High School the Second Time

High School is a tough time. Kids can be mean and it is stressful to be both a leader and a follower. When my son started high school I was a mess. I worried about him every day. My son attended Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. It is located on the campus of California State University, LA. That posed an entire new list of worries as he would be surrounded by college kids, but was my 14-year-old baby. On top of all that, it was miles from our home and he needed to carpool or take the subway. Oy vey with this school!

My son has wanted to be an actor since he was five years old. He never wavered. He went to a performing arts middle school, then LACHSA, and is now a working actor who has just produced and appeared in his first movie with his best friend since childhood. He is talented beyond measure and I am proud of him. He takes his job seriously and I support his pursuit of his chosen profession. It is not easy, but it is all he has ever done, or wanted, so it is what it is. My son looks back fondly on high school and I am blessed as his mom to say I do too.

LACHSA is a very special place. It fosters independence and individuality. It nurtures talent and builds confidence. They taught my son to keep his feet firmly on the ground while reaching for the stars. There are a lot of people there who deserve thanks for helping me raise my son. It takes a village and when you are a single parent, sending your child off for hours every day, the people at school become important on a lot of levels. My son has his favorite people at LACHSA, as do I. Mr. Chris Krambo made my second high school life a pleasure.

This remarkable man passed away this week and it is devastating to a lot of people. Chris was funny, smart, devoted, talented, and focused on his students in a way that made me grateful he was helping raise my son while he was at school. This is a man who worked hard, used his own money to make costumes, never complained about being tired, or unappreciated by kids who were too young and inexperienced to understand everything he did for them. He was a wonderful man and I will miss him, but always smile when I think of him, which I will often.

I am sad we had not spoken in so long. I am thankful however that he knew how important he was to me and that I loved him very much. Everyone has a story to tell and Chris had many. I send my heartfelt condolences to his family and friends. If you have a teacher in your life who is making your time in high school as a parent better, tell them thank you. If you love someone who you haven’t spoken to in a while, reach out and say hello. Rest in peace Chris. Know that you mattered to a lot of people. Thank you for always keeping the faith.

To save education, listen to teachers

I’m fed up with the inefficiency of the judicial system! I’m going to become a judge. I may not be a lawyer, but I’ve been a law-abiding citizen all my life. I mean, how hard could it be? I have 20 years of business experience in the TV industry. When I blow into the courtroom demanding accountability, I am going to shake things up! Who needs legal experience when you understand the bottom line?

Wait — no. I’m going to be Surgeon General. Sure, I’m not a doctor, but I’ve seen a million of them! You should have seen the pair of “specialists” who nearly killed my grandma. It’s time for me to roll up my sleeves and set some standards. Patients first, dammit!

No, you know what? I think I’m going to be a Rear Admiral in the Navy. I grew up right near Lake Michigan, a large body of water, and with my business experience …

OK, all of these ideas are preposterous. Common sense and business savvy are no substitute for a lifetime of training and expertise. What’s crazy, though, is that in the world of public school education, the opposite view prevails. I cannot think of another profession in which major policies are set by people with little or no experience in the field.

Look at who’s driving education policy these days: Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Wendy Kopp. None of them has ever been a teacher. Three years ago, I participated in a roundtable discussion led by one of the U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) deputy secretaries. His years in the classroom? Same as everybody else high up in the DOE: zero. He had an extensive background in . . . improv theater. That was gonna be your next guess, right?

The Stanford economist Eric Hanushek, who is continually testifying that he has evidence that it doesn’t matter how many children you pack into a classroom because an “effective” teacher will just keep raising test scores, has never spent even a single day facing down a classroom of squirmy, perspiring, cranky, hormonal children.

The Broad Residency, which places people with business backgrounds in administrative positions at urban schools and state departments of education, does not require any classroom experience. In our era of rampant teacher layoffs, Teach for America’s entire raison d’etre is based on the belief that an energetic person of no experience from an elite university is better than an experienced teacher who, implicitly, is regarded as burned out and, well, less elite.

And, in case you’ve been under a rock for the last two years, the Common Core standards were developed by a consortium of 60 people that included only one teacher.

Why do teachers have so little voice in our profession? I suspect it’s a relic from pre-feminist days when teachers were young women who took low pay and unprofessional working conditions that most men with post-college degrees would find unacceptable.

The image of teachers is still suffused with a sexist disdain that regards working with children as inherently demeaning. To this day, a surprising amount of a teacher’s labor is menial: photocopying, creating filing systems, mechanical low-level grading, picking up students’ garbage, moving furniture and an absolutely mind-numbing assortment of mechanical procedures that, depending on where you work, may dictate everything from how your students enter your room to how and where you write on your whiteboard.

There is no career path. There is no incentive for receiving an advanced degree in your field. Because of the overwhelming class load, there is no time in the workday for study, reflection or collaboration with colleagues on anything other than how to handle the fallout from the most recent state-mandated change in standards.

Teachers are not victims here. We need to start demanding professional working conditions, professional pay and power in policy decisions. The real work of teaching is creative, challenging and rewarding. It is enormously complex, as complex as every student in the classroom, and teachers need to demand the respect we deserve for mastering this work.

But as a country, we need to treat teachers as people whose experience we trust and whose wisdom we seek. Real education reform starts with valuing teachers. If we want to improve the quality of our nation’s teaching, let’s listen to the seasoned experts who are actually in practice.

Ellie Herman is a teacher and life coach and a former writer for television. Read more of her thoughts at Gatsby in L.A. (gatsbyinla.wordpress.com)

This article is reprinted with permission from LA School Report (laschoolreport.com).

‘No tenure’ ruling for teachers won’t fix the problem

In the landmark Vergara v. California decision last week, Judge Rolf Treu ruled that the nine student plaintiffs, backed by billionaire David Welch’s nonprofit StudentsMatter, had been deprived of their right to an equal education by seniority and tenure policies that protected bad teachers in low-income communities. On the stand, the students told stomach-turning stories of middle-school teachers who had slept in class, made racist comments and allowed pandemonium that prevented them from learning.  

The verdict has been hailed by some as a civil rights victory and lamented by others as a calculated body blow to the power of unions. 

So which is it? I say it’s neither.

I’m an English teacher; I taught for five years at a charter school in South Los Angeles, but I spent the past year visiting high-school classrooms across the city, talking to teachers and students in communities across the socioeconomic spectrum. In my journey, I’ve borne witness to the shocking educational inequality in this city. Children of color from low-income communities continue to be educated in almost complete segregation, in the lowest-performing schools, 60 years after the United States Supreme Court mandated integration in its ruling on Brown v. Board of Education.  I agree that tenure and seniority policies need to be rethought, and unions need to work much harder to catch up with the realities of a 21st-century workplace, where the idea of lifetime employment is a relic. I believe that unions can rise to the challenge — they have to, in order to remain relevant. But I’m concerned by the “off with their heads!” zeal with which this charge is happening, by the catharsis we are all enjoying with its attendant, very inexpensive satisfaction at the notion that we can all sit back, fire some bad apples and fix educational inequality without spending a dime.  

I’m deeply troubled by the implicit notion that all these good young teachers were laid off because of the bad teachers who remained on the job. In fact, the real reason so many good teachers lost their jobs was that we, the citizens of California, turned a blind eye to the radical budget cuts to education over the last five years, cuts so severe that even if we’d fired every bad teacher, we would still have been hemorrhaging good teachers.  

We’ve slashed so many teachers’ positions in the last few years that students are now packed 50 to a classroom, and if a kid has issues, he’s out of luck: We’ve cut counselors, assistant principals, librarians, security guards, arts, field trips, after-school programming, summer school, books and even paper.

You want to start a lawsuit?  I’d start there, with the warehousing of our most vulnerable students in intolerable conditions without the resources to meet the emotional needs of students who are dealing with multiple traumas, who are sometimes afraid to walk home because of violence in the community; who often have only one parent, who is rarely home because she works two jobs; who often are still learning English; who sometimes live in foster care and occasionally are still recovering from a stay in a juvenile detention center.

What does it mean to say that firing “bad teachers” will meet the needs of these students when we’re not giving good teachers the resources and support they desperately need in order to do their jobs? Earlier this year, I visited an excellent teacher who had five boys wandering around her classroom, talking and acting out in spite of her time-tested classroom management system. But when she asked the administration for support, they told her there was no administrator available, so she should just ignore them. Obviously, they continued to act out, bothering other students, who eventually developed their own behavior problems. Not surprisingly, that teacher quit at the end of this school year.  

The thing is, our real problem is not how to fire the small number of bad teachers. It’s how to attract and retain good teachers, who are currently quitting almost as fast as we hire them. At Los Angeles charters in high-poverty communities, a 2011 UC Berkeley study showed that teacher turnover was 50 percent per year. Over and over, teachers tell me the same thing: They love their students. But they can’t work in unsustainable, burnout conditions forever. The real battle for equality begins by saying that our students matter enough to place value on the people who work with them. We want to be good teachers. We want to change lives. We are here to fight for equality every day. But we can’t do it without support, resources or competent administrators.

So, sure, let’s get rid of bad teachers. But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that’s enough. The real work is only beginning, and unlike firing people, it won’t be cheap or easy. We are all accountable for the ongoing inequality in this country. If we’re willing to admit that giving every child an equal opportunity will take money, time and some very painful honesty about the segregated and unequal conditions in which large numbers of children in poverty are growing up, then maybe, just maybe, we’ll begin to move toward giving these nine plaintiffs the equal education that they, and all children,


Ellie Herman spent 20 years working as a writer/producer for TV shows before becoming a teacher at a charter high school in South Los Angeles in 2007. She has spent the past academic year looking at the state of education and teaching in Los Angeles, and blogging about her findings at gatsbyinla.wordpress.com.

Milken honors educators

We are planting seeds — not me, but all of us.”

With those words of hope offered to her fellow teachers, Lidia Turner, a seventh- and eighth-grade Hebrew teacher at the David Saperstein Middle School of Milken Community High School, accepted the Milken Family Foundation’s 2012 Jewish Educator Award during an assembly at her school on Sept. 21.

Turner is one of four teachers this year who will be honored — along with winners of the foundation’s student essay contest — during an invitation-only luncheon at the Luxe Hotel in Bel Air on Dec. 13. 

The other winners of the Jewish Educator Award are Rabbi Usher Klein, a ninth-grade yeshiva rebbe at Mesivta Birkas Yitzchok; Rabbi Baruch Kupfer, executive director at Maimonides Academy; and Mary Itri, a fifth-grade general studies teacher at Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School.

The annual prize, which comes with an unrestricted $15,000 cash award, recognizes outstanding teachers, administrators and other education professionals in the Greater Los Angeles area who work at day schools affiliated with BJE – Builders of Jewish Education. The award was established in 1990.

“We only give four of these awards every year to recognize excellence, and the reason we do that is not only to honor those that get the award but to honor the teaching profession in general,” said Richard Sandler, executive vice president of the Milken Family Foundation.

As part of the foundation’s mission of leading advances in education, the award recognizes outstanding Jewish day school educators while increasing public support for them and raising awareness of their contributions to the community and society. The cash award also encourages able, caring and creative people to choose a career in education, according to the foundation’s Web site. 

The award recognizes a cross-section of elementary- and secondary-school educators from across the Jewish spectrum. The foundation works in cooperation with BJE, the central agency for Jewish education in Los Angeles, in identifying winners, who have received a total of more than $1.2 million to date.

Itri, who describes her teaching as high-energy, nurturing and compassionate, has taught at Stephen S. Wise in Bel Air for more than 25 years — directing the school’s spring musical for the last 15 years. She continues to hone her skills by participating in professional development workshops, she said.

Klein is one of the founders of Mesivta Birkas Yitzchok, a boys’ yeshiva school in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood that has a waiting list of students. He teaches Talmud and keeps his home open for students to visit for study sessions and Shabbat meals. 

When Kupfer became executive director in 1984 of Maimonides Academy, an Orthodox Sephardic day school in West Hollywood, the school had 184 pupils. Now it has grown to 520 students and operates at capacity. Kupfer says that character development is an “integral part of the fabric of the school.” He is responsible for the institution’s financial health, working with board members and lay leaders to fundraise. 

Turner, who says her instruction is interactive and musical — she plays guitar during class — has been teaching for 36 years, including 18 years at Milken. Additionally, she co-created the Nofim program, a middle- and high-school experiential curriculum that focuses on Israeli history and culture. 

Aside from their unique teaching and leadership styles, each educator brings a unique personal background to the classroom. Itri, for example, is Catholic, but she said she feels a “kinship and comradeship” with Stephen Wise’s community, as the values and beliefs of Judaism and Catholicism are “aligned with one another.” 

Kupfer’s background is Ashkenazi, but he admires the academy’s commitment to preserving Sephardi life. 

“To see it flourishing and developing and to see people trying to hold on to tradition and culture in such a special way meant a lot to me,” he said. 

Turner was born in Uruguay, and one of her first teaching jobs was at a high school there where she was a former student. As a child, she wrote in her diary that her goal was to become a Hebrew teacher one day. 

In September, foundation representatives visited the teachers’ schools to announce the winners during surprise assemblies. Itri was caught completely off-guard. 

“I’m still jumping for joy and going over the moon about it. I never dreamt it was me,” she said.

Because Kupfer is executive director at his school, it was particularly difficult to keep the winner under wraps. In his case, BJE and the foundation came up with a ruse, telling Kupfer there was an urgent matter that needed his attention. Then, a faculty member led him into the assembly hall where cameras, students, faculty and applause were waiting. 

“I was overwhelmed … to be recognized and applauded is always a tremendous feeling of worth and accomplishment,” he said.

The winners said that they had expected educators other than themselves to be honored. Before her name was announced, Turner looked at those around her, wondering who might be this year’s recipient. 

“I was looking around the room, looking for who it could be,” Turner said. “I wasn’t thinking about me. I was thinking about so many professionals that we have around us, and so many of them deserve an award like this.”

ADL successfully expands Holocaust education workshop

For nearly 30 years, Los Angeles secondary-school educators have attended the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) annual Holocaust Education Workshop as part of their professional development. During the month-long series, L.A.-area teachers learned the history of anti-Semitism, listened to survivors’ firsthand stories and visited local Holocaust institutions, leaving them better equipped to teach the Holocaust to their students.

This year, the ADL has revamped its workshop to appeal to educators pressed for time as well as those who might feel that they might already know enough about the Holocaust. Renamed the Holocaust Education Institute, the workshop’s emphasis this year is on multimedia approaches to teaching the Shoah, increasing the convenience factor by stretching attendance over five months and allowing educators to attend as few or as many sessions as they like.

The overhaul of the program is exciting — and necessary, said Amanda Susskind, ADL Pacific Southwest regional director.

“There’s a certain point in any innovative program’s life where it’s like the same people who are interested in it have already gone to it one or maybe even two times, and you’re starting to really struggle for membership and attendance,” Susskind said.

“The four-night thing was starting to get hard to sell … [and] if no one is coming, I’d rather change it to get more people in the room,” she said.

Until 2009, the program included four weekly sessions, each lasting about four hours, and attendance for all sessions was mandatory. Last year, the ADL squeezed the four workshops into one week.

Starting this year, the ADL is stretching the program over five months.

Serving as the kickoff event for this year’s program, the ADL will hold a seven-hour seminar, “A Multimedia Framework for Teaching the Holocaust,” on Nov. 4 at USC, followed by four four-hour sessions at various sites.

Co-sponsors for the Holocaust Education Institute include the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education; the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance; the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust; and the Center for Excellence on the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance.

Experimenting with the content and structure seems to be paying off for the new Holocaust Education Institute. Alison Mayersohn, senior associate director of the ADL’s Pacific Southwest Region, said registration numbers are up. The Nov. 4 session is almost filled — nearly 60 people had signed up as of Oct. 28 — and Mayersohn said the attendance for the following sessions looks to be strong.

