Religion & Beliefs

Wanted: Day School Principal Who Doesn’t Suck

If I ever wanted to write a soap opera, or a damning book about the underbelly of the Jewish world, all I’d have to do is spend a year or two working as a secretary at a Jewish day school … Read More

By / May 9, 2007

If I ever wanted to write a soap opera, or a damning book about the underbelly of the Jewish world, all I’d have to do is spend a year or two working as a secretary at a Jewish day school to get plenty of material. I was a day school student for thirteen years, and have been subbing at day schools for more than a year, and I can tell you, the shit that goes down in the office of your typical Hebrew/Yeshiva/Schechter Day school is un-fucking-believable. First of all, there are parents calling from seven in the morning till after five every day with all kinds of absolutely URGENT matters to discuss with various members of the administration. The reason Johnny didn’t do well on his multiplication test is because his teacher HATES him, and she should be FIRED. Julia couldn’t come to school today because she didn’t have matching socks, and she just can’t go out looking like this. We’re pulling Yoni and Dahlia out of class three weeks early to go to Bermuda for the summer. Can we have their assignments and part of the tuition back, please? Menachem was only throwing his desk at his teacher because she embarrassed him in class. Parental control is way out of hand. WAY out of hand. But for the most part administrators have no choice but to listen to this asinine shit because if they tell the parents to shove it they risk losing a child from the school, and every tuition dollar has to be stretched to its limits and subsidized in order to keep the school out of bankruptcy. Is it any wonder, then, that the turn around rate for principals of Jewish day schools is extraordinarily high? According to an editorial in the Jewish Journal by Rabbi Larry Scheindlin, “Observers estimate the average tenure of Jewish day school heads at between two and five years. Having labeled the problem a crisis, a consortium of organizations, including the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education and the Avichai Foundation, recently invited 50 participants to convene at a think tank consultation in New York.” Just to put things into perspective, from the year I started sixth grade to the year I started tenth grade I had five principals in two schools. In ninth grade, the board fired the principal of my high school in the middle of the week in February. He’d been at the school for seventh months. Now, part of this is because a lot of the people in charge of day school boards, (who traditionally do the hiring and firing of principals), are really bad at their jobs. Too many of them are parents who can’t see past the experiences of their own children. But there’s also a huge deficit of people who are qualified to run Jewish day schools. An ideal candidate for a day school principalship is someone with a great background in Judaica. A Hebrew speaker who is comfortable with Jewish text and can be a good example to the community and the kids in the school. Additionally, this person has to have great leadership skills, has to be able to entice excellent general studies teachers away from other private schools, has to be able to juggle eleven different discipline situations at a time, and has to do it all with a warm and friendly demeanor that kids and parents alike find welcoming and comforting. It’s a tall order, and it gets even taller when you consider that there are about eight hundred Jewish day schools in the US. Probably only a hundred or so are anything other than ultra-Orthodox, but still. You need a hundred fantastic people, and so far, we just don’t have that kind of capital.

So here’s the tip of the day: next time you’re trying to decide what to do with your life, consider being a Jewish educator. There’s high demand, and high rewards (not monetarily, but whatever). Jewish day schools need you.