, the new faces, the new leaders, [and] members of the search committee” who brought unique “passion and judgment” to the table.
In Mrs. Kaplan’s January 18 announcement, she recounted, “We set out with a bold ambition to find… a leader with a collaborative and growth mindset who is also a Modern Orthodox role model with deep experience and excellence in management and team building.” After an extensive process, the Search Committee recommended Rabbi Levitt, who they feel reflects all of these values. Beyond this, Mrs. Kaplan wrote that Rabbi Levitt is “creative and courageous, committed to building community, and has a broad view on education.”
Until Rabbi Levitt takes AJA’s helm on July 1, 2023, Mr. Kutner predicts that he will make a few visits to campus for in-person meetings as appropriate. Additionally, he will collaborate with Interim Head of School Ms. Franeen Sarif and a dedicated subcommittee of the board in making major decisions and prioritizing goals for his first year at the school to create a smooth transition of leadership. With the search process now concluded, the Search Committee feels satisfied that the AJA community has a stronger sense of its core values and needs, which they believe Rabbi Levitt will satisfy.