Marathon runner sprints to job as Jewish school head

Larry Fischer landed a Tiburon apartment just a mile away from the Jewish Community High School of the Bay. This is a problem for the new head of school — that's just too close.

When he isn't busy working for the fledgling JCHS, one of Fisher's favorite hobbies is the sport of ultramarathon running.

"I never win, but I always finish," said Fischer, 56, who took the JCHS reins in early spring. "I've found that I need outlets for my energy. Here, the combination of running and working at a new school is a tremendous opportunity to use some energy."

JCHS board members and administrators are figuring a man who would willingly enroll in a 50-mile race might possess the right temperament to deal with the avalanche of work presented by running a first-year high school.

"It's a brand new school, and we're throwing a lot of stuff at him. This isn't the type of guy that a month or two down the road is going to implode; it's too much for him," said Noah Alper, the school's president of the board. "He's good for something we see as a long haul, a marathon if you will."

Fischer comes to the job with a wealth of academic experience, having spent 19 years as vice principal at Connecticut's Simsbury High, a suburban school 10 miles from Hartford. Fischer's myriad tasks included student discipline and scheduling, and staff evaluations, allowing him to "see more people a day than anyone on campus with the possible exception of the custodian."

Fischer taught English at the American International School in Israel for a year in the early 1970s and took a year off from his vice principal's job at Simsbury from1985 to '86 to move his family to a kibbutz. He helped set up a program for American and Canadian students to visit Israel and again taught English. He, his wife and three children also worked in the kibbutz's olive grove and vegetable cannery.

"I wanted to get a sense of kibbutz life and also wanted to do it before the kids were too old," said Fisher. "I wanted to think out of the box as a family, do something more than be a tourist."

Fischer first came across JCHS' radar screen more than a year ago during its initial search for a head of school. He was working part-time as an educational consultant, having just retired from Simsbury High, however, and was reluctant to take on a full-time position.

JCHS hired Tom Lorch for the job; he resigned earlier this year for "personal reasons." Though Lorch declined to elaborate, Alper described his departure as "mutual," saying he'd be more comfortable "in a larger institutional setting rather than a startup."

Following Lorch's resignation, Fischer was the first and only candidate the school contacted.

"While I was consulting, I realized I had enough energy to do something full time, and the little pieces of consulting weren't adding up," said Fischer. "The timing was right, the job was right and, from an East Coast point of view, living on the West Coast was geographically right as well. My wife said, 'Hey, let's do it. Life should be adventuresome.'"

Fisher and his wife, Martha, plan to join Conservative Congregation Kol Shofar, which is located adjacent to the school. JCHS will be open for students in the fall.

With school principal Rabbi Ed Harwitz in charge of the Jewish studies program, Fischer will oversee all other academic programs as the senior administrator.

"It's infectious in a way to work with Larry, who's so passionate about the joys of serving as an educator," said Harwitz. "Not only are we interested in the same goals, we have the same passion for Jewish education and education in general. We have an awful lot of fun together; it's already a wonderful collegial relationship for me."

That may be, but Harwitz isn't going to accompany Fischer on an ultramarathon anytime soon.

"I'll stick with my treadmill," the principal said. "That's a little bit on the safer side."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.