Schechter works to ‘hone’ its post-merger mission

Schechter works to ‘hone’ its post-merger mission

Back in September, when the Solomon Schechter High School of New York and the Schechter Regional High School in Teaneck completed their merger, there were high hopes that the new Metropolitan Schechter High School, temporarily housed at the Jewish Center of Teaneck, would be able to move into a new facility as soon as possible.

But now, more than half-way through the merged institution’s first school year, moving house is not the only priority. According to principal Rhonda Rosenheck, it is also time for the school, challenged both by funding and limitations on space, "to hone in on the school’s vision."

The Silver House wins Metropolitan Schechter’s first Inter-House basketball tournament benefiting Magen David Adom. From left, Brian Markowitz (Brooklyn), Jake Davenport (Manhattan), Yoel Shulman (Riverdale), Joshua Harvey (Wayne), Eden Prywes (Teaneck), and Itai Hyman (Fair Lawn).

Exploring how best to "prepare students for life in the outside world," the board has "embraced and re-embraced the leadership development aspect of the school," said Rosenheck. "We have looked at where we can really be excellent and who we are most excellent at serving."

With this new perspective, she said, the school is re-examining criteria for admissions and "is very likely to contract, to become razor sharp in areas we’re good at. Right now we’re serving an extraordinarily broad spectrum of students, which is difficult to sustain."

"You can’t be all things to all people," said board president Mary Sanders, noting that the biggest challenge facing the school is funding. "It’s a small, new school," added Sanders, who headed the board of the New York school for four years before the merger. "We don’t have the financial ability to put in place support structures for all students."

While not all the wrinkles from the merger have been "shaken out," said Sanders, she is confident that improvement will come with time. Rosenheck, whose former office is now a seminar room, says that in achieving the merger, all students — the merger brought together about 60 from each school — were forced to sacrifice something.

"The New Jersey kids, while they love having the new students around, have been forced to give up their former sense of intimacy, and due to the increased number of students, their physical space," with all of them studying now in cramped quarters.

On the other hand, she said, "The New York students must now deal with the realities of a suburban environment." She said that urban commuting "is a different kind of schlepping" for students who enjoyed greater freedom of movement on buses and subways.

In a transportation system worked out by parents, Schechter vans pick up students from Forest Hills, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Riverdale, Rockland County, and several areas in New Jersey.

Rosenheck acknowledged that "it’s been a painful year" and said that "many people have experienced grief and loss." Inevitably, she said, changes being made to ensure the future well-being of the school may prove burdensome to the students who are there now.

"They may feel hurt and angry," she said. Still, she added, "we’re all working towards what it should be."

"In circumstances like this, people cling to a strong sense of the symbolic," said Rosenheck. "All sorts of things — and people — remind students and faculty members of their loss."

She noted, however, that students seem to have adjusted to the merger extremely well and that the anger is reserved "for the adults."

"When I walk down the halls, I never see clusters of kids from only one school or the other," she said. "They’re not mad at each other; they’re angry at the board and administration, at the adults who make decisions." But, she said, there are many analogies to this in all areas of life.

Sanders agreed that while it’s been a difficult year, the students seem to have adjusted well. Her own son, a senior, "is happy in the new school. He’s made new friends and he has no trouble getting there."

"I think it was a difficult process for the two faculties to come together," she said. "And it was difficult for the families to come together," she added, noting that parents have not had an opportunity to get to know each other.

She cited the physical distance between the communities as one factor and noted that New York parents without cars have trouble getting to, and thus getting involved in, the New Jersey school. While the school holds "duplicate events" at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the separate events "don’t bring families closer together."

Sanders said also that she is impressed by the quality of the board, adding that the "boards of the two schools have coalesced nicely."

While she understands that there is still some anger, she said it brings to mind the biblical story where the Israelites, wandering in the desert, took Moses to task for taking them out of the "fleshpots of Egypt."

"Only here the children had to leave their school," she said, and they, too, may look back with nostalgia. The New York families have "deep regret … since their school no longer exists," she said. "It’s hard to get over the dissolution of an institution … of being forced to do something different and less convenient."

"The merger of two organizations is always difficult, and we’re still in the early stages," she said.

Rosenheck remains optimistic. "Next year, things will be radically different," she said. This class of seniors, who experienced the "specialness of pioneers" will by then have passed the baton to others. The senior year, she added, "is embedded with its own symbolism."

Sophomore Evan Raskin of Queens agrees. "I’ve heard that the 11th grade is very close," he said, "and I feel the same way about my class."

"Everything will turn out to be great," he said. "Things were messed up at first, but every school has growing pains."

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