Charlottesville – A Special Message from Our CEO Jon Rosenberg

Dear members of the Hebrew Public community,

Most of us have been struggling to process what has been happening in our country in the days since the protests and violence in Charlottesville.  Personally, I have struggled for a week now to put pen to paper, knowing that it is still summer vacation for our students, and that our teachers do not return to work until today.  Among other things, I am keenly aware that it is rarely appropriate for a public school organization’s leader to make what might be considered political statements.

I don’t believe, however, that what I am about to say is a political statement so much as a moral one.  A society, a government, a community, and a public school can reflect many divergent ideas.  Schools, even for young children, should be places that encourage discourse and debate.

But there should be no debate about the merits of hatred.  There should be no debate, no endorsement, and no tolerance for beliefs that claim superiority of one race or ethnicity or religion over others.  Creating room for different views is not the same as creating room for the expressions of hatred, of racism, of anti-Semitism, of xenophobia that have been on increasing display in our country.

Hebrew Public’s schools are “diverse-by-design.”  They are schools for everyone – from every background.  The community we try to create is one in which students are exposed to difference and taught to appreciate it.  It is one in which diversity of language, culture and religion are celebrated.  We strive to teach empathy and understanding, developing in our students skills of communication and partnership that are keys to the future.

We will stick to our mission, to our commitments to both academic excellence and global citizenship.  We will reinforce our commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion for all of our students, families, and staff members.

When I visit our schools, I see a hoped-for future.  Charlottesville and its aftermath show us that this future is not guaranteed – that it requires vigilance, effort, and moral courage to attain.  We will do everything we can to ensure that all of the children in our care reach that future successfully and together.


**This message is also available in Hebrew, Russian, Spanish and Creole.


Teaching English in Israel

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Jared Waters and students in Israel – Courtesy of Yediot Israel.

Harlem Hebrew teacher Jared Waters teaching English in Israel.

This summer Harlem Hebrew teacher first grade teacher, Jared Waters, taught English immersion classes in Israeli town, Kiryat Malachi as a Talma teaching fellow. Recently, Jared’s work with the program was featured in major news outlet, Yediot Israel.

Talma is a summer English immersion program for Israeli elementary school children. The program brings together volunteer US based teachers and Israeli teachers who co-teach each class. Talma allows American teachers to experience Israel while providing English classes for children from low-income neighborhoods.

Jared found out about the program from Harlem Hebrew head of school, Lindsay Malanga, who encouraged him to join. After speaking with other teachers from the school who had also been a part of the program, he decided to join.

“I wanted to see what it would be like to teach in Israel, because at my school I work with an Israeli teacher,” Jared told Yediot news.

For Jared and other teachers from the Hebrew Public network who participate in the program, they have the unique advantage of being immersed in the culture that their school teaches.

However, Jared is no stranger to living in a foreign country or being immersed in different cultures. A self-proclaimed “war baby”, he was born in Missouri but grew up on a US military base in the Netherlands where his dad worked as a NATO colonel. His family has also lived in other countries such as, South Korea, Japan and Morocco.

“Every place we went to, I learned the culture and tried to assimilate, and that is what I am now doing, being in Israel,” Jared told Yediot news.

After just a year at Harlem Hebrew and with no prior experience with Hebrew, he is now learning and speaking Hebrew and shares how just a month after he started, his first graders – also new to the language – are able to converse with him in Hebrew. Jared also speaks Dutch and German.

Over the summer Jared taught 5th graders in Israel. While he finds it more challenging to teach 5th graders who are more mature and strong willed, he says the classroom experience in Israel isn’t very different from the team teaching model used at Harlem Hebrew to immerse students in the language. In fact, he shares that he is adjusting very well in Israel, using the same techniques there as he uses in his Harlem Hebrew classroom.

Prior to joining Harlem Hebrew, Jared spent four years as a kindergarten teacher in Tampa, Florida. But being the free spirit that he is, after years of feeling stuck in a routine, he got in his car and drove to New York.

“I moved here on complete faith and all the pieces just fell into place,” Jared shared in an earlier interview with Hebrew Public. He said on arriving in Harlem a year ago, within a day he found an apartment and within a week, he landed his position at Harlem Hebrew.

“I’m just trying to see the world while I can,” Jared shared. “But more importantly I enjoy seeing the future generation grow, with a little help from me on the way.”

View Yediot Israel article in Hebrew here.

View Q&A with Jared here.