Katharine Guerrero, a teacher at Alverno High School in Sierra Madre, an all-girls Catholic college-preparatory school, has participated in several ADL Holocaust education programs for teachers in the past several years, including the organization’s Bearing Witness Institute, an overnight seminar that teaches the Holocaust to parochial schools. Guerrero said she plans to attend the Nov. 4 kickoff event.

“I like hearing this stuff over and over again for some reason,” said Guerrero, who has woven what’s she learned at these workshops into her classes — world religions and U.S history — at Alverno. She said the chair of her school’s theology department recommended that she get involved with the ADL workshops.

“I really took the [workshop] curriculum and I found a way to adapt it across the curriculum with my theology and world history course and my United States history,” she said.

During the Nov. 4 “Multimedia Framework for Teaching the Holocaust” at USC, an ADL staffer will introduce and give a sample lesson from “Echoes and Reflections,” an award-winning multimedia curriculum that features a DVD of survivor video testimony with accompanying maps, photographs and poetry. The curriculum is designed to be used by high-school teachers in various subject areas.

After the “Echoes” lesson, teachers will learn how to use iWitness, a new Web-based application for teachers and their students – developed by the USC Shoah Foundation Institute — that has 1,000 unedited survivor testimonies. Each video on iWitness has been indexed, making navigating the testimonies easier.

Dan Leshem, associate director for academic outreach and research at the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, also will lecture on “Holocaust Denial, Multimedia and the Internet.” 

The four remaining sessions — offered from Nov. 17 to March 15, each beginning at 4:15 p.m. — closely resemble what the ADL has offered in previous years. These workshops are: “The History of the Holocaust,” during which attendees will tour the Museum of Tolerance and examine artifacts, including a four-page 1919 letter by Adolf Hitler that documents his anti-Semitic views; “The History of Anti-Semitism,” featuring a discussion on Catholic-Jewish relations; “Teaching the Holocaust Through Art,” highlighted by a tour of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, where teachers will view a picture diary of the Theresienstadt concentration camp; and “Making the Connection From Past to Present,” which will include discussions on genocides in Rwanda and Darfur.

This is also the first year that teachers can attend as many, or as few, workshops as they like. However, LAUSD educators and librarians must attend the four sessions after Nov. 4 in order to qualify for one unit of Article Six multicultural credit. A book review, a lesson plan and an overall reflection on the course are also required for the credit.

The kickoff session at USC is $20 per person, which includes meals, materials and parking. Individual sessions after Nov. 4 are $15 each, or $50 to attend all four.

For more information about the Holocaust Education Institute, visit this story at adl.org/lah olocaustinstitute.

Awards recognize, reward 4 local Jewish educators

It’s a hard-knock life for teachers, who are trying their darnedest to teach children amid decreased attention spans, increased technological gadgets, fewer resources, job insecurity and myriad other challenges.

All of which make the Milken Family Foundation Jewish Educator Awards, which include a $15,000 cash bonus for each recipient, seem a bit like a dream come true. 

In show-stopping, surprise school assemblies, Richard Sandler, executive vice president of the Milken Family Foundation, and Dr. Gil Graff,  executive director of Builders of Jewish Education (BJE), announced the award recipients on Oct. 6 amid cheering students and faculty. 

The awardees include two elementary school teachers, a high school teacher and a head of school, all of them female and from a diverse cross section of Jewish day schools: Marnie Greenwald, a first-grade teacher at Temple Emanuel Academy Day School in Beverly Hills; Hava Mirovski, a fifth-grade teacher at Sinai Akiba Academy in Los Angeles; Lisa Feldman, head of school at Weizmann Day School in Pasadena; and Juli Shanblatt, a science and math teacher at Bais Yaakov School for Girls in Los Angeles.

Founded in 1990, the yearly awards give $15,000 and public recognition to four teachers or administrators who have demonstrated excellence in their professions, and who have worked for a minimum of seven years in Jewish day schools affiliated with the Los Angeles-based BJE.

Hava Mirovski. Photo courtesy Milken Family Foundation

Educators are nominated anonymously by heads of schools and BJE representatives, and final recipients are selected by a committee of professional and lay leaders in the Jewish community. Judges look for educational talent and promise, leadership and self-direction, dedication to students and innovative programming and teaching methods.

Greenwald, who has taught first grade at Temple Emanuel Academy Day School for 21 years, said she was “completely surprised, overwhelmed,” when the award was announced.

Greenwald, who holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a teaching credential from UCLA, has had contact with nearly all of the students in the school, which made it feel like it wasn’t just her award. 

“It was for all of us,” she said. 

At Temple Emanuel, Greenwald is known for her ability to involve her first-graders in the learning process and create “buy in.” Her lessons, which involve cooperative learning and small group conversations, create an environment in which students feel nurtured and safe to take risks, she said. 

Greenwald also initiated a story-telling project in which the first-graders rewrite a fairy tale or story incorporating their own life experiences, and work on the story and illustrations for weeks with adult help, culminating in a Student Authors’ Night. 

“I teach because I love it,” Greenwald said. “It’s my passion, and I feel happy every day that I get to do something that I love and earn money.”

Juli Shanblatt. Photo courtesy Milken Family Foundation

She added: “I’m very grateful to the Milken Family Foundation that they take the time and they have the financial means to award these honors to teachers, especially at a time like the present when teachers everywhere are receiving a lot of criticism and negative press.”

Mirovski, a fifth-grade Hebrew and Judaic studies teacher at Sinai Akiba Academy, “is one of the most skillful and dedicated teachers I know,” said Rabbi Laurence Scheindlin, the school’s headmaster. “When I walk into her classroom, I see every kid actively involved, learning, enthusiastic and loving what they’re doing — and she clearly does, too.” 

Mirovski, who grew up in Israel and attended university there, began at Sinai Akiba as a kindergarten teacher 11 years ago, earning a reputation for innovative projects and hands-on learning, according to the school. Three years ago, she was asked to consider a new position teaching fifth-graders, a dramatic change, as any teacher can attest. 

Mirovski said she has her students use Hebrew in an active way, to encourage real learning. In one assignment she designed, her students research their family history and create a project based on a relative who immigrated to the United States, all written and presented in Hebrew.

Mirovski also was recently selected to represent Sinai Akiba Academy in DeLeT, a 13-month fellowship program through Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, which provides mentoring and collaboration.

Lisa Feldman. Photo courtesy Milken Family Foundation

When Feldman, head of school at Weizmann Day School, learned of her award, her immediate thought was of gratitude, “Both for the recognition of more than 30 years of working in Jewish day schools in L.A., and also how great for Weizmann Day School, which is not as well known as some of the Westside schools,” she said.

“Being the only Jewish day school in the whole San Gabriel and Pomona Valley, we’re very excited for the recognition,” she said.

Feldman, who earned her bachelor’s degree in education and Judaic studies at Rutgers and her master’s degree in educational administration at American Jewish University, worked at Weizmann for eight years as the assistant head of school and is in her ninth year as head of school. Her award marks the first Jewish Educator Award for the school and is a tribute to Weizmann’s strong growth — enrollment has increased 50 percent over the last few years, and it recently opened a middle school.

She attributes this growth to partnership with parents and a strong sense of community. In addition, many parents in the school hail from CalTech and Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and are attracted to Weizmann’s unique efforts to bridge science and Judaic studies.

Feldman said she is most proud of inaugurating an annual Daniel Pearl Concert, in which students from Weizmann join with students from a local Muslim school and a local Episcopalian school in singing songs of friendship and peace. The relationship between the schools broadened and now students pen-pal with one another and have attended each other’s prayer services.

Shanblatt, who is in her 13th year of teaching at Bais Yaakov School for Girls of Los Angeles, pioneered the Advanced Placement (AP) program at Bais Yaakov — it now offers AP classes in physics, calculus, history, English and psychology — and also led the development of self-study courses at the school.

She was “choked up and happy” when the award was announced, and said she was glad that her daughter, a 10th-grader at Bais Yaakov, was there to celebrate with her.

Shanblatt, an alumna of MIT and UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, previously worked as a mechanical engineer in the aerospace industry and held positions at Mattel and at Independent Blue Cross in Philadelphia, but said her “fantasy career” was always teaching math to religious Jewish girls.

She currently teaches AP physics and AP calculus to the 12th grade, pre-calculus to the 11th grade and Spanish to the ninth grade. In addition, she serves as the science department coordinator and chairs the school’s WASC/BJE Accreditation Committee.

“It’s a really nice thing to encourage good teaching and to recognize it … we recognize sports and movies, so it’s nice to have an award for teaching,” she said. 

The Milken Family Foundation and BJE will host the 22nd annual Jewish Educator Awards luncheon on Dec. 15 at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard hotel. For more information, visit mff.org/jea.

Why Should Teachers, Parents and Tutors Be Frenemies?

During her first week as a seventh-grade English teacher, Anna Taggert discovers her colleague, Randi Abrahams, at Starbucks writing a paper for one of her students, while the kid sips his peppermint mocha and texts his friends. The most popular English teacher in the school, Abrahams dresses like a fashionista on the $250 an hour she earns moonlighting as a tutor.

When Taggert objects, she is told to keep quiet if she wants to keep her job. Her students are too sleepy from weekends of bar mitzvah hopping to concentrate in class. When her creative assignments inspire her students to work hard, their parents petition her to stop overloading them. A month later, Taggert sells out, learns the ropes and becomes one of the hottest tutors in New York.

Former Dalton School English teacher/tutor Anisha Lakhani explores the corrupt New York prep school scene in her satirical novel, “Schooled” (Hyperion, 2008), which targets parents who pay big bucks for tutors to do their kids’ homework. Despite the caricatures, stereotypes and exaggerations, the book tells some hard and unpleasant truths.

In Andrew Trees’ “Academy X” (Bloomsbury, 2007), another “tell-all” novel by a New York teacher, honest students rarely get into great colleges, while honest teachers rarely tell the truth. “It’s the whole culture,” a bright student explains to the protagonist, an English teacher who almost gets himself fired for accusing a board member’s daughter of plagiarism. “Everyone games the system. You have to admit that it is hard to resist with the Internet putting it all at your fingertips. And don’t think it’s just papers written at home. Students use their cell phones to instant message notes to each other during tests.”

The inevitable consequences of a dysfunctional system — whether it’s an economic system or an educational system — are the same: corruption, infighting and scapegoating. The most disturbing truth exposed by these books is the combative relationship that develops in school communities between parents, teachers and students — frenemies who on the first day of school kiss each other on the cheek only to later stab each other in the back. Moral compromises result in embattled worlds dominated by a survival-of-the-fittest mentality. The frustrated school populations of “Schooled” and “Academy X” point their fingers at one another, not knowing who else to blame. Unable to recognize their common enemy, they perceive each other as the enemy. And it is most often the parents, particularly “pushy Jewish parents,” who get cast as the villains in faculty lounges, just as they do in the pages of exposés by disillusioned teachers. Conversely, it is most often those “lousy teachers” who are scapegoated in homes, tutoring centers or wherever parents congregate to share their troubles.

Parents, teachers, tutors and, yes, even administrators have the same goal: to educate kids. We should be allies, not antagonists; advocates, not adversaries.

Our oppressors are bigger, stronger and tougher than totalitarian dictators. Like all tyrants, they wage war on great books and free minds — for such minds will always resist domination and enslavement. Marketing strategists are clever and skilled at dissuading students from reading great books, distracting them with mind-numbing alternatives, from video games to plot summaries. How many gadgets, products and services can be purchased and consumed in the hours, days, weeks it takes to read, digest, not to mention write a thoughtful essay about a Shakespeare play or a Dickens novel?

Iran’s mullahs were not strong enough to prevent a group of college girls from meeting in secret at their teacher’s house in Tehran to discuss the masterpieces of Western culture. Neither the threat of beating nor beheading could keep Azar Nafisi, author of “Reading Lolita in Tehran” (Random House, 2003), from opening the minds of her students to “Pride and Prejudice,” “Madame Bovary,” “Daisy Miller” and “The Dean’s December.” These students got no college credit for reading and the teacher no paycheck for teaching. They had no fancy classrooms, PowerPoint technology, lesson plans or study aids. Yet the rewards were priceless: “When my students came into that room, they took off more than their scarves and robes,” Azar Nafisi explains in her memoir. “Gradually, each one gained an outline and a shape, becoming her own inimitable self.”

The amorphous enemy of American parents, educators and students alike is best described by William Greider in his book, “One World, Ready or Not” (Simon & Schuster, 1998), as our “wondrous new machine, strong and supple, a machine that reaps as it destroys,” with no “skillful hands on board,” and “no one … at the wheel … sustained by its own motion, guided mainly by its own appetites.” The goals of consumerism are incompatible with the goals of liberal arts, a term which, in classical antiquity “denoted the education of a free man (Latin, liber for free) unlike the vocational education proper to a slave.” The goal of liberal arts — to form free minds — is incompatible with the goal of mass culture — to form shopaholics. The liberal arts value individuals; market culture values consumers. Liberal arts value tradition; market culture values novelty. Liberal arts inspire thinking; market culture inspires buying. Liberal arts champion originality; market culture inspires conformity. Western humanism celebrates humans; modern consumerism celebrates gadgets. Parents and teachers want to educate children; market culture wants to package products. 

The mother who sent her seventh-grader for tutoring at Starbucks with Randi Abrahams in “Schooled” is familiar. She is not as rich as Anna Taggert thinks she is; both she and her husband are killing themselves to pay those school and tutoring bills. And despite it all, their seventh-grader is not as educated as his teacher imagines him to be when she asks him to write a summary of the first act of “Romeo and Juliet.” There is no way Benjamin can figure out how to condense those pages or put the Elizabethan English into his own words — not words ripped off SparkNotes or MonkeyNotes. Smart as he is, he just doesn’t have the writing skills — not to mention the vocabulary and attention span — to get through the first act of a Shakespeare play on his own. But his school, which markets itself as “top college prep,” must pretend its 12-year-olds can do just that. It wouldn’t be surprising if by next year they’ll claim he can read 700-page Victorian novels, and the year after “The Norton Anthology of English Literature.”

Benjamin’s mother sees her son as overwhelmed. She, too, is overwhelmed with everything a parent has to do to package kids for the college market. If you ask her, she’ll tell you that nothing is more important to her and her husband than Benjamin’s education. She learned that from her mother, who learned it from her mother. “We should, I say, put ourselves to great pains for our children, for on this the world is built….” wrote one of those pushy mothers, Glückel of Hamelin, a German Jewish superwoman of the late 17th and early 18th century, who managed to raise 12 children, run a business and write her memoirs for future generations.

The stories, values and messages Glückel transmits to her children are meant to provide them with a shelter in the storm, an armor that will shield them against the destructive forces of their times. Many parents today choose to provide their children with a religious education for the same reason. Glückel’s dominant culture, anti-Semitic as it was, revered her role as parent. It empowered her to see herself as a transmitter of civilized values, rather than as a provider of goods and services. Some Jewish parents today don’t realize that Judaism and the humanities go hand in hand; our children need both in order to humanize an increasingly dehumanizing culture. 

The role of Judaic studies teachers is clearly perceived as enriching students’ lives, rather than getting them into college. And the market has not yet come up with SparkNotes for Tanakh.

Parents and educators who resist the pressures of the market champion the same values that have always been upheld by the world’s great writers, thinkers and theologians. They choose substance over surface, mind over matter, quality over quantity. The most meaningful choices always require the most time. And the most valuable commodity mass culture steals away from us is time. The greatest gift parents and educators can give themselves, their students and each other is the gift of time. Reading and writing skills grow over time. It takes time to assimilate an idea; time to formulate a thought; time to express it clearly; time to teach a book thoroughly; time to grade a paper carefully. It takes time to form a cultured mind, an educated mind, a thoughtful mind — the kind of mind that will resist tyranny and keep freedom and democracy alive in the 21st century.

Irina Bragin is an L.A. tutor and writer who teaches English and public speaking at Touro College Los Angeles. She can be contacted at irina.bragin@touro.edu.

