Welcome Yehudis Smith!
Posted on 06/23/2023 @ 06:00 AM
We are thrilled to announce that on July 1st Yehudis Smith will be starting as CAJE’s Director of Early Childhood and Congregational Education.
Since “talent” is CAJE’s biggest asset (as in many organizations that provide expertise and consulting), the process of finding Yehudis-- our newest Senior Educator on CAJE’s management team-- was a thorough one!
Joy Schandler, who is retiring from the position, and Rabbi Efrat Zarren-Zohar, CAJE’s Executive Director, began meeting in last summer to refine the job description and map out a hiring strategy.
In November, we assembled the interview team with volunteer and professional representatives from both the Early Childhood (ECE) and Congregational Education (CE) world and by mid-March, we made our decision.
Many thanks to Dr. Andrea Beck, CAJE’s ECEE Committee Chair and Dr. Susan Jay, CAJE’s Congregational Education Chair as well as to Tamara Donnenfeld, Director of Lifelong Learning at Temple Beth Am, Katy Horowitz of Gan Katan (and co-chair of our ECE Professionals Network), and Sharon Zweig, ECE Director of Yeshiva Elementary.
We all agreed that Yehudis truly stood out from the rest of the applicants!
Yehudis grew up in the Tampa Bay area and attended a Conservative congregational school where she also served as a madricha (teacher’s helper) after her Bat Mitzvah.
She attended the University of Florida, where she received her BA in English and during her schooling, she also taught Religious/Hebrew School in a local congregation.
At UF, Yehudis met the Chabad Shluchim (representatives) on campus and decided to change the trajectory of her life, becoming observant, moving to New York and getting her Master’s degree from Touro College in Early Childhood Education with a specialty in General and Special Education.
She returned to South Florida and for the past 10 years has been a Head Educator and Curriculum Developer at Chabad of Parkland’s Hebrew School on Sundays, while also working for five of those years as Head Educator and Curriculum Developer for two different ECE programs in Boca Raton.
In 2017, Yehudis developed her own company— Imagined Educational Consulting — in which she designed and delivered in-person and virtual professional development for educators and administrators in early childhood schools. Directors of the schools where she provided consulting couldn’t say enough wonderful things about Yehudis and her skills!
She has a Conscious Parenting-centered Instagram account with over 12,000 followers: @yehudis.smith
And she is the mother of four children —Chana, Shmuli, Musya and Abie— as well as a partner of Yitzi.
Here’s a small excerpt from the article she wrote about Teacher Burnout in Early Childhood Education:
An early 2022 Teaching Strategies survey reported that low pay and declining mental health are the driving forces behind teacher burnout and the ultimate decision to leave the industry altogether. Out of all the teachers surveyed who considered quitting, 40% cited mental health challenges as their reason, and 43% cited low pay.
Increasing professional development and teacher support is a feasible and actionable way to fill the daily void that early childhood educators feel in their jobs.
Retaining passionate and dedicated educators should be our number one priority. We must redefine the place our early childhood educators hold in our society. They are our children's most important influences in their early and formative years.
Instead of placing them at the bottom of the proverbial totem pole, let's spend time and resources to pay them more, support them more, and provide them with resources to manage their mental health.
Yehudis’ article articulates what experts in the field are saying right now in eJewishPhilanthropy:
In reality, the issue at hand is not really a teacher shortage. Rather, we are facing a shortage of mandated teacher requirements that adequately prepare individuals for the demanding work of early childhood education, coupled with fair and appropriate compensation for this work. Additionally, there is a need for programs that cultivate and develop teachers as skilled professionals who are passionate about their work and feel supported by their administration, communities and stakeholders.
G!d willing, you will soon have the opportunity to meet Yehudis as she conducts a listening tour throughout Miami-Dade in the upcoming months. When you do, please tell her Bruchah Ha’Ba’ah / Welcome to our community!