Principal Tranchi is moving to Oakwood School in North Hollywood


REACTING: Students and teachers gather around Mr. Tranchi May 31, minutes after receiving the email announcing that he would not be returning to Shalhevet next year.

By Zev Hurwitz, Editor-in-Chief

General Studies Principal Phu Tranchi said May 31 that he will leave Shalhevet effective at the end of summer vacation, and will take a teaching position at the Oakwood School in North Hollywood while pursuing as previously announced a doctoral degree at UCLA.

In a letter sent to the Shalhevet community via e-mail at 3:41 p.m. that day, Mr. Tranchi did not specify any particular reasons for his departure.

“After much deliberation with my family and mentors, I have made the decision not to return to Shalhevet next year and to accept an opportunity at a new school,” Mr. Tranchi wrote. “I hope that you understand this step I must take and don’t feel that I am abandoning the community.”

But he said later in an interview that he began to consider leaving after the “tumult” of last year, when then-Head of School Rabbi Elchanan Weinbach resigned and the middle and lower schools closed.

“I don’t want [my departure] to make anything worse,” Mr. Tranchi said. “This will increase flexibility among the administration. This is not a statement about how I feel the school will be doing next year.”

English Department Chair Ms. Melanie Berkey, who is Mr. Tranchi’s wife, plans to stay, and will be teaching AP English and American Literature next year.  She said in an interview that she would not be teaching her popular Film course because the class will not be offered.

Reaction in the halls Tuesday ranged from disbelief to tears. A group of students crowded around Mr. Tranchi outside his office exchanging hugs.

“I am horrified,” junior Leah Katz said. “I have been looking forward to Mr. Tranchi’s [AP] chemistry course all year. I’m still going to take it but I don’t see how they can find anyone as awesome.”

Senior Ariella Benji said Mr. Tranchi’s decision upset her on a personal level.

“This just made me really sad,” said Ariella, captain of this year’s Model U.N. “I don’t see how Shalhevet can still be the same.”

The news came six weeks after Mr. Tranchi’s April announcement that he would be stepping down as principal next year in pursuit of a doctorate in education at UCLA, but that he would keep several teaching posts and hold the title of Director of Curriculum and Instruction.

Mr. Tranchi’s message to Shalhevet families and faculty praised Shalhevet and said he was thankful for his time here.

“Shalhevet is on the verge of a new beginning, and while I will not physically be with you, I wish nothing but the best for the school,” wrote Mr. Tranchi. “The flame of Shalhevet will always burn in my heart. Thank you for all the light that you have brought into my life. Thank you for everything.”

“This presents the best opportunity for me in terms of my career,” Mr. Tranchi said. “Oakwood is a leader among local independent schools and we’ve had discussions about potential leadership opportunities for me.”

Mr. Tranchi has been General Studies principal since Dr. Samuel Gomberg left the post in 2007, and has taught science at Shalhevet since 2000, since 2006 as Science Department chair.  At Oakwood, a co-ed school that has Town Hall meetings but not an official just community, he will teach Physics and Physical Science while taking classes at UCLA, he said.

When it was announced last month that Mr. Tranchi would step down as principal, Dean of Students Roy Danovitch was named Acting General Studies Principal for 2011-12.  Mr. Danovitch yesterday called Mr. Tranchi a “role model” and said that next year’s administration will need to be adjusted in light of his departure.

“I am leaving it up to Rabbi Segal and other leadership to determine the next course of action,” Mr. Danovitch said. “Mr. Tranchi will be here over the summer so we will still be able to benefit from his expertise before he leaves.”

Mr. Tranchi says that he most enjoyed teaching classes at Shalhevet but that there is another fond memory that he has of the school.

“I met my wife here,” he said with a smile.

In the same e-mail as Mr. Tranchi’s letter, a companion letter was sent from incoming Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal, who outlined the school’s plans for moving forward after losing the longtime science teacher, principal, and advisor.

“This decision followed a series of constructive and candid conversations between us,” Rabbi Segal wrote. “I want to express my personal thanks to Phu on behalf of all of us for embracing and respecting the process which resulted in his ultimate decision. I know you will join me in thanking Phu for his service to Shalhevet and to wish him much success as he continues his career going forward.”