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.

Essivi "Chantal" Messan, Lower School Food Services Department Staff Member

Staff Spotlight

Essivi "Chantal" Messan, Lower School Food Services Department Staff Member, was not expecting to become a part of a community like CESJDS when she came to the United States in 2004 from Togo, West Africa. Chantal joined the JDS team in 2006, and has now been an integral part of the Food Services Staff for over 13 years. Chantal finds joy in serving Gurim-2nd graders from the traveling lunch kiosk. "I like seeing the students around the halls," Chantal said. "They always have an excited smile and like to tell me when they'll be getting food from my kiosk that week."

Food quality is important to Chantal, and she loves getting to serve students healthy lunches that are made from scratch in the JDS kitchens. Having been here for over a decade, Chantal is pleased to see the students she knew grow up and graduate from JDS.

Outside of school, Chantal likes spending time with family, going to the movies, and singing, which is her hidden talent. Chantal is also an avid traveler, spending her summers visiting family in Paris and traveling around Europe.

Above all, Chantal values working in such a warm and respectful environment. "I am grateful and lucky to be working here at JDS."

Melissa Fisanich, High School English Teacher and New Faculty Mentor

Staff Spotlight: Deborah Feigenson

Melissa Fisanich, High School English Teacher and New Faculty Mentor, thought she was going to be a marine biologist. Initially a biology major at St. Mary's College of Maryland, she had a work study job where she organized catalogs and remembers being intrigued by Humanities classes. She made her first adult decision by changing her major to English. Post-college, she worked for law firms and thought she could become a lawyer. Instead, "I was saved from a law career by my roommate and college advisor," she says.

The next stop on her journey was to Johns Hopkins for their Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program. Teaching jobs were hard to come by in the mid-90s, but she received a call from her Hopkins advisor with an opportunity to teach at CESJDS and focus on writing. Two days after she received an offer from the School, she met her husband!

Melissa taught at CESJDS from 1996-2004, and left for a few years to stay home with her children. In those interim years, she did private tutoring and worked for a speech pathology practice. As luck would have it, there was an opening in the English department at the same time her son was entering Kindergarten, and she returned in 2010.

She has taught every grade at the Upper School, except for 6th. "I love the kids and the community," she says. When the Upper School formally split into Middle and High School divisions, she chose high school. "I love teaching writing to 9th graders. A 9th grade brain changes so much from the beginning to the end."

Melissa prides herself on not teaching the same thing year after year. She has a lot of autonomy within a framework, and likes to try new things and stay fresh.

When she's not inspiring young minds, Melissa can be found quilting, cooking, biking the canal towpath, or doing Martial Arts. She is a Brown Belt in Korean Karate. Her family also cooks a big dinner together every Saturday night.

Hannah Rothschild, Upper School Hebrew Language Department Chair

Staff Spotlight: Deborah Feigenson

Hannah Rothschild, Upper School Hebrew Language Department Chair, is one of CESJDS's 'Baltimore Warriors,' commuting down I-95 each day. Prior to teaching at CESJDS (she's been here for 11 years), she taught at Krieger Schechter Day School, and Yeshivat Rambam, an Orthodox school that has since folded. Hannah felt an immediate connection to the School as she was diagnosed with a brain tumor just before classes started and was unable to work for the first three months. CESJDS held her position during her recovery and other teachers covered her classes. "I will always be grateful. It was such an amazing thing," she said.

Hannah grew up in Israel and pursued a career in social work. Upon her arrival in the U.S., she began her teaching career as a tutor and went back to school for a Master's Degree in Administration in Jewish Education from Baltimore Hebrew University, which is now a division of Towson University. She took courses that prompted new ways of thinking of teaching, and focused on being an influencer and having a deep impact on her students. A parent of a former student once told her, in jest, "it's your fault that my kids made Aliyah!" She is currently working towards a second Master's in Teacher Leadership through Brandeis University.

The Hebrew Department at CESJDS has undergone multiple transformations during her tenure in order to keep second language learning innovative and current for students. As such, once the department chair role opened up, it was a natural fit for Hannah. "I feel very supported and am being mentored in an invaluable way," she said.

When she is not driving down I-95 or developing the Hebrew fluency of CESJDS students, Hannah enjoys spending time with her seven grandchildren, reading, traveling with her husband, taking walks in nature, and visiting Israel as frequently as possible.

Nanci Henoch, 3rd Grade General Studies Teacher

Staff Spotlight: Deborah Feigenson

On the brink of completing her fourth year at CESJDS, Nanci Henoch, 3rd Grade General Studies Teacher has had a pioneering year at the School. A former student once told her "Mrs. Henoch, if my body can't stretch, my brain can't stretch!" This statement, in conjunction with an Edutopia blog she read entitled Flexible Seating Elevated Student Engagement, led her to implement the first CESJDS classroom with a 100% flexible seating arrangement. Instead of rows of desks, there are four desks, two tables, 20 lap desks, six stability balls, four bean bag chairs, three butterfly chairs, two standing desks and a number of other seating options. "I have found that the students are better able to engage in meaningful discussions with each other when they can choose where to sit instead of being confined to a plastic chair and a metal desk," she said.

Nanci's career did not originate in teaching, rather in Human Resources. She majored in English at Penn State University, leading her to a position as a corporate trainer post-graduation. After a number of years feeling a professional void, she enrolled in an evening teaching program at Johns Hopkins University, where she earned a Master's Degree, and taught in Baltimore City during the day. After five years in Baltimore, she began to move south and taught in Howard County for an additional seven years.

