MONTREAL — The administration of troubled Jewish People’s and Peretz Schools/Bialik High School (JPPS) and the union representing its teachers have formally agreed to work together on crucial issues facing the school.
The two parties drew up a “letter of collaboration” April 25 signed by JPPS co-president David J. Shapiro and Mordechai Antal, president of the Federation of Teachers of Jewish Schools (FTJS).
The statement was issued four days after parent Lorne Switzer and others launched a petition for the removal of Shapiro and the three other officers of the JPPS board of directors, charging that the board is not adequately responding to the needs of the schools nor communicating effectively with parents and other “stakeholders.”
That petition has since been withdrawn, and Switzer has pledged to work with the administration for the betterment of the school.
This development followed news that JPPS and Bialik would be laying off 35 staff, mainly teachers, due to declining enrolment, and a subsequent stormy meeting held as part of the school’s “strategic planning” process.
Last November, JPPS-Bialik and United Talmud Torahs-Herzliah High Schools officially shelved a plan to merge, after less than a year of talks. The plan, promoted by Federation CJA, was to create one affordable, bilingual “community” school more suited to the changing Montreal Jewish demographics.
The online version of the petition quickly collected more than the 75 signatures said to be required by the school’s bylaws to convene a special general meeting, where a motion to dismiss the officers would be presented and their replacement proposed.
Switzer now says he thinks the administration and board are taking positive steps to deal with the school’s issues.
The JPPS-FTJS agreement is to strike a task force consisting of teachers, board members and one staff administrator each from JPPS and Bialik.
Among the areas the task force will address are “facilitating communication among all involved groups” and “better displaying our pride in our schools and portraying our strengths publicly.”
Other concerns are improving the school’s academic and financial standing.
The task force intends to make recommendations to the board after its work is completed in the coming weeks.
“The prospect of actively working together to further excellence at JPPS and Bialik… is of critical interest to the board and both teaching and non-teaching staff of our schools,” the letter states. “We are confident that it is the path to building a better future together to provide the best possible educational experience to our students and community.”
In the past, teachers have said that they are not sufficiently included in the running of the school.
The petition stated that the board has “repeatedly failed to keep the community informed of significant changes being discussed that would fundamentally alter the character and mission of the school.” Parents, staff and students have not been consulted in major decisions, such as the significant job cuts and fundraising ideas.
Parent Jamie Malus, however, believes it would have difficult to replace the current officers. While he agrees better communication is necessary, he is confident that the teachers, the board and most parents want to work together.
In an April 27 letter, Malus, a former board member and school alumnus, expressed his belief that the removal of the officers might lead to the resignation of the rest of the board. The resulting turmoil would be damaging to the school, he thinks.
“Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I’m not aware of 18 qualified people having been approached who are ready to volunteer their time to become this new board, in particular in light of the tasks ahead.”
Malus proposes the creation of a parent council, which he thinks would improve communication in both directions between parents and the board, and encourage parent involvement in the school.