By Keciah Bailey

Inside the Classroom: Q&A with Harlem Hebrew Teacher, Jared Waters

Jared profileFirst grade teacher Jared Waters has just completed his first year at Harlem Hebrew and is spending the summer in Israel teaching English. During his first year, he also facilitated Hebrew Public’s young adult volunteer program, YALLA, where middle school and high school students volunteer monthly in his first grade class. Jared grew up in the Netherlands on a US military base and has lived in countries such as Japan, South Korea, and Morocco. He has over six years’ experience as an elementary school teacher and graduated from East Carolina University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary school education. Check out our Q&A with Jared below!

Q: What made you decide to become a teacher?

A: Sometimes I feel like it was divine intervention for me to start teaching. All my summer jobs revolved around tutoring and working in after school programs. For me becoming a teacher was similar to Luke Skywalker becoming a Jedi (Star Wars). Luke always admired the Jedi’s and their abilities from within the force but when he met the right mentor, Oby Won, his destiny was established. Being a teacher was always in me but it took the people – professors, mentors, family – along the way that helped me see it.

Q: Describe your first teaching experience and how it shapes your approach today?

A: My first teaching experience was in Seffner, Florida at title one school (large low income population) called W.E. Phillips Academy Learning Center. Just think about whatever could go wrong in your first year – everything, went wrong!

The school lost funding and was closing down. We did not have enough text-books, no copy machine, and supplies. We were teaching in small trailers but the trailers had great air condition for the Florida heat. The first week of school, my mentor/teacher quit, and everyone with a great amount of experience left so I was all alone. That year of teaching shaped me to be the teacher I am today, because what’s the worst that could happen to me? We had the lowest performing students in the district and most came from immigrant families so the language barrier at times was really difficult. I experienced being at the bottom of the barrel. So everything that happens to me, I have learned to accept it and move forward.

I realized back then that despite the circumstances as a teacher, the students should not feel the effects of the school. I started reading Harry Wong’s book, “The First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher” and the book started to come to life in my classroom. I also adopted the philosophy of professor and author, Linda Albert, by making my classroom a learning environment, despite the school literally closing down daily. Those experiences shaped me to the teacher, I am today as it taught me to cherish all the good things and celebrate the little things a student accomplishes. If man has 100,000 thousand pennies it still is a 1,000 dollars –  it may take us a longer time to count to a thousand dollars by pennies but the value is still the same. Similar to being in the classroom – in some students you can see growth immediately (counting by $100 bills), and for some others it may take while (counting by pennies) but in the end we all have the same value as a person.

Q: What is the hardest part of your job?

A: The hardest part of my job right now, is making sure I catch the correct train. There have been many countless times, where I was headed uptown towards the Bronx instead of downtown toward Harlem.  However, I am getting better.

Teaching at Harlem Hebrew has been more joy than hardship because of the team atmosphere with both administration, faculty, and my first grade team. This school is the 1996 NBA champions the Chicago Bulls, and I am a young Steve Kerr with the high top fade that’s ready to come off the bench and score.

Q: How do you get to know your students and build relationships with them?_DSC4982

A: I think the best way to get to know your student is by asking questions. Find out what their likes and dislikes are and find out what TV shows and songs they like. I think the more you have in common with someone, the more you can relate to them and use a common language to communicate – not just academics – but in life. Another way is by creating a learning yet fun environment in the classroom. I make sure every year that everyone’s voice is heard and their opinion matters.  I call it “camouflage learning” when sometimes students don’t realize they are learning because learning is happening all around them.

Also, understanding the Gardener’s Multiple Intelligences. Which is comprehending that everyone learns differently and we have to find ways to connect with their learning styles.

Q: Tell us about a memorable time (good or bad) when a student or family influenced your perspective or approach?

A: The most memorable time was when I had a student who is now deceased. She was in stage four of cancer, and she was a huge “Frozen” fan. She loved Frozen dolls, make up, and dresses.

When the cancer started to get worse, she went from having perfect attendance to barley showing up to school and we would video chat with her. Her birthday was during the Christmas break, and she passed away in April. However, she wanted to have a birthday party and she wanted her whole class to attend, which was really hard because Christmas is a really big holiday in the south and all the students were leaving for the break.

I gave my word that I would attend and when I got to the party – kid you not – my whole class was there and we had the best Frozen-themed party! That’s when I knew that teaching doesn’t just happen in school from 7am to 4pm. School affects the way we will live our lives for both student and teacher. To see other families give up their own personal family time to spend it with their child classmate, was better than any lesson, spelling test, or trips to the treasure box that I could offer.

