By TONIA HILL
Dr. Eliezer Jones, is a few months into his position as head of school at Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School, 5235 S. Cornell Ave.
The Board of Trustees of Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School selected Jones as Head of School in February replacing former head of school, Miriam Schiller, who retired. Schiller had served as Akiba’s principal for nearly 30 years.
“We speak for the entire Akiba family in saluting Miriam’s exceptional efforts in shaping Akiba into the phenomenal school it is today,” said David Lowenthal, chair of the Head of School Search Committee, and Dr. Amanda Lorenz, president of the Akiba-Schechter Board of Trustees, in an email to the community in February.
Previously Jones served as General Studies Principal of Valley Torah High School in Valley Village, Calif. He also assisted at EMEK Hebrew Academy (K-8, Sherman Oak, CA) as an educational consultant.
Jones has a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology in Los Angeles and has worked with children, adolescents and families in such clinical settings as Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic in downtown Los Angeles.
Jones is also new to Chicago. He is married and has five children. Four of his children attend Akiba, and his oldest child is in high school.
Before he began leading schools, Jones was a therapist, teacher and running student activities at a school in another state.
“I fell in love with being in the classroom and having the day to day opportunity to make a difference in kids lives, and that started the formal education pathway,” Jones said. His passion also lies in creating new methods and strategies in education which led to him becoming a principal where he attended high school.
Jones said he got a call from Akiba and two other schools to become a head of school, but there was something special about Akiba and that is what helped him make his final decision.
“This place [Akiba] is doing it differently,” Jones said. “They have a strong foundation on what education, teaching and learning means and I felt like I could bring a lot of my innovative ideas here, not just to grow Akiba-Schecter but also to be a model for education around the globe.”
Some of the things that stood out to Jones about Akiba is its commitment to inquiry-based learning, “they want kids to ask big questions and to develop a sophisticated thought process,” Jones said. “They’re not just the receptacle of information they get to think about information to challenge information and they come up with concepts and understanding of the learning that is [their own].”
Akiba also offers multi-age classrooms in which students are paired in two-year age spans: 1st/2nd, 3rd/4th, 5th/6th, and 7th/8th, which Jones found to be essential for children during their time in school and later when they enter the job market.
“I feel we’re preparing our kids for the real world,” Jones said.
He is also a sought-after speaker and innovator in Jewish education; most recently he was selected to join the HaKaveret: JEIC Team Challenge focused on developing multiple innovative and engaging models for delivering Judaic education in Jewish day schools.
He also served as a professor at the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration where he taught Educational Technology Integration for graduate students.
For this school year, Jones said he wants to focus on growing programming that is already in place at Akiba.
What’s new this year at Akiba is a research and development department, which is a rare, said Jones. A group of teachers at Akiba received training on the new research and development department during the summer.
“I want us to be a school that is continuing to evolve and innovate. I want to make sure that we have a system in place that encourages and supports innovation,” Jones said. “It’s a design thinking process where we come up with an idea, and we grow this model of iteration where we’re researching and or trying it out or prototyping it.”
Essentially when teachers at Akiba have a new idea, they can present it to a leadership team where they receive feedback and then, in turn, can conduct further research on whatever the plan may be. Teachers will have the opportunity to prototype those ideas in the school.
Teachers within the new program take into account trends in education worldwide, locally or needs within Akiba.
“We want to make sure that there’s a system where teachers feel that they can address those needs and get support and try new ideas,” Jones said.
Jones said they are already testing and researching new ideas for the school year.
For example, the school is looking at a model of education that’s focused on intrinsic motivation which breaks down to whether or not students can learn just for the sake of learning “not for a grade or a smiley face just because they’re enjoying learning,” Jones said.
In addition to the research and a development department, Jones wants to focus on engagement with the school community, the neighborhood, and local organizations.
“We believe that being in Hyde Park is a significant benefit,” Jones said. “There’s so much rich culture here with the museum, the farmers market, and the park right across the street [Harold Washington Park]. “There are so many things here that we take advantage of, and we want people to know about that. Our kids get to learn outside our building.”
This school has taken on “Illuminate Akiba” as the theme for the school Jones said they want to shine a light on the school.
“I feel like I’ve been welcomed with open arms,” Jones said.