I have lost a role model and the community has lost a beloved educator

Rachel Fink
Rachel Fink

There are certain historic occasions so immense that if you ask people what they were doing at the time, even decades later, they can share that memory with you as if it was yesterday.

Such an occasion was the day that “Mrs. Wagerman” was appointed to be headteacher of JFS.

The announcement was made over the school tannoy system and as a year 11 student I recall the cheers from staff and students that echoed around the corridors of Camden.

As deputy head, she was renowned for walking the school in her gown reflecting the formidable personality that she was.

That she would succeed her predecessor was not a foregone conclusion.

This was nothing to do with her skills and talents, but it was the ’80s and Mrs. Wagerman was a woman seeking to undertake a prominent leadership role in the community.

Under her leadership, JFS was transformed.

Jo Wagerman

She laid the foundation for the way in which the school flourishes today. Her success, I believe, was the balance she created between demanding high standards and providing care for both her students and staff.

As a year 12 student, having been sent to her office, despite being reasonably certain it was to appoint me as head girl, I was still somewhat nervous.

However the warmth and generosity she showed me that day was the start of a relationship that I have cherished ever since.

There was a certain assumption that as she lived and breathed JFS, she didn’t live an ordinary life.

But my favourite memory of Jo was seeing her doing the ironing when I popped in to her daughter’s home in Israel.

As a teacher just starting out on my own educational career, this unexpected scene taught me a huge lesson about the capability that ordinary human beings have to achieve extraordinary things.

Of all the good wishes I received on my appointment to JFS, the one I will cherish most was the phone conversation I had with Jo.

Today, I have lost a role model and the Jewish community has lost a beloved educator and leader.

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About the Author
Rachel Fink is the headteacher at JFS (Jewish Free School)
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