Briefs: Jewish educators award scholarships, State accredits Jewish teacher training

Jewish Educators Award Scholarships

Nine students from Los Angeles Unified School District schools each received a $2,000 scholarship from the Association of Jewish Educators (AJE), a group of Jewish teachers and administrators at Los Angeles public schools.

At a May 18 brunch, the group handed out six scholarships to high-performing Jewish students who were involved in the Jewish community.

The winners were: Zara Atanelov, Taft High School; Max Cecil, Cleveland High; Lili Pariser, Cleveland High; Arielle Turner, Narbonne High; Michaela Sola, Hamilton High Music Academy; and Lauren Zalman, Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies.

In addition, the AJE has teamed up with its counterparts in the black, Latino and Asian communities to award Human Relations Multi-Cultural Awards to deserving students. Those scholarships, also for $2,000, went to Briana Ford, Carson High School; Alma Martinez, King Drew Medical Magnet; and Djamilia Niazalieva, Hollywood High.

More than 300 people attended the annual brunch, including LAUSD board member Julie Korenstein.

“I applaud these high school seniors for their commitment to their Jewish heritage and maintaining excellent grades,” Korenstein said. “Being active in your community is just as important as maintaining good grades.”

Since its inception, the scholarship program has provided more than $250,000 in scholarships.

For more information on the Association of Jewish Educators, contact Stu Bernstein at (310) 459-0022 or e-mail theambergroup@aol.com.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

State Accredits Jewish Teacher Training

After six years of training soon-to-be-teachers, the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) has earned the ability to grant state teaching credentials.

Instead of going through the 13-month teacher training program and then having to apply for a California teaching credential, attendees of Day School Leadership through Teaching (DeLeT), a program of the Rhea Hirsch School of Education at HUC-JIR, can earn credentials in multiple subject areas for grades K-8.

The program helps teachers-in-training learn how to implement best practices in classrooms throughout North America. Partnered with Brandeis University in Boston, HUC-JIR’s DeLeT program recruits educators with a zest for learning for a yearlong fellowship that includes a mentored internship at a Jewish day school in Los Angeles or the San Francisco Bay Area.

During DeLeT training, teachers learn current methods and how to incorporate Jewish values and ideas into general studies.

This is the first time any Jewish institution in California has been authorized to give state accreditation, said Michael Zeldin, director of the Rhea Hirsch School of Education.

“We want to create a new kind of teacher who will be mindful of general and Judaic studies, who can incorporate and infuse all subjects of teaching. It takes a unique teacher to help students explore their Jewish self-identity, and it doesn’t matter if he or she is a math, science or language teacher — it’s all integrated,” said Rivka Ben-Daniel, the program’s education director.

For more information on the DeLeT program visit http://www.huc.edu.

— Celia Soudry, Contributing Writer

Van Nuys High Valedictorian

Van Nuys High School named Cherise Meyerson its valedictorian. The top student in her graduating class of 503 students, Meyerson — who had a record of perfect attendance over her 12 years in school — is president of Van Nuys’ Jewish Student Union, a weekly club with Jewish events and discussion topics. She is also president of the school’s National Honor Society chapter, captain of the Science Bowl team and the highest individual scorer in Van Nuys history in the Academic Decathlon competition. Meyerson will attend UCLA in the fall as a Regents Scholar.


New Millions for Day Schools

The Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), a beneficiary of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, helped Jewish day schools bring in more than $3 million this year from new donors and foundations.

The Jewish Funders Network challenged schools to find new donors of $25,000 or more through its MATCH grant program. The Network, backed by the AVI CHAI Foundation and the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, matched new-donor money 50 cents to the dollar.

Fourteen Jewish schools earned those matching funds this year, bringing in a total of more than $1.3 million. Four years ago, the first time the grant was offered, only two area schools qualified. With the help of Miriam Prum-Hess, heading up the BJE’s new department for day school operations, schools received training and guidance in finding grants and nurturing new donors.

That approach also paid off with the Department of Homeland Security, which awarded close to $2 million to 14 Los Angeles Jewish schools in 2007. The funds pay for security infrastructure, such as cameras or fences. The BJE conducted joint training sessions with The Federation, and a total of 23 Jewish institutions received Homeland Security grants.

For additional information, visit http://www.bjela.org/.


Irvine School Donates 6,000 Books

Students at Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School teamed up with Access Books, a nonprofit organization, to donate over 6,000 books to a new charter school, Orange County Educational Arts Academy, during a community book drive this spring.

Leighann Pennington, the sixth-grade language arts and social studies teacher, facilitated the program at Tarbut V’Torah, a school in Irvine that promotes values of tikkun olam (repair the world) to students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Along with donating books to the library, Tarbut V’Torah students bonded with peers who attend Orange County Educational Arts Academy, mingling, cataloging books and painting murals together.

Founded in 1999, Access Books has worked with over 100 schools and donated more than 1.2 million books to several libraries.

“This project really helped my students take on important leadership roles,” Pennington said. “It was very inspiring to see the students interact with each other during the book drive. We are so proud to be a part of building the Orange County Educational Arts Academy.”

For more information, visit

Exercise your right to read — without censorship

The last week of September is Banned Books Week.

Ever read a book from the “Harry Potter” series or “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”? Then you’ve read a banned book — a book taken off of shelves in a classroom or library at one time because people complained about it.

Sometimes, people who want to ban a book get so mad they actually burn copies of it (like in “Pleasantville” and “Footloose”).

The American Library Association got more than 400 requests to ban books last year. But most of those requests were unsuccessful, because of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other people who make sure books stay on shelves.

Use this week to support your right to read. Here are some banned books to consider reading this week:

  • “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank, which someone wanted to ban because it was “a real downer.”

  • “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” by Judy Blume
  • “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier
  • The “Goosebumps” series by R.L. Stine
  • The “Captain Underpants” series by Dav Pilkey
  • “James and the Giant Peach” by Roald Dahl
  • “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss
  • “Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson
  • …. And don’t forget the Torah and the Talmud

For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>Kids@jewishjournal.com with Kein v’Lo in the subject line.

Helping Kids Cope With Difficult Teachers

It’s a scene straight out of the worst-case scenario parent handbook. Our child — a normally happy student — lands the “Teacher From the Black Lagoon.” She’s evil, he tells us shaking in his Air Jordans. Not to mention out to get him. How can he possibly be expected to learn when his teacher is the scholastic version of Attila the Hun?

Suddenly our primal parental instinct kicks in. The same adrenalin-fueled impulse to protect our young, which once had us lunging for our toddler milliseconds before he stuck his Barney fork in the electrical outlet, is now prompting us to grab his fourth-grade teacher by her ruffled collar and command her to keep her claws off our kid.

Or else.

But we can’t relapse into our primal fury yet, my fellow Jewish parents. Not before we take a good, hard look at the split-screen. You know, like when important news breaks out during a major television ratings event like the Academy Awards, and they split the screen between Halle Berry’s acceptance speech and an oil spill on the interstate. Just like that. Only different, because this screen is split between our kid and, well, our kid.

On one side we see our moppy-topped 9-year-old, with freckles that tug at our heartstrings, imploring us to free him from the wrath of the evil Mrs. Xstein. On the other screen we see him again. But this time he’s all grown up; and he seems to be saying something about quitting yet another job. Mean boss, he tells us, out to get him. How can he possibly be expected to perform at work when he’s forced to put up with the corporate version of Attila the Hun?!

Taken aback, we begin to refocus and then, so does he. It’s still our son on that second screen and he’s still all grown up, but he’s seems different this time — empowered, resilient, menschlich. Mean boss, he says. What can you do? Sometimes you get to work with nice people; sometimes you have to work with cranky people. That’s just the way life is.

It was a lesson he’d learned way back in fourth grade when his mom insisted he march his Air Jordans straight into that swamp monster’s classroom and hold his head high. For hurt her as it might, she believed in her heart that moppy-topped 9-year-olds who muster up the courage to tough out a whole school year with the “Teacher From the Black Lagoon” emerge from those murky waters resilient, empowered, moppy-topped mensches. That’s just the way life is.

By the way, what that boy didn’t know is that once his mom took control of her primal urge, she continued to watch her son carefully for weeks and months to come. She knew that if her son’s complaints persisted or worsened and he started to show signs of extreme stress (i.e. stomach aches, sleeplessness, depression or anxiety) she would march her tuchis right into that school and have a serious chat with the teacher. Maybe even the principal after that. But that didn’t happen. In fact, while Mrs. Xstein never quite turned into the warm fuzzy that the boy and his mom hoped she would be, she wasn’t really the “Teacher From the Black Lagoon.”

Here are some tips for helping your kids cope with difficult teachers:

  • Share your own “Teacher From the Black Lagoon” stories. By telling our children about our childhood experiences with mean teachers, we give them a perspective they may not otherwise grasp. I often tell my kids about my sixth-grade Hebrew teacher, a hulking bearded rabbi who threatened to sit on any students who talked during class. Such tales help them understand that having difficult teachers is a highly survivable, universal experience.
  • Be a sounding board. Do you know how sometimes you just need to get together with your girlfriends, eat a gallon of cookie dough ice cream, and gripe? You don’t really want your friends to offer solutions, much less intervene on your part. It’s often the same when our kids complain about mean teachers; they just need to vent. Rather than making a beeline for the principal’s office after your child reports his teacher forced the class to have a silent lunch period for doing absolutely nothing! Respond with an empathetic, “That’s too bad. I’ll bet you missed talking to your friends.”
  • Help your child see the future. Explain to your child that throughout life, she is going to have to deal with people who are grumpy, unreasonable, and insidious. While spending a year with a mean teacher may seem a dreadful task now, it will teach her that she can succeed with even the most difficult of people.
  • Get involved only as a last resort. According to Dr. Charles Fay, a school psychologist and author of “Love and Logic Magic,” parents should intervene on behalf of their child only when it is clear that the teacher is so incompetent or negative that even the best behaved student would find it impossible to adapt. Fortunately, such educators are few and far between.

Sharon Duke Estroff is an award-winning Jewish educator and mother of four. Her first book, “Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah? The Essential 411 on Raising Modern Jewish Kids” will be published in 2007.

News Briefs from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Technion Gets $25 Million Gift From Californian

A California philanthropist has donated $25 million to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. The gift from Lorry Lokey, founder and chairman of Business Wire, will be used to create a new combined life sciences and engineering center. The money came through the New York-based American Technion Society, which has raised more than $1.2 billion since its inception in 1940. “I feel that Israel has in the Technion an asset as valuable as MIT and Cal Tech combined,” Lokey said.

Technion Professor Aaron Ciechanover, a who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2004, will head the center.

U.S. Teachers Union Backs Israel

A major U.S. teachers union passed a pro-Israel resolution. Passed July 21 at the biennial convention of the American Federation of Teachers in Boston, the resolution supports Israel’s right to defend itself and condemns the “bombings, killings and kidnappings by Hezbollah and Hamas that precipitated the current crisis.”

The resolution also calls for the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, which demands that Hezbollah be disarmed and calls for negotiations leading to a cease-fire.

Initiative Aims to Boost Israeli Tourism

A major U.S. Jewish umbrella group launched an initiative to bolster tourism to Israel during the conflict with Hezbollah.

The program, launched by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, allows tourists to place reservations, which will be valid for up to a year, in northern Israeli hotels and kibbutzim. It is intended to provide a “continuing stream” of income to Israeli tourism and the people who work in that industry, the group’s executive vice chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein, said Monday in a conference call with reporters.

Israel’s Hotel Association and the Tourism Ministry are participating in the effort, in cooperation with the Prime Minister’s Office and the Gaza Development Authority.

Jewish Lawmakers Honor Israeli Air Force

Several members of the U.S. House of Representatives attended a July 19 gathering honoring the Israel Air Force Center, an Israeli nonprofit that promotes ties between the Israeli air force and the international community.”There are difficult days ahead for Israel,” said Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo). “I can’t tell you how profoundly grateful we are to the Israeli air force for what it does 24 hours a day. Members of Congress who are friends of Israel are honored and privileged to do our little bit to assist.”

Other Jewish members attending included Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) and Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles).

Saudis Warn of War

Saudi Arabia said Israeli actions could bring about a Middle East war.”Saudi Arabia warns everybody that if the peace option fails because of Israeli arrogance, there will be no other option but war,” Saudi King Abdullah was quoted as saying Tuesday, in reference to Israel’s offensives in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

Saudi Arabia championed a 2002 regional peace proposal under which Israel would be recognized by the Arab world if it gave up territories captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and allowed a “right of return” for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Israel rejected the preconditions, which are seen as demographic suicide for the Jewish state. The chief of Israel’s military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday that Syria had put its armed forces on high alert and that there was concern in Jerusalem that it could “misread the situation” an apparent reference to Syrian fears that it could come under attack from Israeli or U.S. forces.

Turkey Would Consider Lebanon Role

Turkey would consider a role in a stabilization force in southern Lebanon. “If and when called upon, we will be giving positive consideration to whichever way we contribute, including the stabilization force,” said Burak Akcapar, a counselor at the Turkish Embassy in Washington. Turkey is to play a prominent role at talks in Rome on Wednesday hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice aimed at ending the Israel-Lebanon crisis. Akcapar said it was too early to consider whether Turkey would take a leading role in such a force, but noted that Turkey had successfully led such forces in recent years in the Balkans and Afghanistan. “We have a major stake in maintaining stability in the region,” he said.

Ukrainians Hold Pro-Israel Rallies

Demonstrators in two Ukrainian cities rallied in a show of support for Israel. An estimated 2,000 people, some of them carrying Israeli flags and banners reading “Stop the Terror,” “Yes, Israel” and “Ukraine and Israel Together” demonstrated Monday in Kiev.

Israeli Ambassador Naomi Ben-Ami, the chief rabbis of Ukraine, and Jewish and Christian leaders took part in the rally. Also Monday, some 1,500 people attended a rally in support of Israel in the city of Dnepropetrovsk.

In a related development, Alexander Feldman, a Jewish member of Ukraine’s Parliament, collected some 50 signatures from lawmakers on a petition urging the Ukrainian leadership to publicly support Israel in the current conflict.Last week, hundred of demonstrators rallied in Kiev and some other Ukrainian cities to protest Israel’s military operation against Hezbollah.

Poll: Canadians Back Israel

Almost two-thirds of Canadians see Israel’s military action in Lebanon as completely or somewhat justified, according to a new poll.

A survey conducted for the CanWest News Service and Global National found that 64 percent of Canadians are sympathetic to the goals of Israel’s counterattack against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Sixty-three percent of the 1,023 Canadians polled said that if any side should be required to make a major compromise to attain a cease-fire, it should be “those who kidnapped the Israeli soldiers.”

Israeli Children Get Donated Toys

Children in northern Israel received toys donated from North America. Canadian philanthropist Gerry Schwartz and his wife, Heather Riesman, along with the Toys “R” Us chain, donated toys worth approximately $50,000 to children in the northern Israeli towns of Nahariya and Shlomi.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Class Notes – National Nachas for Shalhevet

Shalhevet School is on a winning streak, bringing the Los Angeles yeshiva high school to national prominence in the areas of ethics, politics and sports.

Shalhevet is the only Jewish school and the only school in Los Angeles included in a national report on how to produce students who are not only intelligent, but have a sense of moral maturity.

The 14-year-old high school is one of 24 schools from across the country included in “Smart and Good High Schools: Integrating Excellence and Ethics for Success in School, Work and Beyond,” a 225-page report recently published by State University of New York College at Cortland.

Researchers spent time at Shalhevet to observe how it builds character in its students — for example, through its weekly town hall meetings and moral discussions that permeate the classroom and extracurricular activities.

“In a ‘Smart and Good High School,’ all things in the life of the school — routines, rituals, discipline, curriculum, co-curricular activities and unplanned ‘teachable moments’ — are intentionally utilized as opportunities to foster excellence and ethics,” the report reads.

Two seniors from last year, Leor Hackel and Sara Hoenig, served on the National Student Leaders Panel for the study.

