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A Day School Leader's Proposal for a Unified System

December 10, 2012 By:
Jay Leberman
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Perelman head Jay Leberman is pictured here with former students during a 2011 school trip to Israel.

Jay Leberman, head of Perelman Jewish Day School,  had lobbied for years to retain Saligman Middle School, which he helped found, as a separate entity. But in the midst of mounting pressure to merge the city's two Jewish middle schools, he's had a change of heart.

"I spent the entire weekend thinking about the situation and I came to the conclusion that for the Philadelphia Jewish community, my original assumptions about the need for school choice, were frankly mistaken," Leberman said in an email. 
 
The following is his proposal for a unified day school system:
 
A Voice for Unity: An Open Letter to the Perelman and Barrack Communities
Proposal For One Unified K-12 School System
Dec. 5, 2012
 
If the ultimate desire of both the Barrack and Perelman communities is to create a unified Jewish day school system from the moment a child enters Gan until the day he or she graduates, then I have come to the conclusion that all the proposals that have been and are currently being presented fall short. At most, they solve a problem only temporarily.
 
While I have previously advocated that communities are stronger when they have school choice, I have come to the realization, having listened to the voices of our community, that unity is the preferred choice. I, therefore, propose a three-year commitment toward a fully integrated K-12 system that will provide an outstanding, “best of the best” model, more affordable Jewish day school education to Philadelphia-area families.
 
As the outgoing Head of Perelman Jewish Day School and as a parent of Perelman and Barrack alumni, I challenge both communities with the following proposal. I submit this plan independently, as a seasoned Jewish educator, one who cares deeply about the future of Jewish day school education in our community.
 
This proposal has the preliminary support of the Perelman Executive Committee. I would recommend that the “Group of 6” convene a meeting as soon as possible to refine the details of what is proposed below, and move quickly to present an agreed upon version to their respective Boards and communities for public discussion, and hopefully approval. We are at the 11th hour and this issue needs to be resolved now:
 
1. PJDS calls off its search for a new Head of School (HOS).
 
2. Barrack’s current HOS assumes the position of HOS for both PJDS and Barrack beginning with the 2013-14 school year, thus beginning the task of merging the cultures, ideologies, curriculum, special education programming (including OROT), mutual PAIS accreditation, costs, etc., of both institutions into one entity beginning with the 2016-17 school year.
 
3. The HOS is responsible and has authority for all matters pertaining to academics, religious life, etc. During the three-year period, the HOS is employed by both PJDS and Barrack and will work with each of the respective Boards in approving annual budgets.
 
4. Current HOS of Perelman will work with the HOS of Barrack to ensure a smooth transition upon his departure in August of 2013.
 
5. The HOS is the only employee who reports to two governing bodies, albeit with the assistance of the HOS Support Committee, made up of equal lay leadership from both the Barrack and Perelman Boards.
 
6. Barrack appoints one of its senior administrators to assume the role of High School building principal. All four building principals (Stern, Forman, Saligman, and Barrack HS) report to the one HOS.
 
7. All senior Barrack and Perelman administrators report to the HOS.
 
8. Saligman Middle School relocates to the Schwartz Campus in Radnor, under the overall leadership of the HOS. During the three-year transition period Perelman maintains responsibility for financial governance.
 
9. The current Barrack and Perelman Heads of School appoint a senior administrator from the Barrack administration to become Dean of Academics for grades 6-12. Both schools share the salary for this position.
 
10. The current Barrack and Perelman Heads of School appoint a senior administrator from the Perelman administration as Dean of Judaic Studies and Jewish Life for grades 6-12. It is understood that during the transition period, grades 6-12 will aspire to a pluralistic approach that embraces religious purposefulness in a school drawing from a broad spectrum of families, such as but not limited to Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform Judaism, Modern Orthodoxy, and non-affiliated homes. Both schools share the salary for this position. Upon the completion of the merger, the new entity will aspire to the same unified approach in all religious matters.
 
11. The Deans of Academics and Judaic Studies and Jewish Life for grades 6-12 report to the HOS.
 
12. During the 2013-2014 school year, Barrack and Perelman Boards individually negotiate a two-year extension to their respective labor contracts.
 
13. In year two, the business offices of Barrack and Perelman are amalgamated.
 
14. In year three, the Institutional Advancement offices (including Admission, Development, and Marketing/Communications) are amalgamated.
 
15. At the conclusion of year 3, the schools merge into one entity, negotiate a new labor contract as one institution (the issue of middle school governance therefore becomes a moot point).
 
16. Prior to the successful conclusion of the merger, Federation agrees to completely absolve Barrack of its long-term debt, thus removing any remaining financial liabilities that would prevent the merger.
 
17. During the three-year transition period, Federation agrees to enter into a rent-free lease agreement with PJDS for the Athletic Building on the Schwartz Campus.
 
18. During the course of the three years leading up to the merger, Barrack and Perelman engage a high level consultant from NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) to guide them through the process of merging two separate governing bodies.
 
19. In year 4, the new entity embarks upon a major capital campaign to raise substantial funds to assure its future as a viable and outstanding kdg-12 Jewish day school.
 
20. The community solicits the Kohelet Foundation to commit funds to ensure the success of the three-year merger plan.
 
It has been my honor and privilege to serve the educational needs of so many wonderful children and families over the last 16 years. It is my prayer that this community is able to see its way to a harmonious future in which its children are afforded a consistently excellent and accessible Jewish education.
 

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