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Hitting the Books

Rachel Bachrach

A critical shortage of secular studies teachers, coupled with a lack of appropriate educational material, means that American yeshivos are struggling to meet core curriculum requirements on one hand and to impart general knowledge while maintaining Torah values on the other. Will an out-of-the-box initiative give general education a new niche?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

When education expert Mr. Shimon Waronker, a former principal who has turned around some of New York’s most violent schools, spoke at the Torah Umesorah workshop for school leaders this August, he mentioned that once while cleaning up a school, he fired seven teachers who weren’t up to par. “The quip that ran through the room was, ‘Can you send them to us? We’re still looking,’ ” remembers Richard Altabe, headmaster of Yeshivat Shaare Torah in Brooklyn. Obviously a joke, but the sentiment behind it wasn’t; a large percentage of the 25 or so principals who were at the Best Leadership Practices seminar still had openings for secular studies positions in their schools. “They said they’d never gone so late in the summer without filling a position,” says Mr. Altabe. “This year was the worst year with job openings in yeshivos — ever. I could tell you, some went unfilled until November-December.” The problem, Mr. Altabe explains, is twofold: First, there is a critical shortage nationwide of male teachers for science, math, and history classes; and second, there is a lack of appropriate educational matter for frum students, because today’s reading material, even in younger grades, reflects problematic values. At last month’s New England Regional Convention of Torah Umesorah in Waterbury, Connecticut,Mr.Altabe presented aMotzaeiShabbos session about the hot-button topic. “The feedback was unbelievable,” he says. “Everyone is struggling with this issue.”

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