A JK-12 pluralistic school that engages students in an exemplary and inspiring general and Jewish education.

CESJDS Staff Spotlight

CESJDS has top-notch educators! Learn more about the talented and passionate faculty and staff at CESJDS.

Varda Cohen, 1st Grade Judaic Studies Teacher

Staff Spotlight: Varda Cohen, 1st Grade Judaic Studies Teacher

Forty-four years ago Varda Cohen, 1st grade Judaic Studies teacher, began her career as a substitute teacher at the Solomon Schechter School at Ohr Kodesh, which would later become the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. At the conclusion of this school year, Varda will retire but she has certainly left her mark.

Varda initially wanted to be an architect but followed her mother's wishes to become a teacher.

"My parents are holocaust survivors, and I grew up in the shadow of that. I felt I needed to do things for my parents. My mother's dream during the holocaust was two folded; to have one loaf of bread only to herself and to show Hitler that he did not manage to destroy all the Jews. When we came to Israel, my father worked hard and we were not starving. My mother had her loaf of bread. I felt it was my legacy to make sure that Judaism and Jews survive. That's why it's important to me to see kids getting a Jewish education. So I do it for her, but I also really love it," said Varda.

Varda was raised and educated in Israel and served in the Israeli military before coming to the United States at age 21.

"I came here to practice my English. I wanted to be an English teacher in Israel. But then I started working with the younger kids and I really enjoyed it," said Varda.

Varda is a prime example of Torah Lishmah/Love of Learning as she is not just a teacher but an eternal student. She earned her B.A. in Education, M.A. in Counseling, an M.A. plus 30 credits in School Administration, and recently earned a degree in Interior Design from Montgomery College. Varda also played an instrumental role in designing and developing the Judaic Studies curriculum that was in place at CESJDS for many years.

Although she is looking forward to retirement, Varda says she will miss teaching and being with students on a daily basis.

"I've loved teaching. It gave me a purpose," she said. "The children give me a lot of pleasure, and you always know they care. Their comments are from their heart. They keep me young."

In her retirement, Varda is looking forward to traveling, with several trips already planned. Never one to stop learning, she would like to take classes in painting, jewelry making, and ceramics.

Marissa Tisch, Middle School Guidance Counselor

Staff Spotlight: Marissa Tisch, Middle School Guidance Counselor

"Everyone has their own unique and individual journey in middle school,"says Marissa Tisch of her experiences working with 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students as a guidance counselor. Marissa has been at CESJDS for nine years, after working with underserved populations for six years as a social worker at two hospitals in Philadelphia and then at a charter school in Washington, DC. She earned a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology and Women's Studies from the University of Delaware and a Master's in Social Work from New York University.

Marissa has been able to apply her past experiences to her present-day work at CESJDS by taking a holistic approach to supporting students in Middle School and helping students figure out strategies to best help themselves both academically and emotionally. Sometimes helping students figure out a "Plan B, Plan C..." when necessary, and staying calm when the pressure builds. She has taken a leadership role in developing the Middle School's Kolot programming, which takes place once a week and allows students to speak with an open heart, listen to their classmates, and talk about different topics including friendship, community, and bullying.

"I like working with middle school students because you are joining students on their journey of figuring themselves out," says Marissa.

Marissa has welcomed, with open arms, the addition of 6th grade to the middle school. "The students starting CESJDS in 6th grade are able to transition into middle school so that by 7th grade they are able to better advocate for themselves and can begin to take leadership roles in the school." It is great seeing students grow in Middle School and see the strides they have made as they transition to High School.

When Marissa is not working with students, she is spending time with her family exploring restaurants, going to concerts, going to the beach, and taking photographs. Some of her photographs will be displayed in a permanent art installation in the Rockville Town Square, coming this spring.

Freddy Garrett and Lare Kinnasoh, Lower School Facilities

Staff Spotlight: Freddy and Lare

Freddy Garrett and Lare Kinnasoh are the first faces that Lower School students see when they are dropped off at B'nai carpool, which is enough to get anyone's day off to a great start! Freddy, Lower School Facilities Administrator, has been at CESJDS for 28 years. Lare has been a member of the Facilities team for 16 years.

Freddy and Lare help everyone out across the school from hanging bulletin boards to assisting the kitchen staff in taking lunch to the classroom to setting up for school events. "CESJDS is our home. Our job is to keep the house clean and running," said Freddy.