That experienced taught me that school isn’t just for learning but we are also making a life time worth of memories.

Q: Fill in the blank:  I can’t start my day without___________________.

A: A prayer to the man upstairs and I listen to MC Hammer’s “2 Legit to Quit”!


By Keciah Bailey

Hebrew Language Academy Awarded “Facing History and Ourselves” Grant.

Head of school, Peter Katcher and the team of teachers who applied for the grant: (l-r) Natalie Guiteau, Deb Gravina and Flor Placencia

Head of school, Peter Katcher and the team of teachers who applied for the grant: (l-r) Natalie Guiteau, Flor Placencia and Deb Gravina.

Hebrew Language Academy (HLA) was awarded the Facing History and Ourselves In-Depth Program Grant for 2017-18 school year!

By receiving this notable award, the school will benefit from professional development opportunities that will encourage tolerance, empathy and civic responsibilities among the school’s diverse community.

Facing History and Ourselves is an international educational organization that teaches staff and students tolerance and empathy through the study of the Holocaust and other historic events. By integrating the study of history, literature, and human behavior with ethical decision making and innovative teaching strategies, the program enables teachers to promote students’ historical understanding, critical thinking, and social-emotional learning.

The award includes professional development opportunities and teaching materials for staff and students valued at more than $10,000.  As part of the grant award, the two teachers associated with the program will attend professional development seminars this summer. Social Studies teacher, Flor Placencia will take a 3-day seminar in Philadelphia focusing on the Holocaust and Human Behavior. ELA instructor, Deb Gravina, will take an online course on a new approach to teaching “To Kill a Mockingbird” which incorporates civic education, ethical reflection, and historical context in the exploration of the novel. The teachers will then incorporate these lessons into the social studies and ELA curriculum.

Head of school, Peter Katcher, said because of the school’s diversity, there was a need to address issues of cross cultural communication and understanding among the students.

“We decided to apply for the grant after doing an assessment of the school population and recognizing some of the challenges the school was facing in regarding to diversity amongst our student body,” Mr. Katcher said.  “We thought it would help us address preconceived notions towards others as well as look for ways to create a better understanding of diversity and individual beliefs and differences.”

“Another motivator was also the fact that the Facing History platform embraces having “difficult discussions” around ethnic, religious, and social differences at age appropriate levels. We are very proud of this achievement. Heartfelt congratulations to the team of staff members who made it happen.”

At the heart of HLA’s mission is to help students learn social and civic responsibility through the integration of community service and service learning into their classroom studies. Diversity, tolerance and openness are emphasized throughout the curriculum and school life. This award underscores the school’s mission to provide students with a solid foundation to become ethical, productive global citizens.


by Keciah Bailey

The Power to Choose, In the Face of Hardships

Why one family commutes four hours daily – across boroughs – to attend the school of their choice.


Shadina (center), Sebanya (l) and Te-Banyah(r) all smiles as they pose for photos by HLA’s logo.

In Morris Heights, Bronx, the alarm sounds at 4:00 a.m. signaling to Shadina Charles that it is time to wake up and get her daughters ready for school. She begins her daily routine of preparing their lunch and breakfast, which they will have to take to go. At 5:00 a.m. she wakes the girls; they are dressed and out the door by 5:45 a.m. The streets are dark and quiet but with no time to worry or fear, they rush to catch the BX36 bus which will take them to the A train. If they are lucky, they will get a seat so they can eat breakfast and sleep for the next hour until they arrive at their stop, Utica Avenue in Brooklyn.

Charles knows she will have to wake them up a few stops ahead of time because they’ll need to hurry to catch the B46 bus, which they will ride for about 30 minutes before they transfer to the B3 bus that will drop them off within two blocks of their destination. By the time they make it to school at Hebrew Language Academy Charter School (HLA) in Mill Basin, Brooklyn it is just about 8:00 a.m. and time for class to start.

Charles will head back to the Bronx and try to take a nap for an hour or so until it’s time to get the girls when school lets out at 3:00 p.m. Some days, if the weather is really bad or school is only half day she will hang out in Brooklyn – most times at the mall – until school is dismissed. By the time she gets them home, it’s just about 6:15 p.m., time to eat, finish the homework they started on the train, head to bed at 9:00 p.m. and get ready to do it all again the following day.

