At the end of September, four remarkable teachers from Los Angeles Jewish schools were awarded an unrestricted $15,000 cash prize when they were honored with the 2015 Jewish Educator Award by the Milken Family Foundation. There are more than 1,000 teachers in Los Angeles yet only a select few are nominated and finally chosen for the award. Winners are selected for their innovation, creativity and loyalty to their day schools who must be affiliated with the Builders of Jewish Education (BIJE) program. The announcements were made by Milken Family Foundation Executive Vice President Richard Sandler and BJE Executive Director Dr. Gil Graff.
A key element of the Jewish Educator Awards mission is the incorporation of community in school excellence. The JEA program was established in 1990 by the Milken Family Foundation, in cooperation with BJE, as an adjunct to the Miliken Foundation’s National Educator Awards program. The award recipients are selected by a committee of educators, professional and lay leaders from the Jewish community who have a long-standing involvement with education in Jewish schools.
Rabbi Levi Solomon, the Principal at Emek Hebrew Academy Teichman Family Torah Center, received his surprise 2015 Jewish Educator Award during a schoolwide assembly, ostensibly held to celebrate the Jewish high holy days. His wife and children all knew of the prize for two weeks beforehand but kept the big secret safe. Rabbi Solomon admitted, “I was surprised they were able to keep the secret. There wasn’t even a comment about wearing clean white shirts or a jacket on the day!”
Solomon was deeply moved by the unexpected windfall and expressed his love for his job saying, “I’ve been part of this school for 18 years…This is my life. This is what I do, day in, day out. I feel I’m blessed by each one of you. Emek has invested in me so that I can bring meaningful advancement and innovation to the school.”
Rabbi Solomon has worked tirelessly with current and former principals and Head of School Rabbi Shifman to develop the most engaging curriculum. Becoming a school principal in 2012 he has worked tirelessly with the administrative team to establish 21st century learning skills and techniques. In particular, Emek now offers techniques in blended classroom which rotates learning stations for small groups so students receive more personalized attention.
At Milken Community High School, the prize was awarded to Mr. Kelly Shepard who has led the performing arts program for 17 years and has developed one of Los Angeles’s finest performing arts programs. “I love being wowed by kids. And it happens all the time,” he said as he accepted the Award.
Mrs. Jamie Gomer is kindergarten and general studies teacher at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Los Angeles. She had to take a few minutes before she could speak after hearing of her award. Milken Family Foundation were impressed that through innovative teaching techniques, Gomer has transformed Heschel’s kindergarten experience into one that encourages creativity, question-asking and collaboration.
The fourth award went to a teacher at Pressman Academy of Temple Beth Am. Hanna Keynan is a K-8 arts teacher and is known for breathing creative life into her curriculum at Pressman, where, “students learn Hebrew through art and art through Hebrew.” Her Jewish Educator Award was, of course, a complete surprise.
What will the winners do with their prize? Rabi Solomon shared his dream, “I would love to give some of my winnings to the school for a student activity. And then…well, my car is very old and worn. I just might replace it!”