A year of pandemic pivot

It was one year ago this month that society locked down to protect itself from the then still- unknown dread of Covid-19.  Our communal educational professionals are undoubtedly taking stock of what was gained, lost and learned over this unprecedented year.

Much has already been written about the excellent pandemic pivot by our day schools: quick, substantive and creative. The resulting increase in enrolment throughout most of the system this year was resounding proof of that praiseworthy educational response by our schools to the unforeseen, dangerous Covid disruption.

Articles are now starting to appear asking “Will day schools’ new students stay, post-pandemic?”

One such piece, by Helen Chernikoff, under that very headline, appeared this week on the eJewishPhilanthropy website.

Chernikoff speaks with the recognized educational authorities in the United States to canvas the horizon of enrolment experiences across the Jewish day school world.  She notes that “among non-Orthodox schools, the average increase in enrollment was 4% — a reversal in the long-term decline in day school enrollment.”

This reversal, of course, is to be celebrated. More important however, is the need to enshrine it as the new enrolment starting point for Jewish education going forward.

This is our communal challenge.

Chernikoff concludes by recapping first principles.

“The question, then, comes back to priorities for both families and funders,” said Ariel Lapson, the program officer for experiential Jewish education at the Samis Foundation in Seattle. 

 “It’s about the value proposition. A Jewish school is more than just educating, it’s inspiring, it’s cultivating the Jewish future. It’s a holy mission.”

“If families who hadn’t been part of a Jewish school community now find that they like it, maybe they will pay to stay…Likewise, supporters of Jewish schools will look at the impact and potential of this new group of students, and decide how to respond once the immediate effects of the pandemic have receded,” Lapson said.

“She added that the most effective way to increase enrollment is to help schools cut tuition by a significant percentage, but it’s a very expensive strategy.”

Because it is indeed expensive to increase enrollment by cutting tuition, we must all do our part to create a new enrollment norm. We must try to bring down the tuition but not the expense to the schools or to the young families wishing to enroll their children.

•••

The article can be found at: https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/will-day-schools-new-students-stay-post-pandemic/

•••

Be safe. Be well. Shabbat shalom. 

GAJE, March 5, 2021

Posted in Uncategorized

The future we will write together

Last week, we pointed out that Ontario’s Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, recently asked “everyone in the education space” – which includes, of course, the children, parents, staff and administrations of independent schools – to collaborate in the interest of public health so that we can…keep our kids safe both in public and private schools in Ontario.”

In Ontario, alas, it seems collaboration is unidirectional. For, despite the ongoing cooperation and collaboration by the independent school sector with the government, especially to keep our kids safe, there has been no evidence to date of reciprocal collaboration by the government toward independent schools.

Premier Ford and the Minister of Education refuse to share with independent schools even the federal Covid funds that are intended to “keep our kids safe”.

Fundamental fairness is a hand the province refuses to extend to independent schools. Relying on the hope that good will or conscience will stir the government to reciprocal collaboration has proven for decades to be a painful, and one could also argue, an immobilizing self-delusion.

Through an array of lessons – three of which we mention below – our history and wisdom literature imply a course of action for us in this situation.

• The psalmist urges us not to really on the beneficence of princes and rulers.

• The Reed Sea will not split until someone first steps into the water.

• And as the holiday of Purim suggests, our strength multiplies when we come together, act in assembly, and unite in common purpose to achieve a true and worthy result.

As most readers know, GAJE is determined to try to bring some fairness and balance to Ontario’s educational funding policies by resort to the courts. We will have more news to impart on this development in the weeks ahead. And when the announcements are made, we will need your help.

The future has not yet been written. Let us write it together, united in common purpose, splitting the Reed Sea for the dry land of fairness and justice in educational funding.

•••

Be safe. Be well. Chag Purim samayach. Shabbat shalom. 

GAJE, February 26, 2021

Posted in Uncategorized

Collaboration must be reciprocal

(This update is dedicated to the memory of David Wm. Brown)

Ours is not the only independent school community whose sensibilities have been ignored and even betrayed by the Government of Ontario.

