Press Release – Four Jewish Day School Teachers Surprised with $15,000 Jewish Educator Awards

Press Releases

October 21, 2010

Four Jewish Day School Teachers Surprised with $15,000 Jewish Educator Awards

Milken Family Foundation continues tradition of honoring excellence in education

Foundation Executive Vice President Richard Sandler announced the recipients during surprise school-wide assemblies at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School and Valley Beth Shalom. At Milken Community High School, Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken presented the Award. Joining in the ceremonies at each school was BJE Executive Director Dr. Gil Graff.

The Jewish Educator Awards are presented annually to give public recognition and financial awards of $15,000 to teachers, administrators and other education professionals who have made significant contributions to excellence in education in day schools affiliated with BJE. “With these Awards, we acknowledge our debt to the men and women whose intelligence, scholarship, commitment and compassion not only help young people achieve individual success, but also help ensure the continuation of the heritage that gives meaning to that success,” said Lowell Milken, Chairman and Co-Founder of the Milken Family Foundation.

Dalia Golan
Elementary School Hebrew Language Specialist
Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy

Dalia Golan, who has taught at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy for 17 years, is recognized as an exemplary educator at Hillel and throughout the community. Credited with successfully launching Hillel’s comprehensive Hebrew Language immersion program, Golan teaches Hebrew Language to 4th and 5th grades and is the coordinator of the Elementary School Hebrew Language Department. Her mastery of Hebrew Language instruction coupled with expertise in creating interactive lessons using the latest technologies, keep her in high demand as a professional development presenter. Devoted to making Israel come alive at Hillel, Golan chairs the LA-Tel Aviv Partnership Program overseen by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and coordinates the Bat Ami Program.

Deborah Cohen
General Studies Teacher, 2nd-grade
Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School

At Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School, the go-to person for all constituencies is Deborah Cohen, a 2nd – grade general studies teacher with 19 years as a Jewish day school educator. Skilled at differentiating instruction, she works brilliantly to create enriching and stimulating lessons that ensure success for her students. Keenly aware and sensitive to individual student needs, she makes learning enjoyable for every child while also fostering supportive relationships with parents. Cohen is intent on integrating Judaic learning and values into her lessons and incorporates technology into her daily plans. Respected as a true team player by her colleagues, she readily assumes the role of mentor teacher for new faculty. For the past two years she has directed the school’s summer camp and recently expanded the program for school holidays.

Louis “Coach Sam” Schwerdtfeger
Dean of Students and Athletic Director
Valley Beth Shalom

Louis Schwerdtfeger, known throughout Valley Beth Shalom Day School as Coach Sam, invigorates the school community with the goal of “doing your personal best” in mind, body and soul. He devotes his efforts to promoting health and respect for others while developing self confidence, self-esteem, cooperation, physical fitness and school pride in the spirit of fun. He has created one of the top athletic programs in the San Fernando Valley Sports League, with 100% participation in boys and girls team sports in 4th – 6th grades. While his teams have captured many a championship, winning isn’t his goal, but merely an outcome of an exemplary program. Summers find him leading Camp VBS. In 2008, Coach Sam became the Dean of Students working closely with the faculty to help students navigate the waters of social relationships.

Debra Sokolow
Visual Arts Teacher and Director of Architecture and Design Institute
Milken Community High School

Students in Debra Sokolow’s visual arts classes at Milken Community High School learn to open their minds to the beautiful world of artistic expression while also learning to open their hearts to how Judaism can be integrated into their daily lives. Sokolow’s art program has gained national renown as a model of innovation and excellence. At the school’s Architecture and Design Institute, she guides students in the creation of structures that fuse environmentally conscious design with practical as well as spiritual elements. For many years Sokolow taught a video production class in which students constructed large-scale documentaries based on the testimonies of Holocaust survivors. Most recently she facilitated the creation of the Mosaic Ark Wall and Eternal Light at the school. Through Sokolow’s leadership and vision, everything from conception to construction to final product was an inspiration for the entire community. A tremendous orchestrator of culture, she brings significant meaning to whatever she touches.

The Award recipients are selected by a committee of educators, professional and lay leaders from the Jewish community who have a long-standing concern for and involvement with education in Jewish schools. To be eligible for consideration, educators must teach a minimum of 15 hours per week at the kindergarten through 12th grade level; they must have been teaching for a minimum of seven years in a BJE-affiliated school; and they must hold a class “A” or higher scale rating (for Judaic teachers) or a state teaching credential (for general studies teachers).

The criteria considered for the selection of Jewish Educator Award recipients include:

  • Exceptional educational talent and promise, as demonstrated by outstanding practices in the classroom, school and community.
  • Evidence of originality, dedication and capacity for leadership and self-direction.
  • Strong long-range potential for even greater contribution to children, the profession and society.
  • Distinguished achievement in developing innovative educational curricula, programs and/or teaching methods.
  • Outstanding ability to instill in students character and self-confidence.
  • Outstanding ability to develop Jewish children’s understanding of the connections between their religion, their classroom activities, and their activities beyond the classroom.
  • Commitment to professional development and excellence and the continuing Judaic and/or secular study necessary for it.
  • Personal involvement in responding to the needs of the Jewish and secular communities.
  • Criteria for administrators also include outstanding ability to attract, support and motivate committed education professionals.

Recipients, together with their families and community leaders, will be honored during an awards luncheon in Los Angeles on December 7th.

CONTACT: Barbara Bowers,; office: (310) 570-4773; cell (310) 488-3994

Jewish Educator Awards