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.

Gayle Elster, Guidance Support Specialist and Gurim Guidance Counselor

Staff Spotlight: Deborah Feigenson

Gayle Elster, Guidance Support Specialist and Gurim Guidance Counselor, believes that fate brought her to CESJDS as a professional after her daughters, Hannah and Madelyn, attended the school from Kindergarten through 6th grade.

With a Bachelor Degree in Special Education from Dowling College and a Master's in Social Work from VCU, Gayle works with children that require more social-emotional support, and also provides support to teachers to ensure that all students needs are met. She not only assists students and parents in the school building, but helps families access services in the community and is an educational advocate.

"It's all about the relationships," said Gayle. "My day does not end at 3:45. I am constantly writing lists, thinking about the next day, and also what is going on in other people's lives."

This year, Gayle took on the role of Gurim Guidance Counselor. She provides our youngest students the social-emotional skills they need as a foundation to be successful, including friendships and conflict resolution. Gayle also works with the Gurim teachers to create lessons that are developmentally appropriate, and supports the class with games, discussions, and pull-out groups.

She considers her office to be everyone's home. "It's amazing how a short break, and a drink/snack can have a shifting effect on a teacher or parent's day."

Gayle knew at a very young age that she wanted to work with children that were not in typical classrooms. She was always drawn to working with people and performed/performs a great deal of volunteer work. Her career began in the Fairfax County Public School system doing educational testing and working with early childhood families. In her most recent role, she was a learning specialist at the Bender JCC, a position she created.

When Gayle is not at work, she is spending time with her family, socializing with friends, and going to the movies.

An aspect that Gayle loves about CESJDS is that the School continues to support families even after they have moved on for a variety of reasons, and she continues to support those families.

"I love this environment," she says. "I love the way it feels, I love the people. I love the work that we are doing, and the supportive community, and I feel lucky to be here."

Deborah Feigenson, Middle School Social Studies Teacher

Staff Spotlight: Deborah Feigenson

Deborah Feigenson, Middle School Social Studies Teacher, is in her 14th year at CESJDS. She had planned on pursuing a degree in Engineering at the University of Maryland, but quickly changed gears after her first semester, and focused on English and working in the Writing Center. After graduating from the University of Maryland, she pursued a Masters Degree at Teachers College, a division of Columbia University.

Deborah grew up in Silver Spring with a love for theater. She was a performer in high school, and also taught clowning and puppetry at the Roundhouse Theater. She is currently the co-director of the Middle School Shakespeare Club, and hopes to bring Shakespeare to the high school as well.

Formerly a Language Arts and Social Studies teacher at the Lower School, Deborah was a part of the 6th grade migration to the Upper School, where she is now exclusive teaching Social Studies. While the transition was harder than expected as she felt like a new teacher and had a relearn a lot, she enjoys the dynamism of the Upper School campus. "The Middle School is working really well this year. It has settled into something that accomplishes the goals we set forth for the team," she said.

Deborah likes to travel, and she has lived on three continents. She was recently engaged during her third trip to Iceland. She also enjoys spending time with her niece and nephew, attending shows at the National Theater, and of course, watching Shakespeare at the Maryland Renaissance Festival.

Claire Zagami, Lower School PE Teacher

Staff Spotlight: Claire Zagami

Claire Zagami, Lower School PE Teacher, is in her seventh year at CESJDS. She came to the School right after graduating from Salisbury University with a major in PK-12 Physical Education. Claire also achieved a Master of Education in Educational Leadership from the American College of Education in December 2017.

Claire's affinity for athletics began in Kindergarten as she was involved in every sport and loved being a part of a team. As she grew older, she quickly realized that she wanted a career working with kids! At CESJDS, she works with kids in all grades from Junior Kindergarten through 5th grade, and enjoys seeing her kids grow from year to year. "I want my students to be able to take risks and try things that they may not try on their own, as well as introduce other strategies that they can use in any discipline," she says.

She also introduced a Nutrition and Fitness unit to the school, including 'MyPlate,' and helping students understand not only the importance of lifelong fitness, but more specifically which exercises target different parts of the body.

When she is not at CESJDS, Claire coaches high school cheerleading at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney and the Varsity Dance Team at the Upper School. She loves animals, and makes a point to spend time outside everyday especially enjoying playing basketball. Claire also spends a lot of time with her family, and travels to new places every year with her fiance. She is getting married in June 2020.

