Hopefully everyone has had an opportunity to digest the Q&A memo that was sent out by Pardes in response to questions that the parents asked at the town hall meeting at JSA. If you have not had an opportunity to read this Q&A, the link to it is here. It appears there are no directors from JSA who will be on the new board, yet that leaves me again wondering why the current board of Pardes feels that it is a necessity to become a pluralistic school?
In 2009, the Jewish News published a story about the newly announced merger between Jess Schwartz College Prep and the King David School. At the time of the merger, KDS’s head of school, Nammie Ichilov was quoted as saying, “I think it’s important that the community understand that although this is financially the smartest thing for us to be doing, especially in economic times like this, this is truly an opportunity for educational improvement,” Ichilov said. “Sometimes, out of necessity you get an amazing product, and I think this is one of those cases.” So my curiosity is piqued because the head of the KDS school felt that the community should understand that the merger between KDS and JSA was the financially smartest thing to do and that the resulting educational product would be amazing; yet within a year, both schools lay in ruins.
I believe the community should be interested in finding out what happened that caused the Jess Schwartz/King David merger to fail because after all, the King David School had been in business for over twenty years in 2009. So, to see the school wiped out, reduced to rubble less than a year after merging with Jess Schwartz is confounding. At the time of the merger, Jess Schwartz had 85 students and KDS had approximately 180.
The Q&A from Pardes contained the following statement:
We have always sought to provide the highest level of Jewish and secular education in a school that is financially stable and has the ability to grow.
As the Pardes JSA Community Day School, with our combined resources, we are now better positioned to do each of these things. We are now, more than ever, well positioned to attract the most talented teachers, pursue additional local and national philanthropy, and create best practices among the national Jewish Day School community.
We hope this consolidation will not only improve the quality of our school; it will help reduce some (sic) the division and fragmentation in the broader Valley Jewish community.
Again, another statement of platitudes, similar to the 2009 statement from the JSA/KDS merger that stressed the importance of the community being able to understand that the merger was in the community’s best interest. Does this mean that the byproduct of that merger, which was the ruination of both schools, was in the community’s best interest? Again, we are being asked to accept something without adequate explanation, only this time by Pardes’s Board and JSA’s Board, who have decided that this is both good for the community and Pardes, all without empirical evidence and following disastrously close to the footsteps of the previous failure.
When I asked a board member of Pardes about the reasoning for the merger, and the necessity of becoming a pluralistic school, the board member told me that this was a condition that was necessary to stop Jess Schwartz from going ahead with their plans to become a Hebrew Language Charter School. In other words, merge with JSA or we will start a Hebrew Language charter school. I told the board member that this implies a certain level of thuggish behavior on the part of JSA’s board (which would at that point be only Mr. Ginsberg and Ms. Steinberg), and it implies a certain amount of absurdity on the part of the Pardes Board. I told the board member that from my standpoint, this was a threat akin to me calling the Vikings and telling them that if they did not sign me to a contract, I would offer my services as a cornerback to the Cardinals for the coming season. In fairness to the board member, I was informed that what I did not understand was that it is proven that when a Hebrew language charter school opens up in an area, it destroys the private Reform Jewish Day Schools in an area because the parents will send their kids to the charter school to avoid paying tuition. I can find only two Hebrew language charter schools in the United States, one in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and one in Brooklyn, NY. I can find no evidence that the opening of these schools caused the closing of the surrounding Reform Jewish day schools in those areas. Yet, even if I could find evidence of this, two schools do not create a valid statistical sample.
So, completely discounting the threat of a Hebrew Charter School, I am again asking, why is Pardes School becoming a pluralistic school? Why does abandoning their successful model as a school affiliated with the Reform Judaism make sense? The Q&A does not in any way address these questions. Instead it is filled with platitudes about the hopes and dreams of what will be good for the community. Merging the schools to be a bridge, which will magically end whatever divisiveness in the Jewish Community that is perceived by the Pardes Board, brings to mind that great rhetorical question, posed by the humanitarian (and recipient of savage police brutality), Mr. Rodney King, who pleaded, “Can’t we all get along?”
On the Ravsak site, as I noted in an earlier post, it says that Community (i.e. Pluralistic) Day Schools are the only growing segment of Jewish day schools besides Orthodox schools. So, if there are five community day schools in the country, and schools like JSA and KDS merge to become a pluralistic school, then the growth rate for that year is 20%. The description of pluralistic schools should be explained in a way that is meaningful. I think it is more important to look at how many pluralistic schools have failed and why have they failed? The board should be asking why did JSA/KDS fail? Was it community divisiveness that did in JSA? Does Pardes believes that the merger will end this divisiveness? Were donors squabbling and was this was the reason that the JSA/King David merger failed? Can the campus be operated in an economically efficient manner? Does the addition of 52 students really make it possible for Pardes to attract the most talented teachers, as the Q&A states?
I am also wondering where the public support is from the Reform Rabbis whose congregations have traditionally supported the school? According to the Q&A: Our Judaics department began conversations with Rabbi Elana Kanter prior to talksof a consolidation. We are very fortunate to have Rabbi Kanter as part of our Judaics team. She has an extensive background in teaching, curriculum development, and coaching both on a local and national level. For whatever reason, the memo fails to mention that Rabbi Kanter is an ordained Conservative Rabbi. Maybe there is a shortage of Reform Rabbis in Phoenix to give input into “Judaics.” I think the way that this is written basically tries to convey a message that the school decided before the merger that they were going to give up their Reform affiliation and that we, as parents, who obviously have no say in such matters, are just to swallow this.
I wonder why we don’t ever see pluralistic Christian Schools. I wonder why there is no Methodist/Catholic/Pentecostal Community Day School?
As I had mentioned in one of my first memos, I am withdrawing my son from Pardes, but that decision was made long before I had news of the merger. Pardes did a great job of getting my son up and running, helping him overcome his ADHD and dyslexia, and I am grateful for that. I decided to move my son because I did not want 9th grade to be his introduction to public school. My oldest son is a graduate of PCDS and Swarthmore College. My middle son is at Arcadia High School and he has had a very positive experience there. The facilities at the public schools in the Scottsdale Unified School District are impressive, and they have impressive academic standards in their honors programs. I would encourage all parents who are uneasy about these decisions to look at the alternatives that are available, both in the public and private sector, so that they are aware of their options.
All comments are welcome and will be posted and left up for review.