Thursday, October 11, 2012

Creating Visionary Schools: The Case for Stamford

I invite you to join us this Shabbat morning for a very special Beth El Cares Shabbat:

 "Creating Visionary Schools: The Case for Stamford"

Our guest will be Dr. Winifred Hamilton (see her bio here), the new superintendent of Stamford's schools.  This program is part of our year-long series of special Shabbat programming.

As a parent whose children have experienced both our public schools and Jewish day schools, I can say without hesitation that both are excellent choices.  But what disturbs me - and is a prime reason for inviting Dr. Hamilton - is how many in the Jewish community shortchange our public schools.  Not long ago, I heard from one congregant that her grown children, now leaving New York City, will not even consider Stamford as an option for their kids, specifically because of the reputation of the schools. 

Well, that reputation appears to be changing. Just recently, Kiplinger's listed Stamford among the ten great places to live in the US, adding, "Crime is low, and schools are top-notch. Stamford boasts six magnet schools that focus on various academic disciplines, ranging from technology to the environment."

Both of my kids are proud graduates of Westhill, and having seen closely what goes on in that school, I can say without equivocation that they were prepared to excel at (and get into) any type of college and, more importantly, they learned how crucial it is to revel in the marvelous diversity of our community.  They learned how to live in the real world.  I do alumni interviewing for Brown and see students from all the famous and extremely expensive prep schools in our area.  I can say without hesitation that the teens from Stamford schools are at least as prepared (and in some cases, much more interesting) than those who come from more homogeneous educational environments. 

Of course I love our TBE private school grads too, but that is not the point.  The point is that if our community is arguably one of the best in the country - and it is - it should have one of the best school systems.  And if our congregation is to continue growing and thriving, and if our Jewish community is to continue to demonstrate a rich cultural and spiritual diversity, we need for that to happen.

I know that the school system has challenges.  Many of them.  I've seen - up close - the good, the bad, the ugly and the excellent.  Having weighed all of these factors, I'm now taking a vocal position as an unabashed advocate and I'm calling on more of our Jewish community leaders to do the same.  I encourage you to come here on Shabbat morning and ask challenging questions.  It is of immense importance that the Jewish community be completely engaged in this dialogue, as I know many of our parents have been on an individual basis.  And it's natural that TBE take the lead in that respect.  Our future depends on it - Beth El's, to be sure, but more importantly, our children's, and our country's.  

The main service begins at 9:30, in the sanctuary.  Tot Shabbat begins at 10:30 in the triple classroom, and at approximately 11:15, parents of the tots will join us in the main sanctuary for this important presentation.  We'll conclude with a nice sit-down Kiddush.  If you are at all concerned about the schools, please make it your business to be here this Shabbat (and by all means invite your friends).  We want a nice turnout to welcome our guests.

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