This week a coalition of independent school spokespeople reacted strongly to Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s call to independent schools to accede to a postponement of the March break to April 12. Not that independent schools would ignore the government’s request. Independent schools always and assiduously do everything they can to accommodate the government. Independent schools are an indispensable component in the entirety of the province’s educational infrastructure, adding vitality, excellence powerfully anchored values to the wide multi-fabric embrace of our society.

Minister Lecce was direct: “[Public schools] should defer the March Break…the strong message we are signalling to private schools in Ontario is that they should do the same. We are asking everyone in the education space to work with us, to collaborate in the interest of public health so that we can…keep our kids safe both in public and private schools in Ontario.

Spokespeople from Edvance Christian Schools Association, The Muslim Association of Canada, TeachON, Supporting Students Coalition and the Ontario Federation of Independent Schools responded to the minister’s request with a stern but poignant cri de Coeur.

“We have always welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with the government. But collaboration must be reciprocal and comprehensive, not limited to issues the Ministry chooses.  

“Unfortunately, the government has not collaborated with us to support independent schools against COVID-19.  They have instead taken a hands-off approach. It is time the government acknowledges the important role independent schools have in Ontario and build a true partnership with our sector. In the coming weeks, we will be pressing the government to truly collaborate with us – collaboration not defined as a few scattered issues where our compliance is expected, but all issues facing our schools. They can start by addressing our most urgent need: access to COVID health-related funding. Any valuable collaboration means working together to solve a common challenge. It is time the government actually invite and listen to the voice of “all stakeholders in education”. And the time has come for this government to pay its part in supporting the independent school sector to operate safely in the public interest.”

It is not yet clear what the spokespeople of the various organizations intend when they write they will be “pressing the government to truly collaborate.” We commend them for showing their deep disappointment, if not even anger, with the government’s one-sided, self-serving approach toward the 125,000 Ontario children in independent schools.

And we support their initiative.

•••

David Wm. Brown was the rare individual whose life was a quietly stirring and entirely inspiring refutation of the rock-hewn hubris and sneering vanity of the archetype embodied by Percy Shelley’s Ozymandias.

Unlike “Ozymandias, king of kings”, who had scoffed at passersby to “look upon my works and despair,” David knew with every breath of his too brief life, that the truly lasting monuments are not shrines dedicated to self, but rather quiet works for others, for community, for the voiceless and for the needy.

David understood what Ozymandias did not: that temples of eternity are not the “lifeless things”, the “decayed colossal wreck” hewn from granite, sculpted from marble or carved into brick and mortar. He understood that the sturdiest, permanent markers standing forever through all time are the caring hearts and knowing minds that – through time-honoured, comprehensive, loving yet demanding education – carry forward from one generation to the next, the values and traditions that cherish and sustain just, ethical, compassionate society.

Among the many society-enhancing causes to which David had dedicated so much of his life, was that of strengthening, securing and safeguarding the permanence of Jewish education for all children. We, our children and the generations yet to come have been, and will be, the beneficiaries of his goodness.

David Wm. Brown passed away this week. As he was in life, his memory too will be a blessing.

•••

Be safe. Be well. Shabbat shalom. 

GAJE, February 19, 2021

Posted in Uncategorized

Please get involved

We have been advised that the Government of Ontario refuses to distribute to independent schools any of the monies from the federal government’s Safe Return to Class Fund because such schools operate as “independent businesses or non-profit organizations”.

At a number of levels, the government’s refusal is wrong.

• Even if such a school is an independent business, the issue at hand is enhancing protection for the health and safety of our children due specifically due to Covid. If private, non-school businesses across the country are receiving dedicated Covid relief funds from government, then surely, independent schools endeavouring to protect the health of their children should as well.

• In any event, most, if not all, of the independent schools in the Jewish community at least, are non-profit organizations. They may operate according to sound business principles, but making profit is not their animating mission. Providing education is.