“It’s like a full time job,” Charles said with a sigh. “But it has to be done.”

Though the commute to school from the Bronx to Brooklyn may be arduous, for the family, school is the one source of stability they have come to count on over the last five years. Through sickness, homelessness and constantly moving from place to place, the choice to stay in the school they have been in since kindergarten allows Charles to offer her daughters a sense of stability and comfort.

Reflecting on the crime that plagues the Morris Heights neighborhood where she now lives she said, “A lot could happen from home to the school on the train, but I try not to think about that. What I think about is the security once they get to their destination. I trust the staff and the security. I don’t even think they’ve ever had a fight in the school – at least not like I’ve heard of in other schools.”

Additionally, in a school as racially and socioeconomically diverse as HLA, the girls benefit from being in an integrated environment, much unlike the majority minority neighborhoods they have mostly resided in.

Jon Rosenberg, president and CEO of Hebrew Public, the charter management organization for HLA, said given the academic benefits of learning in diverse classrooms, every child should be afforded this right.

School choice policies give parents the power to decide where and how their children should be educated,” Rosenberg said. HLA is a very diverse school and there is a direct connection between that and our mission – We view integrated school options as a civil right.”

For these reasons, safety and environment are key factors in school choice for Charles. She firmly believes the public schools they would have otherwise been mandated to attend, were just not a suitable option.

“Beyond their core mission of academic excellence, parents also value other aspects of their children’s school experience and make choices about their education based on principles that are meaningful to them.” Rosenberg said. “As the beneficiaries of choice, we need to hear more parents’ voices and stories like Shadina’s.

In fact, in an education news climate now saturated with commentary surrounding school choice, she believes, the voices that matter – the parents and the students – are often drowned out by the experts and the lawmakers.

“In politics, the politicians get in and they do what they want,” Charles said. “But what they never try to do is come down on our level and have conversations with people like me. Find out what is happening, what is life like for us out here in the real world.”

In her world, life has not exactly been “a bed of roses.”

Back in 2011 when Charles first received a flier in the mail from HLA advertising open registration, she had just migrated to the US with her four daughters only a year before and had no idea what a charter school was. At the time her daughter, Sebanyah was in pre-k at the zoned public school in Mill Basin where they lived. Each time she went to pick her up, she was unnerved by the excessive noise and chaos that seemed to be the method of operation during the school’s activities.

“The teachers were always yelling; the kids were always running around. Everything and everybody was so crazy,” she said. “I looked at my daughter and I felt sorry for her, I thought ‘OK, I have to try a private school.’ She needed some stability – she wasn’t used to that.”

However, Charles knew private school was hardly an option for her financially. As such, it was a great relief to her to find out that at the new charter school, which is privately run but publicly funded, she wouldn’t have to pay but could still get the benefits of private school in a more controlled and intimate environment.

“When I got the letter she was accepted, I was so overjoyed and I haven’t regretted it since,” Charles said.

Naturally, when her youngest daughter Te’Banyah was ready for kindergarten in 2014, the choice was already made.

She credits the principal and teachers for being caring and warm. She’s become good friends with the girls’ science teacher, Ms. Kelly and has a friendly rapport with everyone –  from the office staff to the security.

“I just really like the school. They are orderly – they wear uniform, there is just so much order.  I feel like they are so secure at this school. I always felt like my kids were safe. I’ve never had that fear.”

Security and safety is a necessary component in their ever-changing world.

In 2011, Charles was diagnosed with lymphoma, a form of cancer affecting the immune system. By then, the family had moved out of the school district and were living in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn. In fact, they had relocated so many times since then, that Charles has lost count. But now that she was undergoing chemo treatments, she lost her job as a nanny and was unable to keep her apartment. With no family to turn to, she went to the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) office to find them a place to stay. They were assigned to a family shelter in the Bronx.

Life in the shelter, though not ideal, was bearable. They were placed in an apartment with their own kitchen and private amenities and so the family was able to maintain some sort of normalcy. One of her older daughters was able to take the girls back and forth to school until she was well enough, but she recalls that due to her illness, they missed many days of school.

Michelle Galeotti, director of Operations at HLA, when the school became aware of the family’s situation, they tried to work with DHS to get them placed closer to the district.

“Shadina and her girls are truly a part of the HLA family. When they were placed in the Bronx, we did everything possible to move them closer to our area but that was the only place that could accommodate the family together,” Galeotti said.

