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It’s a Sweet New Year for Four Surprised Recipients Of $15,000 Jewish Educator Awards

Milken Family Foundation honors exemplary educators in BJE-affiliated Jewish day schools


September 21, 2015

SANTA MONICA, CA (September 21, 2015) – It was a school day like no other for four talented Los Angeles-area Jewish day school educators:

  • Hanna Keynan, K-8 Arts Teacher, Pressman Academy/Temple Beth Am, Los Angeles;

  • Kelly Shepard, Performing Arts Chair, Milken Community High School, Los Angeles;

  • Jamie Gomer, Kindergarten and General Studies Teacher, Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School; and

  • Rabbi Levi Solomon, Torah Principal, Emek Hebrew Academy, Teichman Family Torah Center. 

During individual schoolwide assemblies – ostensibly held to celebrate the Jewish New Year – each recipient was caught off guard with a 2015 Milken Jewish Educator Award (JEA), an unrestricted $15,000 financial prize and wildly cheering students.  The announcements were made by Milken Family Foundation Executive Vice President Richard Sandler and BJE: Builders of Jewish Education Executive Director Dr. Gil Graff.  

Check out the gallery from the award celebrations

According to Sandler, who has been involved with JEA since its inception in 1990, “The Jewish Educator Awards call upon others in the profession to emulate the high standards of those we honor today—educators whose intelligence, scholarship, creativity and compassion help guide children to greater success, while preserving the heritage that gives meaning to that success.” 

About the 2015 JEA Recipients

  • Creativity infuses the curriculum at Pressman Academy, where “students learn Hebrew through art and art through Hebrew,” thanks to educator Hanna Keynan. The work of famous artists is used to inspire children; Matisse, for instance, is studied and emulated by second graders, whereas Keith Haring is the artist of choice for seventh graders. Keynan mounts an annual three-day event at Pressman in May that not only showcases the multimedia art produced by children, but integrates music, language and ethics for an unforgettable cultural experience.

  • Led by performing arts educator and department chair Kelly Shepard for the past 17 years, Milken Community High School has developed on of LA’s finest performing arts programs. Ambitious theatrical productions have included Spamalot, which won several national awards along with a visit by the original screenwriter. In music, Shepard’s work with Milken’s a capella group HaZamir has attracted international accolades. He takes groups from Milken as well as other area students to perform at Carnegie Hall. But whatever the art form and wherever the performance, Shepard cultivates an understanding of Jewish learning and values.

  • A decade ago, Jamie Gomer came to Heschel Day School from Columbia Teachers College and Bank Street School in New York City. Combining best practices with professional collaboration, she has transformed Heschel’s kindergarten experience. An expert in Writers Workshop, Gomer has children interview community members from office staff to bus drivers. Early mornings in her room are abuzz with former students dropping by to say hello or help out in an environment that starts every child on a journey as readers, writers and critical thinkers, creating lasting memories and a world of lifelong learning and lasting relationships. 

  • At Emek Hebrew Academy, Teichman Family Torah Center, students develop a knowledge and love of Torah thanks to Rabbi Levi Solomon’s expanded and engaging curriculum. To make sure the learning process is effective, he continuously mentors educators and monitors data on student progress. Rabbi Solomon’s commitment to professional development includes his own growth. He was recently selected to participate in a West Coast Principals Training Group pilot program. Believing that the family-school connection is vital to student success, Rabbi Solomon maintains close relationships with parents and attends student events outside of school, even coaching the Emek baseball team for several years. 

The four stellar educators will be celebrated, together with their families and community leaders, during an awards luncheon at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel on December 15, 2015. The event is known for its inclusiveness, bringing together people from the most secular to the most Orthodox in the Jewish community.

The Jewish Educator Awards initiative was established by the Milken Family Foundation, in cooperation with BJE: Builders of Jewish Education, to provide public recognition and unrestricted $15,000 cash awards to teachers, administrators and other education professionals in the Greater Los Angeles area who have made significant contributions to excellence in BJE-affiliated day schools.

Award recipients are selected by a committee of educators, professional and lay leaders from the Jewish community, according to the following criteria:

  • Exceptional educational talent and promise, as demonstrated by outstanding practices in the classroom, school and community.
  • Evidence of originality, dedication and capacity for leadership and self-direction.
  • Commitment to influencing policies that affect children, their families and schools.
  • Strong long-range potential for even greater contribution to children, the profession and society.
  • Distinguished achievement in developing innovative educational curricula, programs and/or teaching methods.
  • Outstanding ability to instill in students character and self-confidence.
  • Outstanding ability to develop Jewish children’s understanding of the connections between their religion, their classroom activities, and their activities beyond the classroom.
  • Commitment to professional development and excellence and the continuing Judaic and/or secular study necessary for it.
  • Personal involvement in responding to the needs of the Jewish and secular communities.
  • Criteria for administrators also include outstanding ability to attract, support and motivate committed education professionals.

CONTACT: Bonnie Somers, (310) 570-4770 or bsomers@mff.org