The duo, along with other members of the Facilities team in concert with the administration, help students from carpool and the buses into the building safely in the morning, and ensures that they get to where they need to go after school. "If someone looks like they don't belong here, we approach them. Parents have our cell phone numbers so they can call if they are running late for carpool, or if they send somebody new to pick up their child," Freddy remarked.

"Building trust with the parents is crucial. We are the keepers of the kids," said Lare.

Both Freddy and Lare are often invited to students' houses for dinner and even their B'nei Mitzvah. Freddy has been to two CESJDS weddings--one of which he was the best man!

Freddy leaves his house in Brandywine, Maryland, at 4:45 am and often does not return home until 6:00 or 6:30 pm. "I don't see myself changing jobs or going anywhere else. I've been here for so long with the same people," he said. Freddy also helps out his neighbors with handiwork, plumbing, and other household items. He is married, with two kids and two grandchildren.

When Lare isn't at CESJDS, he also works at a hospital, and finds time to spend with his wife and two children.

"The way I see the staff, nobody is the boss. Everyone is the same. If it needs to be done, you do it."


Rabbi Marc Blatt, Middle School Tanakh Teacher

Staff Spotlight: Rabbi Marc Blatt, Middle School Tanakh Teacher

"At age 8, I decided to retire and move to Florida," chuckled Rabbi Marc Blatt, Middle School Tanakh teacher, of his family's move from Long Island to Orlando during his childhood. Interestingly enough, he grew up in the synagogue that is closest to Disney World, was the first to have a Bar Mitzvah in the building, and also the first Bar Mitzvah to have a wedding in that same place!

Rabbi Blatt comes to CESJDS with over 15 years of informal Jewish education in his pocket. A political science major in college with an eye on law school, his first trip to Israel and a law office internship, quickly changed his mind.

Right out of college, he began working in the synagogue religious school where he grew up, met his wife (Rachel), and off they went to New York City to study at the Davidson School of Jewish Education. Upon graduation, Rabbi Blatt decided that rabbinical school was the next stop and moved out to Los Angeles to attend the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University. After a year, Rabbi Blatt's wife decided that she, too, wanted to become a rabbi, and joined him at AJU.

Rabbi Blatt eventually moved back east and settled in the Baltimore area, and is now educating 6th and 8th grade students on the study of Tanakh (Bible). "It is exciting to teach the next generation of Jews and be their guide," he said.

With a lengthy commute and being out of the house for almost 12 hours a day, he spends his free time with his family--Rachel and their three children, 6 year-old twins Hannah and Tova, and 20-month old son, Rafi.


Kim Sherk, Lower School Language Arts Enrichment Specialist

Staff Spotlight: Kim Sherk, Lower School Language Arts Enrichment Specialist

Kim Sherk launched the Language Arts Enrichment Program five years ago at CESJDS. The program started with 15 students in 'pull-out' style classes and has evolved into a 'push-in' method where all students receive enrichment, and lessons are tailored to students performing at least a grade and a half above grade level. Kim also works hand-in-hand with the Language Arts & Social Studies Coordinator to revise and enhance the LA curriculum.

Kim has started numerous initiatives and has led many programs in addition to educating our students. She ran the patrol program for two years, started the Young Authors Club, manages the Lit Lab (drop in reading and writing sessions), writes grants for Artist in Residence programs, coordinates cross-curricular programming, founded the annual Lower School literary journal initiative, leads in-house Professional Development sessions, is the point person for the Sunshine Committee, and is the Lower School co-chair for the school-wide Diversity Committee. She also participated in the first professional blogging cohort at CESJDS through edJEWcon. PHEW! "I love everything that I am doing, but would like to eventually to reduce the number of projects that I am working on in order to contribute more quality time to each," she said.

She is currently pursuing an Ed.D in Teacher Leadership from City University of Seattle and is working on her National Board Re-Certification.

Outside of CESJDS, Kim enjoys swimming, making stained glass, and spending time with her husband Daniel. She also has a dog, Roxy, and an old, cranky cat named Ralphie.

"Kim is creative, tireless, and quick to understand the value of new initiatives. She is supportive of her colleagues and the school, and is fantastic at what she does," said a colleague.

Kim, along with Alexis Soffler, Ph.D., Lower School Science and STEM Coordinator, will speak at the International Literacy Association conference in July 2017 about integrating writing into STEM. They will examine student work and the process of curriculum integration.