Shalhevet also chalked up a win in Yeshiva University’s Model United Nations, where about 40 Jewish high schools faced off in debates on issues such as the crisis in Darfur, how to define terrorism and providing nutritional support to alleviate the HIV crisis in sub-Saharan Africa.

Shalhevet’s win continued a long Model U.N. crosstown rivalry with YULA High School, which came in second. In the last five years Shalhevet has placed first twice and YULA three times.

Phu Tranchi, adviser to the 14-member Shalhevet team, notes that aside from spending many hours preparing, students hone their persuasive abilities at town hall meetings.

And, Tranchi added, “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we have great overlap between the Model U.N. and the drama club — they can really get up and put on a show.”

The same can be said for Shalhevet’s Lady Firehawks, who won first place in the Hillel Community School invitational basketball tournament in Florida last month, where teams from Jewish high schools across the country competed. This was the second consecutive year that the Lady Firehawks won the tournament. Tamar Rohatiner, a Shalhevet senior, won tournament MVP.

Sun Strong for Camp Ramah

Camp Ramah in Ojai will be getting some new décor atop the Gindi Dining Hall this summer — about 250 photovoltaic panels to generate enough solar energy to cut the camp’s energy bill by about $30,000 a year.

This is phase one of a three-part project that will eventually save the camp up to $75,000 a year and will reduce toxic emissions by approximately 15 million pounds of carbon dioxide, 37,800 pounds of nitrous oxide and 121,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide over the 50-year life of the installation.

The camp received a $500,000 gift from alumnus David Braun to begin construction on the $1.3 million project. Camp Ramah expects reliance on solar power to insulate tuition against future energy cost spikes.

“By both using and educating about solar energy during future encampments, we believe we will create generations of Jewish leaders who are environmentally conscious and who will seek to move more and more Jewish and non-Jewish institutions to environmentally friendly energy options,” said Ramah’s Executive Director Rabbi Daniel Greyber.

Greyber has been working with Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) to obtain IRS approval of a strategy to offer nonprofits the same tax incentives currently given to for-profit companies to build solar installations.

For more information about Camp Ramah or the solar energy project, call (310) 476-8571.

YULA Girls Face History

Facing History and Ourselves, a Boston-based organization dedicated to teaching morality and tolerance through the study of the Holocaust, will hold a seminar for teachers this summer at the YULA girls’ school. The five-day workshop will be geared toward, but not limited to, teachers at Orthodox schools.

“What I hope people come out with is a better way of teaching about this history and also a way to help students think about their own participation in the society in which they live,” said Jan Darsa, director of Jewish education at Facing History.

The conference runs June 25-30 and costs $500 for the first teacher and $400 per teacher after that. Applications are due April 15. For more information, contact Jan Darsa at (617) 735-1613, or visit www.facinghistory.org.

Jewish Peace Corps

Looking for a great summer experience of hard physical labor and few amenities? American Jewish World Service, an organization dedicated to sustainable development, will bring 16- to 25-year-olds to Africa, Central America and Asia to engage in tikkun olam, repairing the world, in the most literal sense.

The seven-week program couples intense physical work — building schools, water systems, homes and agricultural projects — with Jewish study and community experience.

The program is open to high school juniors and seniors, and adults 18-25. The application deadline is March 31. For more information, contact Sonia Gordon-Walinsky at (800) 889-7146, ext. 651, sgw@ajws.org or visit www.ajws.org.

Prejudice Awareness Summit

More than 300 middle school students from area public and parochial school participated in a Prejudice Awareness Summit at the University of Judaism (UJ) last month. UJ undergraduates led the younger students in exercises that encouraged honest and open dialogue and allowed them to explore their own feelings about prejudice. Workshops focused on reducing harmful actions and developing techniques to resolve conflicts. For more information on the summit, call (310) 476-9777.


Questions Emerge Over School Board Candidate

A leading contender in next week’s L.A. school board race is at odds with USC and UCLA over his academic standing, the latest in a series of uncomfortable disclosures for Christopher Arellano.

Arellano, 33, the candidate endorsed by the powerful Los Angeles teachers union, did not complete the master’s programs for which he claims to have degrees, according to the University of Southern California. Further, UCLA declined Thursday to confirm his bachelor’s degree, saying only that Arellano’s “records are on hold.”

In an interview, Arellano said he was unaware of a dispute about his record at UCLA, but he acknowledged he did not complete a required four units of classes for the Urban Planning component of the dual master’s he has claimed at USC. He also said he fully completed the other of the two master’s degrees, in social work.

Questions about Arellano’s academic status came to light even as the well-financed political newcomer is trying to lay to rest another issue: a criminal past. Thursday’s La Opinion published details about Arellano convictions for theft — once at age 20 and again three years later.

Arellano insists that he has been open about his troubles.

“I am aware that my opponents have raised questions regarding my past,” he said in a statement provided Wednesday night to the House of Representatives of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). “And yes, I did make some mistakes. I am not proud of these mistakes, but they have served to make me a better, stronger person. I am running for school board because I want to ensure that none of our children end up in the hopeless place that I did and make the same mistakes that I made.”

Born Robert Christopher Bruce, Arellano said in an interview with The Journal that his mother was Mexican and his father Anglo and an alcoholic. He recounted dropping out of school and leaving Phoenix, Ariz. at 14, finally arriving in Los Angeles at 18, where he slept in a car.

“I have been like one of our kids who gets lost in the system,” he said.

He began to get interested in theater and also hung out with Echo Park hipsters, who knew him as Bianco. He eventually changed his name legally to Christopher Bianco Arellano. Later, as an activist, he was involved in gay rights issues — he is openly gay — and the local Democratic party.

Arellano said he became politically awakened when he discovered Chicano studies at UCLA: “I redirected my frustration and anger to doing things and good work.”

Following Arellano’s appearance at the UTLA body Wednesday night, union delegates overwhelmingly voted to stand by their endorsement. At the meeting delegates were not, apparently, aware of questions regarding Arellano’s academic status.

Arellano’s character issues both cloud and enliven a political contest far off the radar of most Angelenos. He is one of four candidates running in District 2 of the Los Angeles Unified School District to replace Jose Huizar, who was elected to the Los Angeles City Council. Huizar now holds the seat formerly occupied by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Villaraigosa’s shadow looms large over the race. After some initial hesitation, Mayor Villaraigosa has embraced a mayoral takeover of the L.A. school district. Both Villaraigosa and Huizar, a close ally, have endorsed former Huizar aide Monica Garcia. For her part, Garcia, 38, says she “can’t really comment” on Villaraigosa’s takeover plan until she sees it in writing. Some political observers have interpreted this response as indirect support for Villaraigosa’s efforts.

The other candidates are not so coy in taking a different view. The most vocal opponent of the mayor’s bid for authority over the schools has been Arellano, and his position helped win the UTLA endorsement — UTLA has made resisting the mayoral takeover its No. 1 priority. Arellano also works fulltime for UTLA as a teacher rep. UTLA has consistently been the major donor in school-board races, and its endorsed candidates hold the majority on the seven-member Board of Education.

Essentially, the contest has shaped up as a proxy battle between the teachers union (supporting Arellano) and those in town who support putting the mayor in charge of L.A.’s schools (supporting Garcia). Arellano’s corollary assets include a background as a community activist and, briefly, as a City Council aide.

But then came news of Arellano’s other background.

In his campaign bio and in an initial interview, Arellano said he has two master’s. USC spokesman James Grant said the school’s position is that no degree has been conferred. When told of USC’s contention, Arellano said he has four units to complete on the second master’s in the dual master’s program. Regarding the first master’s: “I have completed all requirements for the social-work degree. I graduated and walked at graduation ceremonies in May of 2005.”

UCLA spokesman Phil Hampton would say only that Arellano’s academic records “are on hold and as a matter of policy we can’t confirm whether he received a degree.” He declined to say why the records are on hold.

“I have no idea what the problem is,” Arellano said. “I graduated from UCLA in 1998. I don’t know what the holdup is — honestly. I do have student loans. They are current. With this campaign, people are letting me know what is happening in my life.”

Arellano’s problems could open the door for other candidates, especially if he loses the UTLA endorsement. A fallback union choice could be 31-year-old Enrique Gasca, a former Legislative aide who operates a public-relations and consulting firm and who has attracted some union support; he has presented himself as the only parent in the race. A dark-horse wildcard is Ana Teresa Fernandez, a 23-year-old UCLA graduate who works as a staffer for the California Charter Schools Association. She was schooled in activism by her mother, teacher Lupe Fernandez, who has lobbied ceaselessly for the completion of the half-finished Belmont Learning Complex. Fernandez scored endorsements from both the Los Angeles Times and the L.A. Weekly. A fifth candidate, Maria Lou Calanche, appears on the ballot but has suspended her campaign.

All of the other candidates’ professed degrees check out. Garcia has a bachelor’s from UC Berkeley and a master’s from USC. Gasca has a bachelor’s from Georgetown.

Arellano’s candidacy could have fallen apart the evening of March 1, when the teachers union House of Representatives convened for a regular meeting and then entered closed session to discuss whether Arellano would keep the endorsement. The union already has committed to donating $200,000 to Arellano’s campaign — which could swamp the opposition. And more help is in the works, including a phone-bank operation, precinct walking and campaign mailers. The House dealt with the matter for about 30 minutes, said UTLA spokesman Steve Blazac. At one point, Arellano was summoned in to explain himself.

“It was an emotional appeal,” Blazac said, “to teachers from someone who said, ‘I had a troubled youth and stumbled a few times, but I turned my life around and let’s move forward.'”

Speaking with The Journal, Arellano discounted tales told by former associates, who question his transformation and apparently alerted the media: “Obviously, they’re not my friends. I’ve told you I made mistakes. I definitely screwed up in early life and I’m sorry about that.”

In his written statement to union members, Arellano said: “Over the course of this campaign, I have always been upfront about the fact that I had a troubled childhood.”

But Arellano never volunteered specifics, let alone implied that his troubles included criminal convictions or financial irresponsibility. In 1992, he appeared before a municipal court for stealing merchandise and for battery at Pioneer Market in Boyle Heights. He pleaded guilty to the theft charge in a plea agreement. The court fined him $415 and placed him on unsupervised probation for 24 months.

In 1995, Los Angeles police arrested him for stealing more than $400, which qualifies as grand theft. After initially pleading not guilty, he eventually entered a no-contest plea, according to court records. A judge fined him $125 and sentenced him to three days in prison, 30 days of forced labor with Caltrans, and mandatory psychiatric treatment. He subsequently missed multiple court appearances. Court records indicate two bench warrants were issued for his arrest for failure to appear in court, spanning from 1995 to March 1999. The 1995 case continued until September 2004.

The 1992 case did not officially close until a hearing today (Thursday) in Los Angeles Superior Court, according to court records. For more than 10 years — until today — there has been an outstanding warrant for his arrest due to repeated failures to appear in court.

Arellano’s docket also includes a separate 1998 judgment for a loan debt of $3,610.97. Arellano said he couldn’t recall the case, but that “any kind of debt that needed to be paid I paid. My credit score I’m happy with.”

The question for voters is simply: Who is Christopher Arellano? Former friends, some claiming to be victims of alleged scams, say they consider him a charming con artist and just can’t believe that he has reformed. They point out that some of his problems have persisted into recent times, such as the now-closed court cases.

But Arellano earned good marks in his year working as a field deputy for City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who has endorsed Arellano.

“Chris, I think, embodies somebody who has not only transformed his life, but also overcome a lot of hardship to be a success story, which is what we want to see a lot of youths in Los Angeles achieve,” Garcetti said. “He was a dropout and overcame a broken home to work on behalf of social justice. He was able to put himself through college and graduate school. He was an extremely welcome, bright, articulate presence in the office.”

Additional reporting by Robert David Jaffee.

Preschool Teaching Methods Stir Debate

Once upon a time, children didn’t step into a classroom until kindergarten. There, 5-year-olds got their first real introduction to ABCs and 123s, colors and shapes and how to share and take turns.

Today, kindergartners are widely expected to know their letters and numbers before the first day of school. One mother, whose child will start kindergarten in the fall, was told that because her child was not yet reading, he was “already behind.”

That’s not truly the case at either a public school or at the vast majority of private schools, but many schools and parents are pushing students to learn material at progressively earlier ages. That presents preschools with the challenge of balancing these demands with the needs and the developing abilities of their young charges.

One result is that parents and educators alike have been thrown into the debate over the merits of a more academic approach — traditional, structured and teacher-directed — vs. a developmental approach — more informal and child directed.

“With the academic approach, kids get information drilled into them that they may not grasp,” said Sarah Maizes, the mother of a 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old twins. “I want my children to understand the world on their own terms.”

Maizes, who previously worked in children’s publishing and television, chose to send her children to preschool at Temple Isaiah in West Los Angeles, because she considered it developmentally oriented, focusing on “each individual child’s needs.”

April Brown, in contrast, originally chose the developmental route with her then-3-year-old son, Andrew, because she “didn’t want to push him.” But after he grew bored and unhappy, she switched him to a more structured, academic program.

“He did much better in an environment that was more focused on projects, goals and lessons,” Brown said. “The decision wasn’t made based on how I wanted him to perform but on what suited him best.”

Experts say that both academic and developmental approaches have merit, and in fact, can be used in combination.

“For many years, I’ve heard about this dichotomy of developmental vs. academic … They aren’t mutually exclusive,” said Dr. Barbara Gereboff, head of school at Kadima Academy in Woodland Hills. “These terms are used to stand in for ‘kind and gentle and nurturing’ vs. ‘punitive and strict.’ These are the wrong definitions.”

Kadima’s new preschool on a campus it purchased last year is already fully enrolled.

Young children can and do benefit from academic experiences, said Esther Elfenbaum, director of Early Childhood Education Services for the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) of Greater Los Angeles.

“By the time children reach the age of 5, their brains have made many connections. The more stimulation a child’s brain receives, the better off that child will be,” she said. At the same time, material should be presented in a manner that is appropriate and interesting for each child. “Children can learn more than we think. The trick is to make it so that they want to learn.”

Seven years ago, Elfenbaum introduced a teaching methodology called Reggio Emilia to Jewish community educators. This approach uses children’s interests as departure points for learning opportunities. For example, if a student raises a question about a certain animal, that can lead to a discussion of the animal’s habitat, diet and lifestyle.

By allowing children to explore what’s significant to them, this type of approach “does academics in a way that’s developmentally appropriate,” she said.

Elfenbaum recently returned from a BJE-sponsored trip to Israel, where she and 17 early childhood educators from Los Angeles observed best practices at Israeli preschools. There, they saw classroom walls covered with children’s artwork and child-dictated captions, which were created around such themes as “the ocean” or “summer.” She believes that teaching reading through such a themed approach is more effective than using “the letter of the week.”

At Harkham Hillel Academy in Beverly Hills, Cecelie Wizenfeld, early childhood director, described her school’s approach as “developmentally academic.” While the curriculum is structured to accommodate both general studies and Hebrew, she said lessons are presented in a way that recognizes children’s “ages and stages.”

Even when schools recognize their student’s capabilities and limitations, the children may still find themselves being pushed.

“Parents at orientation ask, ‘Will my [3-year-old] child be reading?” Wizenfeld said. “I tell them that the No. 1 priority is for children to feel good about learning.”

Children’s early learning experiences are also affected by the caliber of their teachers. Tamar Andrews, preschool director at Temple Isaiah, noted that California requires only 12 units of early childhood education for state preschool teachers, a fact she called “scary.”

Andrews said that she prefers to borrow elements from the many philosophies. The ultimate goals of preschool “are intangible: high self-esteem, a sense of self and a sense of belonging,” she said. In other words, “the goal is for children to turn out to be menches.”


Schwarzenegger Is Losing Jewish Vote

In November 2003, California voters recalled Gov. Gray Davis and replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger. White voters backed the recall by a large margin, but Jewish voters swam against the tide, with 69 percent voting against the recall. On the second part of the ballot, where voters chose a replacement candidate, Schwarzenegger collected a surprising 31 percent of Jewish voters.

