Atlanta Jewish Academy’s new head of school has quickly learned the reality behind two clichés about life in Atlanta: Southern hospitality is real, and the summer is unimaginably hot and humid.
Speaking during his first week in his Sandy Springs office, Rabbi Ari Leubitz said he and his family are feeling right at home as they settle into Jewish Atlanta and he begins to help position AJA as an authentic, immersive, educationally progressive Jewish experience.
“I’m just looking forward to having the kids in the building and getting the year started,” Rabbi Leubitz said.
Those students will find some new administrators and faculty, including a second Israeli couple to help with the school’s Hebrew immersion program. AJA also will be expanding its one-to-one program, the rabbi said.
The biggest change will be the construction site in the middle of the Northland Drive campus. Rabbi Leubitz said he is learning more about the fine details of building than he ever wanted to know.
The first part of the construction program — renovating the Lower School space for this school year — is on pace to be ready for the start of classes, and he has been assured that the second stage — building out a High School space to consolidate all of the academy on one campus — also is on schedule, Rabbi Leubitz said.
With the physical work proceeding as planned, the new head of school can focus on the AJA family.
“My No. 1 goal is to meet people,” he said. With a student body of 550, “I’m trying to meet every family over the course of the year.”
One positive he has found is the depth of community interest in AJA. He’s finding no shortage of advice from graduates, students’ parents and others.
While Rabbi Leubitz is learning about Atlanta friendliness and weather, he also hopes longtime community members will take a newcomer’s word that their preconceptions about AJA’s predecessors, Greenfield Hebrew Academy and Yeshiva Atlanta High School, don’t apply to what is still developing into a different, unified school.
Some of that unity requires fine-tuning the organizational structure to enable a new identity to emerge. Rabbi Leubitz doesn’t know exactly what that new, authentic Jewish identity will be; instead, he’ll learn as the year goes along. “That’s the luxury of being new here.”