Steve Freedman was happily ensconced in suburban Philadelphia, working as the educational director at Beth Sholom Congregation, and raising four children with his wife, Joan, when Hillel Day School invited him to apply for the Head of School position that was open in 2003.
“At first I said no,” he recalled. “My oldest, Eytan, was about to start high school. And then Joan reminded me, ‘Eytan is about to start high school. It’s the perfect time to make a switch.’”
Within months, the family moved to Detroit. And for the next 16 years, Steve Freedman decisively led Hillel Day School into the 21st century, planning and executing a facility that is warm, and conducive to learning, and which meets the needs of today’s students and families.
Working with the board of trustees at every turn, his numerous accomplishments include eliminating the teachers’ union in 2005, and recalibrating the relationship between school leadership and teachers, unencumbered by politics. “In an independent school, the onus is on the leadership team to have a direct relationship with teachers,” he said.
In 2006, Steve instituted the eighth grade Israel trip, and accompanied students for several years. “Experiencing Israel through their eyes was magical,” he recalled.
In 2008, he led the move to become a community day school, de-affiliating with the Solomon Schechter Network of Conservative Jewish day schools, in response to demographic shifts, and the broader mission of delivering an outstanding Jewish and general education to all Jewish children in metropolitan Detroit.
In 2010, he was integral to the decision to open an Early Childhood Center to grow enrollment, gaining the support of congregations and the community.
And in 2014, he led a $13 million renovation that aligns with a curriculum that has shifted from one that is content-driven to one that is skill-driven, to prepare students to navigate an every-changing global economy with tools in communication, collaboration, and critical thinking that withstand the winds of change.
As Steve, and his wife Joan, our director of curriculum, move to New Jersey at the end of the school year to be closer to family, we are thrilled to name him among our graduates, as an honorary distinguished alumnus. His unique ability to turn vision into reality, to move forward an educational institution that now serves as a model to educators worldwide, while preserving our Jewish tradition and peoplehood, has strengthened Hillel for years to come.