The upcoming school year will open smoothly and efficiently, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski promised on Tuesday.
Speaking at a press conference convened in anticipation of the new school year, Lupolianski cited new and innovative educational programs and an apparent decrease in the flight of secular and national-religious students from Jerusalem's public education system.
With over 220,000 students in 1,012 officially recognized schools, Jerusalem has the largest school system in the country.
It is also the most complex system in the country, comprising secular, religious, haredi and Arab sectors, as well as numerous private, religious and magnet schools, officials contended.
"Every socio-political trend that happens anywhere in the country happens more intensely, and all at once, in Jerusalem," said Yehudit Shalvi, deputy municipal general director, responsible for social affairs and the haredi educational system.
New educational programs that will begin this year in Jerusalem include a project to integrate Ethiopian students into Jerusalem's most prestigious elementary schools, which officials contended is the only program of its kind in Israel, and a program to integrate autistic children into schools with concentrations in the plastic arts.
Officials also showcased the newly instituted, multi-year "Jerusalem Mosaic" curricula, intended to strengthen students' connection to the city and develop an "esprit de corps" among Jerusalem's students, and a project to empower Arab girls through science education, operated in cooperation with the Hebrew University.
Officials acknowledged, however, that many of the ongoing problems that have plagued Jerusalem's educational system in the past will persist in the upcoming school year.
Noting that the municipality is about to open a girls' school in the Arab sector and several boys' schools in the near future, municipal officials admitted there are still not enough classrooms for Arab children from east Jerusalem and that the Arab sector suffers from under-funding, high drop-out rates and low achievement levels.
Furthermore, due to inadequate facilities, an unknown number of Arab students are not even registered for school and "numerous" classrooms have been put into apartment buildings and mobile trailers.
Officials placed responsibility on the government which, Lupolianski accused, "continues to delay the transfer of funds necessary to build the classrooms in the Arab and haredi sectors."
Soheilah Abu Gosh, head of Arab education in Jerusalem, also noted that some 3,500 children must cross through checkpoints in the security barrier in order to attend school every day.
"We are working to ensure that the children pass through in an orderly and humane way that will enable them to attend school without fear," said Lupolianski. "We prefer to relate to this issue in civilian terms, rather than in political or military terms, which are not under our jurisdiction."
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