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(photo credit: Ori Porat [file])
Dozens of Education Ministry employees, politicians and journalists thronged the front courtyard of Jerusalem's historic Mahanaim building on Wednesday, as outgoing Education Minister Yuli Tamir officially handed over the reins to incoming Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar.
Tamir used her farewell address to talk about the benefits of the reform package initiated under her tenure, Ofek Hadash, or New Horizon, which emphasizes additional one-on-one time between teachers and pupils in a bid to improve sinking standardized test scores and lowered performance in areas such as math and science.
"I chose a path that gives every child an intimate experience [in the classroom]," Tamir told the crowd at the Education Ministry headquarters.
"We're ready to keep working and we hope for the best," one ministry employee told The Jerusalem Post. "Even though Sa'ar doesn't come from an educational background, as long as he uses the staff he has at his disposal well, there shouldn't be any problem. Maybe we'll even make some important progress."
Sa'ar used his speech to greet his new employees and assure them that he would be working alongside them, leaving political concerns by the wayside.
"I'm here to learn and I'm going to listen to each and every one of you," he told the crowd. "I have thoughts and I have ideas, but only after I hear from you will I begin to put them in motion. I am committed to avoiding all personal political calculations, and I will do the right thing and take into account the fact that this could come at a personal political price."
Sa'ar also said he would work hard to close the gaps between schools in the center of the country and those in the periphery.
Sa'ar also spoke of returning core values to the education system.
"These are not easy days for the State of Israel," he said. "We find ourselves in the midst of an ongoing conflict with Islamic extremists and a financial crisis that is only growing. But the biggest crisis we face is the crisis of values in our schools. If we don't remember who we are, where we're from and what the vision is that got us here, we're going to have problems facing all the other crises in front of us."
"Rabbi [Shlomo] Carlebach once said something wonderful: That every child needs an adult to believe in, and I think that the current cooperation we have between the pupil, the teacher and the parent speaks to that," he said.
Audience members - the bulk of whom were ministry employees under Tamir - said they were hopeful for more progress with Sa'ar at the helm of a ministry that has faced fierce criticism in recent years - mainly over the problems New Horizon aimed to address.