Aviva Walls moves beyond college counseling to become school’s first female academic administrator


Neima Fax

CHANGE: Aviva Walls has a new office on the second floor adjacent to Rabbi Ari Schwarzberg’s.

With the new title Dean of Academic Affairs, Ms. Aviva Walls has expanded her role beyond college counseling to become the first-ever female educational administrator in the high school.   

Ms. Walls will be undertaking some of the responsibilities of former Dean of Students Jason Feld, now Head of School at Northwest Yeshiva High School in Seattle in the fall – ironically, the high school that is Ms. Walls’ alma mater.  

Among her areas of responsibility will be student welfare, discipline and working with the Agenda Committee and Just Community, all previously led by Mr. Feld. She will also manage the master schedule, make sure Schoology is updated and ensure that students are enrolled in the proper classes.

But she will still be involved in college counseling, alongside Ms. Lisa Gruenbaum, Associate Director of College Counseling and Academic Guidance.

“It’s a lot of what I was doing before with a little more on top,” Ms. Walls said of her new position.

Shalhevet has had often women lead the school’s business, administrative, counseling and admissions departments, but she is the first in an academic role. Being the first female educational administrator in the high school is something Ms. Walls described as exciting both for herself and for Shalhevet. (Dr. Deborah Parks was General Studies principal in the old Shalhevet Middle School.)

“We’re very coed and want to inspire our male and female students in all sorts of ways, whether it be science, math, engineering, computer science, athletics, Talmud, or Tanach,” Ms. Walls said. “To be a role model of educational leadership is really powerful, and I hope I am up for the task.”

She has moved into a new office, located on the second floor. It is half of the split space where Mr. Feld’s previous office was; Judaic Studies teacher Rabbi Ari Schwarzberg, who now is co-leading the Just Community, has moved into the other half.

Describing Shalhevet as a “give-and-take” community where everybody’s voices are heard, Ms. Walls is planning to have a discussion board in her office, where students will answer prompt questions on post-it notes, making the wall an interactive space.

“I think it’s gonna be a challenge to stay present with every student even when there’s so much to do,” she said, adding, “so I have set up my new office in a way that really reminds me to be present as possible.

“I want my office to be a place where students come,” she said, “a place where people feel like their voice is heard.”

Ms. Walls joined Shalhevet in 2013 as Director of College Counseling, and since then has greatly increased the number of college admissions officers visiting school, as well as the number of different colleges and universities Shalhevet alumni attend.  These include schools such as Yale University, the University of Chicago, and California State University of Northridge (CSUN).

She said no one should worry about her stepping away from that role.

“I love college counseling and it’s not something I’m giving up,” she said.

However, while overseeing college counseling had previously been split 50-50 between Ms. Walls and Lisa Gruenbaum, it will now be divided into thirds. Two-thirds of the role will be filled by Mrs. Gruenbaum.

“We’re still working together, and we’re always going to be partners, but Lisa’s going to be taking more day-to-day responsibilities with college counseling,” Ms. Walls said.

Ms. Gruenbaum said she would be doing the same work as before but now fulltime instead of part time. She will also be writing more letters of recommendation.

“I’m gonna write 40 and [Aviva] will write 20,” said Ms. Gruenbaum. But she added that “every recommendation will have both of our eyes on it, because I edit what she writes and she edits what I write.” 

Mrs. Gruenbaum said that they’ve chosen which students to write about based on their relationships with them.

“if i felt like I knew a student more, then I would take them,” Ms. Gruenbaum said, “and if there were students Aviva felt like she had a really good close relationship with, she would choose those students.”

Ms. Walls said her main goal for the upcoming year would be to know more students individually – not just 12th-graders planning for college.  

“Getting to know students and having relationships with students is important,” she said. “I honestly just want to know all of the students.”

She also plans to take special interest in the ninth grade.
“It can be really hard to move from one stage of life to another, from middle school to high school,” she said. “We really want our 9th-graders to feel like they’re part of a community, and to understand what Shalhevet is.”