Skip to main content

Dr. Weiss’s Annual Meeting Remarks

As I now complete my fifth year as Head of School at Bornblum, I can reflect on how far our school has come and how our school can continue to grow into the future.

I believe that these five years have allowed me the opportunity to see the entire scope of our school program and curriculum and allow me and our team to strategically plan for our school’s next 34 years.

In the early days of the Covid shutdown, Bornblum’s Board and Leadership pressed forward with the creation of a Strategic Plan. We identified four goals that would be paramount to our school’s success: Academic Excellence, Affordability and Sustainability, Culture, and Marketing and Communication. We created some long-term objectives, strategies, and action steps through the process.

Michal Almalem and Annette Eisenberg (not pictured) received the 20 Year Staff Longevity Award at the 2023 Annual Meeting.

Our goal for Academic Excellence is to ensure that Bornblum provides an exemplary education by continuing to attract and retain expert faculty and by strengthening its curricular and extracurricular programs. Over the past three years, we have looked at our faculty and have had some turnover with the goal of ensuring that we have not only expert faculty but faculty teaching grades and subjects in which they are most effective. We have increased our professional development opportunities, through funding from the State and a greater investment in our budget.

Jill Cross and Michal Almalem, both of whom have worked to find PD opportunities, have also worked to formalize our teacher assessments, with metrics showing growth and improvement areas. By hiring new teachers, we have expanded our formal mentorship program for teachers and found outside funding to give our mentors stipends for their coaching. We are lucky to have Michal leading our Jewish studies faculty. She creates programs and opportunities that allow our students to connect to their Jewish roots. Together, Michal works with Jill Cross to integrate our curriculum in a way that is seamless. Each work with the classroom teachers to find unique ways to enrich the lives of our students. Our teachers know that they have experts to guide them, which has led to more collegiality and a stronger school.

One of the biggest goals this year was in creating a positive school culture among our staff. Thanks to generous donations from the Fogelman’s and the Belz Foundation, we revamped our Staff Workroom and Kitchen allowing us to eliminate the smaller grade-level teacher workrooms we had been using during Covid. Our staff members are well caffeinated as we provide coffee and treats daily. Our staff feel appreciated thanks to our board and BPA, who not just during Teacher Appreciation Week, but throughout the year, send cards, notes, balloons, and provide special treats. Our staff have spaces and materials at their disposal that allow them to be more effective in their jobs. And it has brought the staff together for collaboration and camaraderie.

Cindy VanGunda received the 10 Year Staff Longevity Award at the 2023 Annual Meeting.

We would be nowhere if it was not for the strength of our teachers. They are dedicated and have enriched our school in innumerable ways. I also want to note the incredible efforts of Amir Sharabi, who over the past several years has gone from less than 100 devices in the school to several hundred. Each needs his time and attention, along with making sure we stay online, and that we have access to our software, not to mention the work that he does for each of our programs, his video making, and his photography. Thank you, Amir! And the same is true for Sandra and Felicia who are our chief security officers, nurses, shields when we need them, assistance for programs, copies, mailings, editing, and for a good laugh. Our facilities run smoothly through communication, technology, and our jack of all trades, Jesus. If we need something built or fixed, or we have a crazy idea that we need help bringing to fruition, or need a cleanup on aisle three (or the boy’s bathroom), we have Jesus there to help. He manages our facilities and makes sure the walls don’t fall on us.

New this year, each Monday morning, our entire staff and faculty come together at our Torah for a weekly meeting. These meetings, in addition to our regular Tuesday afternoon meetings, provide some context to the week, highlight something incredible that happened the previous week, bring to attention something special that may have happened in one of our colleagues’ lives, has some inspiration, but most of all provide some connection for the entire staff. We stand in a circle so we can all see one another. And we pick a Lucky Duck. This new initiative allows one or two staff members a week to get special gifts and acknowledgments. While the staff member is the Lucky Duck, the truth is that it allows all of us to see how lucky we are to be a part of this incredible school. These efforts are only a part of what has transformed our culture this year.

Nathan Collier received the 5 Year Staff Longevity Award at the 2023 Annual Meeting.

Our Monday meeting allows our Middle School teachers an opportunity to come into the front of the school and provides additional opportunities to interact with the entire staff. Our Middle School is an integral part of our school. There is nothing more special than watching our Middle School students as leaders and watching our 8th graders graduate and reflect on their careers at Bornblum. With Charna Schubert taking over as Middle School coordinator this year, we have expanded our programmatic offerings in the Middle School, including preparation and a visit to Finance Park. We moved our 6th and 7th grade trip to the fall to build a stronger community among the students. Our track and cross-country programs have helped to build school spirit and teamwork among our students. While small in number, our Middle School is strong.

As part of our increased offerings in our After-School Activities, Danielle Zelig, our Director of Admissions and Parent Engagement, has surveyed and spoken to parents throughout the school to help determine what after-school offerings the school should have. Danielle has put together a full range of options for our students, with over 75 sign-ups per quarter, which is a substantial increase over past years, bringing excitement and added revenue into our school. These offerings tap into the creativity and expertise of our staff and meet the wants and desires of our students. Danielle has already begun working on next year’s offerings, which will allow us to try some new endeavors for our school community, including a school musical.

