State of the School
The following is the text of Head of School Andrea Kasper’s State of the School, delivered last Thursday at the Annual Meeting to the Schechter community, Trustees of the Board, parents, students, and community members.
This year has taken twists and turns we never could have imagined. Even finding original words by which to describe all that we have and continue to experience seems an impossible task - so for now, I won’t.
A long-time community member has shared with me that in his 30 plus years of being part of the Schechter community, he has never experienced a parent body that is so cohesive, so excited about what is happening at our school, and so supportive. Our enrollment over the years has faced challenges, but as we know, that is not what tells the story of Schechter. What tells our story is the enthusiasm of our parent body, the non-stop commitment of our faculty and staff, and the beautiful growing and learning faces of our students. In the most meaningful of ways, we are stronger than ever.
On March 13th, our lives were thrown the biggest of curve balls; our faculty and staff pivoted with such speed, such thoughtfulness, and such grace - It was astounding. And then they didn’t stop. They reflected, they adjusted, and they enhanced their new Distance Learning programs. And since then, they continue to think about how to make this work even better on behalf of the students and our families. Even as this school year comes to a close, the faculty continue to reflect in preparation for anything that we may face as a community in the coming year - I promise you will be impressed all over again. The staff worked quickly, trying to absorb all that was happening around us, hearing the needs and the worry, responding to questions, applying for loans, creatively fundraising in the absence of our annual Ner Tamid Gala, sharing our school virtually, planning for tonight’s meeting and next week’s graduation and all the daily workings of the school. The core of Schechter, the faculty and staff, have shined like never before in this time of crisis and uncertainty. Thank you.
And then you, the parents, were there, in all your caring and support, all of your worry and compassion, all the uncertainty you were facing at work and at home. You showed up as partners. You cheered them on, you sent them dinner, you shared your gratitude on social media and with each other and with them. You, too, had your lives rearranged and had to figure out an entirely new way of being at home as a family, perhaps balancing your professional life, perhaps losing your work. You are holding together all of that worry and working with us on behalf of your children; for that I say thank you as well.
I want also to thank the Board of Trustees for your thoughtful partnership, your deep concern and care of Schechter and for your hard work throughout the entire year. A special thank you to Lauren Eisen, my partner in crime - thank you. I also want to extend a warm welcome to Tali, Eric and Radenka - we are so fortunate to have you join our Board.
To David Warren, CEO of Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford and to Jacob Schreiber of the Jewish Community Foundation - thank you. Thank you for your support, for your partnership and for your willingness to listen and help whenever possible.
As we look toward next year, we have been deep in planning for several scenarios. As you know, we have formed the Pandemic Response Team made up of five committees planning for a safe reopening in the fall: Physical Plant, Health & Safety, Mental Health Planning, Communication, and Teaching and Learning Versatility. Each committee is made up of faculty and staff, trustees, and parents. At the same time, the faculty is also planning and preparing for the possibility that we either open in a Distance Learning model or open and then move into another closure. The governor’s plan currently indicates that schools can reopen as of Phase 3, which is planned for Sept 1...it is important to be clear that if we don’t move into Phase 3 at the time then we will not be able to physically open. We will not likely know until the very last minute, so we are preparing for any circumstance to be able to serve our students and you, our families. We will do everything in our power to open, and we believe that as long as we move into Phase 3, Schechter will be well positioned to open 5 days a week for all students. We look to you for your continued support and partnership.
There are two very special women whom I would like to take a moment to acknowledge tonight: Michelle Fontaine and Nancy Rosen. Both Nancy and Michelle have been part of the Schechter community for decades. Each has been a fierce advocate of children, promoted social justice, and worked with faculty and parents with compassion and understanding. They have been fundamental members of the administrative team and their teaching teams. Michelle has led our Early Childhood program through its transition to being Reggio-inspired and she has enriched her classrooms with mindfulness and incredible imaginative play. In these last months of school, she has transferred those gifts to a distance learning environment in which every Early Childhood student could participate. Nancy has been the Jewish soul and guidepost of our school, and she has led and guided with a focus on social justice and moving the lessons of the Torah into action. She has taught countless students not only the lessons of the Torah, but how to read trope, igniting a spark in new generations of Jewish children. Thank you Nancy, and thank you Michelle. We will all miss you deeply. Please know that the marks you have left on Schechter, on all of us, and on all of your students are indelible.
The path that both Nancy and Michelle have laid encourages me to share some of my thoughts about the current situation in our country.
While I can often find space above the fray, the pain of the last weeks, reflecting the pain and injustices of centuries in our country, has found its way into my very being. It’s not a new feeling - I have felt this deep sense of anger and pain on behalf of our country and our inability to face our racial demons. We cannot turn away any longer. We cannot stay within the comfort of our own lives, pretending that we are not part of the problem and key part of progress. It is time for us to do the very hard work of repairing the inequity in our community and in our society; we must sit and listen, really listen. We need to stop talking so much and just listen to what it means to be a black and brown person in our country. The moral imperative for each of us is clear and strong, and we cannot continue to benefit from a system that so egregiously profits off of the oppression of others. I personally feel paralyzed at the thought of how to actually take action that may make a difference, how to use my privilege to fight these systems. Yet, we must each find a way to do so. We all must use our privilege to protect, and we must also sit in silence and listen to the experiences that are very real, even if they aren’t ours. These words ring the loudest for me - as Eli Weisel reminded us, we can’t be neutral and we cannot just be NOT racist; we have to be active, fierce anti-racists - for only then we can proudly uphold the values we hold so dear at Schechter.
At Schechter, we have taken some steps and they are not yet enough. We have created opportunities to connect students from Grace Academy with our students, but we need to do this more. Our students serve lunch at House of Bread on a monthly basis - and we need to do more. In our Middle School Humanities class, the emphasis is often on the question: Whose story isn’t being told? Whose voice is missing? And in their 8th grade year students read, discuss and learn about those who were forced to come here. I charge all of us, all of our classes, to begin dismantling the teachings and assumptions that promote systemic racism and implicit bias, to be more bold to take on the stance of anti-racism.
Our Jewish heritage, I have often felt, provides a powerful counter cultural narrative. In a country founded and defined by rugged individualism, Judaism offers a frame and way of life that is deeply connected to community and to the care of others, well beyond ourselves. We have never needed this counter cultural narrative and tradition more than now. So let’s double down on our work, on our commitment to our own tradition and heritage, and know that we now fight as we wanted people to have fought for us. Schechter and our work providing a Jewish education to our students and families is essential for this transformation.
This is the time to come together as a community - Klal Yisrael. This is the time to be compassionate and gentle, and act with Lev Tov. And this is the time to act thoughtfully and wisely - Chochma.