Former university prof takes the helm of Wornick Day School

Susan Weintrob intended to be a scholar of 19th- and 20th-century British literature. But when the university professor began to home school her own children, things changed.

“As I became more active to provide things for my own children,” Weintrob said, “I fell in love with [Jewish education].”

So 10 years ago she followed her heart — all the way from a university in Indiana to a Hebrew day school in Brooklyn and most recently to Foster City, where she’s the new head of school at the Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School.

She replaces Mervyn Danker, who left in June to become the executive director of the American Jewish Committee’s Bay Area chapter.

“It’s clear that [Susan] is not an administrator who could be at the helm of just any Jewish organization,” said Maury Alcheck, board president and father of three Wornick students. “Her neshama [soul] is really for Jewish education. She has an incredible way with the children.”

Weintrob began her teaching career in the English department at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., a small city where she said her son and daughter were two of only 12 Jewish children when they arrived in the 1980s. While at Ball State, she created Jewish studies course offerings, started the Hillel and served as a lay rabbi at the town’s only synagogue.

When her children became school-aged, she decided to home school them.

“I didn’t realize until I taught my own children that what’s sacred is not my lesson plan, but the children’s learning,” she recalled. “Children say intelligent things. When we teach, we should be listening a great deal.”

This revelation coincided with her youngest son’s desire to attend high school. She wanted him to be in an environment with a critical mass of Jewish children, and so she left higher education to work at a Hebrew day school in Brooklyn.

After that, Weintrob worked at two other day schools in New York. She has also gotten involved in the national Jewish Community Day School Network (RAVSAK) and Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, experiences that connected her with day school teachers and principals around the country, including other day school heads in the Bay Area.

“We all know that the Jewish community has its divisions, and people don’t often have the time or chance to meet those from different walks of life,” she noted. “But a progressive community day school provides a common ground for families raising Jewish children.”

Weintrob grew up in a Zionist home in New Jersey. She lived on a kibbutz for a college semester, which, paired with a Hebrew minor, helped her become conversational in Hebrew.

After college she married Neil Weintrob, a renowned concert violinist and teacher, and the pair moved to France. After that, they moved to Oklahoma, then Indiana, places where Neil could study and teach others the violin, while Weintrob taught English and studied literature.

As Weintrob has moved deeper into Jewish education, she has never forgotten her literary roots. She may begin each staff meeting with a dvar Torah, but she always concludes with a poem.

“Susan was a real find,” said Aylon Engler, a former board member who served on the search committee. “I think the real outstanding thing is her ability to communicate.”

Engler said the search committee wanted to hire someone who could help grow Wornick, and they were impressed by Weintrob’s previous work — at one day school, she saw enrollment increase by 65 percent during her tenure. They also liked her passion for secular and Jewish education, and for Israel.

Weintrob sees her most immediate and most important role as being a “teacher of teachers.” She said her door is always open for conversation and collaboration with staff, and she hopes to create a school culture that encourages teamwork.

“I think together we’re smarter,” she said. “I find it very exciting to work with people.

“My job for the next few months is to learn about the school and its families, and together, figure out where to go.”

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.