Rabbi Philip D. Field, 61, will be retiring after 17 years at the helm of Barrack, formerly Akiba Hebrew Academy. He and his wife will be moving to Israel, where their four children reside.
Brown, 60, currently serves as dean of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education and director of the Melton Research Center for Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, where he has worked since 1996. He also has been the first dean of distance learning (technically, where most work is done online) at JTS, where he is also an assistant professor of Jewish education, and specializes in curriculum development and instruction. Brown will leave JTS as of June 2008.
"The school needs an experienced, seasoned head," Brown said when asked about his appointment. Though many people at age 60 begin looking toward retirement, Brown said that "age is just a number," adding that he is "healthy and young at heart."
He added that he was honored by the offer to "help the school move forward."
He will assume his new duties in July 2008.
Brown is no stranger to day-school education in the region.
From 1980 to 1996, he served as headmaster of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Philadelphia, now the Raymond and Ruth Perelman Jewish Day School. Prior to that, he was the educational director at Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park from 1975 to 1980.
He and his wife, Michele (a longtime teacher at Perelman), live in Melrose Park and belong to Beth Sholom Congregation. Their children, Dory and Aliza, both graduated from Akiba.
In addition, Brown, who has a doctorate in education from Columbia University's Teachers College, earned rabbinic ordination from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1996.
His appointment comes during a time of great change for the newly named secondary school. For one, Brown will oversee its relocation from Merion Station to its new site in Bryn Mawr.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia announced in July that it had purchased the 35-acre site of the former American College in Bryn Mawr to house Barrack come the 2008-09 academic year. The school will occupy the former Gregg Conference Center on the campus.
Brown, who has commuted to New York while at JTS, will begin to spend his Fridays locally on what he calls a "listening tour." He plans to meet with students, teachers, board members, parents and alumni over the next several months to discuss school-related issues.
Plans for Expansion
Brown has many thoughts about how to shape the future of the institution. First, he would like to increase the selection of foreign-language courses to include Chinese, Russian and Arabic. He also seeks additional science, technology and research projects; an expanded music and arts program; and Jewish text learning that includes more in-depth Talmud study and midrash. He'd also like to build athletic fields on the new campus.
He also would like to turn the hotel located on the campus into a Jewish retreat center to host Shabbatons for the community, as well as an evening program of "serious Torah study" for students.
"He is the best person we could have hoped to get for the position," declared attorney Jay A. Dorsch, president of Barrack's board of directors, noting that Brown is intellectually sharp; has enthusiasm, energy and interest in the position; and has experience in the educational field "that is second to none" — not to mention his love of Jewish education.
Said Dorsch: The man "is very much a mensch."