Ask Shuli: Doomed Day Schools?

Princess Bride on paradeDear Shuli readers:
Od pam: oy! (Once more, oh my!) The level of high-intensity news out of the Twin Cities Jewish community this week is incredible. So, once again I’m straying from question-answer format for this column. In fact, I do want to let you know that this, most likely, will be my last Ask Shuli column. Unless you, loyal and nosy reader, would like to take over. We can do it all anonymous-like, you know… like when Westley takes over as the Dread Pirate Roberts in Princess Bride. Don’t even pretend you don’t have that whole part memorized! (“Good night Wesley, good work, I’ll most likely kill you in the morning…”) But I digress.
I’ve loved answering your questions — kinky, stressful and more — these past seven months. I’ve been talking with our esteemed publishers/web mavens, Leora and Emily, about shifting my efforts to our upcoming Jewish arts blog on this site. Trying to think of a name for Jewish Arts … Jarts? Nu Art? People of the Arts? In the meantime, if you’d like to take over this advice column, please contact Leora.
So. For this, my last bully-pulpit column, I’d like to have the latest word (certainly not the last!) on this Talmud Torah business. This past Thursday, the day school announced that it will remain open, with grades K-4. I’m very relieved for that, but also sad for the loss of the “Upper School” (grades 5-8), after so many wonderful years and so many families served.
However, it seems to me that the Talmud Torah board has some very serious issues to address: the very high subsidy from the United Jewish Fund and Council of St. Paul; the costs of running a large, beautiful building that no longer fits the enrollment; the lack of endowments or firm financial footing for the future; and the declining enrollment for the afternoon school as well. Oy vey.
I’ve never served on the TTSP board (though I have served on others in our community), and I know that these fine volunteers have their work cut out for them in a major way. Not to mention the administration and faculty!
Mainly, I’m just sad and disappointed. Sad that the enrollment plummeted before I even gave birth to my two little Jewish gals. Sad that so many fine teachers and families have left. Sad for the teachers who remain, trying to hold the school together. Sad that recruitment and retention efforts (many Herculean) went for naught for so many years. What happened, Talmud Torah board? Where did it all go wrong?
Tempting as it is to continue to wring my hands, that’s Monday-morning quarterbacking. This is 2010, and TTSP certainly needs our help this year and next. Personally, I hope to help support the afternoon school and Midrasha most of all, because that’s very close to my heart (I was fortunate to receive a great afternoon-school and Midrasha education in my youth, in a different state). This Mother’s Day, I’ve already called my momala to thank her for giving me that opportunity for a great Jewish education. Have you??
I think the larger points of discussion here should be:
– Does the Twin Cities need a new Agency for Jewish Education to sort out this mess?
– Can our fractured Minneapolis-St. Paul Jewish community of 40,000 even support this many day schools (HMJDS, TTSP, Torah Academy, Lubavitch Cheder)?
– Why is our community so fractured anyway?
– Is the era of the community afternoon school (Talmud Torah) over in the Twin Cities? Do synagogues do this better?
I, Shuli, have been asked these questions (and many more on these topics), by readers, family and friends this year. They are hot topics, and very central to our identities, pride and success as American Jews.
So let’s hear it, TC Jewfolk readers: What do you think?
Photo: rogerbarnette