Heartfelt thanks and virtual hugs to our teachers (2)

It is not excessive, given the unusual circumstances of the educational year just concluded, to repeat a statement of thanks to all of the teachers of all our students.

The following statement was written last week by one of the pre-eminent educator-scholars of our time, Dr. Erica Brown, Director, Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, Graduate School of Education and Human Development, The George Washington University.

“As we put an end to one of the strangest school years on record, we at the Mayberg Center want to acknowledge the remarkable energy and commitment of teachers – from pre-K through rabbinic school and beyond – who had to become instant online educators for many months. Our teachers had to re-think the content and format of lessons and sustain student engagement on a flat screen, often while managing families of their own in the same space. This was difficult, creative and strenuous work. Many have described it as the hardest work they’ve ever done. Maimonides writes that the world endures because of the fervent study of school children in the classrooms of their teachers (Laws of Torah Study, Mishneh Torah 2:1).”

Dr. Brown directs her readers to a brief video that “honors the dedication of our teachers in upholding the precious value of education”. She asks that we “share it with a teacher who has made a difference in your life.”

THANK YOU TEACHERS.

•••

Be safe. Stay safe. Be well. Stay well. Be strong. Stay strong.

Shabbat shalom

GAJE

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Heartfelt thanks and virtual hugs to our teachers

Most of the schools in our community this week completed their academic programs for the year. It was an unprecedented year. Without any real notice or time to prepare, daily life across planet earth was thrown into medical emergency, societal tumult and economic mayhem. But as human beings do well, we adapted. And as Jews have learned to do throughout our history, we innovated as necessary and surmounted most of the difficulties.

We owe a great debt to the men and women who run our schools. For they were at the forefront leading the way against Covid-19. After the initial assessments and adjustments, the community schools adapted and, for the most part, brought our children – especially the older ones – safely and happily back to a meaningful learning environment. Heartfelt thanks and virtual hugs to our teachers. Kol hakavod to them.

And kol hakavod to the children who also adapted to the new rules of schools and to their parents who continue to move heaven and earth for their young ones to transform radically abnormal times into life-sustaining, secure, loving environments and normalized life.

Bless them all.
•••

We continue to feature evidence of the ongoing debate regarding the anomalous nature of Ontario’s educational policies.

Last week in the Financial Post, Matthew Lau published an opinion piece entitled, “Let’s have diversity of school choices”.

Lau supports the recent introduction in Alberta of Bill 15, the Choice in Education Act, that aims at expanding freedom of educational choice for families and improving access to educational diversity.

As have many others, he points out the benefits of allowing more competition in the educational system. “Student test scores at Alberta’s charter and independent schools are consistently higher than in its government-run schools. Similarly, in British Columbia, students from families with comparable incomes achieve higher test scores on average at independent schools than at government-run schools… Beyond these academic differences, recent surveys from Cardus, a think-tank, find that graduates of independent schools are more likely to volunteer and donate to charity.”

It is our hope that Queen’s Park is taking notice of the growing conversation about education in this province.

•••

Be safe. Stay safe. Be well. Stay well. Be strong. Stay strong.

Shabbat shalom

GAJE

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Minority (language) education rights affirmed in B.C.

The attempt to ameliorate educational policy injustices still comes before the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC).

According to reports in the media, the Supreme Court last week compelled the government of British Columbia to ensure that francophone speakers, even where their numbers are small, have a right to their own high-quality schools. A francophone school board and a group of francophone parents in B.C. launched the action some 10 years ago alleging that the poor quality of school facilities in some of the communities where francophone families reside effectively deprived them of the right to equal educational facilities to those serving the majority anglophone communities. The case involved 17 communities in which francophone speakers live. In all, according to The Globe and Mail, the francophone board in B.C. lists 6,200 students out of a provincial total of 576,000.

In a 7-2 decision, the SCC ruled to establish the appropriate quality for the minority school, the comparison need not be to a majority language school of similar size in a small rural community.
The minority language group is entitled to schools of equal quality to schools of comparable size wherever those schools exist in the province including in the large cities.

