Meet the New Teachers
By Shirin Kaye
Eight new teachers are joining the ranks of Barrack Hebrew Academy’s staff this school year. The Chronicle interviewed them to learn a bit about their backgrounds.
Ms. Sally Belasco (Science): I started my teaching career in 2016 at Christchurch School in Virginia. I taught integrated science, coached girls’ basketball and volleyball, and I was also an advisor and a hall parent. In 2019, I left the school to move back to Pennsylvania to be closer to friends and family. I’ve been working as an environmental consultant for the past year. I chose Barrack because of the emphasis on critical thinking and real-world connections in the science department. These are two things I feel are neglected at more schools than not, so to be able to teach at a school that values them is exciting. I’m most excited about meeting all of my students and colleagues! I know classes won’t look the same as they once did, but I’m ready to embrace our virtual sessions and safely get to know everyone. A fun fact about me is I took an 11,000+ mile camping road trip across the United States in 2018 with just my dog, in my Jeep Wrangler.
Ms. Cheryl Gray Mitchell (Science): Before coming to Barrack, I taught AP Biology and Honors Chemistry at The Episcopal Academy for the past 10 years. Prior to that, I was the Science Chair at The Hebrew Academy, Miami Beach, for 12 years, and my very first teaching job was at Herzliah High School, in Montreal, Canada. I chose to teach at Barrack because I really missed the close community of Jewish day schools and sharing holidays and traditions with my colleagues and students. I am very excited to get to know my new students, which is why I left research for the classroom 20 years ago. A fun fact about me is that I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the East Coast after graduating from the University of California, San Diego. I have lived in Montreal, Fort Lauderdale, and Philadelphia (for the past 10 years), and I am an avid reader, nature-lover, and beekeeper.
Dr. Joshua Gutoff (Jewish Studies): Before coming to Barrack, I was teaching Jewish Studies at a high school outside of Boston, Massachusetts, and before that I was the director of the Masters Program in Jewish Education at Gratz College [in Philadelphia]. I chose to teach here because I love teaching in a pluralistic setting where I’m not telling students how they should live their lives, but offering "tools" that they can use in their own ways for their own purposes. And many of my friends had sent their children here or had gone here themselves; I just kept hearing wonderful things about it. My favorite thing about teaching is when a student takes an idea from class and does something with it that I’d have never expected. A fun fact about me is that I’m a fan of old-time acoustic blues and play it really badly myself.
Rabbi Adam Lautman (Jewish Studies): I’m originally from Northern New Jersey and majored in English at Rutgers University. After graduating, I taught English in the Israel Teaching Fellows program in Netanya and studied at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem. I continued onto the Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies at American Jewish University in Los Angeles, CA, and received my MA degree in Education at the same institution. I’ve educated at Ramah summer camps and local LA synagogues, as well as serving as a rabbinical intern at Beit T’shuvah, a Jewish addiction recovery center. I’ve also served as an intern for Nehirim: GLBT Jewish Culture and Spirituality; I was a group facilitator and participant in Encounter Programs to actively listen and learn from a wide range of Palestinians in the West Bank and fellow program participants; and I was a 2018-2019 Fellow of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change in Los Angeles. I chose to teach at Barrack because it seemed like a thriving and welcoming learning community that placed a high emphasis on Jewish values and pluralism. Being near Philadelphia was also a plus! I’m most excited to learn Torah from my new students and to get to know you. One of my favorite things about teaching is sharing my love for Judaism with others. A fun fact about myself is that I have a tuxedo cat named Buffy who is ridiculous, fluffy, purr-y and the best.
Mrs. Ellen Novick (Math): Prior to teaching at Barrack, I taught at The Grayson School. I was a pension actuary prior to becoming a teacher. I have my Fellowship in the Society of Actuaries which I acquired by passing 18 actuarial exams. It took me close to 10 years to pass all of the exams. I am excited to teach at Barrack because of the friendly and warm community here. As I grew up in Lower Merion, I know many Akiba/Barrack alumni and students. Each one of them demonstrates true kindness so I am looking forward to being associated with such an esteemed place.
Mr. Jesse Schwartz (English): Before coming to Barrack, I was a grad student at Villanova University. I received my Master’s in English from there this past May. I chose to teach at Barrack because I really enjoyed the interview process, and am excited to teach English to high school students. I’m mostly excited about connecting with students and encouraging their love of stories and ideas. My favorite thing about teaching is facilitating classroom discussions. A fun fact about me is that I played chess competitively as a kid.
Mr. Michael Steinley (Math): Before coming to Barrack, I taught math at Hill Top Prep. Prior to that I was a Technical Project Manager in a pharmaceutical company. I chose to teach here because I love the opportunities at Barrack for students and teachers. I am very much looking forward to teaching everything from pre-Algebra to pre-Calculus. I am really looking forward to meeting all the students. My favorite thing about teaching is seeing that “aha” moment when a student gets a new concept. A fun fact about me is that I was born and raised in South Dakota, and I spent my senior year of high school as an exchange student in Denmark.
Rabbi Joshua Waxman (Jewish Studies): Before coming to Barrack, I served as the rabbi of a local congregation for fifteen years. One of my favorite parts of being a rabbi was getting to interact with the students in the school and help them see the way that Judaism can shape their values and the way they approach the world. Barrack was a great fit, with its commitment to pluralism and with students from a wide range of backgrounds who can help challenge each other to grow, to ask challenging questions, and to learn how to engage in respectful debate with people who may not share the same opinions or views [they] do. One of my favorite things as a teacher is seeing students start to question their own assumptions and learn to see the world from a wider set of perspectives, and Barrack is the perfect place for that. I can't wait to get started! A fun fact about me is that our family owns two pet bunnies. Their English names are Cookie and Oreo and their Hebrew names are Hillel and Shammai.
Welcome to all the teachers and good luck!