As head of The Lippman School in Akron, Sam Chestnut has helped grow the institution and shape its direction largely based on his own childhood experiences.
Lippman has 105 students from transitional kindergarten through eighth grade, nearly doubling in size from 64 students since Chestnut took the helm in 2010.
A member of Anshe Sfard Synagogue in Bath Township, he has helped develop a program at the school that both embraces Judaism and invites students and perspectives from other cultures.
“We’re a very unique Jewish day school in the landscape of day schools around the country,” Chestnut said. “We have embraced (an) intentional multicultural model that teaches Jewish values to all students and offers a language choice in Hebrew or Spanish. We’re forced to articulate who we are, where we come from, what we believe with our friends, some who have similar, or very different family, religious or cultural experiences. And in that model, anyone’s identity and Jewish identity in particular, can be built in different, stronger and more organic ways for kids to have success in the multicultural global world we live in.”
While some Jewish day schools enroll non-Jewish students, “they aren’t often teaching about diversity in the ways that we are,” said Chestnut, adding Lippman’s curriculum includes anti-racist education.
“Part of the programming we have developed at The Lippman School includes outdoor experiential education in Montana on the Northern Cheyenne reservation and in Yellowstone National Park,” said Chestnut, adding students from the reservation visit The Lippman School each fall to do experiential learning in Akron.
He is also founder and president of The Lodge Approach, which offers similar experiences to other schools and adult groups.
Born in Seattle, Chestnut grew up attending Ashkenazic Bikur Cholim in Seattle and attended Seattle Hebrew Academy for his elementary grades. He graduated from Bellevue High School.
“We were the family that, when we went to synagogue three times a year, it was the Orthodox synagogue,” said Chestnut, adding that all four of his grandparents were born in shtetls in Europe.
When Chestnut was in middle school, he first spent time on the Northern Cheyenne reservation.
His late father, Steve, who was a lawyer for the Cheyenne, helped the tribe battle coal and energy interests “that would have ruined the reservation and would have hurt the culture of the people there.”
He said that experience “helped me understand the world and in greater complexity than kids are taught in traditional schools.”
In high school and college, he coached at the Maccabi Games. Chestnut graduated from Kenyon College in Gambier with a major in history. While there, he attended Hillel and became involved with the Big Brothers Big Sisters Association of Knox County where he was assigned to work with “kids who were at risk or marginalized,” he said, “which is what led to a career in education.”
After college, he began living in Akron and took a job as a field instructor at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, then began teaching at The Lippman School in 1996. While there, he attended the University of Akron earning his master’s degree in educational administration.
He then became the education director at the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center in Peninsula and then the assistant director and head of school at The Lillian and Betty Ratner Montessori School in Pepper Pike.
“I went to a school that was 100% Jewish and I lived in a world that was very diverse,” he said. “For our Jewish kids, school and life feel very similar, but they have a school where they can learn and celebrate with their non-Jewish friends.”