The Globe and Mail further reported that the court said cost should take a back seat to educational needs when a province assesses what it must do to meet its constitutional obligation to an official language minority. Cost cannot be considered at all when a court decides whether infringements on children’s right to an education in their own language are justified under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Clearly the facts of this decision to not apply to the situation in which we are involved relating to independent schools. However, there are some critical points to note from the decision that are relevant to our circumstances:

  • Justice in educational issues is a recurring subject of litigation at the highest court in the land.
  • The SCC appears moved to interpret the constitution in a manner that gives full effect to the rights enunciated in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  • Perhaps the SCC could be persuaded – based upon changed societal circumstances and changed approaches to interpreting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms since 1996 – to reassess the Adler decision in a manner that places treatment by the government of Ontario of families whose children attend independent schools within the Charter’s reach?
  • If the SCC does extend the reach of the Charter, would it also invoke its ruling that costs should take a back seat to educational needs?

These questions and others will be resolved in challenging the government of Ontario to bring fairness and justice to its own educational funding policies.

•••

Be safe. Stay safe. Be well. Stay well. Be strong. Stay strong.

Shabbat shalom

GAJE

Posted in Uncategorized

Alberta affirms importance of independent schools

While our attention has been focused on pandemic concerns and more recently on the social and civil tumult in the United States, many of us may have missed an interesting piece of news out of Alberta.

On May 28, the Government of Alberta tabled a bill to enshrine more choice for parents in choosing the system of education for their children. In introducing Bill 15, Education minister, Adriana LaGrange, said the government was strengthening “the idea that parents have the right to choose the type of education their children receive.”

The initiative by Alberta is aimed primarily at facilitating home-schooling. It also eases the path for the opening of charter schools in the province. It therefore does not apply in all respects to the concerns GAJE has raised. However, Bill 15 does reinforce the importance of independent schools in the Alberta educational structure.

The bill specifically states that independent schools are “important in providing parents and students with choice in education.”

Minister LaGrange reinforced that statement in her press remarks:
“Private or independent schools have played a very important role in choice for parents in this province and I do believe that they felt that they were not valued but threatened under the previous government.”

According to a CBC report posted by Lucie Edwardson on May 28, LaGrange said the proposed educational changes would not result in increased funding for independent schools. “They still only receive 70 per cent funding and they do not receive any capital funding.”

But Minister LaGrange did elaborate upon why the government made the effort to reference independent schools in the bill despite the fact those schools were receiving no additional funding. “This is strictly true to give them the comfort and to reinforce what we heard from parents… that they value the choice and that they see independent schools as a very real choice that they want to make for their children.”

Michael Van Pelt, president and CEO of Cardus — a Canadian faith-based, public-policy think tank — extolled the initiative by Alberta. “If COVID did something, it showed us that we need flexibility in educational formats and educational approaches, and the bill does that, too,” he said.

It should be also be noted that in 2018, Cardus produced the report Better is Possible, which found increased independent school enrolment in Alberta would help spur public school improvement and accountability.

The very same arguments aimed at Alberta about spurring public school improvement and accountability can surely be directed at Ontario. And can one imagine how different the funding situation would be for our community if the Government of Ontario contributed 70 percent of the schools’ non-capital fund needs?

Ontario is stuck in an educational policy mire. For reasons of politics, Ontario governments have refused to extricate themselves from that mire. Reasons of justice and fairness have not impelled successive Ontario governments from taking the proper policy steps. Perhaps reasons of educational excellence, financial efficiency and budgeting accountability as implied in Alberta’s model will inspire them?

•••

Be safe. Stay safe. Be well. Stay well. Be strong. Stay strong.

Shabbat shalom

GAJE

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‘Now more than ever, fight for Jewish education’

Many professional and lay observers have noted how much more effectively day schools responded to the pandemic educational upheaval than did public schools. In last week’s update we mentioned that three major media outlets reported on the swift, substantive pivot of the day schools to the educational modifications compelled by Covid-19. After the initial Covid-imposed school closing shocks, day schools marshalled their individual and collective resources, innovated, created, revised, refined and adjusted to the new lockdown rules.