Charles Ostle, Upper School Music Teacher

Staff Spotlight: Charles Ostle, Upper School Music Teacher

Charles Ostle is in his 9th year at CESJDS as the Upper School Music Teacher. His contribution to the school and its students goes way beyond his title. Charles, a performing musician for 20+ years, directs the instrumental ensembles at both the middle and high school levels (which includes preparation for and performance at the winter and spring concerts), teaches general music and Intro to Piano at the middle school level, and has ventured into a new class, Intro to Guitar, at the high school level. He also assists with the instrumental pieces for Zimryiah, and the middle and high school musicals.

Charles is a percussionist by trade, obtaining both Bachelor's and Master's degrees in music performance from the University of Maryland, College Park. He plays various gigs in the area when time allows. He will be performing with the Pan American Symphony Orchestra at the Lincoln Theater on February 25th, and at Sotto on 14th St. every other Wednesday. "Not only do I get to fuel my students' passion for music, but I also have opportunities to play myself," he said.

He is constantly hungry for knowledge in his field, which is just another of many reasons why he loves teaching at CESJDS. "I love being a part of a community that values learning to an extent that matches my own," Charles said.

"Charles has proved to be an exceptional colleague over the years and works very hard to promote an excellent music education for students in the school community. He is active inside and outside the school community with band performances and music events," said a colleague.

"Charles teaches across both divisions, which can be logistically and skillfully challenging, and has taken on a new class this year with Intro to Guitar. He plays a role in everything and anything that touches music. He does so much, never says no, and is integral to CESJDS Arts," says another.

Sue Marx, Lower School Jewish Music and T'filah Teacher

Staff Spotlight: Sue Marx, Lower School Jewish Music and T'filah Teacher

Sue Marx, Lower School Jewish Music and T'filah Teacher, is in her 16th year as a CESJDS faculty member. She began at our school as a part-time teacher, coming off of raising her kids, and little by little expanded the number of students and subject matter under her wing.

Sue formerly had a career as a prosecutor in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office and then went on to teach prosecutors and other professionals with the National District Attorneys' Association's National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse. She happened upon her calling as a music and t'filah teacher while singing with one of her children's supplemental school classes at Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Synagogue. She was hired on the spot by the school director.

Her role at CESJDS has expanded from teaching Jewish music for Kindergarten through 2nd grade to teaching Jewish Music and T'filah across the grades, 5th grade Torah cantillation, daily 15-minute Minha (afternoon) service for 3rd and 4th grades, working with our youngest Gurim Junior Kindergarten students, preparing the 4th grade for their Havdalah service, and the 1st grade for their Hagigat Hassidur, receipt of their own prayer book.

"Integrating t'filah into my CESJDS 'portfolio' has been life enhancing. I have grown tremendously in my knowledge and love of t'filah and really feel as though it capitalizes on my strengths," Sue said.

Sue also coordinates the monthly Kabbalat Shabbat (welcoming in Shabbat) at the Lower School, with help from fellow music teacher, Gavri Yares. "It is my baby," she said. The Lower School-wide gathering involves a narrative, singing, t'filah, and dancing. Each month, Sue selects two student leaders from the 5th grade to narrate the program.

Sue is married with two grown children. Her husband, Eric, is a lawyer with the National Labor Relations Board. Her son, Jonathan, is a senior at Yale, and daughter, Sarah, a graduate of St. John's College in Annapolis, made aliyah in December 2015, and lives in Jerusalem.

When she isn't budding the next generation of Jewish musicians and hazzanim at CESJDS, she can be found walking with her husband (they recently completed--after three years of hiking sections at a time--walking the entire 180 miles of the C&O Canal!), tutoring B'nei Mitzvah students, watching Israeli movies and TV, doing crossword puzzles, and reading.

"I feel very grateful to be here. I hope I can stay forever," Sue said.

"Sue is so knowledgeable, patient and talented. I didn't realize her greatness until I started teaching Judaics, and now I bring classes to her several times a day. She never stops learning and takes risks with new songs and tunes. I'm serious. She's amazing," said a colleague.

John Watkins-Chow, Upper School Math Teacher

Staff Spotlight: John Watkins-Chow, Upper School Math Teacher

During any given year, John Watkins-Chow can be teaching a wide variety of math classes at CESJDS. This year (#16 for John), he happens to be an aide in 8th Grade Algebra and teaches 7th Grade Pre-Algebra, 8th Grade Algebra II, 9th Grade Geometry, 10th Grade Pre Calculus, and 12th Grade Multivariable Calculus. John is one of the few hybrid teachers at the Upper school, teaching in both the middle and high school divisions.

John received his Bachelor's Degrees in Mathematics and Mechanical Engineering, and a Master's Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After a short stint in professional engineering work, he began teaching. "I like teaching because I feel connected through the whole process. Teaching math makes sense in a way. No matter the location or structure of the language, the math is always the same," said John.