I suggested then in these pages that Schwarzenegger might eventually do well with Jews: “Jewish voters aren’t likely to abandon the Democratic Party anytime soon, but will likely give Arnold Schwarzenegger a chance to prove that he can govern in a bipartisan, moderate manner…. If Schwarzenegger truly seeks to solve the state’s problems without being a tool of right-wing forces, and with an open-minded, progressive approach, he may find a surprising number of friends among California’s Democratic-leaning Jewish voters.”

Chance given, chance blown.

Political historians will surely marvel at the precipitous political decline of California’s celebrity governor, especially because Schwarzenegger should have been a lock with Jewish voters. He came into office as a moderate Republican with lots of Democratic friends (he’s even married to a Democrat), with pro-choice views on abortion and as an advocate of “reform,” a concept dear to many Jewish voters. Schwarzenegger invited comparisons to Gov. George Pataki of New York, a Republican moderate who is finishing his third term in a very blue state. Over time, Schwarzenegger even seemed likely to attract support from elements of organized labor.

In the beginning, Schwarzenegger was a whirlwind, reaching out across party lines to Democratic leaders and listening to a broad range of advisers who included Democrats. He split his opposition by making budget deals with the teachers and with other key interest groups. He looked like a problem-solver, not an ideologue. For Democrats enraged and alienated by the narrow-cast politics of the Bush administration, he seemed to offer a different way.

Then, under no external pressure to do so, Schwarzenegger morphed into an AM talk radio Republican. As the governor’s deal with the teachers unraveled, he had to choose between outraging Republicans by raising taxes or reneging on the original deal. His choice revealed him to be less like Earl Warren, and more like Pete Wilson. No longer surrounded by Democrats (something that had annoyed the Bush White House), he now listened to Wilson’s advisers. He blasted teachers and nurses as obstacles to change. After a transparently showy attempt to consult with Democrats, he hewed to the Bush-Rove line that all problems could be solved if Democrats and unions were excluded from the table.

Then, to add a little spice for the AM radio crowd, the governor began to talk about “closing the borders” and praised the Minutemen group carrying guns to block illegal immigrants. (Jewish voters, remember, were the one group of voters other than Latinos to oppose Wilson’s Proposition 187 campaign in 1994.) And Schwarzenegger kept up the juvenile rhetoric and media stunts that had long since worn out their welcomes.

Finally, and catastrophically, the governor called a special election for November, watched his poorly designed initiatives drop one at a time, and now finds himself fighting a battle he never should have picked.

He dropped dozens of points in the polls, completely losing Democrats and most independents. Like Bush, he now has to depend on a highly ideological Republican base. Unlike Bush, these really aren’t his people, but they are all he’s got. They certainly don’t look like Jewish voters.

Since there are a lot of Jewish teachers, it’s hard to imagine how demonizing the teachers’ unions will help with Jewish voters. Taking money without disclosure from muscle magazines that depend on unexamined, and possibly hazardous, dietary supplements while raising colossal amounts of special-interest money hardly comport with a “reform” image.

How to reverse the decline?

Jews will definitely vote for the right moderate Republican candidate in statewide elections. But for a Republican to win over Jews requires accommodating their Democratic loyalty and leanings at least halfway. The Wilson Republican camp says Schwarzenegger just needs to push harder in the same direction; the opposition, in their view, will fold like a house of cards. Others suggest that the governor ought to return to what he once seemed, a bipartisan, imposing, socially moderate problem-solver free of special-interest control. While the second option is obviously more sensible, it may not be easy to backtrack.

Schwarzenegger is playing a much weaker hand than when he swept into office. At the time, conservatives suspected that he was a potentially troublesome moderate, and on whose popularity their own party’s prospects depended. Democrats were impressed by his popularity and charm, and could perceive a real threat to their conventional thinking and political dominance. Riding high, Schwarzenegger might have challenged the orthodoxies of both parties and in Clintonian fashion, could have “triangulated” them. Now that he has put himself in the partisan box, he has raised expectations on the right and a fighting spirit on the left.

To break out now, Schwarzenegger might have to rise more strongly to challenge the Bush Republicans. He has already done so on global warming and stem cell research. Schwarzenegger will have to reach out to Democrats and make them part of the solution to the state’s problems, an attitude which, if sincere rather than a setup, would send a positive signal to Jewish voters. And then he has to get to work on the state’s problems, every day, without distractions and gimmicks. In the parlance of today’s partisan politics, this blue state will probably be amenable to a purple governor, but not to a red one.

Jewish voters are serious and attentive students of politics and government. They are a tough audience. If Schwarzenegger can win their favor, he will be on the way toward rehabilitating a crippled governorship.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton.


Political Journal


This month’s Political Journal is a tale of two labor disputes. One is dragging on and on; the other has come to a peaceful conclusion just when it seemed there might be a strike ahead.

Hotels Battle Continues

A protracted 11-month debacle continues between UNITE HERE, Local 11, representing workers at eight (formerly nine) upscale Los Angeles hotels and the L.A. Hotel Employer’s Council, representing hotel management.

The crux of the battle is the workers’ demand for a short-term contract that would expire in 2006, which is also when contracts would expire at hotels in cities across the nation. The unions would then be able to cooperate, strengthen their common positions and have more clout in dealing with the international hotel conglomerates (like Starwood) that own some of the hotels.

The L.A.-area hotels (Hyatt Regency, Hyatt West Hollywood, Westin Century, Sheraton Universal, Wilshire Grand, Millennium Biltmore, Regent Beverly Wilshire and Westin Bonaventure) have insisted on a longer contract that would extend past 2006, saying that national union concerns are not relevant locally.

At this point, there are no scheduled negotiations.

On the upside for workers, the hotels have stopped charging a $10-a-week health care co-payment, which was instituted last July, after management declared an impasse.

“We didn’t ask the union for anything in return, but we hoped that it would help bring them back to the table,” said management spokesman Fred Muir.

Not surprisingly, the union doesn’t think management canceled the fee out of inherent goodness. It points to a pending complaint by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in January, which is expected to allege that management broke NLRB rules when it declared an impasse and imposed the co-pay.

“They have not refunded any of the [health care] money they collected,” said union spokesman David Koff. “Should the NLRB ultimately prevail in its complaint, the hotels could be liable to repay this money with interest.”

Taking the issue to trial and through the appeals process could take years. The hotels contend Local 11 is using a delaying strategy to get 2006 as the date for its next contract by default.

“Every time we meet, they don’t want to meet again for a month or six weeks,” Muir said. “They basically want to keep this thing going until 2006.”

Koff responded that five independently owned hotels around the city (including the Hotel Bel-Air and the Radisson Wilshire Plaza), which usually follow the hotel council’s lead on these issues, have already signed contracts with the union that expire in 2006.

“If the Bel Air and these other properties can live with the deal Local 11 has proposed to them, there is little question that these other hotels could live with it as well,” he said.

In the meantime, portions of the L.A. Jewish community have become deeply involved in the dispute, consistently siding with the workers.

The Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and the Workmen’s Circle have organized the Adar Hotel Workers Campaign, collecting $40 supermarket gift certificates for the workers during the month of Adar (Feb. 10- April 9).

“They’re not being charged [the co-pay] anymore, but regardless, they’re facing extreme economic hardship, and they’re still owed the $40 per month from before,” said PJA’s Jaime Rappaport.

The certificates are being collected at a variety of congregations around the city, including Leo Baeck Temple, Temple Israel of Hollywood and IKAR, to name a few.

Teachers Get a Happy Ending — For Now

Meanwhile, a second labor dispute, this one brewing for an amazing 18 months, has been settled peacably, which almost counts as a surprise ending. United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) reached a tentative agreement with the L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) Tuesday.

For the past year and a half, teachers had been fighting for higher pay and more involvement and flexibility in the design of their own training.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation, where what’s working in the Westside will work in South Central. The teachers in the classroom know what they’re dealing with; they should be included in the dialogue with the district, and that hasn’t been the case,” UTLA spokesperson Angelica Urquijo said the day before the agreement was reached.

In the preceeding week, a work-to-rule protest spread from West Valley schools to the rest of the district. Work-to-rule means teachers stop all the uncompensated work usually necessary to improve students’ education, such as spending unpaid hours after school tutoring children.

Urquijo said work-to-rule was meant to demonstrate how hard teachers really work, how the community of parents would stand behind them and how frustrating the interminable contract negotiations had become.

UTLA members reserved some frustration for their own president, John Perez, who was voted out earlier this month. He’ll be replaced July 1 by A.J. Duffy, a teacher who pledged to take a harder line against the district, especially on pay raises. That turn of events made the prospect of a strike seem more likely.

But just the day after work-to-rule went districtwide, the union and district reached an agreement running through June 2006. It includes a 2 percent retroactive pay raise from last July 1. The union also made gains on other contested issues, achieving a greater role for teachers in evaluating their own training programs and in providing more input on student assessmens.

Negotiators will go back to the table to discuss health benefits, which are funded through December.

Los Angeles in the past two years has trudged through a series of lengthy and painful labor disputes, running the gamut from supermarkets and buses to hotels and schools. At least LAUSD students, already working against the odds, won’t also have to overcome the fallout from a teachers strike.


Location Isn’t Everything


Several times during my visit with Rabbi Karmi Gross at Maimonides Academy, coaches and kids came to pull balls out of the corner of his tiny office in a prefab building smack in the middle of the schoolyard. It didn’t seem to bother Gross, who smiled at them as he did at the teachers and other staff who came in and out of the adjoining office just a few feet from his chair.

Gross knows the campus leaves something to be desired, but that, he says, is part of the school’s charm. You know, he claims, that any family who comes to Maimonides does so not out of convenience or because they are impressed with the facilities, but because they want to be part of the school.

Tucked behind the Beverly Center and the Hotel Sofitel, Maimonides Academy straddles the border of Los Angeles and West Hollywood, with a cul-de-sac dissecting the school. Part of the campus is the old school building, built in 1985 when the school was still known as Sephardic Hebrew Academy (it was changed in 1992). Another building, added in 1994, is a converted nightclub, which explains the mirrored stairwell.

Maimonides, a Modern Orthodox day school, is filled to capacity with almost 500 students — up from 300 10 years ago.

The school has architectural plans for a new campus at the site, and is working its way through the double municipal bureaucracies of Los Angeles and West Hollywood.

The capital campaign hasn’t officially begun, but Gross isn’t worried, because there are a lot of people who love the school, he says.

Gross has been at the school for five years, and has worked on revamping the Judaic curriculum, making sure that students in each grade have mastered what they learned before they move on. Judaic studies had been a weak point in the past, he acknowledges, and needed to be improved to keep up with the standards the school has set in being a warm place for families and producing menschy kids.

Gross loves his job, and knows his description of a stunningly dedicated parent body and kids who love the place sounds suspiciously too good to be true. But it’s hard to question a principal’s sincerity when he’s willing to let his office double as a gym shed.

For information about Maimonides Academy, call (310) 659-2456.

Brownie Points

Karla de Beer knows that it’s a good thing that her 7-year-old daughter, Miranda-Max, is a little bit more calm and collected than her mother.

When Truffles, the family’s year-old cocker spaniel, fell into a ravine at the back of the de Beer’s Laurel Canyon home last April, de Beer did what any dog-loving woman would do. She tied a rope around her waist, fastened it to the fence above, and rappelled down the 20-foot mountainside to rescue the dog.

Problem was, she couldn’t get back up.

Miranda-Max, then 6 and a member of Brownie Troop 1555, sponsored by the Temple Beth Hillel sisterhood, stood up above, holding on to the cell phone, ready to call for help. She heeded her mother, who instructed her to go inside and wait while she tried to get up. After a couple hours, she convinced her mother to let her call 911.

Throughout the whole time, even while she was all by herself, Miranda-Max wasn’t afraid, and never cried.

“I just knew I was old enough,” said Miranda-Max, now a second-grader at Temple Beth Hillel Day School in Valley Village.

The fire department arrived soon after Miranda-Max made the call, and with nothing more than a few cuts and bruises both de Beer and Truffles were brought to safety.

At a Brownie troop meeting in November, Miranda-Max de Beer became only the second girl in her age group in the nation to receive the Girls Scout’s Medal of Honor.

After the story was published in Temple Beth Hillel’s newsletter, de Beer endured some ribbing. But she thinks it was worth if for what other kids can learn.

“This is something all children should know about — how they have the ability to be helpful and do good things, even at a very young age,” de Beer said.

For information on the Girl Scouts, call (800) 478-7248 or visit www.girlscouts.org. For information on Temple Beth Hillel, call (818) 763-9148 or visit www.tbhla.org.

Daughters of Torah

Mothers and daughters have a chance to bond over Torah study, art and good deeds at a six-week bat mitzvah prep program sponsored by Netivot: Women’s Torah Study Institute.

Started a year ago, in part with a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation, the program has graduated 35 pairs so far, ranging from Orthodox day school students to those who do not attend Jewish schools.

“It is a very warm, supportive environment that focuses on providing mothers and daughters an opportunity to learn together, and to connect to the strength and beauty of Jewish women in our heritage,” Netivot President Irine Schweitzer said.

The next six-week session, designed for sixth- and seventh-grade girls and their mothers or grandmothers, begins Feb. 6, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. The cost is $140 per pair.
For more information, call (310) 226-6141 or visit www.netivot.org.

You can reach Julie Gruenbaum Fax at julief@jewishjournal.com or (213) 368-1661, ext. 206.


A Student’s Plea


Often I find myself staring at walls or lying on my bed staring at the ceiling, blank-minded. But I am not one who has the luxury to

be blank-minded. There is too much to do — not by will, but by force. There is work to be done — two lessons of math homework, 26 pages of AP English reading, eight terms a day to study for the AP test, probably some science homework that I don’t remember and the indefinitely intimidating SATs, looming in everyone’s mind. I/we, all students, are collapsing under the weight of our responsibilities, high school beasts of academic burden.

So I will explain to those who ask, such as parents, teachers or siblings, “Why are you not working?” Why I am not working? It seems nothing we students can do is enough. One day there is a chemistry test, the next an essay due, the next an English test, the next a much-needed break, which is not really a break because we still have everyday homework and SAT studying, followed by another test, another essay — and eventually the lines begin to blur. Eventually, all worries and all concerns about school, grades and college just don’t seem worth it.

“Of course they’re worth it,” say parents and educators, and we know they’re worth it. We know we need to study, we know we need to do well in school, well on the SATs, well on the APs, we know it’s all important. So maybe we could find some system of working, making a schedule that encompasses both work and rest that would suit our needs and keep us sane. Not so, friends, not so.

There comes a point where we students are no longer inspired to learn. (Were we ever?) Yes, we enjoy learning what we find interesting, whether it be history, chemistry, philosophy, etc. for each individual. But as the requirements build up, and the pressure rises, our only motivation to work is to avoid being scolded for not working. We no longer care about our grades; it isn’t worth it. We don’t connect the drudgery of studying for tests or the SATs with their necessity. What I mean is that when separating ourselves from work, we understand that we need to do it in order to get into college, to have a stable life and just to learn things we didn’t know before. But when we have to get our hands dirty, get right into it with those pencils, books and calculators, and put C-clamps on our brains, the amount of work we realize we’re facing dismisses all of those long-term accomplishments for the immediacy of stress. So we shut down our brains like blocks of concrete, and stare at the walls.

In my experience, education is no longer about learning; it’s about how a student looks on paper. Letters and numbers that represent our intellect, and how many extracurriculars represent our involvement. They mean little to me. But they mean plenty to parents, schools and colleges, though, so we have to put up with them. But when they become so important that our lives need to revolve around them, it is much easier to ignore them to the extent that we can, so that parental or academic authorities won’t bother us. Not to say this is right, but it’s honest. And not to say we don’t enjoy intellect; I spend much of my free time reading, writing, talking religion or politics, enjoying or creating art, etc. These things are valuable, but, sadly, they don’t appear on our transcripts — the mindless drone of SAT, AP and GPA percentiles do. Sad how five letters and their numbers are likely to define our lives, even if we’re artists and writers and scientists and philosophers and politicians without the papers to prove it.