The response of the overall day school system points to its excellence.

Last week, Rabbi Elchanan Poupko a teacher in the Rabbi Arthur Schneier Park East Day School in New York City, published an article of unabashed tribute in The Forward about day schools especially in relation to their response to Covid. Entitled, ‘Jewish day schools must be the most appealing option by leaps and bounds’, Rabbi Poupko also commented upon the absolute importance of Jewish day schools for any meaningful Jewish future. It is for this reason that we call attention to his article.

He recalls a statement about Jewish education made by late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir to his grandfather: “Next to the security and the support of the State of Israel, I consider the all-day Jewish school as the most vital concern of American Jews. Only this type of education can and will guarantee Jewish survival and Jewish continuity — without it our hopes are uncertain.”

Some years later the Foreign Minister of the State of Israel echoed Prime Minister Meir when he told The Canadian Jewish News that the most effective way Canadian Jews could support and strengthen Israel and indeed, Jews around the world was to raise knowledgeable, caring Jews.

To do this, Jewish education is imperative.

Rabbi Poupko writes “now more than ever is the time to make all-day Jewish schools our number one priority — for children’s sake, and for the future’s sake. Now more than ever is the time to fight for Jewish education.”

But while he champions Jewish education, Rabbi Poupko is not oblivious to the economic wreckage wrought by the pandemic upon families and communities. Despite the economic situation however, he forcefully pleads for Jewish education to be affordable.

GAJE emphatically supports Rabbi Poupko’s plea.

•••

In relation to Rabbi Poupko’s plea for making Jewish education affordable, we remind readers that UJA Federation has recently announced three programs aimed at helping make education affordable: interest-free loans, emergency scholarships and a tuition assistance program.

Information about the programs is available on our website at https://gaje.ca/covid-19-relief/ or by contacting UJA Federation at 416.635.2883 or at koschitzkycentre@ujafed.org.

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UJA stepping into the Covid-19 school affordability breach

The festival of Shavuot begins tonight, May 28. It was at this history-changing assembly at the foot of humble Mount Sinai that the obligation to educate our children found its origin and thus too, ultimately, the obligation to establish universal childhood education.

Our ancestors were commanded to “teach your children.” Teaching, therefore, became the core, seminal enterprise by which the traditions, laws, folkways and literature were to be transmitted and carried forward from one generation to the next.

The festival of Shavuot therefore is an excellent opportunity to acknowledge the outstanding achievements of our Jewish day schools in navigating with creativity and excellence through the pandemic troubles. They are to be commended for the swiftly and collectively swinging into action to salvage a terrible situation and converting it into the seeds of an undoubtedly, new hybrid, educational future.

Kol hakavod to our schools.

In a statement issued on May 12, UJA Federation paid tribute to the community’s schools.

“In the current crisis, Jewish day schools have, again, demonstrated their resilience as they pivoted from bricks and mortar to distance learning. Within a few short days of the impact of the pandemic in Ontario, Jewish day schools had developed distance learning programs, providing educational, social and emotional support for their students and families.”

UJA also pointed out that at least three major media outlets reported on the successful pivot of the schools.

As all of us understand, the financial havoc wrought by the pandemic upon individuals, families, businesses and institutions threatens the future of our educational system. Even before Covid-19, tuition was beyond the reach of many families. Now, that threat is palpably more ominous. Not only might the crisis prevent new children from enrolling in the schools, but children already enrolled might have to leave.

UJA is fully focused on the situation trying to prevent the pandemic from pouring a new form of wreckage onto our schools.

“Any attrition to the school system due to the financial crisis,” they write, “would not only have a long-term impact on the children themselves and on the future strength of our community, it would also have a disastrous impact on the financial strength of the day schools. If these families were to pull their children from the day school system, day schools would be thrown into a vicious cycle with lower enrollment resulting in a higher cost to educate, leading to higher tuition and lower enrolment.”

To try to help families keep their children in the schools through the Covid crisis, UJA Federation announced three specific affordability programs: Interest-free loans, emergency scholarships and a tuition assistance program.

