March 19, 2010
Shalhevet to close lower schools, high school will remain open
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A system of support has also been put in place to help Judaic and general studies teachers find employment. Rabbi Glenn Karonsky, director of school personnel services at BJE, will meet with staff to assist them in finding positions at BJE schools.
Rebecca Feld, a first and second grade teacher at Shalhevet and the parent of three children currently attending the school, has already started interviewing at the various local Jewish day schools and is waiting to see where she will find employment before deciding where to place her two impacted children. For financial reasons, public school is definitely an option, she said.
“It’s devastating for us as a family,” Feld said. “Shalhevet was such a magical place for us; it was a perfect fit, I can’t believe we have to leave it.”
Feld has a sixth grader and a kindergartner at Shalhevet, as well as a ninth grader at the high school, where her husband teaches. For them, Shalhevet was a family affair, she said. They spent their days in the same building, and the closing of the schools means the separation of the family.
“I’m in shock, but not shocked,” Feld said. “I had 14 students in one of my classes and 11 in the other, so although that is a teacher’s dream, I knew that a Jewish day school could not be doing well with those kinds of enrollment numbers.
“I don’t have any anger toward the board or Rabbi Weinbach,” she added. “I do feel that perhaps if we had known that the school was in such dire straits, maybe the middle school could have been saved, or some parts of the schools. Right now, I have to selfishly focus on my family. I need a job. My kids need a school. We’re trying to stay positive and believe that it will all work out for the best.”
Other parents affected by the closings expressed anger and a feeling of betrayal. Doron Dreyer has four children, three of whom are impacted. He said he is absolutely livid at the process of decision making and at how parents and staff were notified – by email.
He said parents were not made aware that the school was in any trouble, so the abrupt announcement came as a complete shock to many of them.
“The decision was made by a board that was not affected, except for one member,” Dreyer said. “I think there is room to question the morality of this decision, and we as parents are not taking this lying down.”
A parent meeting was held on Thursday, March 18, one day after the announcement was made, where approximately 50 parents discussed various options. The group, according to Dreyer, decided to break away from the current board and form its own governing body. The group plans to present a plan of action to the current board that involves attempting to raise $1.5 million in the next week to keep the schools open.
“We will not stand by quietly and allow three Jewish day schools to close in our community,” said Dreyer, who doesn’t believe that all the options were explored before the decision to close was made. “We are positive that we can raise the necessary funds, and that we can run the schools more efficiently so as to keep them afloat. We are extremely committed to saving the schools.”
Dreyer said that $600,000 in commitments from private donors have already been made.
“The clarity of the situation was shocking,” said board president Feder. “It was clear that there were no alternatives, but to go back to our core competency, which is the flourishing high school. We need to pool our resources back into the high school and invest in the original vision of Shalhevet.”
“There is a concern that people will question the viability of the high school,” Weinbach said. “We want to temper that concern by sharing the numbers with the public, being transparent and accessible throughout this process, so that it is clear how economically healthy the high school is. We’re doubling down on the high school and the expectation is that there will be a positive outcome from all of this.
“There is a tremendous sense of loss,” Weinbach said. “Something precious has been lost in the community, but we’re doing the best we can to soften that blow.”
“It has been the most painful two days of my life,” Feder said. “We’re all in mourning.”
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