Naomi Federman, Middle School English Teacher

Staff Spotlight: Naomi Federman

Naomi Federman, Middle School English Teacher, is a born leader as the oldest of six! Originally from Ohio, Naomi graduated from the University of Toledo in 2012 and taught high school for a number of years, in addition to working as a counselor at Camp Havaya for eight summers.

While working at Camp Havaya, Naomi met her New Zealand-born now-fiance. She had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live in Australia for a year, travel, and also live short-term in New Zealand.

Naomi loves teaching English as she helps her students make connections with characters across time and place--she can also watch as they have that "lightbulb moment." After living abroad, she was thrilled to come to CESJDS. "I was so excited to reconnect with Jewish culture, and teach in a school where I can ignite my passion for reading and writing, all while incorporating Jewish elements," she says.

In her free time, Naomi loves to travel, take road trips, try many different types of foods, go to concerts, and read.

Elizabeth Rosenberg, 4th Grade General Studies Teacher

Staff Spotlight: Elizabeth Rosenberg

Elizabeth Rosenberg, 4th Grade General Studies Teacher, has been teaching for 12 years, eight of which have been at CESJDS. Growing up, Elizabeth was an active camp counselor and the daughter of a teacher, so she knew finding a way to work with children would be her life goal. Elizabeth went on to study Special Education, General Education and Judaic Studies at Indiana University and a Masters in Teacher Leadership.

Elizabeth grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, and often found herself looking for a larger Jewish community to connect with. "I had to really seek out a Jewish life for myself," she says. "It wasn't just everywhere I turned." Elizabeth has extended family in Potomac who attended CESJDS and noticed the different experience they had due to the strong community surrounding them. Wanting to be a part of the same sort of community, Elizabeth knew she would one day teach at a Jewish day school. "I wanted to give my students the experience that I had to seek out," she says.

Elizabeth began teaching in Georgia but when the opportunity presented itself to join the community she had admired at a young age, she jumped at the chance. Throughout the years, Elizabeth has valued the connections she has made in the CESJDS community, often having the opportunity to teach whole families of siblings, and cousins.

In her free time, Elizabeth loves being around her friends and family, both here and in her hometown of Lexington, KY. Most of all, she loves being a doting dog mom to her pup, Fate.

Adrienne Hiatt, 1st Grade General Studies Teacher

Adrienne Hiatt has been teaching 1st grade at CESJDS since 2006. She loves teaching first grade as students reach many milestones, learn how to problem solve, and are excited to come to school. "I have always felt a real connection with this age group," she says.

Prior to CESJDS, she taught at a number of different schools for deaf children, ranging from Pre-Kindergarten through second grade. She fell into teaching deaf children while doing volunteer work required by her special education major. Adrienne immediately fell in love with sign language, went on to immerse herself in Deaf culture and even spent a semester studying at Gallaudet University while pursuing her Master's Degree.

Adrienne knew that teaching was her calling, and came into college knowing that she would be pursuing a career in education.

Throughout the years, Adrienne has learned so much from other teachers and continues to stay connected with families that she has taught over the past 13 years at JDS. "I have been teaching now for 25 years, and still find so much joy in being with my class. I love being able to try out new teaching techniques and am inspired by advancements in the field," she says.

In her spare time, Adrienne loves to read, cook, spend time with friends and spend time in the city.

Maryana Harouni, Middle School Tanakh Teacher

Staff Spotlight: Maryana Harouni, Middle School Tanakh Teacher

Maryana Harouni, Middle School Tanakh Teacher, has been teaching for over 30 years. She was the assistant director at Adas Israel Religious School, and director of Oseh Shalom Religious School, B'nai Shalom of Olney Religious School, and Shoresh Hebrew High School. She also served as a curriculum consultant.

Maryana decided that she wanted to join the CESJDS family when she attended a shiva call for a community member, and saw the number of students who were formally dressed and brought food for their grieving friend. She immediately knew what a special place it was. She loves the team that she works with. "My colleagues are outstanding professionals and amazing human beings--they represent values. It is apparent that they love what they do," Maryana remarked.

Connecting with her students is very important to her and she stays in touch with them even after they graduate. "When I see a student talk Tanakh, question and analyze the text, and come up with amazing ideas--I know that I've done my job," she says. "These students are the modern Maccabees."