I do not expect to change any of these things with my words. If I did, I would also ask for a unicorn pony and to be a teenage ninja. I only hope to help parents and educators understand why we students at times are so disheartened and disconnected from our education.

I don’t speak for all students. Of course there are students who don’t feel this way, but they’re sparse. And in a way, I feel real compassion for those who don’t have the ability to disconnect themselves from their responsibilities, their worries of the SATs, the right college, the right jobs, the right mate, the whole right life, and run wild and untethered on the beaches of their own minds. But plenty of us students with our stress-roasted minds understand and relate. Someday when we inherit the world, we’ll change the system so that our children’s children will enjoy their preadulthood wholeheartedly. Someday, my brothers, someday.

Seth Lutske is a senior at YULA Boys School and editor of the school newspaper.


When Parents Get Preschool Jitters

It was the first day of preschool and 2-year-old Jessica didn’t know any of other children in her new class at B’nai Tikvah Congregation Nursery School. But the child’s anxiety paled in comparison that of her mother.

“I worried that Jessica would get her feelings hurt or that she would physically get hurt and I would not be there to comfort her,” said Sherri Cadmus. “I am used to protecting her. Now I need to give up some of that control and hope that she will be comfortable enough with her teachers to be comforted by them.”

As many preschool teachers know all too well, school separation anxiety is often harder for parents than children. Adjustments to preschool are always difficult, and for children — and parents — in Jewish days schools, the interruptions of the holiday often make it harder.

“Sometimes parents worry that they are abandoning their child even though intellectually they know the children needs to be in an environment with [his or her] peers,” said veteran preschool director Marla Osband of B’nai Tikvah in Westchester.

To ease the transition easier, Osband encourages parents to visit the school with their child before the child’s first official day. When the child starts, Osband’s “open-door policy” allows parents to either drop by or call in as often as needed. The staff often helps children write letters to their parents to bring home. Teachers take pictures to show that the child had a successful day. Parents can also leave a “transitional object,” like an article of the parent’s clothing or a picture, to remind the child that the parent will return.

According to Wendy Mogel, a Los Angeles clinical psychologist, parent educator and school consultant, the length of a child’s distress holds important information.

“The key question for the parents to ask is how many minutes does it take the child to recover after the huge show of anguish and agony when parent leaves,” Mogel said. “That’s always the key indicator for me.”

If the child cries for just a few minutes and is soon able to calm down and play or socialize, he or she is probably OK. However, if they child dreads going to school and constantly complains of headaches and stomachaches, he or she might be too young.

Mogel advises parents to be cautious about projecting their own fears.

“Children are wonderful at reading cues and playing a part at full theatrical flourish,” warned the therapist.

Since children tend to be more emotional with their mothers, sometimes having the father take the child to school can make for an easier experience.

At some Jewish preschools like Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) Early Childhood Program in Encino, life without mom and dad is introduced at age 2 in the toddler-transition program. Since most VBS preschoolers come from this program, which is specifically geared toward separation, starting preschool is usually an easier adjustment.

VBS transition classes are offered two days a week, adding a third day in the middle of the school year. Parents attend the class for a portion of the day with the child and leave together as a group at a certain point. Parents often stay on site to monitor their children’s progress until they feel comfortable departing for a brief period of time — leaving a cell phone number, of course.

“Some children separate easily and some need a longer time,” said Michelle Warner, who runs the VBS toddler transition program. “The same goes for the parents.”

The school brings in speakers who discuss parenting issues while the parents congregate in another room on site.

According to Mogel “interviewing a child for pain” is a common mistake parents make when a child starts preschool.

“The child comes home at end of day and the parent says, ‘How was it this morning — a little better than yesterday?'” Mogel explained. “If you want to talk, tell them about your day. Be quiet and then they’ll tell you about their day.”

By Jessica’s third day at B’nai Tikvah, she no longer needed her mother to stay with her in the morning. While there were a few small setbacks and meltdowns — particularly with the interruption of the holidays — Jessica is now a well-adjusted preschool — a concept that Cadmus is still getting used to.

“On the first day she stayed alone in the class I gave her a sticker for being so brave,” Cadmus said. “Now when she wakes up, she says ‘Sticker, no mommy day’ and sometimes ‘Sticker, no daddy day.’ This makes us think of all the experiences she will be having on her own that we will only learn about secondhand.”

Record Gift Given to Boston Day Schools

Jewish educators hope one of the largest gifts ever for Jewish education in America will prompt other philanthropists to follow suit.

The $45 million donation from a group of anonymous families is intended to improve Jewish day school education in Boston. The money will be spent over five years, with $30 million divided equally among three schools, and the remaining $15 million designated for a tuition scholarship fund and grants for innovative educational projects.

Jewish community professionals hailed the move, announced Monday, as a historic investment. Jewish educators say they hope other philanthropists will now step up to transform day school education across the country.

“We’ve been dreaming about days like this,” Barry Schrage, president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), said at a news conference Monday in Boston. “The grant truly represents a change in the way the American Jewish community understands education.”

The pledge, called CJP’s Peerless Excellence Project, was announced at the annual conference of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, held in Boston from Sunday through Tuesday.

The gift’s primary beneficiaries will be the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston, The Rashi School and Maimonides School. They are the Boston area’s three largest Jewish day schools, representing the Conservative, Reform and Orthodox movements, respectively.

Maimonides, the oldest and largest of Boston’s Jewish day schools, with approximately 625 students, is in the process of coming up with a plan to spend its $10 million — an amount equal to the school’s annual budget.

The executive director of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, Rabbi Joshua Elkin, said the $10 million grants constituted the largest-ever gifts for operational use in day-school education. The $45 million total dwarfed even capital gifts and day-school endowments, he said.

“There’s been nothing quite at this level,” Elkin said. “It breaks the glass ceiling of how much it is possible to invest in a day school.”

“It presents an unprecedented opportunity that I believe will be something that encourages other communities and other donors to think about ways to invest in their day schools,” he added.

The money comes with some strings attached: Funds are not to be spent on capital improvements, and the goal is to use the money to institute permanent improvements at the schools, not merely give them a five-year boost, according to Gil Preuss, director of the Excellence Project.

“The idea is not just to have excellent schools for five years, but to shift the line and improve the schools permanently,” Preuss said.

Yossi Prager, North American executive director of Avi Chai, one of the Jewish foundation world’s biggest charities, said the schools’ challenge will be to build a system that will use the money effectively but also can survive once the funding period is over.

“Either they’ve got to build in an effective fund-raising program or find ways of creating programming that’s sustainable beyond the term of the funding,” he said.

Avi Chai has spent tens of millions of dollars on grants to Jewish day schools. It also operates an interest-free loan program for capital improvements at day schools that has doled out approximately $56 million over the past five years.

Prager said the $45 million gift should serve as a model not only for investment in day-school operations but because of the role Boston’s federation, CJP, played in brokering the deal.

“The role of the federation was not as a giver but as an ally or advocate for day schools,” Prager noted. “That should be a comfortable role for day-school education.”

There are 14 Jewish day schools in the Boston area serving a total of 2,600 students, 1,400 of them at the three schools slated to receive the gifts. Day-school enrollment in Boston has risen significantly in recent years together with the opening of several new schools. The area’s schools now have excess capacity.

One of the areas not addressed by the $45 million gift is teachers’ salaries, which educators say still fall short of the level needed to recruit and retain good teachers. None of the $15 million portion of the gift will go toward teachers’ salaries, though Peerless Excellence officials did not say whether or not the three primary beneficiaries would be able to include requests for salary raises in their $10 million spending plans.

The decision by the anonymous families to make the $45 million donation to day-school education — an amount rare even for gifts to universities and museums — came in a “magic moment,” CJP’s Schrage said.

Deliberations about a substantial gift for day-school education had been under way for about five years, Schrage said, but it wasn’t until one family decided to triple its intended pledge that the project suddenly reached record proportions.

Officials would not say how many families were involved, only that they were local.

“The prerequisite is a couple of passionate donors who believe they can change the world,” Schrage said. “We expect that many more donors will begin to see the schools as a positive place to make an investment.”

Philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, the real-estate magnate behind countless “Jewish renaissance” projects, such as Birthright Israel, called the Boston gift a “bright and shining example” for what should be happening around the country in Jewish education.

“We must do a much better job than we’re doing today,” he said, noting that the vast majority of Jewish parents still do not send their children to Jewish day schools.

About 91 percent of Orthodox children go to day schools or yeshivas, but less than 20 percent of Conservative children and 4 percent of Reform children go to day schools, according to the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01.

Israel Seminar Gives Teachers Refresher

When it came to modern Israel, Ziva London found herself living in the past. Having immigrated to the United States 23 years ago, the Jewish-day-school teacher recently realized that her concept of the Holy Land reflected the Israel she knew there as a citizen more than two decades ago. Talking to fellow Israeli teachers at B’nai Shalom Day School in Greensboro, N.C., London discovered that she wasn’t alone.

“We didn’t have the resources and knowledge of how Israel has been changing according to the international arena,” said London on a break between sessions at an Israel teacher education workshop at the University of Judaism (UJ).

Ziva and her colleagues were not the only educators wanting an educational update or a refresher course so that they could effectively teach students about the Jewish homeland. Seventy teachers from 13 states, Great Britain and Canada gathered Aug. 1-6 for the Pre-Collegiate Teacher Education Workshop on the History, Culture and Politics of Modern Israel, a seminar conducted by Emory University’s Institute for the Study of Modern Israel and hosted by the UJ.

With a decline in tourism since the re-emergence of suicide bombings in key Israeli cities in 2001, fewer American Jews are visiting Israel. With less exposure to the realities of Israeli society, many Jewish educators feel that their knowledge of modern Israel is either limited or passé.

“A lot of people have antiquated ideas about Israel,” said Dr. Nadav Morag, the UJ’s director of the Center for Israel Studies and chair of the political science department. “This is not the Israel of the kibbutz and people dancing in the fields, which is what a lot of Americans have images of today. Every 10 years it’s a different country.”

Between changes in the role of the Israeli army, exports focusing on high-tech products rather than agriculture and the influx of Russian immigrants, keeping one’s finger on the pulse of the ever-changing country can seem like a full-time job.

In addition, many American Jews are baffled by the idea of some Israelis’ secular, national Jewish identities. Others don’t comprehend Israel’s parliamentary government compared to the presidential government in the United States.

Pat Glascom, a workshop participant and an Israel studies teacher at Congregation Keneseth Israel in Allentown, Penn., was relieved to get some clarity on the differences between American and Israeli democracies.

“With the American presidential election approaching, I plan to have my students make a comparative study of the two democracies,” said the religious-school teacher.

For educators who are up to date on Israel, many still struggle with the task of trying to instill within students a connection to the Jewish state.

Rebecca Zimmerman, the educational director of Contra Midrasha in Walnut Creek, was baffled when two of her teenage students failed to understand her desire to visit Israel.

“I tried every angle I could think of,” said Zimmerman, of her struggle to explain possible motivations. “An emotional connection to the state of Israel, a political fascination, historical importance, religious, a spiritual homeland or even a simple cultural connection to other Jews. No matter what I said, they would not sway from their thought that Israel was not important.”

The UJ workshop focused on how to overcome such obstacles.

While some Jewish teachers struggle with student apathy, others must tactfully facilitate in-class political debates involving Israel.

Matan Agam, a senior at Milken Community High School, said that political discussions occasionally arise in his history, Hebrew and Jewish law classes.

“If there’s a bombing or something drastic, teachers open it up to discussion among students and they’ll moderate,” Agam said. “The opinions vary greatly among students and we usually get good points from both sides.”

In light of last summer’s front-page Los Angeles Times story about a former Shalhevet faulty member exposing his seventh-grade class to Palestinian points of view, some students feel their Jewish school are too rigid when it comes to Israeli politics.

“The school claims to be really open-minded, but when it comes to Israel, they’re not,” Shalhevet senior Becky Dab said. “They try to make it seem like everyone else is wrong and what the Israelis are doing is right.”

Her father, Jon Dab, is satisfied with the school’s position.

“We’re extremely supportive of Israel, so we don’t perceive anything [at Shalhevet] as being untoward as far as viewpoints being expressed.”

As the topic of Israel in the Jewish community seems to trigger black-and-white thinking, another obstacle is American Jews’ tendency to view Israel in an idealistic light.

“A lot of American Jews put Israel on a pedestal,” said Nadav, emphasizing the need for American to think of the country as “a normal society. If they build Israel up as an example of perfection, they’ll be disappointed when they find out it’s not perfect.”

For more information on the institute, visit www.emory.edu/COLLEGE/JewishStudies/ismi.html .

Catholic Teachers Experience Israel

When John Fitzsimons traveled to Israel this spring, he spent a week away from his students at Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance, but as the Catholic teacher said, "They did announcements over the intercom every morning about where I was and what I was doing that day."

Fitzsimons was one of seven Catholic teachers to spend 10 days in Israel in March as part of the Holy Land Democracy Project (HDLP), a first-year outreach program to Catholic high schools, sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Jewish Community Foundation and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. On June 22, the project will be celebrated at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

The estimated $75,000-funded project had teachers tour several historic sites like Jerusalem’s Old City and Masada, followed up by six hours of teacher training and a five-hour course for students designed to combat nonexistent or negative perceptions of Israel among Catholics. This training was especially aimed at Latino students, as surveys show a higher likelihood of anti-Semitism among first-generation and foreign-born Latinos.

"We could teach non-Jewish children to have what we believe would be an accurate understanding of Israel," said HDLP Chair Dr. Dan Lieber, a Santa Monica oncologist who funded the $5,000 in prize money for the project’s Catholic student essay contest about the Jewish state, with winners receiving Israel bonds at the June 22 event.

The Federation project makes students specifically aware of Israel as an open, American-style democracy.

"This was primarily not about Jewish-Catholic relations, but about Israel," said Lieber, adding that the March trip for teachers was key because, "We weren’t embarrassed to have people go over and see for themselves. I don’t think Saudi Arabia would be doing that."

The teachers came from Catholic high schools in outlying, largely non-Jewish areas of Los Angeles, including all-girls schools such as Pomona Catholic, St. Mathias in Downey and Ramona Convent in Alhambra. The teachers this spring used a 15-minute tie-in video as part of the Federation-created curriculum.

"It supplements almost everything I teach," Fitzsimons said of his classes in church history and religion.

St. Mathias history teacher Michelle Butorac said most of her students "couldn’t locate Israel on a map" before she spent 10 days talking about her trip, which helped personalize the Middle East’s far-away, hard-to-grasp events.

"It makes it come alive for them," she said. "That’s what they’ll remember years later."

The project builds on other ongoing Jewish-Catholic outreach: Mt. St. Mary’s College in Brentwood hosted the ADL’s June 15-18 "Bearing Witness" training program for Catholic teachers. For 12 years, the AJC’s Los Angeles chapter has been running a Catholic/Jewish Educational Enrichment Program with priests and rabbis making joint visits to Jewish day schools and Catholic high schools.

Having teachers visit Israel changed student reactions.

"It had a lot more credibility and it was much more real to them because I had been there; kids don’t know what to believe and here’s a teacher they know," said Fitzsimons, who had one student win the Federation contest’s top prize with an essay about Israeli democracy.

Ramona Convent social studies teacher Mike Sifter said that during the Federation’s structured regimen of lectures along with kibbutz, Knessett and Yad Vashem visits, he and Fitzsimons broke away with a Palestinian tour guide.

"He drove us up to the Temple Mount," Sifter said. "Our guide was spouting off his viewpoint which did not jive with what I knew. The general gist of the [Federation] program are universal ideas that we’re already teaching our kids."

