Students won’t be the only ones starting classes at Pardes Jewish Day School on Tuesday, Aug. 8. Joining them will be Peter Gordon, Pardes’ new head of school.
“I will be greeting everybody and shaking hands, hugging parents,” he said. “We want to create an amazingly positive environment for when they arrive. We’re just making it a really fun day. My goal is to say hello and shake everybody’s hand as they walk into school each day.”
Aug. 8 will be an open-house day at Pardes, when students can store their school supplies, meet their teachers and catch up with friends. Actual classes begin the next day.
Gordon succeeds Jill Kessler, who stepped down this past spring as head of school after 14 years. Gordon is Pardes’ third head of school.
“It’s a wonderful school and it’s in great shape,” Gordon said. “Jill left it amazingly well. She built herself a very, very good leadership team, and that’s so amazing to walk into. Everybody knows what they’re doing, they know where they’ve been and it’s really a very good scenario. Now my responsibility is get to know all the constituents and learn the ins and outs of the school.”
Pardes has a colorful and complex history. What is today Pardes was started in 1993 by Temple Solel’s then-Director of Education Bonnie Morris, now Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman. The Solel School’s first kindergarten class had just 12 students, but began adding one grade each year. Soon, Temple Chai in Phoenix, Temple Emanuel in Tempe, Temple Kol Ami in Scottsdale and Congregation Beth Israel in Scottsdale joined Temple Solel in providing leadership and support for the school, which was renamed Pardes Jewish Day School.
In 2002, Pardes opened a middle school on the campus of Temple Kol Ami. In 2003, the lower and middle schools were united on the campus of Congregation Beth Israel. In 2006, after 13 years of growth on three different campuses, Pardes purchased its own campus on Paradise Lane in Phoenix. After selling the Paradise Lane property and raising an additional $3 million through a capital campaign, Pardes moved to its current home on the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus in Scottsdale in 2014.
“I continually tell parents that my job is not to change the school to fit into my vision,” Gordon said. “It’s my job to help the school be the best version of itself we can realize together. Pardes engenders this kind of joyful, challenging learning environment while instilling a mindset that encourages risk-taking and critical thinking and problem solving and creativity and collaboration.
“We’ve implemented a new theme here at Pardes — instruct, inspire and innovate,” Gordon added. “That really helps the faculty and the community to focus on what we’re doing here.”
After a nationwide search, Gordon, a native New Yorker, was hired to replace the retiring Kessler in November, but did not officially start his duties until July. As head of school, Gordon is responsible for all school operations, including instruction and learning,
professional development, accreditation, admissions, development, business and community relationships.
“A seasoned and forward-thinking educator, Peter will continue to enhance our outstanding educational experience,” said Dan Kravets, president of the Pardes board of directors. “He will further our goal of being a ‘Future Ready’ school, combining a rigorous secular program that features innovative practices, design thinking and project-based learning with a Jewish studies program designed to ignite our students’ curiosity while finding meaningful ways to bring Judaism into contemporary life.”
Prior to taking his post at Pardes, Gordon served as the head of Hilltop Country Day School in New Jersey from 2015 to 2017. From 2005 to 2015, he held positions as the associate director of admissions and director of financial aid, and middle school director at The Brimmer and May School in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.
Gordon’s twins, Noah and Olivia, will attend Pardes’ kindergarten class. JN