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Neighbor check: A conversation with Brian Cain at the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School

As a lifelong educator who came out of retirement a few years ago to become interim head of the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School, Brian Cain can’t seem to say enough good things about the institution.

“It’s just such a wonderful place,” he says. “Magic happens here.”

Established in 1973 by the Birmingham Jewish Federation, the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School shares its campus with the Levite Jewish Community Center. Recent cooperative efforts between the two organizations include students and staff helping distribute mobile pantry donations at The J. 

A man in a peach-colored shirt and checkered tie poses on a library shelf in an open area and out-of-focus kids walk through the background
NEMJDS Interim Head of School Brian Cain has a daily reminder on his phone about saying encouraging words to the kids – just in case he gets too distracted during a busy day. 

And beginning this year, the school began hosting two Ilanot enhanced kindergarten readiness classrooms of The J’s Cohn Early Childhood Learning Center. The reasons for such a move were obvious to everyone involved, says Brian with a shrug: “They needed space and we had it. It was like putting a square peg in a square hole” The change has worked well for everyone, and Brian notes that the additional students have basically doubled the building’s level of energy. Some of the new ECLC students even attend the morning huddle, a daily 8 a.m. ritual for the entire school that aims to set a positive tone for the day. 

Brian knows of no other school in the country that meets as a group at the beginning of every single school day. The huddle includes a thought of the day, a moment of silence, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Israeli national anthem. “It sets the tone for the day,” Brian explains. “If you were upset with your mother when she dropped you off and you came in at 100 miles per hour, for example, the huddle will reset your attitude. It’s a sweet and calm start to the day that generates a message of positivity.

Brian is just as enthusiastic about the school’s “bizarrely amazing diverse” staff. Although he would like to add more extracurricular activities for the students, for now he’s happy with being able to add new classes like French (taught by the Sorbonne-trained art and music teacher, naturellement Mrs. Rottembourg), and is currently working on a plan to introduce Spanish. 

The passing of Truffles

We happened to interview Brian on the day Truffles, the school’s beloved guinea pig, died. Many students were grieving, but Brian and the rest of the staff had already been addressing such issues for a long time. “Overflow their bowls of positivity so that they’ll know the world isn’t going to stop when Truffles dies,” he says. “Or when someone makes fun of you because of your hair color or size or religion, the world doesn’t stop.” Brian claims this approach helps make the Day School students very resilient when faced with various degrees of adversity.

Although Brian would ideally like to double the number of NEMJDS students (currently at 41), going to school with such a small group has its benefits. “There’s a relationship component here that I know is nearly impossible to find at big schools,” he explains. “We have a brother-sister-family relationship that you’d want all kids to experience in a school.” And all guinea pigs.