• Every classroom in Ontario needs to be safe for the children learning there. Do public health experts differentiate between the children in publicly-funded schools and those in independent schools? Not likely. Why is the Ministry of Education indifferent to the public health concerns attached to the children in independent schools?

• Are not the children in independent schools as entitled to share in the federally dispensed Covid-related safety funds, especially since the size of those funds incorporated the number of children attending independent schools as well?

• If Ontario’s true purpose in disbursing the federally-sourced Safe Return to Class Fund was to abate public health concerns for “children in all the regions of our province”, as the Minister of Education said last week, then the children in Ontario’s independent schools would also fall under the Fund’s protective canopy. Ottawa did not stipulate that the Safe Return to Class funds must flow only to protect children in public schools.

• The health of Ontario’s children – at all times, but especially so during a pandemic – should hold a higher place of conscience and priority than the address of the school they attend.

Supporting Students Coalition (www.supportingstudents.ca) is providing advice on how to further respond to the Government of Ontario’s stubborn refusal to do the right thing.

Please get involved.

•••

Be safe. Be well. Shabbat shalom. 

GAJE, February 12, 2021

Posted in Uncategorized

Wholly unsupportable

Ontario’s Minister of Education this week announced that the government was providing “an

additional $381 million, provided through the federal government’s Safe Return to Class Fund to keep schools safe from COVID-19.”

In making the announcement, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said: “We will continue to follow expert medical advice and work to get all schools open, for children in all regions of our province.”

The minister’s statement was only partially true. He may indeed be following expert medical advice, but he is certainly not working to get ALL schools open for children in all regions of our province.

Despite the fact that the province has received an amount of funds from the federal government based upon the number of all children aged 4 – 18-years-old attending schools in Ontario, the province appears once again intent on not distributing any of the Safe Return to Class Funds to children aged 4 – 18-years-old in independent schools.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Education yesterday told GAJE it was not likely any the federal funds would be allocated to independent schools.

And so, yet again, we call out the government for its shameful behaviour. Ontario’s policy is wholly unsupportable by any rules of fairness and justice.

Ottawa did not stipulate that the Safe Return to Class funds must flow only to public schools. Do not the parents of children in independent schools also pay taxes to the federal government? Is there no concern for – or call upon the conscience of the province – for the health and safety of Ontario’s 125,000 children attending independent schools?

We ask again: How can the Government of Ontario continue its callous disregard for the health and safety of all Ontario’s children, of compassionate, caring, let alone fair and objectively justifiable, public policy. 

That it does, is an affront.

Readers should make their views known to the Minister of Education.

•••

Be safe. Be well. Shabbat shalom. 

GAJE, February 5, 2021

Posted in Uncategorized

Every Ontario student should be safe from COVID-19

The Supporting Students Campaign, about which GAJE has written in the past few weeks, points to the pledge that Ontario’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce committed two weeks ago to all parents of children in school. 

“To ensure our schools remain safe in January 2021 and beyond, we will continue and enhance testing in schools and allocate a new and significant investment in school safety, including in enhanced air quality, more PPE, and additional staffing and cleaning. We will do whatever it takes to ensure our kids can continue to learn.” 

To the extent that the province’s ability to fulfill that pledge derives from its resort to the federal government’s Safe Return to Class Fund, the minister’s pledge rings hollow for the families whose children attend independent schools. For, as we have written in the past, none of the 125,000 students attending independent schools in the province – among whom are the children in Jewish day schools – has received any benefit from those funds.

The Campaign, however, also draws our attention to the positive news that the Ontario Government has included the children in independent schools – including Jewish Day Schools – in a program that provides $200 or $250 per special needs child to assist parents deal with Covid-related costs in this school year. The grants have been recently extended to apply to high school students as well.

The deadline for applying for this assistance is Feb. 8, 2021.

For information about applying go to: https://www.ontario.ca/page/get-support-learners

The Supporting Students Campaign has posted new guidance for correspondence to the minister expressing thanks for the grants for special needs children as well as disappointment and dismay regarding the government’s unfair treatment in relation to its refusal to disburse Safe Return to Class funds to independent schools.