Maryana grew up in Iran, and was raised in a traditional and Zionist home. "My father insisted on speaking Hebrew at home, even with the dog. He instilled in me his love of Tanakh. We used to have long conversations about the Tanakh since I was a child." She made Aliyah to Israel in 1977 and attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She has not stopped studying since and takes a formal course every year. "I cannot be a good teacher unless I experience being a student at the same time and model to my students how important it is to be a lifelong learner" she says.

This past summer, Maryana spent time in a 12th century renovated chapel on top of a rock in Provence, France, painting the breathtaking scenery of the lavender fields. She enjoys visiting museums around the world and seeing works by artists like Giacometti and Brancusi. Maryana was selected as one of the ten most interesting Jews by the Washington Jewish Week. Of all she has done in her life, she is most proud of her son, Ariell, who is an Economics professor at Vanderbilt University. "I admire him for being wise, but even more, for leading his life with the right values," she says, "that is what I want to give to my students as well."

"Every morning I wake up and I'm happy to come to JDS and study Tanakh with my students."

Bareket Citrinowicz, 5th Grade Judaic Studies Teacher

Staff Spotlight: Marnina Cowan

Bareket Citrinowicz, 5th Grade Judaic Studies teacher, is in the United States on a mission with her husband through the Embassy of Israel. Up until her relocation to the United States, Bareket taught Arabic, Hebrew, Bible, and History for 15 years.

She holds a Bachelors in Teaching from Hebrew University, and a Master's in Arabic from Bar-Ilan University. She loves teaching and says "I think of my students as my children. Every student needs to learn by his/her own way, and we need to flexible with students' needs."

In her Judaic Studies teaching, Bareket uses authentic Israeli materials and teaches with the same spirit as students are taught in Israel.

Bareket loves the Arabic language. "It's very mysterious and comes with a great deal of magic and culture."

While she misses Israel, Bareket loves the United States, from the convenient living to the warm community. Two of her children, Shay (Grade 5) and Matan (Grade 2) are students at CESJDS, and Doron is in preschool just across the street at the JCC! "My two children at CESJDS had buddies from the moment they arrived!" she exclaimed.

In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family, taking advantage of long weekends and holidays to travel, dancing, and singing.

Mark Buckley, High School History Teacher

Staff Spotlight: Marnina Cowan

Mark Buckley, High School History Teacher, is in his 16th year at CESJDS. Prior to teaching, he worked for the Close Up Foundation, a non-profit that works with high school students who come to Washington, DC for learning opportunities. He holds a B.A. in History from Skidmore College and a M.A. in Early American History from the University of Maryland.

Mark enjoys having a job that is constantly challenging and is not stagnant, the professional collaboration, and the privilege to see the expertise of each individual teacher. He actually worked with fellow veteran History teacher Natalie Levitan at Close Up, with whom he reunited when he began his tenure at the School. Mark thrives on the interactions that he has with students. "It's an incredible moment when you see them have a breakthrough."

This is Mark's 4th year as chair of the Upper School History department. "This position is unique and eye opening as I have to balance everyone's viewpoints and learn the personalities and working styles of each department member," he says. "I feel fortunate to work with a such knowledgeable and professional department that challenges me to be better every day."

In his free time, he enjoys concerts and live music, playing the mandolin, hiking, camping, and cheering on the Boston Red Sox.

Catherine Welch, Lower School Language Arts & Social Studies Coordinator

Staff Spotlight: Catherine Welch

Catherine Welch, Lower School Language Arts & Social Studies Coordinator, is in her second year at CESJDS. Prior to her tenure here, she taught English at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC, and spent nine years at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn, NY, teaching Language Arts. She also served as 7th and 8th Grade Dean while at Poly Prep, and led the revision of their advisory program.

At CESJDS, Catherine has a multitude of responsibilities in her portfolio from unit planning with teachers to scheduling guest appearances and field trips, to looking at the Lower School big picture as part of the Administrative team. "I love that I can do so many different things in one day including meeting with teachers, looking at student writing, meeting with parents, and planning school-wide events," Catherine said.

Catherine holds a B.A. in English from Kenyon College, and earned her Masters in Teaching from Pace University while participating in the NYC Teaching Fellows Program. She lives in DC proper, and spends a lot of time walking around the city, hiking, traveling, and, of course, reading.

Her favorite aspect of working at CESJDS is the collaboration. It's what makes the School magical!"