Meet the New Heads of Upper School!

Updated: Sep 18

By Raphael Englander

School News Editor



This past year has brought a lot of change -- some positive, some negative. One change that the students at Barrack are looking forward to is to have new men and women running the upper school. Mr. Justin Cooper, Mrs. Jennifer Groen, Mr. Thomas McLaughlin, and Mrs. Rebecca Trajtenberg are sure to fill Dr. Darin Katz’s shoes. As the new school year begins, it is good to get more of a sense of who our new heads of upper school are.


Mr. Cooper:

  • What is your new role and what does it entail? My role as the Upper School Dean of Students will encompass the promotion and support of co-curricular activities to include publications, clubs, athletics, and other student-led activities.  Additional responsibilities will include oversight of the Derech Eretz committee and discipline in the Upper School.

  • What do you enjoy most about working at Barrack and why? I truly enjoy being able to lead programs and work with students/teachers/coaches as they make a significant positive impact on the lives of our students.  The relationships we have with our students are inspiring. 

  • What are your hobbies? Spending time with my family, golf, running, gardening and listening to classical music.

  • What is your philosophy as an educator/administrator? What do you value when doing your job? Being an administrator, we most certainly need to know how to reach our students by whatever means necessary for them to become productive well-rounded citizens. I believe you need to develop these values through our teachers and coaches, who are the front line in reaching our students.  I feel that each student has a unique set of talents and interests that should be fostered and realized through a safe and stimulating environment. Students who come to know and trust themselves through the caring people around them tend to be more creative and courageous in their work and compassionate in their relationships. I value honesty, integrity, respect, and responsibility.  I also place a high value on resilience and empathy.

  • What is the most important thing that you have accomplished during your time at Barrack? What do you want to accomplish in this new role? I am proud of the trust I have built with our students, parents, and faculty in regard to the Athletic program.  We have raised our level of visibility as a program within the community, league, and state.  I am proud of the PE and Health Department staff and curriculum we have developed to serve our students. My goal is to be an advocate and resource for our students, staff, and parents while we continue to provide exceptional academic and co-curricular programming at Barrack.


Mrs. Groen:

  • What is your new role and what does it entail? My new title is Assistant Head of School for Strategy. I look at data and trends regarding Jewish day schools local to us and around the country and work with the administration, faculty, and board of directors to make sure we are the best school we can be now and in the future. I still oversee enrollment and marketing for Barrack and am involved in what decisions we make as a school.

  • What do you enjoy most about working at Barrack and why? I LOVE where I work!! How lucky am I to have a small part to play in inspiring the best students in the world? It is a special place that encourages people to be kind, curious, Jewishly involved, and engaged. Barrack cares about each member of our diverse community.

  • What is your philosophy as an educator/administrator? What do you value when doing your job? Good question!  I believe that students who are well-grounded as adolescents, grow into stronger adults and that schools partner with parents and students to extend learning beyond the home so it is a great honor and responsibility. I want each person at Barrack to feel challenged, supported, and seen, and to become the unique, special person they are meant to be.

  • If you could vacation anywhere, where would it be and why? I have an Australian friend that I met when I was on MUSS in 11th grade who just built a beautiful home in Bali. I’d love to visit!

  • What is the most important thing that you have accomplished during your time at Barrack? What do you want to accomplish in this new role? When I started working at Barrack in the Admissions office, and even now, I love bringing new families into the community. Often they are unsure and anxious about the future and making such a big decision. It has been a joy to see students enter our school and develop over the years. In my new role, I hope to spend a lot of time working on ways to ensure that we will be around another 75 years and continue to go from strength to strength!


Mr. McLaughlin:

  • What is your new role and what does it entail? I am the Upper School Academic Dean. I oversee the entire upper school academic program, including curriculum, student placement, schedules, and assessments, as well as the supervision, mentoring, and evaluation of academic department chairs and teachers. I also collaborate regularly with the other members of the senior administration to help ensure the best possible experience for all students.

  • What are your favorite books, movies, and TV shows? I enjoy monographs and popular books about social and cultural history, especially visual culture, urban history, and civil and human rights, and a vast array of literature, especially the novels of Henry James and William Faulkner (but my interests extend well beyond the dead white male writers!). My all-time favorite movie is Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, but I also enjoy watching my kids’ movies and TV shows, from the Marvel series to Phineas and Ferb. The Simpsons is a particular favorite, along with Mad Men, episodes of This Week in Baseball from the 1980s, and especially clever SNL skits.

  • What do you enjoy most about working at Barrack and why? I enjoy the sense of community, especially the students, but also the colleagues with whom I work most closely. It makes the work worthwhile.

  • What is your philosophy as an educator/administrator? What do you value when doing your job? Students need to be challenged. Education is not supposed to be comfortable, but we can nudge students out of their comfort zones without harming their short- or long-term academic, social, and emotional development. The world is ever-changing. We must be adaptive and visionary while treating each situation individually. This overall academic vision cannot be applied as a blanket approach. The true leadership will be in the details -- timely responses, practical solutions.

  • What is the most important thing that you have accomplished during your time at Barrack? What do you want to accomplish in this new role? I believe we are always raging against our former selves. I have always tried to improve as a teacher and colleague, every day. I hope to continue with this practice in my new role. I am humbled to have been entrusted with the JBHA Upper School academic program and will take this responsibility very seriously.


Mrs. Trajtenberg:

  • What is your new role and what does it entail? As the Dean of College Counseling and Academic Advising, I get to build a relationship with students and families throughout their four years in the Upper School. Starting with rising 9th graders, I provide advice on course selection to help students make the most of their time at Barrack. For juniors and seniors, I also oversee and help students through the college admission process. I am also part of Barrack's Senior Administration team, so I help with planning and decision-making on a range of school-wide issues.

  • What are the day-to-day responsibilities of your new role? Each spring, I meet with every US student to talk about their class options for the next year, helping them to make sure that they are fulfilling all requirements as well as pursuing their interests. College counseling responsibilities change depending on the time of year, but they include meeting with juniors and seniors throughout the college search and application process, helping them learn how to figure out how to find colleges that are a good fit for them and how to submit the strongest application they can to those schools. I get to know the college admission officers who read applications from Barrack, and I make sure they understand Barrack's dual curriculum, rigor, and community. I am also responsible for creating and sending transcripts and recommendation letters to colleges that each senior applies to, and I coordinate standardized testing at Barrack as well (PSAT, SAT, ACT, and AP).

  • What is your favorite ice cream flavor? My favorite ice cream flavor is Mint Chocolate Chip -- but it has to be the green kind! 



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