Updated: Jun 14, 2021
Mrs. Sharon Levin has been a staple of Akiba/Barrack for more than three decades. Seeing her newspaper outfit on the first day of school is as expected as seeing students in the hallways. Mrs. Levin’s connection and involvement with Akiba/Barrack will never stop, however, this is her final year as Head of School. To honor the years she dedicated to the school, the Chronicle conducted an interview to document her recollections of her time here and hopes for the future.
Mrs. Levin’s Timeline at JBHA:
Mrs. Levin arrived at Akiba in April of 1986 but did not begin teaching until the fall of that year. Her children had always gone to Jewish day school, so when the family moved from Washington DC, they were determined to find a school that corresponded to what they wanted. Mrs. Levin showed up at the school for her children and immediately knew it was a great fit. She thought of the luxury of having the same schedule as her children, being off on the Jewish holidays, and decided to interview for an open teaching position. She got the job and as she says, “The rest is history.”
Mrs. Levin’s time here has not all been smooth sailing, in fact, her second year was a bit rocky. After the 1986-87 school year, due to changes within the school, she was offered a half-time position. Had this arrangement remained, Mrs. Levin likely would have left the Akiba/Barrack community after only a single year. However, then Head of School, Mr. Marc Rosenstein, was resolved to keep Mrs. Levin on, essentially creating a full-time position for her. In this new role, Mrs. Levin taught courses for the juniors who did not go to Israel, coordinated senior service, and taught part-time classes at the school. Thankfully, after that school year, there has not been any similar turmoil surrounding her position at Akiba/Barrack. The next year, the student body expanded, necessitating a larger number of faculty, and she has been here ever since.
Mrs. Levin quickly moved from middle and high school history teacher, to Head of History, to Head of Humanities, and then to Academic Dean. In 2011, Mrs. Levin was appointed interim Head of School. By spring 2012, she was officially Head of School. She has acted as Head of School for ten years now and the word to describe it would be “serendipity.”
Although she is in administration, Mrs. Levin is first and foremost a teacher. Until two years ago she was still in the classroom teaching classes. She highly values the teacher-to-student connections, the teacher-to-teacher connections, and the person-to-person connections that come with being in a classroom. Nothing better exemplifies this than the fact that Mrs. Levin has never given up having an Advisory group.
How has the school evolved?
The school has grown over the years, and experienced the name change from Akiba to Barrack, and the change in campuses from Lower Merion to Bryn Mawr. Mrs. Levin cannot thank the Barrack family enough for their continued support. They have been firm partners but have never interfered with the way the school runs. Although there has been much change, the school is still composed of amazing families and students, it retains its mission of educating and empowering the next generation of Jewish leaders, and that mission is still in the hands of the most extraordinary professionals that Mrs. Levin has worked with. One of the greatest gifts for Mrs. Levin is the number of legacy students. Hanging out with the children of students she hung out with in the 1980s is very rewarding.
What would the Akiba/Barrack community be surprised to know about Mrs. Levin?
They would not be surprised by much as Mrs. Levin is a pretty open book. She does a lot of talking and as a result was given the nickname “Short Story Long Levin” when she was a teacher at Akiba (for her knack of turning seemingly short stories into long tales). Mrs. Levin still loves talking with her colleagues and laughing with the faculty. She is a government geek, and is very much interested in politics. She works hard to keep her personal opinion steeped in mystery and remain impartial. The most important aspect of her life is her family, her husband, children, and grandchildren. She is also, obviously, extremely invested in the Jewish community.
What constitutes a “good day” at school?
For Mrs. Levin, a good day at school contains as many individual personal conversations as possible with community members in the building. Her favorite day is Friday because it is Advisory day. During Advisory she is brought back to her teaching days, with a room full of students. Although it is hard to see smiles this year with the COVID masks, Mrs. Levin always looks for smiling eyes. The more smiling eyes she sees in a day, the better that day is.
What is Mrs. Levin’s proudest accomplishment during her time at JBHA?
Mrs. Levin is proud of how quickly Barrack adapted to online learning with the advent of COVID. She is especially proud of everyone who has worked so hard to achieve this: the students, teachers, and more.
Mrs. Levin was always thrilled to see the self-motivated effort by students to expand the Diversity Equity Inclusion initiative within the school. As someone who grew up in the 1960s and 70s, the fight for equality and social justice has always been a major component of Mrs. Levin’s life, especially as a college student protesting the Vietnam conflict. The school was behind the curve but the students and families stepped up and the administration followed their lead.
Another of Mrs. Levin’s accomplishments is the comprehensive Israel education that all students, grades six through twelve, experience at Barrack. Israel education used to be more disorganized; now it is well thought out and structured in a meaningful and digestible way.
What does Mrs. Levin want her legacy to be at JBHA?
Mrs. Levin has now taught two generations of children at Akiba/Barrack. She has imbued students, who are now adults, with the mission of the school. There is nothing better than watching the students she once taught carry on this mission. Also, Barrack’s curriculum of excellent general academics combined with the richness of Hebrew, Jewish Studies, and Tanakh is second to none. She hopes she has sent forth new generations of passionate, educated young Jewish adults to become leaders in the world.
Mrs. Levin has been fortunate enough to be one of the rare few who can merge their avocation with their vocation. She is able to maintain her involvement in the Jewish community, while continuing her purpose of education. In her retirement letter, she quoted the song, “Because I Knew You,” from the musical Wicked, meaning that every individual she has met at Akiba/Barrack has changed her for the better. If even some of Mrs. Levin’s students feel the same about her, then her Akiba/Barrack career was a success. The outpouring from current students and alumni upon receiving news of her retirement is a testament to the fact that Mrs. Levin’s work has indeed been a success.
Looking back over these thirty-five years, she believes she has been the luckiest person in the world. She has no regrets and cherishes her time here. It is important to note that Mrs. Levin is not retiring; she is retiring from Barrack, and will continue her work within the Jewish community.
On behalf of the entire Akiba/Barrack community, the Cougar Chronicle would like to thank Mrs. Levin for her outstanding years of service to the school. She has made an impact on each and every one of the members of the community. We wish her well in her next chapter and look forward to whatever comes next.