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Maitland, FL 5-16-19 - Jewish Academy of Orlando Director of Academics Nikki Buyna was recently accepted to Harvard Graduate School of Education’s summer program titled "Improving Schools: The Art of Leadership."  In addition, she received a full school scholarship from The AVI CHAI Foundation to attend the program.

“I applied to the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Art of Leadership Program because I wanted the opportunity to share a room with a group of the best school leaders in the world, to have an opportunity to discuss best practices, and a chance to facilitate change within my own community and that of the American education system. I truly believe that there is so much more that we can do as educators and as leaders to make a difference for our students and our teachers!”

The AVI CHAI Foundation, one of the largest privately funded Jewish foundations in the United States, is committed to the perpetuation of the Jewish people, Judaism, and the centrality of the State of Israel to the Jewish people.  AVI CHAI, in conjunction with Harvard, designed its program to better enable school leaders to apply the concepts learned during the Harvard program effectively in their schools.  With AVI CHAI, Buyna will implement a year-long initiative at Jewish Academy of Orlando.  

Following the summer program, Buyna will implement a project of her choosing that addresses a particular aspect of school life directly related to JAO’s mission.  Her initial plan is to work with the foundation to develop a program for Jewish Academy of Orlando that connects positive education, character education, and Jewish values. 

“Character education has always been a part of Jewish day school education, but there is a new urgency in today’s world to make social-emotional wellness a priority and to truly live the values that are at the core of Judaism.  As we build our program, our Judaic Studies curriculum and Jewish values will be the bedrock, creating a whole-school movement that embraces each individual and fosters growth.

Assisting our students in understanding their own character strengths will help them improve relationships and develop empathy for others, better manage and overcome obstacles, develop problem-solving techniques, and reduce anxiety.  It will develop strong leaders for our community,” said Buyna.

 In addition to serving as JAO’s Director of Academics, Buyna is an established thought-leader in education.  She maintains a professional development website for educators www.educationalcheerleader.comand speaks at a variety of conferences and schools on topics such technology in the classroom, assessment and rubrics, creative lesson design, and experiential learning.  

This spring, she launched "Parent Teacher Conference: The Podcast" where she brings together teachers, administrators, and families for honest discourse about the most debated topics in education.  In each episode, Buyna speaks with an expert, educator, or parent in hopes of bringing everyone to the table to support the social-emotional and academic needs of our children. The podcast is available on iTunes and Spotify.

Buyna stated, “I am passionate about leading changes in education, whether that be through improving best practices in innovative lesson design, assessment, and facilitation of professional development for teachers or by working to bring educators and families together.”

Head of School, Alan Rusonik added, “We are so proud of Nikki’s accomplishments and we are lucky to have her as part of our team at JAO.  I am excited to learn from Nikki’s experiences at Harvard and to implement her project that will help our school grow.”   


Jewish Academy of Orlando serves Central Florida students of all faiths from grades kindergarten through fifth. The school delivers a whole-child education fostering academic excellence and character education rooted in Jewish values. Jewish Academy of Orlando is accredited by the Florida Council of Independent Schools.  Beginning in fall of 2019, the school will offer a transitional kindergarten.