Let’s try to envision a community in which the ideas put forth in the April 3 Jewish Standard on the day school crisis would become a reality. The proposal was for a two-tier school system – one a luxury brand- name school for the wealthy and the other a bare bones generic for everyone else. As a result, our children might become either a group of elitist overachievers or insecure mediocre individuals.
I hope this plan will not gather much speed after the community realizes that no Jewish parent will ever settle for educational mediocrity, especially if it’s labeled a Chevy (and, as the financial reports indicate, no one wants to be associated with Chevy in this day and age).
In actuality, the Rolls-Royce schools, which currently enroll partial-tuition students, will probably be delighted to lighten their financial burden only to make their schools even more luxurious – with much smaller classes equipped not only with smart (dash)boards but heated seats, power windows, and anti-lock lunch breaks. In turn, those parents who children are currently on scholarship will end up paying approximately the same amount for a stripped-down Chevy. How lucky their children will feel to be second-class citizens in our already high-pressure society.
Come on, community leaders. Let’s stop trying to reinvent the proverbial steering wheel. Bergen County is proud to be one of the leading Jewish communities nationwide that offers not one but several outstanding schools. This is probably the primary reason young Jewish families move here. The difficulty is not in having to settle for a Chevy, as Jewish communities elsewhere are forced to, but in having to decide between so many top-notch choices.
Here’s an idea: Why don’t we close the already bursting preschools (gasp) at the Rolls-Royce schools and shunt more kids to the shul-based preschools (which could use the funding) to maximize enrollment in their already developed schools? In general, the shul-based schools are less expensive and more than sufficient for our little Jewish neshamas. There might even be a few brave parents who would send their children to public preschools.
The option of sending preschoolers to public school does not have some of the worrisome issues that elementary- and middle-school children would have. Additionally, many educators will agree that the primary purpose of preschool is learning to socialize and acquire life skills that can be taught in a secular setting. I would venture to say that if a large majority of Jewish parents sent their kids to public preschool, there would be plenty of Jewish playdates to go around. However, for those who continue to feel it is a priority to send children to a Jewish atmosphere, the shul-based preschools would serve that purpose.
Given the closure of the day school preschools, the municipalities would have to build government-funded preschools to allow for the influx of Jewish students. (Now would be the appropriate time to start complaining about our taxes.) Our fantastic preschool teachers would be offered jobs with higher salaries and better benefits. They could continue to teach about our culture and holidays in addition to fundamental preschool skills.
If all goes according to plan, this would be a savings of approximately $30,000 per child! Phew, now we afford to keep those Jewish obstetricians in business or perhaps take a vacation to Israel, where our kids might actually get to learn firsthand about Jewish identity.
This would also alleviate space issues at Jewish day schools, which could stop worrying about renting trailers or building new wings. Additionally, this would allow the schools to focus more on smaller classroom sizes, using the space they already own while still offering tuition breaks to those in need.
Let’s not forget that as Jews, we pride ourselves on our ability to hold education as a high priority. Past generations suffered through tough times just to be able to say they sent their kids to good schools – and what fine products of that education we are! Let’s not fail our kids.