This coming year, we plan to expand our Design Thinking into a new capstone program for our Middle School students. This will allow us to grow our alternative learning opportunities surrounding technology. Our students will learn technology and how to use the tools in our expanded Design Lab in an effort to go through the Design Thinking process from start to finish. Students will present these capstones at an evening program at the end of the school year.

Ariel Figueroa received the 5 Year Staff Longevity Award at the 2023 Annual Meeting.

And this has filtered to our Lower School where technology classes this year were moved to the classroom and taught in coordination with the classroom teachers and the curriculum they are already teaching. This has allowed us to meet the evolving needs of our students throughout the school.

Our Design Thinking framework for teaching and learning has allowed us to integrate not only technology, but music, art, math, science, social studies, reading, Jewish history, Jewish text, holidays, and Hebrew, into how and what we learn. This also ties in directly with our Social Emotional Learning curriculum, taught and led by our Director of Student Services, Sally Baer. Sally participates in a professional cohort of guidance counselors and student services professionals through Prizmah. At the core of what Sally works on with our students is Empathy, which is the first step in our Design Thinking process. This integration successfully allows us to put our values and relationships at the center of who we are as a school.

Putting those values at the forefront has allowed our Director of Marketing and Communications, Zack Orsborn, to use his creativity and planning to help our school shine. Our social media marketing is tracked, allowing us to know what time a good time is to post, what type of post or Reel gets the most likes and views, where and how to target ads, how to produce videos like the one we showed at the Gala, or the Spark podcast that has gained a national audience. The parent community, the Memphis Jewish community, and the nation is taking notice of who we are and what we do thanks to Zack’s incredible efforts.

Samantha Schmidt received the 5 Year Staff Longevity Award at the 2023 Annual Meeting.

Zack’s hiring, along with the hiring of Danielle Zelig, was part of a shift in Scott Ostrow’s responsibilities this year. Scott’s title changed from Director of Development to Director of Institutional Advancement. Scott’s work on making sure that our school has a strong future is not merely in the fundraising efforts that he leads, but in our garden, our design lab, our generations day, our furniture purchasing, and in the vision of where our school can be in the coming years. Scott is a great thought partner, but more than that, he is a doer. He literally has his hands in everything, and he does so out of a love for our school and for our community. When he bugs you about giving to the school, it is important to note how much he personally does for our school. Scott raises more money each year and has found some unique and exciting programs, events, and models for giving.

René Fumich received the 5 Year Staff Longevity Award at the 2023 Annual Meeting.


Scott regularly works with our Board to ensure that our fundraising efforts and community outreach are a priority. We have an incredible board. Each member is dedicated, hard-working, and always looking for ways to pitch in and support our school. I often hear from colleagues, Heads of School in other communities, who struggle with their boards. They don’t have support. They aren’t shown appreciation. They don’t work between meetings in an effort to further the school. I sit and listen to those conversations and feel guilty. Guilty because we have a board that knows how to work effectively for the betterment of the school. We have a board that supports me in the decisions we make on a day-to-day basis, and they allow me and our leadership team to operate the way that a school should. Never has there been a time that I have not felt supported. Never has there been a time when I did not think that our board had our best interests in mind. And that is thanks to our executive board and the leadership of our board president, Janice Ringel. Janice, thank you for being a partner, a support system, and the drive that keeps our school and our community strong. I am looking forward to another year of working together.

Finally, when I look at our students, parents, board, amazing faculty, staff, and leadership team members, I must catch my breath. I am in awe of what we have built and what the coming years have in store. I am thankful to be part of the Bornblum story. Thank you for helping us to write the next page.

View Annual Report

Board President Janice Ringel’s Annual Meeting Remarks

During my first board meeting as President last June, I outlined goals for the upcoming school year. The first goal was to monitor the progress of our Strategic Plan. I would like to update you on Affordability and Sustainability, as Dan has already covered Academic Excellence, Culture, and Marketing strategies.

Scott Ostrow, our Director of Institutional Advancement, has been instrumental in strengthening the school’s financial position. He expanded our donor base by bringing in more corporate sponsors and he focused on securing more in budget restricted gifts. Scott has also consistently met his fundraising goals over the past several years. The Finance Committee led by Scott Notowich, recommended a tuition increase for the 2023/2024 school year since our current tuition is well below what it actually costs to educate each student. The committee will meet again in the fall to establish a 3-5 year tuition structure more aligned with our needs. We also established a separate building fund to cover major capital expenditures, such as the partial roof replacement, which was completed last month.

In terms of affordability, one of Bornblum’s guiding principles is to provide a Jewish education to any family, regardless of their ability to pay. Dan and René Fumich, our Director of Finance, continued to work closely this year to ensure that all Jewish families have access to an affordable education. Currently, about 35% of our students receive financial assistance.

Janice Ringel recognizes Dr. Weiss with the 5 Year Staff Longevity Award at the 2023 Annual Meeting.

