The Chief Rabbi has led tributes to Dr. Dena Coleman, the headmistress of Yavneh College whose sudden death on Tuesday shocked the community, saying she “was one of the truly great Jewish educators of our time”.
“Wherever she went, she brought blessing,” Lord Sacks said. “Whatever she did, she brought success. That in no small measure was due to her outstanding character and personality.”
Describing her as quiet and sometimes reserved, Sacks added that she was “fiercely ambitious for her pupils” and that she firmly believed actions spoke louder than words.
“Nowhere was this more evident than at Yavneh, where she oversaw the building of the school and set new standards of excellence in Jewish and secular education in Anglo Jewry,” he said.
News of her passing was announced through the school’s website on Tuesday evening. Parents were informed and the school was closed on Wednesday as a mark of respect.
Within 12 hours of her death becoming known, over two thousand people had joined a Facebook group in her memory. It quoted Dr Coleman (pictured right) as saying: “Every child is good at something and it’s our job to find out what that is.”
Coleman, 60, who previously led HasmoneanHigh School, had been due to retire next month, but she was hospitalised with suspected meningococcal disease at the weekend.
A school statement said: “We are saddened to inform you of the passing or Dr Coleman. All our thoughts and prayers are with her family at this difficult time.”
Among those paying tribute was Saul Taylor, who said: “Our community has lost one of its great educational pioneers and we are much the poorer for it. I feel privileged to have learnt from her and got to know her over the years. She led with dignity, professionalism and ultimate dedication.”
Jonny Lipczer of World Bnei Akiva said: “I was so sad to hear of the passing of Dr Coleman. I will remember her for the personal support she gave me during my formative years at Hasmonean and in my career in education afterwards.” He added: “She drove Hasmonean forward at a turning point in its history, and went on to lead Yavneh with the same enthusiasm.”
Under her guidance, Yavneh was listed as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted in 2011 and was ranked 7th in the national GCSE league table of top-performing non-selective state schools the same year – a point picked up on by the Board of Deputies.
In a statement, it said: “Dr Coleman was one of the country’s leading educators, in both Jewish and secular schools, and a charismatic and wise leadership figure. Her death is a great loss which will be felt across the community.”
Partnerships for Jewish Schools director Alastair Falk was yet another to reflect on the headmistress, whose death he said had “sent shockwaves through the Jewish community”.
Falk told of how Coleman had taken on the role at Hasmonean “in the teeth of opposition from the more conservative forces within the school” and that she had “moved it forward dramatically”.
On her time at Yavneh, he said: “Dena Coleman was a great head teacher, a lovely person and a thoughtful, caring professional. She will be deeply mourned and hugely missed. Her passing leaves a great void in the Jewish educational world as well as among her family, friends and generations of pupils. May her memory always be an inspiration and a blessing.”