Ilana Ruskay-Kidd, 50, educator and advocate for those with learning disabilities


Ilana Ruskay-Kidd, the founder and head of school at The Shefa School, a pluralistic Jewish day school for students with language-based learning disabilities, was selected as one of the New York Jewish Week’s 36 to Watch (formerly 36 Under 36). This distinction honors leaders, entrepreneurs and changemakers who are making a difference in New York’s Jewish community. Since its founding in 2014, Shefa’s student body has grown from 24 students to more than 200. With a new, 75,000-square-feet campus planned for West 60th Street, it hopes to expand to 350 students. Ruskay-Kidd lives on the Upper West Side with her husband and three children.

For the full list of this year’s “36ers,” click here.

New York Jewish Week: Tell us about the work you do and any outstanding accomplishments.

Ruskay-Kidd: I am the founder and head of school at The Shefa School, a community day school in Manhattan serving students in grades 1–8 with language-based learning disabilities. We began in 2014 with 24 students and have grown to currently have 200 students. We are also excited to be moving into a new facility in Columbus Circle that will allow us to serve 350 students and also expand the Shefa Center, a resource to support the work of schools throughout the United States and beyond in their work with diverse learners.

What is your background in education?

I have been serving the Jewish educational community in New York City in multiple capacities for over 20 years. Most recently, I served as the director of The Saul and Carole Zabar Nursery School at the JCC Manhattan. Prior to being named to this position in 2006, I worked at the JCC as director of young families and then as senior director of family life, supervising programs serving families and children from birth to 18 years old.

I began my teaching career at the Central Park East school in Harlem and went on to become a founding teacher at the Ella Baker School, an alternative public school in Manhattan. I then worked as an early childhood curriculum consultant for the Children’s Aid Society where I developed curricula with directors and teachers in day care, Head Start and private nursery school programs throughout the city.

How does your Jewish identity or experience influence your work?

I am deeply connected to my Jewish identity, having been born and raised within the Jewish community here on the Upper West Side. I am driven by the value of every person being created in the image of God and work to express this value through the work that I do each day.

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