Principal at Hebrew school bridges religious, academic worlds
Rabbi Enan Francis
ORANGE — Through the work of Rabbi Enan Francis, Judaic and secular studies at Southern Connecticut Hebrew Academy have come together like never before in the school’s 65-year history.
Francis, 34, is the first person at the private academy at 261 Derby Ave. to serve as principal for both Judaic and secular studies. Francis said it is “not generally the norm” to have one principal for both.
“Most Hebrew days schools have (Judaic and secular studies) split up,” Francis said. “It’s very hard to find a qualified person that can do Judaic studies and secular studies.”
Academy Headmaster Rabbi Sheya Hecht said though most Hebrew schools have a different principal for each area, the academy felt it would be easier to have one person oversee both. The school serves children in pre-kindergarten through eigth grade.
“We felt he would provide a good melding of secular and Judaic education,” Hecht said.
Beginning his education career at Brooklyn College, Francis majored in history and education. After graduating magna cum laude, he received a master’s degree in school administration from Yeshiva University.
In 2001, Francis received his rabbinical ordination from United Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Brooklyn, N.Y. Francis said he has begun working toward a doctorate in school administration from Yeshiva University.
Prior to joining SCHA, Francis said, he has “always been involved in different educational venues” at public and private schools.
Before coming to Connecticut, Francis said he worked in the New York public school system for about four years, the last two of which he taught advanced placement world history and American history at New Explorations Into Science, Technology and Math School, a school for gifted children in Manhattan.
Francis said he also worked at a private Hebrew day school where he started as a teacher and worked his way up to assistant principal in three years. Prior to that, Francis said he taught Jewish law, to high school students for five years at United Lubavitcher Yeshiva.
Francis said this is the first time he’s been able to combine his Judaic and secular knowledge while being in the “seat of the decision-making process.”
“It’s a really unique opportunity for me,” said Francis, who took the job in June. “I think it’s a fantastic model too, because you’re talking about two different departments interacting. It’s a model more schools should aspire to have.”
Some faculty and staff, such as Kay Pacileo, who teaches second- and fifth-grade secular studies, said the improvements are noticeable. “He’s done a lot in his time here, so I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like at the end of the year,” she said.
Pacileo described Francis as a “teacher’s principal” and said she and other faculty “feel we can go to him with a problem and he’ll listen.” Of having one principal for Judaic and secular studies, Pacileo said she thinks the change is “absolutely better.”
“It provides more unity. I see more unity now that I haven’t seen or felt in many years,” said Pacileo, who’s been teaching at the academy almost 10 years.
Francis, who has two children in the academy preschool, said his position is not only a unique opportunity for him, but a great opportunity to “really make things happen,” especially in terms of science and technology.
In November, Francis said the school bought and installed a SMART board, commonly known as interactive whiteboards, “out of pocket,” and though it’s hard to find necessary funding, he would like to see every classroom equipped with the boards.
“Science and technology is a big thing here. I see us, in a few years, as being completely wireless,” Francis said. “I think that ultimately, we’ll be a (wireless) school shortly enough and the word will get out what we’re doing here and more people will want to be a part of it.”
Beyond technology, Francis said he would like to see the school become even more community-minded.
Francis said his biggest goal, and that of the academy, is for SCHA to be compared to “the best private schools out there.”
“We are driven toward that goal. The drive is to do the best we can to ensure our students get a well-rounded, high-tech education to make them leaders,” Francis said. “We won’t stop until we get there.”
Rabbi Boruch Kaplan, who teaches fourth- and sixth-grade Judaic studies, said Francis helped bring Judaic and secular studies together at a greater level, but also brought “fresh perspectives” to the academy.
“He’s got an open ear to listen to new ideas and to put those ideas to work,” said Kaplan, who has been with the academy for five years. “He’s very professional yet very caring. We’ve found so far he’s a man of his word.”