"I still think the problem of anti-Semitism among minority groups is still a problem in America. Their kids tend to the most rabidly pro-Palestinian," Sifter said. "The kids hate Arafat, though. They don’t believe that Arafat is fair and this came up several times in discussion."

Lieber said anti-Semitism should be combated with early prevention.

"Those kids, when they grow up, they’re going to take their information from sources which we feel are biased," he noted.

The Federation plans to expand the project from five Catholic schools this year to 10 next year. Sifter said that one Israel perception problem is that, outside of class visits by a rabbi, teenagers in outlying Los Angeles County cities do not encounter Jews as regularly as kids could on the Westside or in the San Fernando Valley.

Sifter said, "When the rabbi comes [to visit the class], they say, ‘You’re the first Jewish person I’ve ever met.’"

Brown vs. Board of Ed. — 50 Years Later

“We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

To grasp the importance of this striking statement made in 1954 by a unanimous United States Supreme Court in Brown vs. Board of Education (see story on page 25), we must both look back and look forward. In 1896, in Plessy vs. Ferguson, the United States Supreme Court upheld a long-standing practice of segregation in public schools and sanctioned widely held racist assumptions by declaring that segregation was acceptable if the separate facilities provided for African Americans were equal to those provided for whites.

African Americans were not the only minority group affected by “whites only” policies. In 1925, a Chinese American girl fought for the right to attend a white school in Mississippi. The court in Rice vs. Gong Lum ruled she was not white but that she could choose to go to a colored public school or to a private school. In 1947, Mexican American students won the right to attend white schools in California in Westminster School District vs. Mendez, but even there the court noted that California law prohibited segregation … except for “Indians under certain conditions and children of Chinese, Japanese or Mongolian parentage.”

Looking back at the era preceding Brown vs. Board of Education, we have to appreciate that the court’s holding that education “is a right which must be available to all on equal terms” was a significant milestone, as was the unanimity of the decision. It was a landmark case that launched an unprecedented era of civil rights and school reform.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1954:

Sixty-nine percent of African American children ages 5 and 6 were enrolled in school (96 percent in 2002);

Twenty-four percent of African American adults ages 18 and 19 were enrolled in school (58 percent in 2002);

Fifteen percent of African American adults age 25 and older were at least high school graduates (79 percent in 2002);

Two percent of African American adults age 25 and older were college graduates (17 percent in 2002).

Looking back at these statistics, we can even conclude the decision was heroic.

However, we must also look forward. The news is not all good. The statistics for 2002 listed here suggest improvement but still tremendous disparity. Worse, some of the progress has receded. In 1954, not a single African American student attended a majority white public school in the American South. By 1988, after a generation of integration efforts, more than 43 percent of Southern African American students attended majority white schools. However, today, slightly more than 30 percent of African American students attend majority white schools, the lowest figure in 35 years. A new word has entered our vocabulary: resegregation, which studies show has been on the rise since 1991 for many white, African American, Latino, American Indian and Alaskan Native students.

According to a recent study from the Harvard University Civil Rights Project, white students are the most segregated group in the nation’s public schools. On average, they attend schools where 80 percent of the student body is white. Likewise, on average, African American and Latino students attend schools where more than 85 percent and 95 percent, respectively, of the student body are people of color.

The Los Angeles Unified School District provides a dramatic example. In 2003, only 9.4 percent of enrolled students were whites, while the vast majority, 71.9 percent, was Latino.

A related impact is segregation by economic status. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, more than 80 percent of African American and Latino segregated schools are in high poverty areas, compared with 5 percent of segregated white schools.

Finally, if diversity of educators was a goal of integration, the news is decidedly bad. There are about 3 million teachers available to educate America’s nearly 50 million school children. Only 14 percent of educators are people of color, while children of color make up 40 percent of our school-age population.

In 1956, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must face the tragic fact that we are far from the promised land in the struggle for a desegregated society.” Regrettably, these words still apply today.

The online curriculum, “Looking Back … Reaching
Forward: Exploring the Promise of Brown vs. Board of Education 50 Years Later”
is at

Summit Focuses on Recruiting Teachers

Joseph Kanfer deftly wrapped wires and affixed pieces of material to a truncated test tube. Then he glued the Hebrew letter “shin” to the creation, producing a mezuzah.

While the scene resembled a preschool project, it signified much more. Kanfer, former chairman of the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA) and a major donor to Jewish educational projects, was taking part in Avoda Arts, a cutting-edge initiative to elevate arts instruction in Jewish schools.

So far, the program has produced five Jewish educators and helped dozens of college students create Jewish-themed artworks in disciplines ranging from film to sculpture.

“We are absolutely a recruitment process,” said Carol Brennglass Spinner, Avoda Arts’ executive director.

Such efforts are part of a wider, unprecedented campaign to attract and hold onto Jewish teachers at a time when Jewish education in North America has grown into an estimated $3 billion enterprise — little of which goes to educator salaries.

Kanfer, whose GOJO, Inc. of Akron, Ohio, manufactures Purell hand cleaner, was participating in an unprecedented summit here this week that brought many of the Jewish philanthropic world’s biggest funders into a room with 350 educators, administrators and communal professionals to devise plans to bring new respect and rewards to the Jewish teaching profession.

Such talk of change is hardly new. The terms “recruitment and retention” have been around since the 1980s, and talk of low teacher pay is hardly news.

However, participants insist that the first Jewish Education Leadership Summit will prove a radical departure from the norm. Sponsored by JESNA, the summit included intensive sessions where megadonors like Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt sat alongside teachers and school administrators and hashed out detailed proposals to recruit and retain a new generation of Jewish teachers.

“What’s different about this conference is that there are no talking heads,” said Laura Lauder of Atherton, Calif., who co-chaired the summit. “Whether you represent a $100 million foundation or you’re a teacher on the ground, everyone has a seat at the table.”

Many of the donors involved have contributed millions of dollars to Jewish schools and organizations. But, in another big shift, they now are calling for educators to come up with serious business plans that, as Lauder put it, spell out the tachlis or details of overhauling Jewish education.

“We want plans with measurable outlines that we can be accountable for,” said Lauder, who married into the philanthropic Lauder family and is a major donor in her own right.

“It’s not doing business as usual,” said Arnee Winshall of Boston, another summit co-chair, who has contributed significantly to Jewish educational causes. “I’m much more willing to write a larger check when I can see how it’s going to make a difference.”

Summit organizers said the work they did here will meet Winshall’s standards. Over the course of the conference, participants hashed out ideas in intensive sessions covering areas from early childhood education to congregational education to day schools.

Hundreds of pages of notes from the meetings will be incorporated in coming months into a larger effort called the Jewish Educator Recruitment/Retention Initiative Action Plan. The idea is to mount a national drive to find and keep top Jewish teachers.

Already, Winshall said, there are pockets of innovation that lead to hope that teachers are getting their due.

Jaynie Schultz, board president of Akiba Academy, a modern Orthodox day school in Dallas, said that four years ago, the school began paying salaries that were 95 percent of teacher salaries at the highest-paid non-Jewish suburban schools. In the four years since, the school has had little trouble hiring top teachers, and few faculty members have left, she said.

Meanwhile, Marc Kramer, executive director of Ravsak, a network of 82 multidenominational day schools across North America, announced a substantial grant from the Avi Chai Foundation to give heads of Jewish day schools’ Judaic studies programs a better Jewish education, themselves.

Many school chiefs are skilled at administration or fundraising but personally lack a solid Jewish grounding, he said. The administrators can attend summer and winter courses and use a new online distance-learning service called, JskyWay, to enhance their own Jewish education.

“We won’t be creating great Talmudic minds, but we can strengthen their capacity to advocate for their schools,” Kramer said.

Over the past five years, Helene Tigay, executive director of the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education in Philadelphia, has led a successful drive to recruit teachers for supplemental, or Hebrew, school.

Five years ago, local synagogue schools typically started the school year with about one-quarter of teaching positions unfilled due to lack of qualified candidates, Tigay said.

Armed with an initial $25,000 grant from her local Jewish federation — and now with a three-year, $100,000 grant from the Covenant Foundation — Tigay launched a catchy ad campaign and compiled a database of more than 100 teachers. She managed to fill the open slots.

She also compiled a manual for recruiting and retaining teachers and helped schools build a vision for their programs. Now Tigay is ensuring that the new teachers are given counseling, professional workshops, stipends for professional trips and other “in-service” support, she said.

“We’ve been so successful at recruitment, that our focus is now retention,” Tigay said.

Others are finding that they need to focus on the less-tangible qualities of Jewish education to win over potential hires. Helene Kalson Cohen, dean of the Jewish Academy of Metro Detroit, a multidenominational school, said she tells candidates that what they get as Jewish educators they won’t find in secular or other private schools. The school offers a “supportive community” with mentoring programs, professional development efforts and involved and motivated students and parents.

Despite these advancements, many at the conference said it remains to be seen whether a national, unified approach like the Jewish Educator Recruitment/Retention Initiative will make a real difference.

Kalson Cohen, who also is a JESNA board member, said the plan’s impact will depend on how it is delivered. Educators like her are busy professionals who may ignore a massive, national plan that fails to include components that target specific local areas, Kalson Cohen warned.

“I almost want to say that I never want to see the whole thing together, otherwise it will be a trophy that will end up on shelves and then it will lose its power,” Kalson Cohen added.

Still, much talk at the conference reflected what some hope will be a tipping point in Jewish education, where educators devise a real action plan that rallies philanthropists.

“The belief and the hope is that this might be one of those moments in time where a number of factors will emerge to allow systemic change to occur,” Kalson Cohen said.

Mrs. Smiles, You’re on the Air

While the Los Angeles community has it share of rabbis and teachers who can teach a great class or two, there is always an allure of having someone come in from overseas as a special guest speaker. But now, airplanes are no longer necessary to get an overseas speaker to talk in Los Angeles. Several groups in the city, like Yeshiva of Los Angeles (YOLA) and Torah Ohr, are enticing students to Torah classes using the latest in video conferencing technology. This means that Los Angeles expatriates, like Shira Smiles, can continue giving parsha classes to people here — even though she lives in Jerusalem. All it takes is thousands of dollars worth of equipment, a couple of satellites, a screen and some seats.

"Once you have the equipment it is really not expensive," said Rabbi Eliyahu Kin of Torah Ohr who has been using video conferencing to get speakers in Israel and France to give lectures in Los Angeles. "It’s been a big success for us, and it has given us a lot of flexibility in getting speakers that many people request to hear, and we don’t have to pay their flights to Los Angeles."

Kin says that he does video conferencing lectures before major holidays, and he gets about 150 people at each lecture. The Smiles YOLA lecture that The Journal attended had a smaller crowd — about 20 people, but organizer Rabbi Daniel Grama expects that the lectures will become more popular with time.

For dates and times of the video conference lectures call Rabbi Daniel Grama at YOLA, (310) 229-0936, or Rabbi Eliyahu Kin at Torah Ohr, (323) 933-3111.

Community Briefs

Assembly Passes Holocaust-RelatedBills

Two bills pertaining to the Holocaust era, one creating a state center for Holocaust study, the other extending the deadline for claims to recover artworks, were passed by the Legislature last week.

The Assembly passed and sent to the governor’s desk a bill creating a comprehensive Holocaust-genocide education program for teachers.

Introduced by Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood), son of a Holocaust survivor, the bill provides for the establishment of a state Center of Excellence on the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance.

“With the enactment of this bill, teachers will finally receive the necessary training and tools to effectively present this difficult subject matter to students,” Koretz said. The center will work in conjunction with California State University, Chico, said Scott Svonkin, Koretz’s chief of staff.

In the second action, Gov. Gray Davis signed into law a bill extending the current three-year statute of limitations on filing claims to prove ownership of stolen artworks to Dec. 31, 2010.

“The very nature of Holocaust-era artwork requires detailed investigation involving numerous historical documents in multiple languages, and sometimes requires international research,” said Assemblyman George Nakano (D-Torrance), who introduced the bill. Under the new law, persons whose claims were denied for failing to meet the three-year statute of limitations are entitled to resubmit their claims. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

No Complaints on Messianic Signs

They’re lined up once again across the southwestern San Fernando Valley, just in time for the High Holidays. No, not people seeking last-minute tickets, but banners advertising services that include a Jew rarely discussed during the holidays: Jesus.

Since 1998, Adat Y’shua Ha Adom, a Messianic congregation in Woodland Hills, has hung 24 banners on streetlights and power poles in areas around the West Valley heavily trafficked by Jews. But the banners aren’t provoking the kind of reaction they have in years past.

Adat Y’shua’s banners were deemed legal after an investigation by Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson, following several complaints registered in 1999. The congregation continues to hang the banners every year during the High Holidays.

“We’re just letting people know about our High Holiday services,” said Michael Brown, Adat Y’shua’s pastor.

One banner sits directly across from Kol Tikvah’s High Holidays banner on Ventura Boulevard near Winnetka Avenue, while another two banners near the intersection of Ventura and Topanga Canyon boulevards sit directly in front of a shopping center that is home to Noah’s Bagels, Western Bagel and Jerry’s Deli.

“I know people get upset by it, but there’s so many other things that are more important right now,” said Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Kol Tikvah. “This is not hurting Jews. It’s not a threat to us.”

The signs continue to raise the hackles of a few Jews, but none have entered a formal complaint with Jewish or city agencies.

“We’ve gotten some people who have notified us about it, but we haven’t gotten complaints from people saying please rip them down,” said Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, founder of the countermissionary group, Jews for Judaism, who credits the lack of complaints to stronger Jewish education and self-confidence.

“As far as I know, nobody has complained about it,” said Sheree Adams, Woodland Hills and Tarzana field deputy for City Councilman Dennis Zine.

Brown acknowledged that his congregation regularly receives some negative feedback when the banners go up.

“There’s a small set of people who, for whatever reason, don’t agree,” said Brown, 47, who grew up in a Reform home and became a involved in Messianic Judaism 10 years ago. “But the vast majority of calls we get are very positive.”

And while Jews for Judaism wouldn’t mind if Adat Y’shua packed up their signs for good, they aren’t going to hold their breath.

“In a society with freedom of speech, it’s very difficult to keep people from handing out pamphlets or putting up banners,” Kravitz said. — Adam Wills, Associate Editor

Mourning Season

Kever avot, the custom of visiting graves of loved ones between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, has its roots in Eastern European Jewish traditions. “Visiting is a sign of respect, said Rabbi Moshe Rothblum of Adat Ari El in North Hollywood. “We are also thinking about how we’ve acted in the past, and taking time to remember,” he said of the timing of the custom.

Mt. Sinai Cemetery will hold its 48th annual kever avot service at its Hollywood location. This year it will be held from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Sept. 15. It will also simultaneously host its first kever avot service at the new Mt. Sinai Memorial Park, 6150 Mt. Sinai Drive, Simi Valley.

At both ceremonies, Mt. Sinai staff will collect food donations for the SOVA food bank, the free food distribution program of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. For information, call (800) 600-0076.

For those looking for a less traditional approach, Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer, creator and star of the one-man show, “Religion Outside the Box,” has planned an innovative kever avot service that includes a video presentation, a meditation on death by Buddhist priest John Daishin Buksbazen and a Franciscan dirge, in addition to the usual “Kaddish” prayers. It will be held on Saturday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. For more information, call (323) 469-1181. — Wendy J. Madnick, Contributing Writer

Hebrew University VictimsRemembered

About 100 people came to Temple Beth Am’s Lainer Library on Aug. 29 to pay tribute to the July 31 victims of the Hebrew University cafeteria bombing, nearly a month to the day of the tragedy. Organized by American Friends of Hebrew University, the 80-minute tribute was dedicated to the memory of Revital Barashi, Marla Bennett, Benjamin Blutstein, Dina Carter, Janis Ruth Coulter, David Gritz, David Diego Ladowski, Levina Shapira and Dafna Spruch, as well as the 80 people injured in the attack. Most of the nine murder victims were under 30.

