Devorah Kornfeld moved to Seattle in 1974 and almost immediately became involved with Menachem Mendel Seattle Cheder (MMSC), a private Jewish day school and the only Jewish Montessori preschool in Seattle. Now approaching 39 years of service with MMSC, Kornfeld is preparing to move into her newest leadership role as the interim head of school.
MMSC was founded in 1974 to provide early childhood education to Jewish children in the greater Seattle area. Over the last four decades, it has grown from a preschool to also include an elementary school, a middle school, and a girls’ high school. Though it was founded with the intent of providing a traditional Jewish education for the children of local Chabad Lubavitch rabbis, MMSC enrolls children from all denominations of Judaism.
“Our goal is to imbue kids with a love for Judaism,” said Tziviah Goldberg, a member of MMSC’s board of directors who handles business and development for the school. Goldberg is the mother of 10 children, most of whom have graduated from or are currently attending MMSC.
Goldberg emphasized that MMSC welcomes all Jews, whether or not they can afford tuition. A majority of the school’s operating costs are covered by the Samis Foundation, which supports Jewish K-12 education in the Seattle area. The remaining funds are raised by the school itself through a combination of fundraisers and donations from parents and alumni.
Until recently, MMSC had been led by Rabbi Yosef Charyton, who moved to Seattle a decade ago to serve as principal of the school’s growing programs. Charyton also oversaw MMSC’s move to its current campus in the Maple Leaf neighborhood of Seattle in 2009.
But as Charyton’s duties expanded beyond his original academic role to encompass more of the financial and administrative duties, many in the MMSC community felt that it was time to hire someone who could provide the school with the guidance it needed, both in an administrative and educational capacity.
Charyton recently accepted a position with a school in Montreal, opening up the leadership role for Kornfeld. Kornfeld, who has previously served as a Judaics teacher for all grades and as the principal of the girls’ high school, will serve as interim head of school through the 2013-2014 school year and possibly beyond, depending on the outcome of a search for a permanent head of school.
“She seems like the obvious person to take the helm in the interim,” said Goldberg, who called Kornfeld a “tremendous educator” who will “bring a different flavor” to MMSC.
“I like to take the best of the old and the best of the new,” said Kornfeld of her pedagogy, adding that she is looking forward to enhancing the curriculum already in place.
Kornfeld keeps herself up to date on the newest technologies and methods in education by collaborating with fellow Jewish teachers and participating in webinars. Two years ago, she attended the first-ever study group hosted by Yad Vashem Holocaust museum for Jewish day school teachers. The weeklong program, which had previously been offered to secular educators but never to Jewish day school teachers, focused on how to incorporate the Holocaust into the school curriculum.
In addition to her duties as interim head of school, Kornfeld has allowed herself six teaching periods for the upcoming year to maintain the student contact that she loves so much. Her primary focus, however, will be on the academic integrity and community of MMSC.
“[I want to] take a good thing and improve what we can, and to make sure there’s communication between students and parents,” she said. “[I want] to make sure everyone’s needs are being met and voices are being heard. And really, my goal is for happy children that feel good about themselves, and working with each child on their level so that they can do the best that they’re capable of.”
This piece originally appeared in JT News.