To be sure, a great deal needs to be done to achieve true and full affordability of Jewish education. Covid-19 aggravated an already problematic dilemma and made it more urgent and more compelling.

UJA and the Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Education are to be commended for reacting forcefully, unequivocally, thoughtfully – based upon the values that were first taught at the foot of humble Mount Sinai some 3,500 years ago – in trying to prevent a breach in the infrastructure of our community.

Information about the affordability programs is available at UJA Federation 416.635.2883 or at koschitzkycentre@ujafed.org. It will also be available shortly on our website (gaje.ca).

•••

Be safe. Stay safe. Be well. Stay well. Be strong. Stay strong.

Chag samayach. Shabbat shalom

GAJE

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A formidable and dynamic force

The rich offerings of articles about Jewish education continues unabated. Covid-19 has been the spur for this proliferation. Many of the resulting speculations deserve our attention.

Lynn W. Raviv, a founding member and past president of RAVSAK, an organizational network for Jewish Community Day Schools, published an article this week on the ejphilanthropy website entitled The Weight We Bear and the Significance We Offer: The Power of Jewish Day Schools in Small Communities.

The article is well-written and superbly argued.

As the title announces, Raviv depicts the importance of day schools particularly in small communities. But as she writes throughout the essay, her observations about “small community” day schools also apply to the broader sweep of all day schools.

We reproduce a sampling of some of those observations and urge individuals to read the entire article.

Raviv notes that graduates of day schools can usually be counted to become positively involved for the benefit of their respective communities. This is an important point to remember when dismissing the false even scurrilous notion that day schools foster insularity and remoteness from the welfare of the community at large.

“The value proposition of these schools is not the number of students enrolled. Instead it is measured in the experience that has prepared the alumni to make positive impacts in their respective communities, both Jewish and the extended community and, in addition, the further impact that many of the alumni have and are making on the larger Jewish community, here and abroad.”

That day school graduates will likely feel a sense of Jewish peoplehood is an obvious point for Raviv. “We are a dynamic network seeding other communities. Our alumni can be counted among those who care deeply about the future of our People and who are making a difference in Jewish life.”

She concludes the essay by pleading community leaders. “How can you use your voice to make the case for Jewish day school education? Validate our mission for the sake of Jewish education. Acknowledge the plight of Jewish day schools in small communities along with their sister larger schools as we navigate through these rough waters. Help us continue the important work we have the privilege and responsibility to carry out. We share in the mission and goals of all Jewish education institutions. We are a formidable and dynamic force, and a critical player in strengthening Jewish identity and continuity throughout North America.”

Raviv is a champion of the excellence and of the importance of Jewish education. She is correct on both scores.

•••

Today is Yom Yerushalayim. Chag samayach.

Be safe. Stay safe. Be well. Stay well. Be strong. Stay strong.

Shabbat shalom

GAJE

Posted in Uncategorized

Towards the future of Jewish education

The JTA has engaged a number of thinker/writers to anticipate and reflect upon different aspects of the post-pandemic Jewish future. The article appears in a series called Visions for the post-pandemic Jewish world: Imagining a better future.

Henry Abramson, dean of Touro College in Brooklyn, New York has contributed an article to the series entitled Technology Makes Jewish Education More Accessible. We Must Ensure the Trade-off Isn’t Our Values.

His article relates specifically to post-secondary Jewish education. He offers no predictions. Rather he emphasizes the importance of incorporating one of the anchors of the historic Jewish approach to pedagogy – namely, with the personal, individualized contact and influence of a scholar/mentor/exemplar/guider – into the inevitably unfolding new world of online, cyberspace, virtual, Zoom-based learning.

Abramson’s article is well written and thoughtful.

In the course of pleading his key points, he makes two very strong observations that have overarching relevance to Jewish education at all levels, including pre-secondary.

“Jewish civilization requires erudition, to be sure, but even more basically, it requires Jews.”

Implicit in the above statement is the irrefutable proposition that to raise children to understand, feel for, develop, advance and embrace their Jewishness, we must be able to send them to Jewish school.

