Alumni Spotlight

Pennsylvania, California, and Texas have benefited from committed educator's contributions.
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Dr. Bernice Tabak Kirzner

Since 1974, Dr. Bernice Tabak Kirzner (formerly Gelman) dreamed of earning a doctoral degree. Having graduated as a psychology major from the University of Pittsburgh in 1972, she immediately enrolled in a Masters program in Education and completed the program in 1973. With an insatiable thirst for knowledge, she continued her studies on a part-time basis taking doctoral level classes while embracing a new full-time professional challenge. After earning approximately 60 post-graduate credits in the next three years, also at the University of Pittsburgh, changes in Dr. Kirzner's personal life necessitated a return to her native Philadelphia. Her dreams of pursuing a doctoral degree slowly fell by the wayside as professional and personal responsibilities assumed a more prominent role in her life.

Twenty-five years later, after raising four children while serving as an elementary school principal, the dream of completing a doctoral program once again emerged center stage. Debating whether this was a realistic endeavor at this point in her life, Dr. Kirzner chose to meet this challenge head-on and embarked upon a remarkable educational journey. Her dream of earning a doctoral degree came to fruition in December 2009 when she successfully defended her dissertation, entitled A Study of Admissions Screening Factors that May Contribute to Year-end Reading Performance in Kindergarten, and heard herself addressed as "Dr." for the very first time.

Dr. Kirzner began her professional career in 1973 accepting the challenge of developing the first program for learning disabled children in the Wilkinsburg School District in Western Pennsylvania. At the age of twenty-three, she was handed grant funds and asked to create a program that included student screening and identification, Individualized Educational Program (IEP) development, teacher training, parent education, curriculum development and program evaluation. It was a tall order for a new graduate embarking upon her first professional opportunity, but she embraced it as she did all new challenges that came her way, with determination and aspirations of nothing short of success. The program proved to be so successful that she was asked to duplicate the model in other schools throughout the district. A lifelong career in education was born.

After relocating to Philadelphia in 1976, Dr. Kirzner worked for several years with a private research and evaluation firm that was contracted to conduct program evaluation on behalf of several federally funded title programs both in the public and private sectors. The programs were located throughout the state of Pennsylvania, including the Philadelphia School District. After travelling for several years, she decided it was time to settle into a home base and subsequently accepted a position as Director of a preschool for special needs children where she remained until her move to California.

Once in California Dr. Kirzner worked for the Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools, which served as the grantee for the Head Start programs throughout the County. In this position, Dr. Kirzner served as the Coordinator of Handicap Programs, ensuring agency regulatory and budgetary compliance. Hit by the reality of a categorical layoff at the county level, Dr. Kirzner re-examined her professional goals and moved into the private sector. It was this move that defined the next eighteen years of her career, providing newfound purpose and vision in both her professional and personal life.

Having enrolled her own four children in Jewish day schools and having served on the Board of Directors of several local Jewish day schools, Dr. Kirzner soon developed a fascination with the world of private education, particularly Jewish day school education. She ultimately accepted her next professional challenge as the Founding Principal of the recently established Tarbut V'Torah (TVT) Community Day School then located in Costa Mesa. During her 15-year tenure, she led the school from a K-6 student body of 72 students in a converted warehouse to a K-12 U.S. Dept of Education Blue Ribbon School with 675 students now housed in a 20-acre state-of-the art facility in the hills of Irvine. Having led a team on a 15 year incredible journey of community building, Dr. Kirzner created a legacy that continues to define who she is today.

The birth of her first grandchild in Austin, Texas led Dr. Kirzner to her current position as Head of School at Austin Jewish Academy (AJA), taking on her latest challenge of growing a fledgling day school into a thriving center of learning. Her dream is to see her three-year old grandson, Noah, enroll in AJA in 2012. Dr. Kirzner resides in the Austin area with her husband, Rabbi Robert Kirzner. They are the proud parents to their combined seven children and five grandchildren.