Our board committees were actively engaged throughout the year. The Executive Committee dedicated significant time to creating a new Head of School evaluation survey, and played a crucial role in extending Dan’s contract through June of 2027. They also worked together with the Finance Committee to establish next year’s tuition structure and operating budget. A huge thank you goes to Scott Notowich, who did an awesome job as Treasurer these past two years. He put in countless hours with René to make sure we always had accurate, up to date financial information each month.

The Facilities Committee provided support and guidance for maintenance expenses and capital improvements, including the recent roof replacement. They also supplied Dan with a list of qualified inspectors who will survey the entire building in order to anticipate areas that might need attention in the near future. Abraham Bendayan has been especially helpful in making suggestions regarding our technology infrastructure.

The newly formed Alumni Council, led by Ryan Saharovich and Jana Weiskopf with Anne Reef as an advisor, got things underway in their inaugural year with several successful events. They held an Alumni Playdate during Rosh Hashanah, a Pancakes and PJs get together on Christmas day, and they hosted a happy hour with Federation that was aimed at young Jewish professionals. The Council is in the process of digitizing all of Bornblum’s past yearbooks, they’ve begun working on alumni meet ups in both Chicago and NY, and they’re planning a local activity for alumni who are still in high school. Future projects include adding an alumni page on the website, establishing an alumni newsletter, and connecting alumni with past Bornblum faculty. As you can see, there has been a big push for increased alumni engagement and the council hopes to strengthen its outreach even more in the coming years.

The Governance Committee, under Jill’s Shanker’s direction, spent the past few months updating our bylaws. The committee also nominated two new board members, both of whom I know will make great additions to our roster. Adam Lazarov has done an outstanding job as Counsel and both he and Jill are always responsive and provide excellent guidance whenever issues arise.

Another focus this year was to create new opportunities for board and staff interaction. Various members of the faculty and staff attended our board meetings so they could introduce themselves and discuss their roles at the school. Dan and his wife, Jessica, also graciously hosted a Sukkah cocktail party at their home back in the fall. It was a wonderful opportunity for the board and faculty to get together in an informal, social setting outside of school. We plan to make this a yearly event and we hope to come up with other creative ways for these groups to interact.

The Dueling Piano’s Gala was also the first large in person event the school has had in over three years. There were well over 200 guests in attendance, and it was terrific seeing so many people mingling, reminiscing and reconnecting.

Jaclyn Marshall receives the Volunteer of the Year Award at the 2023 Annual Meeting.

Engaging the school’s past presidents was another priority this year. Many of our past presidents had not been to the school in a long time and therefore, were unaware of all the exciting things that have occurred. As such, we held our first ever Past Presidents’ Brunch back in February to coincide with President’s Day. Those in attendance were introduced to the leadership team, they learned about the many new programs the school has in place, and they were taken on a tour of this beautiful campus. We hope to make the Past Presidents’ Brunch another yearly tradition and we will continue to seek new ways to increase their involvement with the school. It is essential that we stay in touch with our past presidents and board members because they should be among the school’s biggest promoters.

Bornblum had a running theme for the entire school year. At our board meeting last June, I introduced the importance of “Telling a Good Story,” how we all must work together to build a culture of storytelling, and how a compelling story can make a lasting impression, inspire, and motivate people into action. Little did I know that Dan would run with the “story” concept and that this theme would be woven into every aspect of daily life at school. The faculty, staff and students all embraced the story telling concept so much that Bornblum created and published its very own Family Haggadah just in time for Passover. This was a full year, school-wide endeavor and a truly amazing accomplishment.

Regarding board participation, many board members volunteered at school events throughout the year. Behind the scenes, they reached out to every parent and staff member during the high holidays to provide New Year’s greetings and welcome everyone to the new school year. Later in the fall, each board member sent notes to our legacy and giving society donors, thanking them for their generosity and for supporting certain programs. And the board’s strong representation during Federation’s Annual Campaign call nights resulted in Bornblum winning both a trophy and monetary award for closing the most donor cards. A special shout out also goes to both Jeri Moskovitz and Patti Weiss, who diligently took minutes at all of our committee meetings.

Board Governance Committee Chair Jill Shanker led the Nomination and Election of Board Members and Officers at the 2023 Annual Meeting.

Within the school, I want to thank Sandra and Felicia for their stellar record keeping and assisting with all meeting preparation. The leadership team, including Michal Almalem, Sally Baer, Jill Cross and Scott Ostrow, continued to demonstrate their commitment to academic excellence and growth. And of course, Dan, we are so fortunate to have you leading the way. Dan and I have forged a strong Board Chair/Head of School rapport and our dialogue with each other is very open and candid. I am confident that we will continue to build on our relationship as we partner as a team moving forward.

Looking ahead, we will continue implementing the Strategic Plan, maintaining strong committee involvement, and begin laying the foundation for a future Endowment Campaign. I want express my sincere gratitude to our Bornblum patrons, including the Bornblum Foundation, Memphis Jewish Federation, The Belz Foundation, Judy and Larry Moss, Margo and Mark Fogelman, and all of our Legacy and Giving Society donors. Your generosity and support are vital to the school’s existence.

Thank you all for your tremendous efforts!