Even the liveliness of Beth Am’s brightly lit, modern sanctuary could not overcome the sadness and solemnity of the occasion, as Cantor Yonah Kliger sang “El Maleh Rachamin.” After opening remarks by Jeff Rouss, executive director of the Western Region American Friends of the Hebrew University, Beth Am’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Perry Netter, led the ceremony and a “‘Misheberach,’ for healing.”

For Rabbi Daniel Bouskila of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, a 1986 Rothberg International School graduate, Hebrew University, the oldest college in Israel, is a very special place. “It’s not just an academic but a sacred institution,” Bouskila said, “because of the progress it represents.”

Rabbinical student Deborah Bock, who also spoke with eloquence and emotion at a UCLA memorial a few weeks ago, returned to paint a loving picture of Bennett, her former Hebrew University roommate. Two other Rothberg International School friends of Bennett, Ari Moss and Emma Lefkowitz, also shared personal memories of their friend as they tried to suppress their emotions. “I’m going to miss the person she was going to be,” Moss said. — Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

Esther Re-enactment Takes Whole Megilla in O.C.

Incense burned, rose petals fluttered, Persian entrees simmered and Persian slippers were sewn. That was the scene at University Synagogue as congregants re-enacted Queen Esther’s wedding during this year’s Purim celebration. The event was the trademark approach of director Heidi Jo Kahn, whose approach to religious school teaching is a blur of sensory stimulation.

"I know everyone learns in a different way," says Kahn, 43, who describes her own religious training in South Africa’s Cape Town as dull memorization.

From among the county’s estimated 200 religious school teachers, Kahn’s creative approach earned her special recognition: the $2,500 Grinspoon-Steinhardt, Bernard and Mildred Kessler Award. In the third annual presentation of the "excellence in Jewish education" awards, local education bureaus recognized about 40 teachers nationally.

Award money comes partly from the New York-based Jewish Education Service with the remainder offered locally. In this instance, from long-time religious school teachers Bernie and Mildred Kessler, of Rossmoor.

From Moses to Math

After teaching in a Northern California religious school for four years, Jen Wakefield thought she knew everything there was to know about teaching Torah to religious school students.

"Boy, was I wrong," laughs the Palo Alto, Calif. resident. "The process will be dramatically different for me now in terms of how to set it, how to teach it and make it more effective."

This summer, Wakefield was one of 18 fellows to begin the Day School Leadership Through Teaching (DeLeT) program, which trains day school teachers how to approach most secular subjects from a Jewish perspective.

DeLeT fellows complete the academic portion of their training at either the Rhea Hirsch School of Education of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Los Angeles or Brandeis University in Boston. But most of their experience is drawn from time spent out in the field shadowing veteran teachers at local day schools.

Founded by Laura Lauder, a philanthropist known for her support of Jewish education in San Francisco, DeLeT was created with the intention of increasing the number of Jewish professional day school teachers with the skills to serve as general studies and/or Judaic studies teachers. The initiative was also set forth to help retain current teachers and attract more people into the education field.

Lauder’s own experiences as a day school parent drew her to the subject. "There were always either great secular teachers and then Israelis or Jewish educators for the Judaica part," she said. "There was never ‘one size fits all.’"

Lauder said she designed the new program to produce well-rounded day school teachers who have the ability to integrate Judaism into secular subjects. The only subject taught without a Jewish slant is mathematics, which administrators believe stands on its own.

DeLeT involves a full-time academic curriculum that takes place over two summers at either Brandeis or HUC-JIR, and an internship at a day school in the time between. Fellows must then work at a day school for two additional years while pursuing a master’s degree in Jewish education and/or earning a state teaching credential.

DeLeT has partnered with nine day schools in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston. Students work as interns at the schools and are mentored by a faculty member. Local fellows will intern at Adat Ari El Day School in Valley Village, The Pressman Academy or Stephen S. Wise Elementary School in Los Angeles. During the year, they will congregate for weekly meetings with mentors and program administrators.

Another program cornerstone is the idea that the learning process continues for all teachers, no matter their stage of development as an educator. While fellows learn from their teachers and mentors, the process is reciprocal.

"There’s something wonderfully generative in the work [the mentors] are going to do with the fellows," says Luisa Latham, the Rhea Hirsch School of Education’s DeLeT program director. "The physical reality of having someone in your classroom observing is going to raise the bar for [mentors]."

This fall, Sapphira Fein will work on raising the bar for her mentor at Pressman Academy. The West Hollywood resident choose DeLeT because she wanted to work in a field where she could incorporate her passion for Judaism.

"I realized that the future of Judaism rested with the children, and to me they seemed like the most crucial group I could help," Fein says. "I knew that as a person I’d make an amazing teacher and an amazing asset to the Jewish community. I felt that this program would give me the practical experience I need."

Having just completed the first academic segment, Fein is looking forward to using her new knowledge in a classroom setting in September.

While creating a day school teacher community of sorts, DeLeT also aims to unite the schools themselves, which sometimes have a tendency to exist quietly as their own entities. "There are not very many collaborative projects among day schools," says professor Sara Lee, the director of the Rhea Hirsch School of Education and co-chair of DeLeT’s National Academic and Professional Advisory Committee. "The fact that DeLeT fellows are at different schools and will come together again can remove the isolation of these day schools."

Regardless of what marks these teachers will make on future students, it’s clear that the program will spawn a new breed of teachers into the teaching pool.

"We feel that from the very beginning [of the program], we’re grounding [the fellows’] practice," says Jane West Walsh, DeLeT’s executive director. "Whether they’re teaching math or reading, they’re specifically Jewish day school teachers."

Mainstreaming Makes a Difference

Eight-year-old Tamar’s fingers dance across a set of harp strings like small waves rhythmically pounding the surf. While the large instrument dwarfs her, she doesn’t seem to mind as she sits and plays a complicated classical tune. After the musical interlude, she hops onto her living room couch; her shiny dark hair bounces as she moves. Her bright smile reveals a missing front tooth with its adult counterpart just barely poking through.

“Tamar is a real leader among her friends and she’s so good at sports. Oh, and she takes dance and gymnastics,” her mother, Margie Levinson, informed me privately. With so many activities, boundless energy and obvious talent, it is hard to believe that like 40 to 50 percent of students across the nation, Tamar has faced serious learning problems in school.

Class participation and oral presentations were sources of frustration for her. But just as her mother focuses on her attributes, so does the philosophy behind Schools Attuned, the teaching method that helped Tamar cope with an expressive language difficulty.

Teachers at Yeshiva Ohr Eliyahu in Culver City noted the problem back when Tamar was in first grade. As the best selling book “A Mind at a Time” by learning expert Dr. Mel Levine, says, the eight types of learning differences that Schools Attuned addresses are more minor and subtle than problems that demand special education.

When Tamar’s teachers identified her weaknesses, they took advantage of her excellent leadership skills. By putting her with friends during group presentations and allowing her to prepare early for upcoming class discussions, Tamar was able to succeed. Her music and dance talents help her with organization, as both skills involve sequencing. Without Schools Attuned, Levinson says it would have come to a “high-anxiety” situation. “But it turned into pleasant one, where she gained confidence.”

Tamar is currently a happy and well-adjusted student gearing up for third grade.

For many Jewish day schools in Los Angeles, placing children with learning differences has become somewhat of a gray area. Until two years ago, private schools had access to special education services through public school programs. While a child with learning differences may not have severe difficulties that require a full-blown special education program, that child can still benefit from parts of these programs. Recently, the laws have changed and a federal mandate stipulates that each district must decide how much they are willing to offer.

While Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) used to provide services to day school students, support is now very minimal. “There are a lot of kids who were really left in a lurch when the district changed that [policy],” says Rabbi Shmuel Schwarzmer, a local Schools Attuned mentor and facilitator. “The schools have been trying to pick up whatever slack they can. Often parents have to go to private sources, which are very expensive.”

This year, 3,200 educators were trained in Schools Attuned, a national program enabling kindergarten through 12th-grade educators to evaluate students and then adjust their teaching styles to accommodate the children. At the Los Angeles Regional Training site, 325 educators from about 100 schools in the Los Angeles area went through the training. The numbers of teachers who’ve gotten onboard with the program has tripled since local training began three years ago.

Through training, teachers learn about neurodevelopmental function and dysfunction, allowing them to refine their awareness of language, attention, memory, neuromotor functions, social cognition and other factors. Rather than labeling a child with terms like “Attention Deficit Disorder” or “Learning Disabled,” teachers identify a student’s strengths and weaknesses in regard to learning. The strengths are then used to overcome areas of difficulty.

Schools Attuned stems from the All Kinds of Minds Institute, a not-for-profit organization in Chapel Hill, N.C. The institute was co-founded by Charles Schwab and Dr. Mel Levine, professor of pediatrics and director of the Clinical Center for the Study of Development and Learning at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. The program is based entirely on Levine’s research theories. His philosophy is that different minds work differently and everyone has certain strengths and weaknesses. “We’re teaching teachers to observe how [children] are in the classroom. To notice how a kid holds his pencil,” explains Levine. “If he has trouble writing, to recognize the reasons why he has trouble writing. To call on a kid and notice that he has trouble converting ideas into words, for example.”

While Schools Attuned is available at six training sites around the country, the Etta Israel Center (EIC) has served as the Los Angeles Regional Training site since 1999. EIC is a local nonprofit organization that provides direct service to people with special needs in the Jewish community. In addition to supporting Schools Attuned, EIC also provides educational services, disability programming for the Los Angeles Iranian Jewish community, a residential group home for Jewish adults with developmental disabilities and help for students with developmental disabilities.

EIC offers an extensive School’s Attuned training program in Los Angeles each summer and several smaller groups throughout the year. In late June, EIC offered an intensive five-day program for administrators and counselors from public and private schools all over the city and beyond. Dr. Michael Held, EIC’s executive director feels that “by using [the Schools Attuned] practices, teachers can make fewer and more responsible [special education] referrals.” Having utilized Schools Attuned for the last three years, Vaughn Next Century Learning Center, a LAUSD charter school, reported a 50 percent drop-off in these referrals. Held also believes that Schools Attuned can be particularly effective in the Jewish day school system, where services for children with learning differences are scarce.

Currently, when a day school student is referred to special education, an LAUSD employee comes to the school once a month for a one-hour consultation with the child’s teacher. However, this service is only available to children who qualify for special education — not lesser difficulties, like those of Tamar. “There are a number of kids with more minor problems,” Schwarzmer says. “If their problems are not severe enough to qualify, the federal government won’t help.”

Aviva Ebner, principal of secular studies at Emek Hebrew Academy in Sherman Oaks, believes that her students’ standardized test scores were higher than expected after the school incorporated Schools Attuned into their curriculum. Dr. Andrea Ackerman, a psychologist at Sinai Akiba Academy, has served as a training facilitator since 1999. “I see such an infusion of optimism,” she says. “I think students start to feel optimistic when they see other students with difficulties succeeding.”

But not everyone is convinced that Schools Attuned is the answer. Loren Grossman, an educational advocate and consultant specializing in special education and gifted children, says that the program is one of many, like Tomatis, Earobics, Fast Forward, Linda Mood Bell and SOI Learning Systems. Levine’s theorie, she said, are not necessarily superior to the others. “With all of these [programs], you’re getting at the same thing. You’re turning up visual or auditory processing problems,” Grossman says. “None of these programs have been tested. There are only anecdotal studies. It’s not absolutely certain that these will work and some may have very short-term effects.” While statistics show that Schools Attuned has had steady growth in Los Angeles, Grossman comments that the program isn’t very widespread in this city.

Wendy Mogel, a clinical psychologist and best-selling author of “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee,” feels some parents have unrealistic expectations of their children and look to special education or other resources as solutions. “I often see children who don’t have anything wrong with them, except they’re not spectacular in a certain area. I see kids in private schools who request untimed SATs who don’t need it and kids who get tutored and don’t need it.” She says she has heard “mixed reviews” on Schools Attuned.

Skeptics in the field may change their minds in the next few years, as CSUN’s College of Education will be conducting research on the effectiveness of Schools Attuned in months to come. Recently, the Eisner Family Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping enrich the lives of underserved children, made a $7 million donation to the CSUN’s College of Education. This gift will establish a new Center for Teaching and Learning, which will be the first college program in the country to incorporate Levine’s theories.

While the philosophy may have yet to prove itself to some, it is already a state initiative in both North Carolina and Oklahoma. As the program continues to expand in Los Angeles, local parents, teachers and students seem more than pleased with the results.

Leading me into a guest room, Tamar shows me a picture of her second-grade class from last year. “Show me your friends,” I say, and she points to more than half of the uniformed girls in the photo. Again, a smile lights up her face. “With Schools Attuned, Tamar is allowed to feel successful,” Levinson says. “She’s doing great and we’re just going to keep strengthening her strengths.” The image of Tamar’s fingers methodically tweaking the harp strings comes to mind — a skill she will use to enhance organization and help get her thoughts in order — and I am reminded of the cornerstone of Levine’s teachings: “Different minds learn differently.”

Excerpts from “A Mind at a Time”

by Dr. Mel Levine

“Different minds learn differently.”

“Different brains are differently wired.”

“I am beckoning parents, teachers and policymakers to recognize how many kinds of young minds there are, and to realize we need to meet their learning needs and strengthen their strengths, and in doing so, preserve their hopes for the future.”

“A school for all kinds of minds will not label its students.”

“Labeling is reductionistic. It oversimplifies kids. The practice overlooks their richness, their complexity, their strengths and their striking originality.”

“Schools are like airport hubs; student passengers arrive from many different backgrounds…. Their particular takeoffs into adulthood will demand different flight patterns.”

Bogeymen Unmasked

"Promises" is a beautiful documentary and, in light of the daily body count of Israeli and Palestinian victims, a heartbreaking film.

Considered a favorite for best documentary at this year’s Academy Awards, "Promises" was filmed in and around Jerusalem between 1997 and 2000, while the Oslo treaty hopes for peace were still flickering.

Its "stars" are seven children, four Israelis and three Palestinians, between the ages of 9 and 13, whose normal childhood pursuits and problems are overlaid by the suspicions and hatred of the "other," transmitted by parents, teachers and religious guides. The children live in West and East Jerusalem, in a religious Jewish settlement and in a Palestinian refugee camp. And although their homes are within a few miles of each other, none has ever met a youngster from the other side.

As the 106-minute film introduces us to the homes, schools and playgrounds of each of the children, it dawns on the American Jewish viewer how little is known, not only of the lifestyle of an Arab family but even of the daily ritual in a strictly Orthodox home.

Co-director B.Z. Goldberg (with Justine Shapiro), a young American raised in Jerusalem, who also narrates the film, has a rare knack of bonding with the youngsters, and they reciprocate by unaffectedly telling their stories, often with brutal honesty. We meet Sanabel, a lovely Arab girl, whose journalist father has been held for two years in an Israeli prison as a security risk; Mahmoud, a blond, blue-eyed Hamas supporter, and Faraj, who lives in the Daheishe refugee camp.

Their Israeli counterparts are Yarko and Daniel, bright and handsome twins living in a secular home; Shlomo, a fervently Orthodox yeshiva student, and Moishe, who grows up in a Jewish settlement surrounded by Arabs.

Though separated by generations of hostility, some of the kids express a natural curiosity to meet the fabled bogeymen on the other side. With Goldberg as the intermediary, Yarko and Daniel visit Faraj, and, speaking in halting English, the boys soon find a more common language in their shared enthusiasm for soccer and volleyball. This scene was shot in 1997, and during a revisit two years later, the small spark of tentative friendship had all but atrophied, more by neglect than animosity.

Looking at the situation in Israel today, the precarious moment when the children saw each other as human beings, rather than enemies, has passed again.

It may well take another generation to rekindle the spark, but "Promises" is a needed reminder that there can be an alternative in the Middle East to hatred and bloodshed.

"Promises" opens March 22 at Laemmle’s Music Hall Theater, 9036 Wilshire Blvd. Beverly Hills. Call (310) 274-6869 for times.