He feels fortunate to be among a community of teachers, and is humbled by the people he works with, especially in the math department. "Under Dina's (Math Department Chair) leadership, she makes it possible for us to be the best teachers we can be," he said.

John's wife is a research scientist at the National Institutes of Health ("She's the real brains of the family.") They have two daughters, one in college and one in high school. When not in the classroom, John enjoys drawing and art, and a book with his illustrations was recently published, entitled "Parent Child Journey: An Individualized Approach to Raising your Challenging Child," by Dr. Dan Shapiro.

"If you Google my name, you can find some sketchy stuff," he said of his art hobby.

Daniella Friedman, Lower School Judaic Studies & Hebrew Language Coordinator

Staff Spotlight: Daniella Friedman, Lower School Judaic Studies and Hebrew Language Coordinator

Daniella Friedman is the Judaic Studies and Hebrew Language Coordinator for the Lower School. She has been a part of the CESJDS family for 20 years and began her tenure as an assistant teacher after volunteering in her oldest child's first grade classroom and loved working with children. Daniella pursued a teaching certificate from the George Washington University and immediately took on her own first grade Judaic Studies class once certified. She continued in her first grade role for 16 years, took on Ulpan (beginning Hebrew) teaching for 4 of those years, and was also the grade-level chair for 13 years. Daniella also took on the roles as Tal AM Coordinator and became a trained Jewish New Teacher Project (JNTP) mentor. Outside of CESJDS, she created the school and was the principal of Kol Shalom Talmud Torah from 2002-2005. Her curriculum was awarded the Schechter Gold Award by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ).

Daniella was born in Israel and grew up with El Al Airlines as a second home as her father founded the company, and her mother was the second employee. Daniella and her mother spent a number of years in Geneva, where Daniella was immersed in learning French. This experience led her to pursue a Bachelor's degree in French Linguistics. She then worked for El Al for 10 years where she was in charge of computer training for the reservation department. During this time, she also pursued a Master's in Organizational Behavior from Tel Aviv University's Recanati Business School.

Daniella was always eager to have the opportunity to use her business education, mentoring training, experience as a religious school principal, and the years of experience as a grade chair. Therefore Daniella jumped on the opportunity to become the Lower School's first Judaic Studies and Hebrew Language Coordinator when the role was announced. "I love teaching and although I am no longer in the classroom, I am able to continue in that role by collaborating with and mentoring the teachers, and working with students and parents, including Israeli families who are new to the United States," said Daniella.

Her three children, Avital, Yael, and Eran, grew up bilingual and all attended CESJDS. Her two daughters currently live in New York City--Avital working in the field of global public health and Yael in Holocaust education; and her son is a consultant in Washington, DC. Her husband, Marc, attends as many events as possible in support of his wife including model seders, Hagigat Hassidurs, Havdalah services, and more.

"It's a mission to teach at a Jewish school. I love the community and I love working here, " said Daniella.

A colleague said, "Daniella has a personal touch for every teacher. She is kind, patient and understanding."

Bill Belke, Upper School Facilities Administrator

Staff Spotlight: Bill Belke, Upper School Facilities Administrator

Bill Belke, Upper School Facilities Administrator, has been a part of the CESJDS team since the summer of 2014. In his role, he is responsible for making sure that the physical building is the best that it can be for students to learn and for the teachers to teach. "My team and I take care of everything from ensuring proper classroom set-up to making sure the lights are on to keeping everyone warm in the winter months and cooling the school down in the warmer months," he said.

Prior to his tenure at CESJDS, Bill received a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Management & Engineering from Clarkson University. He worked his entire career in the manufacturing field managing several different plants in Baltimore. His plants produced products as varied as lottery machine plastic cases, cell tower antennas, sheet metal aerospace parts, and the plastic capsules that hold the toys that are in gumball machines, just to name a few. In his position just prior to coming to CESJDS, Bill assisted in setting up the manufacturing portion of a company that did CNC machining and 3D printing.

A large portion of his role at CESJDS is preventive maintenance, and optimally, as he says "the less you know we're here, the better."

"Bill is not only masterful at his job but he is calm, helpful, and always positive. No matter what you ask him, he is happy to oblige. He makes everyone's life easier," said a colleague.

When he is not busy keeping the lights on at CESJDS, Bill can be found spending time with his wife and kids, reading, camping, or canoeing / kayaking at the lake near his home.

Powered by Finalsite