Ilana Ruskay-Kidd

Founder and Head of School

Ilana has been serving the Jewish educational community in New York City in multiple capacities for over 20 years. Most recently, she served as the Director of The Saul and Carole Zabar Nursery School at the JCC in Manhattan. Prior to being named to this position in 2006, she 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 eighteen years old. Ilana began her 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. She then worked as an Early Childhood Curriculum Consultant for the Children's Aid Society where she developed curricula with directors and teachers in day care, Head Start and private nursery school programs throughout the city.

Ilana received her B.A. from Harvard College and a Master's Degree in Education from Bank Street College. She was born and raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and now lives there with her husband and three children. Ilana was a recipient of the Covenant Award in 2016.

Yoni Schwab, PhD

Assistant Head of School

Yoni Schwab, PhD, is the Assistant Head of School at the Shefa School, a pluralistic Jewish day school for children with language-based learning disabilities in Manhattan. A member of the 3-person founding team, he has been involved in every aspect of the school since its launch in 2014. A clinical psychologist, Yoni previously served as the Psychologist at The Windward School and on the faculty of the Windward Teacher Training Institute. He is an Adjunct Clinical Supervisor at Ferkauf Graduate School of Yeshiva University and maintains a private clinical practice.

Yoni’s research focused on social-emotional learning and behavior management and is a sought-after presenter on a range of topics, including ADHD, anxiety, limit setting and learning disabilities. Yoni holds BA's from Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary and earned his doctorate in clinical psychology at Rutgers University. He was a Wexner Foundation Field Fellow. He lives in Riverdale, NY, with his wife (a 4th grade teacher) and has 3 college-age children.

Rebecca Ritter

Head of Teaching and Learning

Rebecca has been working to support underserved students for the past 15 years - both as a classroom teacher and instructional leader in NYC low-income public and independent schools. Prior to joining Shefa's founding leadership team, she ran NYC Collaborates, a Gates Foundation-funded initiative to promote collaboration and sharing of best practices across NYC public schools. Rebecca's areas of experience and interest include language-based learning disabilities, designing and facilitating professional development, mentoring and coaching, and school culture. Rebecca has conducted and presented research on teachers’ experiences of professional growth and has served as a co-instructor for a graduate course in the school leadership program at Bank Street College.

Rebecca holds a B.A. from Harvard College and a Masters Degree in School Leadership from Bank Street College, as well as NYS certification as a School Building Leader (SBL). She is a proud graduate of the NYC Jewish day school system and is thrilled to be serving this community. She and her husband and four children live in New York City.

Jim Halliday

Chief Finanical Officer

Jim joined Shefa in 2016 as Director of Finance and Operations, and was promoted to Chief Financial Officer in 2020. He oversees the maintenance of the school’s facilities as well as the school's financial operations, including budget planning, financial reporting, treasury and audit functions.

Previously, he served as the Assistant Business Director for the Eagle Hill School in Greenwich, Connecticut, and has over 20 years of experience working in finance and investments. Jim holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Fordham University and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Notre Dame.

Rabbi Dov Lerea, EdD

Head of Judaic Studies

Rabbi Dov has been a professional educator for the past 35 years. Prior to joining Shefa, he was the Dean and Mashgiach Ruchani at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School. Rabbi Dov served for many years as the Dean of Judaic Studies of the Abraham Joshua Heschel School in New York and as the Director of Education at Camp Yavneh in Northwood, New Hampshire. He has also served as the Director of Secondary Education at Boston Hebrew College, a faculty member at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education, and a faculty member for the Wexner Heritage Foundation. He also served as the Director of KIVUNIM, an innovative gap-year program based in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Dov has an A.B. from Brown University in Religious Studies, an M.A. and Rabbinic degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary, a Rabbinic degree from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University, an M.A. in Learning and Teaching from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and an Ed.D. from the Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at JTS. He lives in Riverdale with his wife Nancy, an Associate Principal at SAR High School.

Vicki Messler

Head of Innovation and Integration

Vicki joined Shefa in July of 2020 to coordinate the school’s curriculum to bring greater clarity and continuity across all grades and subjects. Previously, Vicki worked at The Gateway School where she was Director of Curriculum, after having served there as Classroom Teacher, Admissions Coordinator, Assistant Director and then Director of the Middle School. During her 14-year tenure at the Gateway School, she built a scope and sequence of content and skills-based curriculum for subjects ranging from Math and Science to Physical Education.

Prior to her time at The Gateway School, Vicki worked as both a Special Education Teacher and Learning Specialist at The Smith School. Vicki holds a Master’s Degree in Childhood Special Education from Hunter College where she was also an Adjunct Lecturer for the Special Education Department.

Naomi Schimmel, PhD

Head of Lower School

Naomi has over 15 years of experience working with children at a variety of levels and in different settings. She began her career as a classroom teacher at the Churchill School, teaching second and fourth graders. Most recently she was a learning specialist at Riverdale Country School, where she provided differentiated instruction for students, implemented assessment models, and designed curriculum. Naomi has supported teachers in enhancing their literacy instruction, and created professional development workshops for her colleagues. She has also taught a graduate course in the childhood education program at Fordham University. She is a proud product of a NYC Jewish day school, and is excited to return to this setting!

Naomi received her B.A. from The George Washington University and her Master's Degree in Special Education from Hunter College. She earned her doctorate in Curriculum and Teaching from Fordham University.

Ian Cohen, PhD

Head of Middle School

Ian joined Shefa in the Summer of 2021 as part of Shefa’s senior leadership team. He is responsible for overseeing and enhancing all aspects of school culture, curriculum, instruction, and assessment in the Middle School. Prior to joining Shefa, Ian worked at the Luria Academy of Brooklyn, where he served on their senior leadership team as Director of Support Services and School Psychologist. As an administrator at Luria, Ian worked to develop their advisory program and introduced the RULER curriculum to Luria.  

Prior to his time at Luria, Ian spent 12 years as a psychologist in the Hewlett-Woodmere public schools, where he chaired Committees on Special Education and gained extensive experience with middle school pedagogy and curriculum, school culture and climate, and designing and monitoring special education programs and supports. Ian holds a doctorate in School Psychology from Temple University, where he was also a postdoctoral fellow at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Roberta Solar, EdD

Director of Outplacement

Roberta served as Shefa's founding Head of Middle School before stepping down to oversee Shefa's outplacement program in June 2021. As Director of Outplacement, Roberta directs the outplacement process and helps facilitate the placement of the School’s graduating students into middle and high schools. Prior to joining Shefa in 2016, Roberta served as Assistant Head of School at the Ramaz School and Head of the Lower School at the Windward School. Prior to that, she worked at the Dwight Englewood School in various administrative roles in the lower and middle schools. Roberta created the resource room in the P'TACH program at Yeshiva University High School for Girls, and was an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Roberta has mentored and developed special educators throughout her career and has been at the forefront of developing curricula and instructional approaches to meet the needs of students with learning disabilities. Roberta holds a Doctorate in Special Education, a Master's Degree in Instructional Practice in Special Education, and a Master's Degree in Special Education, all from Teachers College, Columbia University.