“We have 617 students at HLA and every one of them has a unique story –   In a school as diverse as ours, it’s important that we are attuned to our students’ family situations,” Galeotti continued. “Sadly, we have families who are affected by immigration and other issues and we try to help as much as possible.”

Eventually, Charles was able to secure a job as a housekeeper, cleaning apartments for Air Bnb. She worked long hours, from 4:00a.m. to 12:00a.m. and never saw her children.

The payoff came nine months later when she managed to save enough money to move back into her own apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and for a while everything seemed to be going well.

But in February of 2015, while walking down a street in Brooklyn, she was hit by a car, which resulted in seven surgeries on her left leg. Consequently, she lost her job, then her apartment and found herself back in the DHS office looking for place for them to live. She was once again re-assigned to another shelter in the Bronx.

IMG_0870Though her older daughters provide her with much needed support for the girls, at times when they were unavailable, Charles remembers the painstaking ordeal of walking on crutches, while making the commute from the Bronx to Brooklyn to take the girls to school.

“People would look at me on the train with crutches and the two girls leaning on me falling asleep and nobody would offer me a seat,” she recalls choking back tears. “I seriously thought about putting them in school in the Bronx, but they begged me not to. They’d moved a lot and didn’t want to change schools as well.”

Charles knows firsthand the effects of an unstable home-life on a child’s academic performance.

In Grenada where she grew up –  though she has fond memories of her childhood, playing in the country’s pastures –  she remembers days when they barely had food to eat. As a result, she never did well academically and was most times absent.

“It’s hard to function in school when the brain has no food,” she said tearfully. “Some days I would get dressed to go but I had no energy so I would end up going to my aunt’s house just to get some sleep.”

Eventually, she dropped out. In her adult years, Charles later returned to school to complete an adult education certification program where she graduated at the top of her class. She had dreams of becoming a social worker but, at that point, with four daughters and little education, her dream was put on hold. Though she held several different jobs while living in Grenada, she still was not financially stable and, at home, life with the father of her children had become tumultuous and difficult to bear.

“We just weren’t getting along; verbally it was not a nice situation,” she recalled. “I kept thinking about my kids and about their education because back home it’s so expensive to send kids to school.”

She had visited the US a few times before and had set her sights on migrating there in hopes of securing a better life for her children. By then, her oldest daughter was already an adult, the second a teenager and Sebanyah and Te’Banyah just babies.

“I told them, I’m taking you all to the US and there is no guarantee I am going to return.” Charles said the girls protested initially, but she refused to leave them behind. Being raised by her grandparents – her mother left her at just a year old and she didn’t meet her dad until age nine – separation from her children was not something she could imagine.

Despite all the hardships she’s had to endure, that has remained her ultimate goal.

“I just want my kids to have a much better life than I ever did.”

She was finally able to move out of the shelter with the help of CITY-FEPS, a rent subsidized program that helps families with homeless to find permanent housing. The family was placed in a one-bedroom apartment in Morris Heights and Charles said, the girls were just elated to be back in a place of their own.

However, these days, severe bouts of acute bronchitis and her injured leg have so incapacitated her, that she is unable to continue working as a housekeeper. And, with the financial constraints that being unemployed brings, she often finds herself worried about whether she is doing enough.

“I do my best to provide their needs and some of their wants. On days when we don’t have enough food, I make sure they eat and I go without,” she said wistfully.

Yet, as a testament to her perseverance, the girls are thriving at HLA. Sebanyah, now in fifth grade, has dreams of being an international fashion designer and has many books filled with sketches of high end dresses she hopes to one-day design for celebrities. Te’Banyah who is in the second grade is still figuring it out.

“Sometimes she says she wants to be a doctor and other times she says, ‘there are so many poor people in the world and I just want to help them’,” Charles said. “So maybe she wants to be a social worker like I did. That would be my dream she is fulfilling.”

Though the commute is long, Charles doesn’t believe it has had any negative impact on her children’s academic performance. Charles said the school offered her bus service for the girls when they first became homeless, but she refused because she did not feel comfortable sending two small girls on a IMG_0873bus alone.

“Kids are extremely resilient. I used to worry they would be sleepy and sluggish in school but their teachers say they are active and alert and have not had any issues.”

In fact, to keep them motivated, she jokes that she often threatens to move them to another school if they do not keep their grades up.

“I just use it to scare them a little, it works,” she said with a laugh.

