Monday, July 31, 2006

Change at the Helm

Dr. Linda Kelley is Taking Chabad Hebrew Academy to Uncharted Heights

By Karen Pearlman

It’s early July and there’s a healthy stir inside and a lot of high energy surrounding the sprawling Scripps Ranch home of the Chabad Hebrew Academy.

Kids are shouting, laughing, running around and having a blast at Chabad’s Camp Gan Israel, which is in full swing on the 27-acre ampus. (But that’s typical for every summer at Chabad’s high-energy day camp.)

What’s different, what the buzz is all about, is the change in direction Chabad Hebrew Academy is taking - and one big way it’s moving progressively forward into the future is in the hiring of one of its newest employees, Dr. Linda Kelley.

Kelley, 55, was brought on staff in February to be the Head of School and CEO at Chabad Hebrew Academy. This position is a first for the school, which has roots dating back to a small, crowded building in the late 1970s in the College Area of San Diego.

The growing movement of Chabad has taken a bold move to insure a bright future for the school that bears its name by hiring Kelley “to run everything on the school side,” as Director of the Academy, Rabbi Yosef Fradkin, says.

“Dr. Kelley excels at every aspect of education,” he adds. “She runs this school and she lives education.”

A striking woman who seems far taller than 5-foot-5, Kelley’s office is dotted with photos of her two daughters, Rachel, 25, and Erin, 27, on river rafting trips and other equally athletic endeavors. She reminisces about her East Coast upbringing, talks lovingly of her blessed 34-year marriage to Bill Kelley, and fondly recalls her college days playing basketball in the late 1960s at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y.

In the months since relocating to San Diego, Kelley, who is not Jewish, has been surrounded by Chabad rabbis, rebbetzins, hundreds of Jewish children and their parents, and has quickly been getting up to speed on Yiddishkeit. She even has the flag of Israel hanging in her office.

She speaks openly about some of what she’s learned about Judaism, and she knows she has a ways to go. She’s been in the Chabad Academy classrooms and says she was “blown away by the Judaic classes” and was impressed by the teachers and students in the Hebrew classes.

But what Kelley yearns to share is her vision for the school.

Her leadership style includes a belief in heterogeneously-grouped classes, in which all students ˆ from the highest achievers to those who are considered less apt - are given absolute equal opportunity to learn and grow and reach their full potential in every class. Kelley said this way of teaching is the best way to go, as proven by study after study across the nation.

She also believes in the importance of the primary years when children first learn, and first learn how to learn, that while ninth and 10th grade are important, the most important years of a child’s life start in kindergarten and the first few years after. She expects the school to continue its stellar teaching style and to grow even more.

“Chabad Hebrew Academy has a fabulous future,” she said. “This school is very open to a strong, strong secular education. And the celebration of the religion is joyous. The cup is always half full. The concern is to help every single child reach his or her potential as a human, not just as a Jew.”

Kelley’s credentials are stunning. She has a B.A. (from St. Lawrence) and an M.A. (from Middlebury College in Vermont) in Spanish Language and Literature. (She will also teach Spanish at the Academy.) She also has both a master‚s and a doctorate in education from Harvard in Administration, Planning and Social Policy.

Her background includes six years as head of school at the prestigious Winchester Thurston School in Pittsburgh and a top teaching position for 13 years at St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., an Episcopal school considered one of the top 3 independent college preparatory boarding schools in the United States.

She has taught in public and private schools, has been on myriad civic advisory boards and has worked with social services agencies throughout Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.

“Working for Dr. Kelley has been so rewarding,” said Marci Germain, the school’s newly-hired Director of Admissions and Marketing, and a former teacher from New York and Los Angeles. “I’m learning something new every day. She keeps me on task and continues to stretch me in all directions. I feel absolutely privileged to work with such a prestigious school and with Dr. Kelley.”

About two years ago, Kelley took some time off from teaching to take care of an aunt who had Alzheimer’s Disease. After the aunt died, she was yearning to get back into the education field, at just about the same time Chabad was looking for someone to direct the school.

“Before I came here, Rabbi [Yonah] Fradkin (director of Chabad in San Diego County) sent me a book, ‘Toward a Meaningful Life’ and I said to him, ‘Rabbi, there’s nothing in here I don’t believe in,’” Kelley said. “I came out here and interviewed with his search committee and I loved them. These are wonderful people and I really thought that this place is everything I want in a school. It believes, as I do, that any child can learn.”

Chabad Hebrew Academy probably could not have asked for a more perfect fit for their way of looking at things than in Kelley’s views.

“We saw many high-caliber candidates from across the U.S.,” Yosef Fradkin said. “One thing that struck the search committee is that other people were in the business of education. We’re a community school, a family school. This is not a school for elitists, but it’s a school with a mission and with a heart.

“One of her personal philosophies is of moral and ethical instruction. We all felt her empathy, her warmth and her sincere understanding. We have a beautiful campus and now we have a great head of school.”

Goal-creating and goal-setting meetings are the norm with Kelley, who has already had several with most of the school’s 15 teachers and other staff members. They have discussed everything from the teaching process to athletics, from fund-raising to admissions.

There were 232 children enrolled for the upcoming school year and most of the staff agrees that the time is soon coming when the school will have twice that number.

“Chabad Hebrew Academy has all the elements that a child needs to learn and succeed,” Kelley said. “They get all the subjects but with something extra. If parents are willing to invest for their children, they will get the best of both worlds here. We want them to have success in life after high school.”

For more information on the Chabad Hebrew Academy, please call (858) 566-1996 or email

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