The Columbus Jewish Day School is back in session with a new leader.

The Columbus Jewish Day School is back in session with a new leader.

Rabbi Mitch Levine kicked off the 2008-09 school year at CJDS last week as head of school replacing Judy Vigder, who announced her retirement in the spring.

Levine and his family moved back to Columbus this summer after working 13 years at a day school in Rhode Island.

"It's a big deal, but we're enjoying it," he said. "People have been warm and hospitable."

The move was worth it, Levine said, because of the school.

"Honestly, this is about the school. It's a school that sparkles," he said. "When I visited the school, I was very impressed with the maturity of the students.

"These young people were willing to step forward and give me a high-five or introduce themselves."

Levine said he also is excited to work with the "high-performing staff" and the teaching model used at CJDS.

"We use a very thoughtful and very enthusiastic approach between general studies and Judaic studies," he said. "We double up teachers on all grades so kids get a lot of attention."

The CJDS models itself from the Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in New York, which, Levine said, he's never used but is looking forward to it.

"I think the integration is important, from the standpoint of Jewish identity," he said. "It's important for kids to develop a strong Jewish identity."

Levine will have a year to get acquainted with the school before big changes next year.

The CJDS will move from its current location at 79 N. High St. in New Albany to a new building on Dublin-Granville Road and will add a sixth grade.

"In some of the (school) districts we have families, the sixth grade is in the elementary school," he said. "It will enable us to offer a complete elementary school package.

"Right now we have no room for the sixth grade."

Levine said he's confident he'll be able to lead the school during a changing and growing time.

"In terms of the sixth grade, we're working hard to pull together parents, a teacher leadership team and other community leaders to make sure the sixth grade promotes the goals of the school," he said. "My role will be the steward of that process. I'll make sure it happens as smoothly as possible."

However, plans for the future won't get in the way of the new school year, he said.

"We still have this year," Levine said. "We have to remain focused on what's happening at the school now."

Outside current plans for the future, Levine said he has no big changes in store for CJDS. His first year primarily will be about learning.

"This year is the year I'll get an education," he said. "I plan on doing a lot of listening and a lot of learning."