| Teen Feature |

Behind the Desk

We sat down with a few principals from various schools to hear about the ins and outs of their job

Mrs. Dini Katzenstein is the General Studies principal of Bais Yaakov Academy in Brooklyn, NY.
Mrs. Batya Krasnow is the Limudei Kodesh principal of TAG middle school in Far Rockaway, NY.
Mrs. Deborah Herzog is the General Studies principal at Bais Yaakov Machon Ora in Passaic, NJ, where she also teaches 10th and 11th grade Spanish.



Thank you for taking the time to speak with us! We’re heading into the rough stretch from Succos to Chanukah. Lots of students get stressed now that Yom Tov is over, and school is getting more intense. What’s your advice for adjusting to the work and tests that follow?

Mrs. Katzenstein: Across the board, the following strategies are always helpful: Stay organized and on task. Keep a running list of what you need to accomplish and then tackle each item in order of priority. Try not to leave everything for the last minute. If you are struggling, talk to a teacher or principal for help. Most importantly, don’t get discouraged! Give yourself little pep talks, reminding yourself, ‘I can do this!’

Mrs. Herzog: Transitions are hard! First and foremost, make sure you are getting enough sleep! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked girls how much sleep they’ve gotten, and they say, ‘Don’t ask!’ Second, try to review the topics you covered in your classes each night. Read through your notes from that day, and if possible, from the day or two before, even if you don’t have homework that night or a test for a week or two. You will be less stressed, feel more prepared, and most likely score higher if you don’t have to cram your studying in the night before a test.

What kind of student were you in school and what inspired you to become a principal? Do you have any advice for students who were like you?

Mrs. Katzenstein: I’d love to pretend that I was the perfect model student, but honestly, I wasn’t! Still, I was zoche to get good grades, and I was always respectful and gave an attentive appearance. I was first sent out of class in 11th grade, and my father, z”l, when he heard, said “OH! Baruch Hashem you are normal!” I spent much of class doodling or writing letters and procrastinated on homework and studying. I think teachers still approved of me because I looked interested even when my mind was wandering. Being a successful student and adult requires some serious acting skills! If you had told me I’d become a principal one day, I would have doubled over with laughter. But while I was getting my degree and teaching, I realized that chinuch was something I really connected to, and well, the rest is history!

Mrs. Krasnow: I was SO not a stellar student! (Hence, becoming office monitor in 8th grade!) If I enjoyed a subject, I’d give it my all; others, I barely passed! I am a voracious reader who always gained so much knowledge from books. School wasn’t as fiercely competitive as it is now, and I was fortunate to have teachers who valued me. I advise students similar to me to focus on effort and enjoying the learning. That’s what counts most.


What do students prioritize in school that you deem unimportant?

Mrs. Krasnow: Their grades. Marks are not the be-all-and-end-all. The actual learning process, developing responsibility, being curious and willing to stretch yourself, is far more valuable than any number on the top of a paper.

Mrs. Herzog: The clothes they wear to school, which are really just shoes and coats, beyond their uniform. But I don’t think I’d make any headway with that (and I do understand why it’s important to them). High school is a time when everything feels like a big deal, and emotions run high. When the girls get upset over a test, a teacher, or anything else, I’m here to help them work through it. Mostly, I want them to see today’s ‘huge deal’ is tomorrow’s forgotten issue. Seeing it like that, things just don’t seem so overwhelming.


What do you wish students valued more?

Mrs. Herzog: Have I mentioned sleep? I really wish they understood how crucial it is for their physical and emotional health and their daily functioning. When you’re well-rested, it’s easier to focus in class and manage daily stresses. (And let’s not forget a healthy diet and exercise — they’re important too!)

Mrs. Katzenstein: I wish students realized that the most valuable thing they can graduate with is a shem tov, not a magnificent transcript. Your marks do not define you — your character does! We are all given gifts from Hashem over which we have no control — intelligence, beauty, talent, and even chein. What is in our control are our middos, attitude, work ethic, and determination. The most successful people in life are not necessarily the students who graduated on top of their class. I also wish students realized the value of working hard, and the exhilarating feeling of accomplishment that accompanies a job well done. Everyone is so busy looking for shortcuts and an easy way out. But when we learn to deal with pressure and develop a solid work ethic and sense of responsibility, we gain invaluable and essential skills for life.


What social tips do you have for students? What are common mistakes you see, and how can girls best thrive socially through the dynamics of high school?

Mrs. Krasnow: Be open to befriending kids you don’t know yet. Take the risk! Widening your circle of friends is so empowering and contagious — in a good way! Step one is to SMILE at girls you pass in the hall. Share your notes, snacks, school supplies. Call girls who are out sick. Be welcoming to the new students. Be a positive presence in your class. Look away when girls are annoying, unkind, or thoughtless. Be kind and thoughtful to others.


One last question: What’s your favorite thing about being principal?

Mrs. Herzog: It’s a zechus to have the opportunity to be part of my students’ lives during these formative years! I think my favorite day is graduation, although it is most certainly bittersweet. The girls are sitting on the stage, having grown into mature, articulate, and beautiful bnos Yisroel over the last four years.

Mrs. Krasnow: Going into a classroom for a quick visit and observing our fabulous teachers teaching their wonderful students. Watching the magic of learning in action, feeling the energy in the room — it’s pure JOY!

Mrs. Katzenstein: My LEAST favorite thing is having to admonish a student. I wish I never had to do that, but I would be remiss if I did not encourage and maintain proper chinuch. The best part of the job is when a student tells me I’ve made a difference in her life. Being a principal is a very consuming and challenging job. But when I hear that I had a positive impact, that I made someone feel good, that I encouraged and helped someone in some way, it makes it all worth it!


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Cozey, Issue 982)

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