How long can you tread water?

A cri de coeur from a Jerusalem school principal

reut school 88 (photo credit: )
reut school 88
(photo credit: )
In my earlier years, I well remember having listened to a great midrash about Noah and his relationship with the Creator; it was made up and told by Bill Cosby. The Lord approaches Noah accompanied by some loud bassoon-like noises. Noah looks up into the sky and yells, "Who is that?" The sound comes once again and the Lord calls out "Noah!" "Who is that?" Noah asks again. "It's the Lord, Noah," comes the response. Then the voice tells Noah that he wants him to build an Ark. At this point, Noah blurts out "Right…so who is this really?" The Lord patiently responds once again. "It's the Lord, Noah, and I want you to build an Ark 4 cubits by 4 cubits." In the background, there is the sound of a slight drizzling rain. Noah, hardly believing what he hears, continues the exchange with the Lord who tells him what needs to be done, what will happen to the planet and how he is trying to save Noah, some animals and the rest of the story. In the background, the drizzle turns into a serious downpour. Noah seems to be getting perturbed. Maybe the character in the sky is the real thing? As the planet begins to fill up with water, Noah struggles to overcome his reservations about whether this is, indeed, the Lord talking and whether His predictions will really come to pass. The Lord, now fully exasperated by Noah's resistance, asks him one final question: "So, tell me Noah. . . how long can you tread water?" HAVING SPENT 30 years in the field of education in Israel, most of them as a school principal, my question is similar: How long does the minister of education believe that we can tread water? We are all aware of the countless ills of the present educational system - the lack of funds, increased violence and so much more. The system is cracking; the deluge is upon us and yet, we school principals are expected to hold our collective breaths and to tread water and, perhaps, to pray as well. The minister would want us to increase academic achievement, improve the environment in our schools, assure all our children and staff that the premises are safe and secure, produce state-of-the-art laboratories and educate fine future citizens. These are but a few of the many expectations made of school principals. And what do parents expect of us? And pupils? And hi-tech companies? And academic institutions of higher learning? When it comes to "expectations" we are the people who are recognized as those responsible for producing such results, maybe even recognized as leaders of our schools. Yet, in almost every other regard, we are not regarded with respect and we are treated as insignificant. More than a year ago, I published a call to school principals to unite, to form an independent organization. This organization became known as "Ometz Chinuchi" and has functioned since then. More than 300 principals from all parts of the country wish to be identified with our efforts. We have, since our inception, been threatened constantly by the existing teachers' unions and their subsidiary organization of principals. More and more principals have courageously disengaged from the existing unions and are joining our independent efforts. "Ometz Chinuchi" was established to advance (if not save) the educational system here. I have met countless educators, wonderful school principals, with vision - true leaders who are willing to take risks, willing to share great responsibility for educating Israel's children. Most of us are doing this within a system that impedes our efforts constantly, belittles our vision and does almost everything possible to limit the vast potential of children. "Ometz Chinuchi" recognized the fact that school principals are almost never part of true dialogue and decision-making on any level and are seen primarily as functionaries who exist to carry out policies leveraged usually by political groups and unions. Ever since our new minister of education and her administration came into office, "Ometz Chinuchi," the independent organization of school principals, has attempted to meet with her. We have a plan to dramatically improve the school system. We have a defined statement of criteria for top-notch, ethical school principals and a written "code of ethics" for them. We have ideas for bridging the tremendous gap between Arab and Jewish schools. It is natural for us to have these ideas, for we are the implementers and are supposed to be the primary visionaries for our schools. What this country needs least at this point are more grandiose plans. What we need now is to focus on how to recruit great school principals and how to enhance their work. Ever since I created "Ometz Chinuchi" together with a wonderful group of colleagues, I have been threatened and slandered by the unions; my colleagues have been kicked out of their respective teachers' guilds and other principals have been warned against joining our efforts. The door to the ministry is slammed in our face because the minister is scared of the existing unions. We are getting the message, all the time, that it is legitimate to expect everything from us; yet, there is no support forthcoming. The time has come for the public to know that there are many great educators in this country who want to improve the system. It is time for principals around the country to throw off the yoke of the existing unions and to act and speak independently. The unions exist for teachers and so they should. "Ometz Chinuchi" has taken on the responsibility for sustaining the voice and rights of the principal, remembering that our commitment above all is to the voice of the child. It is time for those who are concerned with education in this country to hear our independent voice. Dr. Geiger is the principal of the Reut School in Jerusalem, co-founder of the Meitarim network of pluralistic schools and co-founder of "Ometz Chinuchi."