She has found her home at CESJDS and looks forward to more excitement and innovation as her tenure continues. "There is a certain level of creativity and flexibility that you have working in a private school, that just doesn't exist in public school."

When she is not inspiring 8 year old minds at CESJDS, Nanci enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with her two children.

Shlomit Daniel, Middle School Hebrew Teacher

Staff Spotlight: Deborah Feigenson

Shlomit Daniel, Middle School Hebrew Teacher, is in her third year at CESJDS. Prior to coming to the School, she taught at a charter school in DC, Solomon Schechter in Connecticut for 11 years, as well as teaching three levels of Hebrew at the Yale Hillel.

Shlomit's parents are Ethiopian-born, and she grew up in Israel. After serving as an officer in the IDF, she honed in on teaching as a career. "I love seeing the way kids learn, and planting the seeds for the rest of their academic careers," she said.

As a volunteer with the Jewish National Fund (JNF), she travels on the weekends and speaks to different groups, including African American churches, about Ethiopian Jewry and to showcase the rich and diverse culture of Israel.

Her philosophy to teaching Hebrew at the CESJDS Middle School is to provide them with an eye-opening experience to Israeli culture, including music and dance. "In my experience, I have observed that some students feel forced to learn Hebrew, and I want to make it fun for them," Shlomit remarked.

In her spare time, Shlomit loves to explore DC and its museums, spend time with her son, and traveling--she goes to Israel once a year, if not more.

Grace McMillan, High School English and Jewish Text Teacher

Staff Spotlight: Deborah Feigenson

Grace McMillan is a CESJDS jack of all trades! She teaches English, Jewish Texts, Jewish History, and the senior Psychology elective. Grace is in her second year of her second stint at our Upper School. She started at CESJDS in 2004, where she was on the faculty for 9 years before departing to obtain a degree in social work. She felt that mental health was getting in the way of how her students were performing, and she wanted to have a better understanding of what her students were thinking and feeling.

While she enjoyed the learning aspect pursuing her degree and working in the field, she missed teaching. "My favorite therapy was group therapy because it was like a good class discussion," she says. She loves the group dynamic of working with students and helping them communicate with each other. "I see myself as a facilitator, and I can help frame conversations among students to help deepen their learning," Grace added.

Grace came back to CESJDS to fill in as a maternity leave long-term sub and hasn't looked back since. She enjoys being flexible for the School and teaching different topics.

Her original academic training was in Comparative Religion, both with a Bachelor's Degree from Oberlin College and a Masters from Harvard Divinity School. She also started a PhD at Stanford, but she left after two years to move to Israel and learn at Nishmat, a women's yeshiva in Jerusalem. She had just converted to Judaism, and she wanted to be in that environment to feed her soul as much as her mind. While in Israel, Grace worked as a journalist for the Jerusalem Post for two years. She returned to the US and worked as an editor at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a think tank in DC, for two years before pursuing teaching.

Grace brings both her content expertise and depth in mental health to the classroom. She does focused and intentional breathing for the first minute of every class. "Breathing helps a lot of kids transition from other classes, or lunch, to being present in the room with a group of people," she says.

She is driven by getting to know the students and building relationships with them, and she has great admiration for her colleagues. "Everyone I work with is so passionately dedicated to students and their subject matter. Everyone is all-in, spending countless hours in and out of school to give their best to their students. "

Grace and her husband love to travel and are planning a summer trip to Europe, including Romania, Italy, and Greece. She also loves to edit, and even helped edit a colleague's doctoral dissertation just for fun. She also loves SCUBA diving and listening to NPR.

Shira Brown, Lower School Enrichment Specialist

Staff Spotlight: Deborah Feigenson

Shira Brown, Lower School Enrichment Specialist, is in her 9th year at JDS. Prior to this year, she taught 4th Grade General Studies (GS), and in fact, her first class of 4th graders just graduated as members of the Class of 2019!

Her plan while attending American University was to become a rabbi. She majored in Jewish Studies, while also teaching part-time at Temple Micah in DC. She developed a passion for teaching, and changed her major to Elementary Education, with a minor in Jewish Studies.

Shira's first role out of college took her to the Montgomery County Public School system, where she taught 5th grade at Carderock Springs Elementary School in Bethesda. She gained invaluable experience in the county, though was missing the Jewish piece, which had been so tightly knit into her life between camp, youth groups, teaching Hebrew School, and her major.

She was accepted into the Hornstein Program for Jewish Professional Leadership at Brandeis University, where she obtained a Master's Degree in Jewish Leadership, and a MBA in Nonprofit Business Management. With an eye on a career in Jewish camping, she interned at Pinemere camp, which developed into a full-time position (very appropriate as she spent 14 years as a camper and staffer at URJ Eisner Camp in Massachusetts!), though felt she wanted something bigger.

Shira returned to her teaching roots, landed in the 4th Grade GS role at JDS, and hasn't looked back since. "I love the small class sizes, which give me the ability to truly get to know the students, and the community is unlike any other," she says.

Her role change from a classroom teacher to a specialist was an adjustment, but it gives her the opportunity to work with more students. "I know the entire 4th grade so well, whereas in the past, it was just my class. It is also nice to work with multiple grades and see the curriculum spiral."

Shira loves the School's philosophy on enrichment, as it is a push-in, rather than a pull-out environment. "We are doing investigations in math and asking more thought provoking questions. It is a value-add to enrich the whole classroom environment," she says.

In her free time, she watches professional tennis (EVERY tournament), is a big fan of Broadway musicals (especially Hamilton and Les Miserables), and participates in poker tournaments. During the summer, she runs the Leaders in Training program, a bridge program between camper and staff, at Capital Camps in Waynesboro, PA.

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.