Truth is, she couldn’t imagine moving them. She was more than relieved to find out that under the law she could keep her children in the same school they were in, even though when they became homeless they moved out of the district. The Mckinney-Vento act, which guarantees certain protections for homeless students, stipulates that students must be allowed the right to remain in the district they were originally in, if the parent believes it is in the best interest of the child.

“If I found out I had to move them, I’d probably home school them,” she said determinedly.

In fact, her dream is that HLA will eventually grow into a high school when the time comes but, if not, she is eyeing Madison High in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn and is willing to make the commute from the Bronx even then, just to get them in an environment where they are comfortable.

“Sometimes my daughter Sebanyah cries when I am in pain and can hardly walk on my leg to take them to school,” Charles said. “But I tell her, don’t worry about me, as long as you go to school, that’s my reward. That’s what makes me happy.”


By Keciah Bailey.

HLA Celebrates Black History Month!

In honor of Black History Month, our Hebrew Language Academy scholars put together different art displays and projects, paying tribute to prominent African Americans who have made major contributions to American History.

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The students researched a variety of sources including books, magazine and the internet to research famous African American figures that have had a significant impact on our world. Each fifth grade class created a book highlighting 65 famous African American figures.

Their presentations also featured the musical contributions of famous black musicians such as Jazz great Charlie Parker, Etta James and John Coltrane. They also celebrated African American Inventors with a display board featuring, Garrett Morgan who invented traffic lights and engineer Louis Latimer who invented the carbon light bulb.

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” These are the words famously spoken by abolitionist and social reformer, Frederick Douglass, abolitionist and social reformer. The scholars learned this quote and many others including that of former President Barack Obama who said “Change does not come if we wait for some other person or some other time.” They then made a black history month quilt highlighting famous words from various well renowned African American leaders.

Of course, no black history celebration is complete without a tribute to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. Through a beautiful painting and a large drawing students recreated Dr. King’s portrait as a tribute to his “I have a dream” speech. And, in keeping with their study of Hebrew language, a display on Dr. King’s dream speech was written entirely in Hebrew!

In a school as diverse as HLA, learning about racial identities and histories of fellow Americans help to foster tolerance and empathy across cultural and racial lines. The students enjoyed working on these projects while learning about the significance of Black History Month and how African Americans have helped shape American history.

We hope you enjoy the slide show and feel free to share!


By Keciah Bailey

Former State Department Executive Leads Israel Studies Program

jessicaJessica Lieberman, a founding board member of Sela Public Charter School in Washington D.C., has been named director of Israel Studies and Partnerships for Hebrew Public.

In her new role, Lieberman is guiding and coordinating the Israel Studies curriculum, and overseeing a trip to Israel for middle school students. She will also develop Israel partnerships and alumni programming that provide students with access to Israel-related educational, cultural, and career opportunities as well as offer support in development of teacher and leadership pipelines for the Hebrew instruction program.

Lieberman has over 15 years of experience in human rights, intercultural exchange, and international affairs including in Israel. Prior to joining Hebrew Public, she was the deputy director for the office of global programming at the U.S. State Department, where she supervised a team of program officers responsible for managing over $100 million in grants to civil society organizations around the world.  She initially joined the State Department  in 2006 as American Association for the Advancement of Science science and policy fellow. Lieberman has worked for a number of human rights and non-governmental organizations in the Middle East and the United States, and has taught at George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs.

Lieberman has a PhD in political science from George Washington University, an MA in law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School and is a graduate of Smith College. She speaks Hebrew, Spanish and some Arabic.

Interview: Sela Leader Natalie Smith

natalie-at-selaBy Keciah Bailey

Sela school leader Natalie Smith, PhD has over 11 years of experience in the field of education. She joined Sela in 2014 and has since then lead Sela to becoming a Tier1 school in the DC Public Charter School System – a significant award given to the highest quality charter schools in the school district. Dr. Smith has a National Board Certification and was endorsed as a New Leaders principal. On a daily basis, she helps teachers understand how to use data about student learning to improve instruction and also facilitates workshops to develop staff leadership. She is deeply involved in school and community development and is even learning Hebrew along with her students! Check out our Q&A with Dr. Smith below.


Tell us a little about your early life

One thing I will note is that my parents are from another country, Jamaica, and they really instilled the importance of education in my life and my siblings’ lives.

