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As Milken School prepares for independence, four administrators plan to depart

by Jonah Lowenfeld

April 4, 2012 | 2:15 pm

One year after the plan was first announced, the boards of Milken Community High School and Stephen S. Wise Temple have finalized the terms of the agreement that will sever the ties between the 750-student middle and high school and the large Reform synagogue that established it more than 20 years ago.

The amicable split, which will take effect as planned on July 1, 2012, will proceed in phases. According to Aaron J. Leibovic, the president of Milken’s board, the school will pay just over $20 million to the synagogue over the course of five years. Some of the services that are used jointly by the school and the synagogue will remain in place over the coming year.

“There’s still a lot of things that have to be accomplished,” Leibovic said, “but on July 1 we will have a separate governance moving forward. In the agreement with the temple and the school, the pivotal terms have been reached.”

The transition to becoming a fully independent private school is not the only one Milken is going through this year. In September 2011, Head of School Jason Ablin announced that he would be leaving at the end of the 2011-12 school year. He has since accepted a position as coordinator of curriculum development at Shalhevet High School.

In an e-mail sent to Milken families on March 30, Leibovic announced that Rennie Wrubel, who served as head of Milken for more than 10 years, will come out of retirement to act as interim head of school for the 2012-13 school year. Milken has begun a national search for a permanent head of school.

Milken is also looking to replace Sarah Shulkind, its current middle school principal, who was recently named the new head of school at Sinai Akiba Academy, taking over for Rabbi Laurence Scheindlin, who, after 35 years leading the school, will be retiring at the end of this school year.

In his letter to parents, Leibovic congratulated Shulkind on her hiring, and said that the move by Sinai Akiba, Milken’s second-largest feeder school, was not a surprise. “Over the years, other top administrators have moved into Head of School and other leadership positions in Jewish and independent schools across North America,” Leibovic wrote.

Indeed, two other Milken administrators will also leave the school at the end of the year, both for leadership positions at other independent schools.

Assistant Head of School Jonathan Cassie, who also serves as chair of the social science department at Milken, will become the head of Sewickley Academy Senior School, the oldest independent school in Pittsburgh, Penn.

Lori Strauss, who is currently director of student support services at Milken, will start as the upper-school principal at Wildwood School this fall.

Leibovic said that while the last two years of planning and negotiations had been “tough,” the staff departures were unrelated to Milken’s transition to independence. 

Changes in leadership can be challenging for institutions, but Miriam Prum Hess, a director at BJE, Builders of Jewish Education, who works with Jewish day schools, said that she thought Milken had found a stable, if temporary, leader in Wrubel.

“Dr. Wrubel is a phenomenal educator who is very knowledgeable, having been at the school as the head of school,” Hess said. “I think it will provide tremendous stability during a period of change.”

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