A profile of Rabbi Marc Baker, Head of School at Gann Academy, and incoming President of Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP).
In the study of leadership, a debate has long raged whether leaders are born or made. That argument is likely never going to be resolved, but two traits are commonly found in the most successful leaders: the avid and unending pursuit of one’s own growth, and the willingness to take risks. These are the rungs of the “leadership ladder” – securing one’s footing on one rung, even as one stretches to grasp a higher one currently beyond reach – requiring one, in turn, to lift oneself and gain a new footing on an even higher rung. This is especially true in education, which is why when The AVI CHAI Foundation turned its attention to Jewish day schools in 1994, it immediately began investing in multiple professional development programs for those in leadership and for those aspiring to it.
Rabbi Marc Baker, current head of Gann Academy in Waltham, MA is a great exemplar of such a leader – and the ladder. Having majored in Religious Studies at Yale as an undergraduate, he realized the need to develop his Jewish literacy skills, and went to study at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem for four years, first as a Dorot Fellow and then as a pioneer in the Pardes Educators Program, an AVI CHAI-funded 2-year program that trains individuals to teach Jewish texts in North American day school classrooms. Marc then went to teach in what is now the Weber School in Atlanta, a pluralistic community high school, rising to the position of Director of Judaics and Student Life, and helping to innovate Judaics curriculum in the school.
Seeking to grow further, in 2005 Marc enrolled in the 15-month Day School Leadership Training Institute, a program of the Davidson School co-funded by JTS and AVI CHAI. This immersive program helps educators learn how to “lead Jewishly,” and develop the skills related to the four primary frames of leadership and organizational change. While in the program, Marc returned to Gann Academy, Boston’s pluralistic high school, as an Associate Head of School, and that year became Head of School, succeeding its founding leader. Marc has been there ever since, where he continued to seek out opportunities for professional growth – such as attending Harvard’s Principals Center’s Summer Institutes with AVI CHAI sponsorship – even as he stretched himself and his team with innovative experiments such as “Chanoch La’Naar,” a mussar-based spiritual growth program for his leadership team that he discussed in one of the very first ELI Talks.
Marc has distinguished himself as a leading light of day school education in North America, and has been recognized both locally and nationally for what he has achieved, receiving the Covenant Foundation’s Pomegranate Award in 2011.
The interweaving of professional growth and risks is the essence of “the leadership ladder,” and we are proud to have helped enable Rabbi Baker to ascend that ladder over the last two decades and positively impact so many students and colleagues. We wish him well as he continues his persistent climb, seeking newer and ever more challenging opportunities for personal growth, and assuming the presidency of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston.
The leadership ladder – it is the stuff of dreams. Ask our ancestor Jacob, or just ask Marc Baker.