Learning from the past

Learning from the past

The April 17 editorial “It takes a village to educate children” dredged up unhappy memories. My family is a survivor of the Metropolitan Schechter Regional High School debacle. Two years ago, our daughter was fortunate to be a member of the school’s only graduating class. Other families were less favored. All of us in one way or another continue to deal with the consequences of this failed institution.

One lesson learned from this experience (and in the interest of full disclosure, I have been involved in the boards and operations of three other private secondary schools) is that parent groups and school boards must forge and maintain strong relationships. In all three successful school settings, parent participation has not only been welcome, but was virtually expected. The forms of that involvement go well beyond a mere PTO setting. From curriculum setting, to operations and development (with a capital D sign standing for DOLLARS), parents must be in the front lines side by side with professionals and other stakeholders. In the case of the Metro Schechter experiment, the opposite was the case. In its final year, a parent group tried to become involved with the school’s board, but it was a case of too little, too late.

Another reality boiled down to dollars. From its inception, Metro Schechter was under, or un-funded. A mere $1,000,000 needed to open the doors in September 2007 misses the point. In its final year, the institution was stuffing students from two merged schools into a sardine can environment. The solution that was needed, years before the school wound up in its death throes, was a capital plan to finance, acquire, and secure a realistic high school environment. Starting off in the basement of a synagogue may have been adequate for a lower school years ago. But Metro Schechter was a school for young adults on the verge of seeking college and their own life directions. The spit-and-bailing-wire approach that formed Metro Schechter was doomed to failure from the start.

Hindsight is always accurate. For Jewish education to succeed, the lessons of Metro Schechter need to be taken to heart. Vision, plan, capital, and community must all be engaged before a school opens its doors. Models for successful school start-ups exist in the national Jewish community, and among other interest groups who wish to give their children an opportunity for continued character, intellectual, and spiritual growth. The concept of a village is not a bad one, and I encourage all villagers to make the next Jewish school one that will be at the very core of the town square.