And although Abramson relates his thesis to the purpose of higher Jewish education, it applies with equal force to all Jewish education, including JK through grade 12: “Institutions of Jewish higher education, on the other hand, are usually dedicated to an explicit or implicit communal agenda.”

That communal agenda has been with us since Jewish history began.

Schools, teachers and their pupils of course, have always been the ultimate guarantors of the survival of the community and thus, of Jewish history too.

•••

Be safe. Stay safe. Be well. Stay well. Be strong. Stay strong.

Shabbat shalom

GAJE

Posted in Uncategorized

Jewish Day School Education – Now As Much As Ever

David Zimand, the Head of School at Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto, California published an article this week the eJewish Philanthropy website in which he says that day school education can play a special role in guiding us all through these difficult Corona days and especially after the societal return to “normal”.

Entitled Jewish Day School Education – Now As Much As Ever, the article is a bit of a mishmash of too many ideas. It is also somewhat too self-extolling of the school of which he is the head. Nevertheless, Zimand offers a valuable insight regarding the proven importance of day school education and how the core experience and values of such education can be a positive influence for our future.

It is this insight we highlight for readers.

“In confronting the vexing challenges of our current circumstances, Jewish day schools have reconnected to great powers of our missions that have been there all along. These include awareness that human beings are but one part of a vast creation in the image of God, commitment to sustaining bonds of community as core to our enterprise, broad vision of what it means to persevere, and appreciation for the inestimable value of disputation in the name of all things good and true.

“As we meet the challenges that will come next, we will bring all these values to educating our students, with humble understanding – and faith – that how we help them process the transformative events of their young lives will shape how they, in turn, will work to repair our world. We need them and they need us.”

We agree that day school education can inculcate in our children the values, skills and strength of character that the future world will need of them. But that education must be affordable.

Be safe. Stay safe. Be well. Stay well. Be strong. Stay strong.

Shabbat shalom

GAJE

Posted in Uncategorized

The Future of Jewish Education

Our children and grandchildren will soon be veterans of two-months of “remote learning”.

Educators, pedagogues, social scientists, psychologists, and a large number of other interested and expert observers around the world are carefully studying the new, pandemic-originated educational environment and related structures. Their minds are to the future because, as we know, some of the educational – and societal – changes wrought by the corona virus will outlast the end of social distancing.

Articles imagining the new educational future appear regularly now.

We bring readers’ attention to one such speculation by Dr. Jonathan Mirvis, a Melton Centre Senior Lecturer in social entrepreneurship at the Hebrew University’s Seymour Fox School of Education.

In an essay published this week by eJP entitled Post Covid-19 – The Future of Jewish Education, Mirvis writes “when we move out of lockdown, we will find ourselves in a world that is radically different from the one we left with far reaching implications for diaspora Jewish education. Parents’ ability to pay for quality Jewish education will be limited and philanthropic resources will be under funded and overstretched.”

He acknowledges that most teachers have adapted well in creatively incorporating technology into their teaching. He states that technology will play an increasing role in the delivery of education. But Mirvis does not unqualifiedly embrace technology. He notes” we have also learned to appreciate the shortcomings of technology and value the importance of social face-to-face interaction…Many [students] feel lonely and sorely miss the social interaction of a classroom. Furthermore, holistic education requires real life social experiences in peer settings. As such, social frameworks must be an integral part of our new educational future.”

Mirvis thus offers four broad principles when imagining a new vision for Jewish education:

• Attract multiple participants of all ages;
• Develop personnel that includes parents and peers in addition to teachers and informal educators;
• Operate at an affordable price;
• Offer high impact programming.

Of course we take special note that he understands and emphasizes that whatever the shape and content of Jewish education in the future, it must be affordable.

•••

Be safe. Stay safe. Be well. Stay well. Be strong. Stay strong.

Shabbat shalom

GAJE

Posted in Uncategorized
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Parents Tell Their Stories

We would like to share personal stories about how the affordability issue has affected families in our community. We will post these stories anonymously on our Facebook page and on our website.

We will not include any personal information such as names, schools, other institutions, or any other identifying information. We reserve the right to edit all submissions.

To share your story, either send us a message on our Facebook page or email us @ info @ gaje.ca.

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