Husband & wife administrators to lead Hillel Academy day school

Dan and Kathy Mecoli job share their administrative position at Hillel Academy

By Marshall Weiss, The Dayton Jewish Observer

In mid June, the board of Hillel Academy announced it had hired Kathy and Dan Mecoli to share the Jewish day school’s full-time administrative position.

Dan has been named principal and Kathy the instructional leader of Hillel, which enters this school year using The Miami Valley School’s secular curriculum.

Kathy, currently a professor of educational leadership at Miami University, served as an elementary school principal first with the Mad River School District then with The Miami Valley School for five years. She also served as Miami Valley’s director of student services.

“When I work at the university, I’m working primarily with training people how to be principals,” she says. “But you can quickly get away from the real work of principal. So by keeping active in the field, I think that brings a lot to the university.”

Dan, whose background is art, taught with Dayton Public Schools for 20 years and served as the district’s art supervisor. For six years he was principal of Mills Lawn Elementary School in Yellow Springs and then was principal of Hoke Elementary School in Vandalia. He’s also taught at Precious Blood Elementary School, which was the Mecolis’ parish.

He has traveled the world as a surgical photographer for Operation Smile, and volunteers at The Hospice of Dayton and Aullwood Audubon Center.

“We flunked retirement,” Dan says with a laugh. “This just came up (the Hillel position) and happily so. It works out with what we’re doing, and we get a chance to share ideas.”

This is the first time the Mecolis have worked together professionally.

“The school provides a lot of opportunities for innovations,” Kathy says. “And I think that’s what attracted us to this position. We can, perhaps, do things here that we couldn’t do as easily somewhere else.”

She credits this to the small student body (25 enrolled for the fall), but also to the Jewish value for learning.

“The Jewish community really supports education,” she says. “Not just rote education but one that really delves below the surface and gets kids to think critically, to question, to wonder, to ponder. And that’s sometimes difficult to do in a public school or another school that’s so driven toward test scores.”

The key, Kathy says, is to involve the kids in their own education.

“We are about high performance,” Dan adds. “But we’re also about really making sure that’s rooted in a sense of wonder, a sense of passion for what you do. What we have found over the years is that significant learning takes place when it’s authentic, when it’s really grounded in something that’s important and real to kids. The idea is to have something where kids excel academically but the context is one of a caring community. We’re looking forward to integrating what happens on the Judaic side with what happens on the secular side.”

Both realize Hillel’s low enrollment also poses the school’s greatest challenge. This year, Hillel will have a kindergarten, a combined first/second grade, and third/fourth. The Mecolis have had experience with combined grades in a classroom.

“When I was in Yellow Springs, our youngest son was in a multi-age classroom throughout and was very successful,” Dan says.

“Actually, a single grade is a misnomer,” Kathy says, “because there’s so much diversity, let’s say in first grade. If you’re teaching well, you’re working on many levels at the same time. What we’ve always tried to do is have the child at the center of the organization rather than have the child fit into the organization.”

Dan adds, “We’re hoping we can bring the school into the greater life of the community by what our children do.”

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