•••

For information about the Supporting Students Campaign, please go to their website: https://www.supportingstudents.ca

•••

Be safe. Be well. Shabbat shalom. 

GAJE, January 29, 2021

Posted in Uncategorized

Still trying to persuade the government to do the right thing

We have noted in the past few weeks that the Government of Ontario is slated this month to distribute the second – final – tranche of federally-granted Covid-19 relief funds to the schools of the province. Indeed, the government may have already begun the process.

Through the Safe Return to Class Fund, the federal government allocated $763 million for all Ontario children between the ages of 4-18. Yet, none of the 125,000 students attending independent schools in the province – among whom are our children at Jewish day schools – has received any benefit from those funds. One of five schools in Ontario is an independent school. Yet, none of these schools has received any of the funds that the federal government intended for schools to abate the cost of acquiring personal protective equipment, or for extra safety cleaning or for extra health measures training.

How is this fair? Or justified? It is not.

The Ontario Federation of Independent Schools is working with the recently created Supporting Students Campaign (SSC) to try to persuade the government to act fairly and justly by allocating Covid-19 relief funds for the safety of students at independent schools too. Thus, before it is too late and all the federal funds will have bee disbursed, the SSC is holding two 30-minute webinars to discuss what measures, if any, can still be taken to influence the province to do the right thing.

The webinars are Tuesday, January 26 at 2:00 pm and Thursday, January 28 at 10:00 am.

To register for the Tuesday Webinar go to:

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUqd-6gpzwiHNUgxC-M8VX5sooYiKoRuBrK

To register for the Thursday Webinar go to: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZcvfuirqDssGNz3WmbBscU3PU3HH9GR6CXv

For information about the Supporting Students Campaign , please go to their website: https://www.supportingstudents.ca

As we have also noted in the past few weeks, the virus does not differentiate between children in public or independent schools. Nor should the government of Ontario.

•••

Be safe. Be well. Shabbat shalom. 

GAJE, January 22, 2021

Posted in Uncategorized

Doing what is right

Two weeks ago, in his comment on the Torah portion, Vayhi, Rabbi Marc D. Angel, founder of The Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, pointed precisely and eloquently to the essential qualities that must typify the behaviour of would-be leaders.

Rabbi Angel reflected upon the unique deathbed blessing/instruction by Yaakov to his son Yehudah in light of the observable transformation in Yehudah’s personality.

All human beings, Rabbi Angel observes, face crises and confront problems in life. But “we need to learn from Judah’s example. We need to understand that leadership requires clarity of thought, unshakeable commitment to what’s right, and a lion’s courage to take action.”

When we examine the behaviour of the provincial government in perpetuating unfair, discriminatory educational funding, we do not see even the slightest commitment to doing what’s right. Alas, we see the opposite.

The failure by the government to do what is right does not absolve us from embracing the commitment to do so. As Rabbi Angel wrote, “the Torah calls on all of us to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. We must be lions, not laggards.”

And so, we must find the courage to take action to do what is right to remedy the long-standing, discriminatory educational funding policies of the provincial government. Resorting to the courts is the next appropriate step.

Rabbi Angel’s article is available at:

https://www.jewishideas.org/lions-and-laggards-thoughts-parashat-vayhi

•••

Be safe. Be well. Shabbat shalom. 

GAJE, January 15, 2021

Posted in Uncategorized

Growing Jewish Day School Enrollment

Before the end of last year, Paul Bernstein, CEO, Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools, published an article that was of a piece with many written in the latter part of the year calling attention to the excellence of Jewish day schools.

Educational experts and knowledgeable observers throughout North America, including in the GTA, marvelled at how well most day schools forged a relatively clear path through the dislocation, misery and fog of Covid-19. 

Bernstein noted the phenomenon of the increase in enrollment in many day schools during the pandemic. He then asked the important questions: “is the enrollment growth we observed a COVID blip, or can/should we see this moment as a launch point for sustained growth in Jewish day schools? And how do we support those schools and families who are struggling?”

