Rabbi Joseph Wernick

Jewish day school Menachem Mendel Academy has selected Rabbi Yoseph Wernick to be its new full-time principal. The school has been looking for a permanent principal since first opening last year.

Wernick is excited to step into his new position, citing that MMA matches his teaching style. A proponent of individualized education, Wernick believes in tailoring the lesson for each child as opposed to following a set learning standard. 

“A lot of schools have kids sitting in straight rows, filling out worksheets and everyone is very quiet while the teacher is talking,” Wernick said of current teaching practices. “It might look like a lot of learning is going on, but half the kids are daydreaming or distracting themselves.”

Wernick believes that the best way for children to learn is to have schools adapt to a child’s learning needs. One of the reasons he accepted the position at MMA is because of the school’s commitment to challenging traditional educational practices. Wernick added that MMA caters to the different learning-speeds of children and appreciates that the school is hands-on with adapting to a child’s learning style. 

“It’s far more student centered than teacher centered,” Wernick said.

“In his career, Rabbi Wernick has developed a reputation as a master educator who truly cares about his students and their achievement,” said Chaya Mushka Ben-Shabat, founder and CEO of MMA. “His extensive experience mentoring faculty and catering to each individual student’s needs make him an ideal match for MMA.”

Wernick came to the Valley from Australia with his wife and nine of his 11 children. He completed his rabbinical studies in Sydney and also received an MBA from the Australian Institute of Business. 

He has nearly 25 years experience as a teacher and principal in several Jewish schools, including Yeshiva Chanoch Lenaar in New York from 2000-2005. Recently, he was the inaugural principal for the B’nai Yacov School outside of Sydney, which first opened its doors in 2010.

The new principal arrived in May and has already begun work on developing the upcoming school year’s educational plan. Wernick plans on incorporating learning strategies from other countries to help MMA students understand concepts like writing, spelling, reading and math. 

One such program that Wernick is bringing from Australia is SMART Spelling. SMART Spelling helps educators teach the meaning of words to expand vocabulary and then break the words into syllables, sounds and letter patterns. 

“He has a strong commitment to quality improvement, team building and embracing all Jews, along with each community’s customs and traditions,” Ben-Shabbat said.

Regardless of the program, Wernick wants to make sure that each of his students has all the proper tools to take on future challenges.

“Although there are different ways of going about things, they’re all tools for problem solving,” Wernick explained. “As life gets more complicated and less black and white you need more tools to tackle every problem.”

Wernick will add to MMA’s already comprehensive learning experience. The school has a large quantity of computers, games, toys, and interactive lesson plans to create a dynamic educational environment. There’s even a garden for learning practical science concepts.

MMA opened its doors with an integrated curriculum of Torah and English studies for boys in grades 1 to 6. For its second year, the school will expand to grade 8 and will be adding a separate girl’s division at a downtown Phoenix campus. 

While MMA ended its first year with 11 students, this academic year it will begin with close to 30 students.

Even with MMA’s continuing expansion in classroom size and grade level, Wernick is committed to making sure that each student gets the individual attention he feels they deserve.

“Kids inherently want to succeed and kids also inherently want to learn,” Wernick said. “Tapping into that natural drive to learn is what keeps me going.” He added that the most powerful motivator for a teacher is “when you see them really understand something and truly learn.”  JN

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