What does the board of Pardes Jewish Day School know that we don’t know? Pardes is affiliated with the Reform Jewish Movement. Their mission statement on their web site says that “Pardes Jewish Day School prepares students to become outstanding members of society through a rigorous secular and Judaic education, a nurturing community, and a foundation in Reform Judaism that welcomes all Jewish traditions.” Under the tab for affiliations, accreditation & grants, Pardes lists the Progressive Association of Reform Jewish Day Schools and the Jewish Day Schools for the 21st Century as affiliations, as well as the Partnership for Jewish Education (PEJE). The Pardes web site does not list RAVSAK. I have heard this name mentioned quite a bit by Jill, so I visited their website to learn more about what it is that RAVSAK does.

The Ravsak website is located here, http://www.ravsak.org/about and accordingly, their mission is to strengthen Jewish Community Day Schools. Community Day School is a term that is used interchangeably with the word Pluralistic Day School, but seems to be less controversial. Barbara Davis, the Editor of HaYidion, a Ravsak publication writes: The mission statement of RAVSAK, the network of Jewish community day schools throughout North America and abroad, speaks to the lofty goal of “fostering authentic Jewish pluralism.” I would say I am very unacquainted with Pluralism to the point of being uneducated about it, but there are many good articles about it on the Ravsak site and I would encourage all Pardes parents to look at the site. I do know that when I friended the site on Facebook and listed my blog site, they yanked it down immediately. I am guessing that like the leadership of Pardes and JSA, they are not fans of debate, or maybe me. All I know from Pluralism is that when Kind David School dropped it’s affiliation with the Solomon Schecter Day School Network and joined the Pluralistic world of JSA, it failed, and so did JSA.

There is a great article on the Ravsak site written by Michael A. May called Threefold Pluralism: A Strategy for Building “Hybrid” School Community. Because it is copyrighted material, I can not reprint it it without Mr. May’s permission, but I can include excerpts that merit some contemplation.

Mr. May writes: Twenty-first century pluralistic Jewish schools face a perilous task: to craft school communities that are “hybrids,” at once modern and postmodern. Like Jewish institutions throughout history, they seek to emphasize a degree of homogeneity and sameness—the cultural, religious, and historical heritage that unites Jews across expanses of space and time. At the same time, they endeavor to honor the diversity that exists within this heritage and to promote the presentation of multiple perspectives as a foundation for learning. Leadership in pluralistic schools is fraught with complexity, as tensions between the “modern” and “postmodern” elements of the school mission can engender conflict, pedagogic difficulties, and seemingly unreasonable expectations for community engagement.

Further in the article: No school leader is a stranger to conflict; one study from the early 1990s indicated that school administrators spend approximately 40% of their time engaged in “conflict management.”3 Nevertheless, what makes conflict in pluralistic schools particularly threatening is that the issues that are likely to be the subject of the most vigorous debate within such schools constitute the very essence of what the school is all about: What are our central educational goals? What should we teach, and using what methodologies? Who should teach in our school, and how should those teachers be trained? How should Jewish ritual be observed? What religious principles, if any, should we take into account when devising school policies? … A second source of tension that challenges school leaders is the complexity associated with instruction in a community school. As the expanded notion of community gains traction within the Jewish world, it is now simply expected that a teacher will master several different perspectives on a particular issue, understand each perspective well enough to answer questions about it, and present all of the perspectives fairly without giving preference to any one. … A Jewish day school’s mission of identity-building can be a third source of complication in a community school. The notion of bringing together individuals representing a diversity of perspectives and promoting thoughtful interaction among them works well when the participants already possess clear understandings of their own beliefs and practices. But what about day school students who are only just beginning to develop their own Jewish identities? Can a school foster substantive interaction among diverse identities while at the same time working to develop these identities, in many cases from scratch? … A final challenge that community school leaders are likely to face is a lack of ideological diversity or ideological passion within their school communities. For one thing, many of our community schools simply do not boast sufficient breadth to consider themselves truly representative of the Jewish community at large. …

This I particularly like: And in the realm of conflict, it is important to note that the most effective way of addressing this source of tension is not through the suppression or avoidance of discord, but rather through the recognition of the existence of diverse opinions, respect for an individual’s right to express her/his opinion, and careful management of a process by which these opinions can be voiced. As Albert O. Hirschman noted in his book Exit, Voice, and Loyalty (1970), an atmosphere comfortable for those who wish to voice dissent is a crucial feature of a healthy organization.6 An individual who feels that such an atmosphere does not exist is liable to respond by simply withdrawing from the organization, which would be crippling for a school that seeks diverse perspectives as a component of its raison d’être.

I would highly recommend reading the whole article, because I have only highlighted a fraction of the passages that point out how unbelievably difficult it is to pull off a successful Pluralistic School. There is a fact that is quoted in the article that states that Pluralistic Jewish Day schools are the only schools showing growth, other than Orthodox schools in the US. I wonder if that is because there are a lot of Conservative Schools that have failed and trying to make an educational sausage of what is left is driving this trend? I am not educated enough to know the answer to this question.

So, back to my basic question about why there is a “merger”? You would not normally see a huge corporation merging with a corporation that is 6.5 times smaller unless the smaller corporation was bringing something to the table. Let’s just say that the “something” they are bringing to the table would be the JSA campus, which, according to the real estate experts at JSA, has a a value that is many multiples higher than the 1.7 million dollar mortgage owed on the campus. Is that a great reason to create a merger? If the board feels that they are landlocked and can not expand past the numbers of students that are presently attending Pardes, is there any statistical evidence to show that the Jewish population of Phoenix is increasing and for this demographically based reason, expanding the campus is smart? Does a thriving school with a bad mortgage on its campus merge with a poorly run school because they have a favorable mortgage? Does the bad school’s board of directors stay on and give their input on how the new school is to be run? Does anyone on the Pardes board wonder, “Gee, the last time there was a school merger involving King David and JSA under the umbrella of Pluralism, it failed. Why will our merger be different? Why will our attempt at Pluralism succeed? Why is changing from a successful Reform Jewish Day School to a Pluralistic School to accommodate the needs of 42 potential students smart? I hope that when the Q&A that comes out tomorrow, in written form, it will answer many of the questions and do a very transparent job of explaining why this is a sound decision. I hope that the “its good for the community” truthiness is backed up by facts that will help this proposed merger be successful.