“COVID has amplified the strengths of Jewish day schools – academically and communally – and has spotlighted the power of a (Jewish) values-driven education, and the focus on social and emotional health. Day school faculty and staff continually go “above and beyond” to maintain the best possible experience for students and families,” Bernstein wrote.

Bernstein’s real purpose was clear in the following words. “It is incumbent on all of us who care about day schools,” he writes, “to do all we can to ensure that [the increase in day school enrollment] is in fact not a blip, but rather a moment to catapult our schools forward.”

He answers his own question with a four-part solution:

• We need to double down on student retention. 

• We need to keep telling the amazing story of a Jewish day school education.

• We must keep focus on the tremendous financial costs involved in day schools. Affordability remains a critical challenge.

• We need to convey the inherent value of a Jewish day school education for our collective Jewish future.

Bernstein concludes by urging us to recognize and to acknowledge “just how “frontline” our day schools and teachers are for our current lives – and for the sustainability of our community for years to come.”

We agree with and reinforce Bernstein’s insights.

Bernstein’s article is available at:

•••

Be safe. Be well. Shabbat shalom. 

GAJE, January 8, 2021

Posted in Uncategorized

New year, old discrimination

Turning the last page on 2020 reminds us that GAJE has been advocating for affordable Jewish education for more than five years. The overall condition of Jewish education in the GTA – tuition, enrollment, excellence – has noticeably improved these past years. Community professional and lay leaders have adopted new, restorative policies toward the infrastructure of Jewish education. School educators, administrators and boards responded to the unforeseen Covid incursion in eye-opening ways, confirming their respective schools’ excellence, importance and foundational value to Jewish families and community.

But the cost of sending their children to day schools is still far too high and a crushing financial burden for most families. Thus, despite the laudable progress, the task is still very much in front of us. Tuitions must become truly affordable. That continues to be our focus. And with unwavering laser precision it will be.

Without any apparent embarrassment or regret, the Government of Ontario perpetuates unfair, unjust discriminatory educational funding policies upon families that send their children to Jewish schools, indeed to all independent schools in Ontario. The government’s record is objectionable, even unconscionable.

•  Ontario supports the religious education of the children of one religion only, in preference to the religious education of children whose families’ religious faiths are different. How can such patently preferential support be justified in the year 2021 in modern Canadian society?

• Ontario differentiates in providing health support payments for children with learning disabilities to help them overcome their educational challenges. Learning disabled children in independent schools are not treated in an equal manner to learning disabled children in public schools. Surely, it is the need and the disability of the child that should be determinative for receiving standard payments for health support services rather than the address of the school in which the child is a student. How can such patently preferential support be justified in the year 2021 in modern Canadian modern society?

• Ontario has thus far refused to distribute federal funds to independent schools to help them defray the cost of the vital health and safety measures wrought by Covid to ensure safe learning environments for children and teachers. The federal government did not stipulate that the funds go only to benefit the public schools. The virus did not discriminate between children in public or independent schools. But the Government of Ontario did. We ask again: How can such patently preferential support be justified in the year 2021 in modern Canadian modern society?

Of course, Ontario’s behaviour is not justified. Nor can it be. Nor should it be.

As regular readers of this update know, Ontario is the only provincial government in Canada – where sufficient numbers of students create the need – that refuses to help fund independent schools even partially. GAJE has engaged the services of one of Canada’s renowned human rights advocates and constitutional law experts to try to remedy this entrenched injustice. Where moral suasion and public appeals to fairness have thus far failed to move the conscience of the government, perhaps the courts and the law will? In the weeks to come, we will write more about GAJE’s legal efforts. Your help will be needed. We hope you will support us.

•••

Be safe. Be well.

Shabbat shalom. And best wishes for 2021, free of pandemic, full of optimism, and renewed inspiration for collective purpose and good health.

GAJE, January 1, 2021

Posted in Uncategorized
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