I grew up in Brooklyn and then I moved to Coral Springs with my mother and siblings (for Grades 10 through 12).  I then attended Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business for undergrad and earned a bachelor of science degree in marketing and new and small business management from Georgetown University. I earned a master of arts degree in human development, with a focus on early childhood education, and a doctor of philosophy degree in curriculum and instruction, with a focus on minority and urban education, from the University of Maryland.

Why did you decide to become an educator?

As an adolescent, I was always the family babysitter during the summertime for my younger siblings and younger cousins.  While I was at Georgetown University, I participated in the D.C. Reads tutoring program and the After School Kids program, which was a program to support and tutor students who were on probation.  I’ve always had an affinity to help young children, so even though I had a position as a consultant for a public health consulting firm after college, I decided to apply for a program that supported people from other fields with entering the field of education as a teacher.  It was called the Resident Teacher Program for Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS).  I became a teacher in June 2003 and never looked back.

What subjects did you teach? How long did you teach and what grade levels/ages?

I taught third grade for three years, then taught algebra and pre-algebra to eighth graders for a year, and then taught fourth grade for a year.  After five years teaching, I became an instructional math coach for PGCPS.  During December 2010, I had the opportunity to enter school leadership, which allowed me to have a broader impact on building teacher capacity and improving student achievement. I became a director of academics and staff development for a charter school in D.C. I’ve been a school leader since then.

Where did you work prior to joining Sela? Describe your experience there.

Before joining Sela, I was completing my year as a resident principal at Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy at the Parkside Middle School campus. The principal resigned in February 2014, and so I had to take over as the interim principal. It was a great learning experience. However, I knew that my heart was always with elementary school students.  I love working with elementary school students because you can have an impact while they are still young and bridge the achievement and equity gaps a lot sooner than in middle school.

What drew you to Sela?

I always believed that language immersion programs allowed students to develop more cognitively than students learning only one language.  I also knew that Sela was the only language immersion school in Washington, D.C. to offer Hebrew language immersion.  I had heard of Hebrew scriptures, but could not read them in Hebrew.  I knew that as the children learned Hebrew, I, too, would learn some Hebrew as well. So when I saw the vacancy for Sela, I was ecstatic.

Why did you decide to learn Hebrew?

As a school leader, I observe classrooms every single day.  As I observed Hebrew classrooms, I began to learn the language along with the students.  I also learn along with the students while we are signing songs, etc. At times, the students speak to me and almost force me to respond to them in Hebrew.  Initially, I needed support from our Hebrew-speaking teachers to respond.  But, I made it a point to learn a little bit of Hebrew each week.

Can you engage in conversations with the students or staff?

I still have a long way to go, but I am learning and committed to being able to engage in conversations with our students and staff in Hebrew.  Right now, it is on a very small scale, but I each week, I’ll learn more and more.

I learned the numbers (Ahot, Steim, Shalosh, Abba, Hamesh, etc.), colors (Adom – red, Sagol – purple, Sahov – yellow, etc.), greetings (Boker Tov – Good morning, Laila Tov – Good night), family members (Safta – grandmother, etc.), weather terms (Shemesh – sun, etc.).

With the proficiency approach we use at Sela, I also learned how to use the words in context:

Touching my head and saying “A la Rosh.”

Or “Ani Ohev Sela” – I love Sela.

“Ma Shlomech” – How are you (to a female)?  Or “Ma Shlomecha” – How are you (to a male)?

Response:  Tov Todah (Ok, Thank you) Or Beseder (All Right).

Or “Todah” (Thank you) and the response “Bevakasha” -You’re welcome.

“Mah Hashem Shelcha” – What’s your name?

Response “Hashem Sheli Dr. Smith or Natalie” – My name is Dr. Smith or Natalie.

As I wrote this list, I realized that I know more than I think I know, but I still have a lot to learn.

Do you speak any other languages?

I took five years of Latin in high school.  I can speak a little bit of Spanish and French as well, but I would not consider myself to be fluent.

What activities/hobbies do you enjoy outside of school?

I love exercising and spinning. I used to teach a spinning class from 2004 to 2011, and I hope to get back to that one day.  I also love listening to music. I haven’t done this in a long time, but relaxing on a beach or near some water is always amazing. Listening to waves is so calming.

To learn more about Dr. Smith and Sela Public Charter School, visit



For many of us who completed elementary school way before the 2000s, we most likely remember learning to write through limiting, monotonous, sometimes painfully boring, assignments.  Typically, the teacher chose the topic and writing style, left little room for freedom or creativity, and said “It needs to be x number of pages, and it’s due in a week.”  Thankfully, traditional writing instruction has been revolutionized by the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP).  The following entry is a snapshot of TCRWP at Hebrew Public schools.

