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Liebmann Likes the Road Less Traveled

For students at the Glen Urquhart School in Beverly, located on 23 acres of nature trails and wetlands, the natural world is an important element in their learning.

Susan Britt
Special to the Journal

It was a few years ago that David Liebmann says he discovered his sense of his own Jewishness. He was the Assistant Director of Education at the Holocaust Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. “I had never worked in a Jewish setting before, never been immersed in a Jewish setting in the same way before. That really helped bring my Jewish education up to a reasonable standard and informed a lot of my thinking about education.”

It was during this time that the recently appointed Head of School at Glen Urquhart in Beverly – its first Jew in that position – came upon a quote by theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel that ultimately both reflected and informed his educational philosophy. Heschel said, when asked what message he had for young people (in part):

“Let them be sure that every little deed counts, that every word has power, and that we can – every one – do our share to redeem the world in spite of all absurdities and all frustrations and all disappointments.

And above all, remember that the meaning of life is to build a life as if it were a work of art.”

David Liebmann, Head of School at Glen Urquhart in Beverly

“The Heschel quote, is a touchstone for me,” said Liebmann. “As an educator I think about that idea of helping kids to find the meaning of life through building a life as if it were a work of art. That really stuck with me. It is what we work hard to do here at Glen Urquhart School.”

The connection between education and the quote from Heschel is vivid for Liebmann, touching on the premise from which he approaches his profession. “In schools, we sometimes forget that each child is really unique, and all come into their own individuality in their own ways. I really believe that we have to start with the child at the center, understanding what they know and help them more broadly understand their world as they get older.”

While GUS has always had an awareness of the importance of exposure to the natural world for its students – its campus lies on twenty-three acres of nature trails and wetlands – Liebmann sees developing a broader and deeper environmental focus as very much in line with its educational mission, of finding one’s inner beauty and power by seeing its reflection in the natural world. “I love the idea that life is meant to be a work of art. That there is beauty in it, and art in it, not just paint by numbers but more complex. It’s a good reminder for me that like great art, it (education) takes time, it takes great effort, and that every piece is unique, and that’s the way the school approaches learning here as well.”

The human approach articulated by Liebmann doesn’t preclude the practical. The school has recently experimented with a national movement, “Hour of Code,” which encourages kids to learn computer coding. They are in the process of exploring a partnership with a design studio in Cambridge that’s an MIT spinoff – one which may include GUS students in a pilot program. “The tech piece is an enhancement to our curriculum, possibly even learning robotics, but we have to do it thoughtfully and carefully. It is certainly pertinent to the world these kids are entering.”

Liebmann has been Head of School at GUS for about six months. He believes one of the challenges he and the school face is to continue to be able to draw from a shrinking school age demographic. “We need to be clear about who they are, and find our niche in the marketplace for families who are looking at independent schools so we can continue to be accessible to a broad range of families across all socio-economic lines. GUS has, since its founding in 1977, worked hard to stretch its financial aid dollars to as many families as possible.”

Liebmann seems to be connected to his environment in the same way that a GUS education attempts to link students to the world around them. “The first time I drove off the pavement of Hart Street and onto the gravel at Glen Urquhart School, I felt at home. A dirt road has always signaled possibility to me, a willingness to step off the beaten path. I recognized the conscious embodiment of environmental and educational values that mirror my own.”

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Bill Thoms January 1, 2017, 12:56 pm

    Liebmann is not the first Jewish headmaster at GUS. We have not forgotten Alan Feldman, who served with talent and grace as GUS headmaster in the ’80s.

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