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Day school expert Kutler selected to lead THA

Laurence Kutler talks with Tucson Hebrew Academy first graders, Jan. 8. (Debe Campbell/AJP)

Laurence Kutler, Ph.D., left Florida’s beaches and retirement to join Tucson Hebrew Academy as the head of school on Jan. 8.

“Highly regarded in the Jewish day school movement, he has earned a reputation for working closely with students, faculty, parents and the community as a collaborative team builder with a passion for mentoring staff and educators,” says Neil Kleinman, THA’s board chair. “In addition to his strong background in school management and administration, he is committed to seeing students become confident, critical thinkers and ethical decision makers. He agreed to come out of retirement and assume the leadership of THA for the next 18 months.”

During Kutler’s 35-year career, he headed David Posnack Hebrew Day School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Hebrew Academy of Tidewater, Virginia Beach, Virginia; and the High School of Jewish Studies, San Diego, California. In the mid-’80s he founded Akiva Academy Jewish Day School in Youngstown, Ohio, serving as principal for 12 years. Under his direction, the school grew from 29 kindergartners and first graders to its population today of 150, including 70 percent of all eligible Jewish community children.

He most recently headed Herzliah High School in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, until 2017, where he led a $50 million capital campaign to build a high school. Raising structures was a legacy he left at each school he ran. “I used to say, you don’t want to get an ‘edifice complex.’ It’s not the building that’s important,” says Kutler. “What’s important is what goes on inside that building to create critical thinkers that can handle both the Western canon and Jewish canon.”

Kutler also was an adjunct professor at Virginia Wesleyan College and Old Dominion University in Virginia for four years and an associate professor of Hebrew at Kent State University, Ohio, for 10 years.

Kutler’s wife, Caren, a kindergarten teacher, taught alongside him throughout their shared career while raising two sons — Noam and Yoni — and moving on to accommodate the boys’ next education level. This time, she stayed on in Florida, and the couple will reunite monthly — on the beach or in the desert — for the duration of his contract.

“Over the next 18 months, he will be working to advance the school’s position and implement new programs and curriculum enhancements,” said Kleinman. “With his insight and vast relations in the Jewish day school community throughout the country he will also help guide THA through the search for the next head of school.”

Kutler says his agenda is to set priorities for the school over the coming months and to train or mentor his successor so that new leader “has smooth sailing.”

“I came here for the children,” Kutler says, explaining his exit from retirement. “I will do whatever is needed to promote the education of kids; however I can help as a partner with the board, faculty, parents, students, and stakeholders. I’m happy to be here.”

Kutler earned his bachelor’s in Judaica and education from Hofstra University, Long Island, New York, in 1975. He obtained his master’s degree in Hebrew language and literature in 1976 and doctorate in ancient Near East languages in 1980, both from New York University, attending Hebrew University in Jerusalem for two years in between the two degrees. He had planned an academic career but fell in love with Jewish education, he says.

Kutler is skilled in Hebrew, Arabic and French, as well as the ancient Akkadian, Ugaritic, Phoenician and Aramaic languages. He plays classical piano and has published, lectured and led workshops throughout his career. He has engaged in 15 Ironman triathlons and looks forward to pursuing this passion in Southern Arizona.

THA Judaic studies administrator Rabbi Billy Lewkowicz, who has known Kutler for 15 years, says “He has a track record beyond any scope we could have expected to have at THA. We welcome him with open arms.” Kutler says he finds the THA faculty compelling, dedicated and pleasant. “I’m impressed with their capacity and love for the children.” He looks forward to sitting with the board and faculty to make a to-do list for the school’s future sustainability.