TCRWP at Hebrew Public

All of Hebrew Public’s network schools teach writing for grades K-6 using this innovative, engaging approach.  For four years now, teachers have participated in professional development through the Teachers College Summer Institutes and we are proud to say that 44 teachers from our schools have attended, as have our directors and school leaders.

What does TCRWP look like in action?

What kind of writing do we produce throughout our lives? You probably answered practically and/or creatively, thinking of reports, narratives, persuasive letters, cover letters, poems, short stories, journal entries, and so on. This is the essence of TCRWP – making writing relevant to real life and the real world.  The writing workshop is divided into units that mimic these real world styles of writing: opinion/argument, information, and narrative writing. Each unit can take around a month to complete but students are encouraged to work at their own pace.

They are guided by the teacher through a writing process which includes:

  • Generating Ideas (1–2 days)
  • Collecting writing entries (5–10 days)
  • Choosing a seed idea (2–3 days)
  • Planning the draft (1–2 days)
  • Revising to change the content and quality (1–3 days)
  • Editing to improve grammar (1–2 days)
  • Publishing the piece to share it with the world (1–3 days)
  • Writing Celebration (1 day)

Throughout the process, teachers give what are called mini lessons, which provide students with specific strategies to improve their writing. For example, a mini-lesson could focus on how to choose the strongest ‘seed idea,’ create a strong ending, write with imagery, use dialogue effectively, etc. The image above shows an example of a mini-lesson: providing strategies for when students feel “out of gas as a writer,” something we can surely all relate to.

What are the benefits of TCRWP?

TCRWP has a strong record of success. Schools using TCRWP tend to outperform other schools across the city and state in English Language Arts (ELA). Students in NYC schools that use the TCRWP outperformed other city schools by 11%. In fact they outperformed in ELA from 2011 to 2014.  These improvements also hold true for different learners, including English language learners, students with special needs, and in-school intervention students.  Overall, TCRWP is not only academically beneficial for all students but also an enjoyable and fun way to learn writing!  For more information:

By Guest Blogger:  Katie Scranton, Research Assistant




If you are involved with Hebrew Public schools, you are surely already an advocate for multilingualism and guiding our society’s children toward a life of global citizenship. Personally, I’ve found that speaking more than one language and traveling far from home have had a profound influence on my life. There’s nothing else that does such a great job of challenging us to stop, step out of our skin, and view our world with new eyes.

Over the past decade of young adult life, I’ve become fully bilingual in Spanish and English and have lived in a variety of places – the USA, Argentina, Uganda, Northern Ireland, and Spain. The benefits that come along with travel and speaking another language are endless. Whether humorous, stressful or life-changing, these experiences are essentially about navigating through the unfamiliar.  Here are a few personal examples I can recall:

An unfamiliar street in Belfast led me to the Peace Walls, barbed wire towering overhead, telling stories of the past – no history book could ever teach the Northern Irish Troubles like those walls.

An unfamiliar custom in Uganda caused me to question my notions of generosity and hospitality as a family insisted on giving me one of their last chickens. I was reluctant but followed the advice of my fellow Ugandan friends that “You never reject a gift given out of love” – no sociology class could ever convey the nuances of culture like the generous family that day.

An unfamiliar woman, sitting before me in a Ugandan displacement camp, asked me if I could take her back to the United States with me – no documentary could produce such a profound sense of guilt and realization of my own privilege as that woman’s longing eyes.

An unfamiliar lunch time (comida) in Spain forced me to stop for three hours daily, during what for an American is the “most productive time of day.” These hours instead allowed food, rest, and loved ones to be etched into the daily schedule – no travelogue or Tedtalk could ever cause me to reassess life priorities like those three hours.

It’s unfamiliar moments like these that give us the opportunity to stop relying on our everyday assumptions about ourselves, others, and the way the world functions. They make us more aware, they teach us to be more empathetic, and they keep us enthralled with the diversity of people and places on this earth.  In this sense, Hebrew Public schools are fostering these qualities by teaching students to be bilingual, global citizens and full of wonder for the world.

Katie Scranton, Research Assistant

Photo:  Donegal, Ireland, 2014.  Katie with friends from volunteers program Tools for Solidarity.