By Rafi Josselson
Rafi Josselson sat down with Dean of Students Sami Mazo to discuss her new role and her perspective on TLS. Read this important Q&A to find out more!
Q: For those who don’t know you well, could you share a little bit about you? Your interests, your background at TLS, and what do you find important about being a dean/counselor?
A: I went here as a high school student. Fast forward, I went to Brandeis [University], where I studied education and sociology, and social justice. When I graduated, I moved back to the city and I started working at a charter school with small kids. I was doing a lot of work with families and family engagement and planning trips and things outside of the classroom. I met some amazing people and I had some fantastic experiences. After my first year there, I heard there might be an opening for a dean position [at Schechter Westchester/Leffell]. I love counseling and I knew it was something I wanted to do. This position felt very special and unique to start my counseling career in a place that I knew and was part of my identity and where I grew up. So I started working here eleven years ago and I got my degree in school counseling while I was working. I am still here and I am still passionate about helping people feel their most authentic selves.
Q: Could you share how your experience as a grade-level dean was? What did you learn and what did you take away from that experience?
A: One of the things I still appreciate about the role is how many people you get to know on a really deep level. Each person is so different and so unique. Helping them find their voice in high school is something I feel very passionate about. And High School is really complicated. It is not easy. And to have people to think through challenges with you is very important and I feel very lucky to have been able to work with so many students to overcome some of their challenges. There is also grade-level coordination and programmatic elements and the logistics behind this school.
Q: You recently became a mother with the birth of your son, Adi. Could you share how that experience has been for you?
A: It’s been great! He’s really energizing, he is such a gift and I feel so lucky to be this little boy’s mom. There are for sure challenges but so much joy. We feel so lucky to get to know him and watch him grow.
Q: To take care of your son, you left TLS for about half a year, transitioning the deanship of the class of 2025 to Ms. Hezi. Could you share how you felt about how that transition went?
A: I feel so lucky that Erica found her way to us. She has so much experience and is very knowledgeable. And I think she really gets it. Working with her was amazing. I thought we were going to have more time together to try to transition, but Adi came a month early. I give Erica a lot of credit for the way she jumped in and she took things on. We stayed in touch quite regularly during the six months that I was home and we are still obviously in touch now and we got to grow closer.
Q: You returned this year in a new role as Dean of Students. Could you share the responsibilities of this role?
A: There are a few buckets of the role. There is the piece of student support and I am still working directly with students and families when challenges arise and thinking through some of the complicated issues at school. There is the logistical and programming part. [I am] working really closely with Cara and the deans [on] things that will make school feel positive and make sure that we build a positive school culture. I work really closely with Mr. Bassin on things like scheduling and modified schedules – some of the behind-the-scenes things that people don’t really realize take coordination to make happen. Lastly, being a go-to person for teachers also to think through some of the complicated issues that arise and create thoughtful plans that will make things better.
Q: This is a part-time position. Have there been any benefits or challenges with this? Why or why not?
A: I am actually working full time, it’s just that I am working from home on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On days that I am in school it’s really great to be face to face with people. And [when I am home it is] great to have these technological tools and to be there even though I am not physically there. There are a lot of things that I can get done even more effectively at home than in school and certain things I can’t do at home that I can get done in school. So just striking that balance.
Q: While you are no longer the dean of the eleventh grade are you attempting to maintain a connection/presence with that grade specifically?
A: The short answer is yes. I feel so close and connected and grateful for the relationships I have with the eleventh grade, being part of their journey – ninth and tenth grade even if I was away for half the year. Watching them grow into leaders has been amazing. So I am certainly trying to be present, being in Tefillah with them on Mondays or if there is a program I will be with Ms. Hezi and the eleventh grade. I also want to build upon my relationships with other grades and get to know them too.
Q: One of the major responsibilities of this position is welcoming and training our new deans in their new positions. How has that been? What challenges and successes have you encountered?
A: They are amazing. I feel really grateful that these people have joined our community and jumped in head-first and we have been learning together. Over the summer, everyone started back in August so we worked really hard throughout the summer to get acquainted and situated to make sure everybody had a good sense of how to do things, the culture of the school, and the ins and outs of the schedule. But you never know what to expect until your first day and now that we are in the swing of school it’s been really amazing to see the relationships growing between each dean and their grades. And we are working together as questions come up because you can’t anticipate what questions will come up in the summer when people aren’t there yet. And one of the benefits of having new faces is that there are many fresh perspectives. It is a great opportunity to revisit some of those policies and procedures with fresh perspectives and I really appreciate the perspectives that Erica, Tavi and Ahuva bring to the table.
Q: You are also currently leading the Hebrew department acting as their chairperson. Could you tell me what that has been like?
A: I am more of a department liaison than a chair. A chair is typically thinking about some of the academic goals of the department and we have four incredible Hebrew teachers who are in a really good place with the Hebrew curriculum. And here, they needed somebody to think about the day-to-day logistics of school, to make sure that they know what is going on with the calendar, and to have somebody they can talk to if they need anything. I will say that my Hebrew will definitely improve by the end of the year and I am looking forward to that.
Q: Moving forward, what are your goals for the future at TLS? What initiatives or programs are you working on or altering?
A: One of the things that I think a lot about is how to instill a sense of pride and spirit in our community. And I am thinking about what programs, initiatives and activities we cultivate to create that kind of pride. So that is the overarching question in my mind that I am navigating this year and I am really excited to be brainstorming and implementing various ideas on making that happen.
Q: Thank you! Is there any other message you have for TLS students or faculty about yourself or your role at TLS?
A: I would just say please come to me. I am here for everybody. I am here to support, to think through challenges together. If something doesn’t feel right and you aren’t sure where to go please come to me and hopefully we can make it right together. And if you have an idea on how to make the school better, how to share your pride in the school, please let me know and I am here as a resource.