By Michael Jacobs
Greenfield Hebrew Academy’s new head of school plans to take some time to define the private school’s place in the Atlanta Jewish community, but he knows where the Sandy Springs academy and its students fit in the larger community.
“We have an obligation to the community around us,” said Rabbi Lee Buckman, whose tools include an ability to converse in Spanish. “In some respects, the more we understand who we are as Jews, the more we understand how deep and broad our obligation is to the rest of the community. … In helping the others and responding to our responsibility to care for the society that we’re in, it deepens our connection to God.”
Buckman, 47, spoke during a visit to the school May 22, four days after the board of trustees announced his hiring. He is the first head of school at Greenfield since Matt Lieberman resigned in mid-2007 after two years in the job and also is taking the role of Judaics principal.
“This opportunity here in Atlanta is an opportunity to step into a community at a critical time in its development,” he said. Noting that Atlanta and its Jewish community have changed dramatically in the academy’s more than 50 years, he said it’s exciting to be involved in defining the school’s role in a way that will widen its community impact.
The rabbi founded the Frankel Jewish Academy of Metro Detroit in 1999 and served as the high school’s head of school until a year ago. He brings educational consulting experience in the United States and Israel and worked as a sixth- and eighth-grade teacher at a Jewish day school during his time as a synagogue rabbi in Milwaukee.
“Good high school education starts with good primary education,” Buckman said. “It’s an exciting opportunity to help from the very beginning set kids on a good, solid footing so that their future educational experience would be more efficient and profitable and exciting and vibrant.”
He wants Greenfield students to continue to a Jewish high school after the academy, which runs through eighth grade, but he said it’s up to the parents whether they prefer the cross-denominational approach of the Jewish high school in Sandy Springs, the Weber School, or the Orthodox education of Yeshiva Atlanta High School in Doraville, where Buckman and his wife, Rachel, will send the youngest of their four sons, 15-year-old twins Noam and Avi.
“I want parents at GHA to see day school education at least as a 12-year process,” Buckman said. “This is a school that promotes Jewish day high school education because if it stops at eighth grade … when kids are doubting and rejecting and rebelling, a week of adolescence will destroy eight years of a great Jewish day school education.”
Leah Summers, Greenfield’s general studies principal, said Buckman represents the best in educational practice. “He and I are in sync with the educational vision for our school, and I am convinced that with Lee Buckman at the helm, our school will become a model for other Jewish educational institutions.”
Buckman, who has friends and acquaintances among the rabbis and Jewish educators in metro Atlanta, said he doesn’t expect much culture shock in his move from Michigan to Georgia. “The big cultural learning curve that I need to embark on is learning the culture of this school — what is being taught, what are the norms, what are the unwritten rules.”
The Greenfield community also will have a learning curve with its shift to a rabbi as head of school. Buckman said his educational philosophy starts with the idea that education is about creating transformation, not just imparting information. It’s a mission that stretches beyond eighth grade and beyond students and their families to include synagogues, summer camps and youth groups.
“I have a particular student body image that I’d like to see,” he said, “which is one that’s enthusiastic, comes to school feeling that what they’re doing is meaningful and that walks away at the end of the day feeling that ‘that was one of the most worthwhile ways that I could have just used my time.’ ”