LaHav and Just Community not new to new Chief Academic Officer Malka Popper
Ms. Malka Popper, most recently principal of the Upper School at Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, Md., has taken the newly created role of Shalhevet’s Chief Academic Officer and becomes the highest-ranking female academic administrator currently at Shalhevet.
She said her new position entails working to better implement Shalhevet’s mission. She was at Berman from 2019 to 2022.
“I get to work with the principals, with the teachers, with the students, with the parents and the other administrators to look at all aspects of this school and see and make sure what we say we’re doing aligns with what we’re actually doing,” said Ms. Popper in an interview Aug. 23.
“So we have an incredible mission and vision here, and so I get to work on its implementation together with Rabbi Stein, with Mr. Weslow, with Rabbi Block and the rest of the team every day.”
She already has some familiarity with that mission. Before moving to Berman in 2019, Ms. Popper taught the Lahav Talmud curriculum and experienced Town Hall at Northwest Yeshiva High School in the Seattle area, where she was Assistant Head of School and a Judaic Studies teacher from 2013 to 2019. The head of school there was (and still is) Mr. Jason Feld, formerly Shalhevet’s Dean of Students
Mr. Feld brought the Lahav curriculum and Town Hall to NYHS in 2017 after 10 years at Shalhevet.
Head of School Rabbi David Block said that Ms. Popper is the highest ranking female academic administrator since he arrived at Shalhevet in 2016. Women lead or have led Admissions, College Counseling and Educational Support.
You can have amazing plans, but it’s what happens in the classroom that really builds upon that,”
— Ms. Malka Popper, Chief Academic Officer
Ms. Aviva Walls, who had been Director of College Counseling and Israel Guidance, acquired the additional title of Dean of Academic Affairs in 2017. On the business side, Ms. Sarah Emerson was appointed Executive Director in 2016 and now serves as Chief Operating Officer.
Ms. Popper is originally from Seattle and attended NYHS herself. She spent two years in Israel after high school, then attended Stern College where she received a B.A. in Jewish Studies. She later attended the Graduate Program In Advanced Talmudic Studies, or GPATS, for five years at Yeshiva University and was a senior fellow there.
At YU she also received a Masters in Biblical Talmudic Interpretation.
This year, she is teaching one class of ninth-grade Talmud as well as one section of 10th-grade Advisory.
She said that in her classroom she hopes to be “a facilitator of conversation.”
“It’s really about inviting the students to think very critically and carefully about what the text is saying and how it matters to who they are as people,” Ms. Popper said.
Ms. Popper said that she loves the Just Community form of governance at Shalhevet and the students’ ability to influence it, and especially the division between Agenda, Fairness and SAC.
“I think that in a lot of schools there’s a confusion,” said Ms. Popper, “between when you have a student council president and you have those elections, and the student council president always saying, ‘I really want to be there to influence policy and have a voice in those conversations,’ when the administration’s like, ‘Well, you’re here for programming.’”
At Shalhevet, she said, the Student Activities Committee, or SAC, works on spirit events.
“One of the nice things about Shalhevet is they’re very intentional about SAC as a wing of the Just Community but separate from Town Hall and Agenda, and also separate from Fairness,” Ms. Popper said.
As an administrator, Ms. Popper hopes “to balance being able to move the needle and making progress on our goals, while also being able to get the buy-in order to accomplish those goals.”
It’s really about inviting the students to think very critically and carefully about what the text is saying and how it matters to who they are as people,”
— Ms. Malka Popper, Chief Academic Officer
“You can have amazing plans, but it’s what happens in the classroom that really builds upon that,” said Ms. Popper. “And then outside of the classroom, it’s really working on what I like to think about the Shalhevet brand.
“What we do here is something incredibly special,” she said, “and we have an opportunity to really share that with all members of our community and both the Shalhevet family — the parents, the students, etcetera — but also the broader community as well.”
Rabbi Block called Ms. Popper “a real Torah scholar” and said she was “immensely qualified to be one of the top educational leaders at our school.” He said that he’d been hoping to bring a female administrator so women would have “a voice at the table” and that female leadership was “absolutely what began this search.”
“But what we found is not just a remarkable female leader, but one of the most talented educators I’ve ever come across.”
“She embodies Shalhevet’s educational, academic and hashkafic values,” Rabbi Block said in a voice message to the Boiling Point. “She deeply lives and embodies and believes in thoughtful ideological Modern Orthodoxy, which is something that we hold so dear to us. So to find someone who lives a life like that is really special.”
In her free time, Ms. Popper loves to read as well as go to waterparks. She also loves to play mahjong, an activity she picked up during Covid. She said she hopes to find others at Shalhevet who are also interested in the game and wants to start a club.
Her office is in the second floor admin suite next to principal Mr. Daniel Weslow’s, where she stores five pounds of Sunkist fruit gems in her desk drawer. She said if students ever need a Sunkist, her office is the destination.