A Jewish Headmaster for a Presbyterian school

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:02

The Alexander Robertson School has appointed Irwin Shlachter, a man with a history of success at independent Jewish schools, as its next headmaster

Upper West Side Irwin Shlachter has been working to improve independent education his entire professional life, and will be starting the next chapter of his career as the Head of the Scottish Presbyterian Alexander Robertson School next fall. After spending 30 years as Head of the Rodeph Shalom School - he ran Claremont Prep from 2006-2010 -  Shlachter will be joining forces with Reverend Leslie Merlin, the former head of the school and Pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church. The decision to appoint a Jewish man with a history working in Jewish schools to head a Presbyterian school is one that administrators and the pastor are particularly proud of; it demonstrates, they say, their school's commitment to teaching inclusiveness and understanding for other cultures.

Until recently, Leslie Merlin has been working as both headmistress and pastor for 17 years. Merlin was never burdened by her dual roles, but said she knew it was time to bring her congregation into the 21st century.

"We knew we had to up our game," she said. The school has been operating since 1789 with the belief that empowerment and education go hand in hand. It was the first co-educational school in New York, and Merlin is working to continue in encouraging diversity in both the school and church communities.

"It just came naturally to us," Merlin said of the decision to make Shlachter head of their school, which is still based on the Presbyterian congregation. "We know that we share a heritage, and convictions of that heritage with Irwin. Those are social justice, and education, so here we are."

Shlachter was born in Poland, moved to Israel with his family at the age of three, and moved to New York City as a teenager eleven years later. He attended the Dewitt Clinton Public High School in the South Bronx. After earning his BA in Political Science and Education, Shlachter taught in public high schools around New York for 12 years. In that time, he also completed his MS degree in Education, and a doctoral study in Educational Leadership and School Administration. Through all of his experiences in education as a student, educator, and administrator he said that he has "seen the worst and the best sides of education."

"Part of what some people don't understand until they become involved [in education], is that schools are about being a community," explained Shlachter. "No different than a church, a synagogue, or a mosque, and by extension the same formula for success applies to both."

Although Shlachter won't be starting as Head of the school until next fall, he has already started to feel at home walking through the halls. While pointing out his favorite parts of the school, he stops and ask teachers how their day went, or introduces himself to students practicing for the talent show.

Shlachter asserts that building a community is the most important part of a school's success. "The head of the program is only as good as the team of people working for him or her," he said. "I think that without a great group of teachers, the school can't be great. They have to feel that they are absolutely appreciated, because ultimately the teachers are the artisans that carve our children's futures."

One of the things Shlachter is most excited about is working with Merlin to instill nondiscriminatory ethics in his future elementary students. "These little youngsters are the next generation of adults," he said. "And if they grow up uninhibited by judgment, we can help them understand that we have to resolve our differences, and learn to coexist."