School to school exchanges have done a lot to connect Jewish students in Boston with their counterparts in Haifa. Now, influential Israeli public education officials have had a taste of how effective such an exchange can be.

“The devotion of the people we met is unbelievable,” said llan Tal-Nir, the superintendent of schools in Givataiim. “What I take from here is belief that the way to change society, to improve the education system is not through testing and exams, it is through devoted teachers and by improving communication between teachers and their students.”

created at: 2011-05-30Tal-Nir was part of a nine-member delegation from Israel’s Association of Local Government Superintendents visiting the Boston area last week for a tour of a wide-range of schools and communities, including Jamaica Plain, Lynn, and Brookline among others. The makeup of the delegation was as diverse as the schools they visited: a mix of religious and secular, Jewish and non-Jewish, from large cities and small regional councils.

The study tour participants focused on parent involvement in children’s education. In addition, the group visited specific programs for improving the achievements of students from low socio-economic classes as well as ways of working with multicultural populations. The Israelis met with their peers in Boston, including eight different superintendents and other education specialists.

Samia Bsoul of Nazareth was particularly interested in seeing how schools engage parents, which can sometimes determine how successful schools can be on their own. “In Arab communities, there’s a question of the involvement of parents: should they challenge the school hoping to make it better through pressure or work with teachers and administrators. We need to be able to replicate the way schools here work with parents to encourage children to be good students and have that start at home.”

Boston-Haifa Director Ruth Kaplan, who also is a member of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, selected most of the sites that the superintendents visited. 

“This study tour exemplified the way in which the relationships developed for over 20 years through the partnership between Boston and Haifa directly led to our potential for significant impact throughout Israel,”  she said. “When a few members from the Boston-Haifa Youth at Risk Task Force visited Boston school sites last year, they realized how much could be learned from this kind of deep exchange.  The idea was then conveyed to the national Israeli organization which selected the Boston area as the venue for this year’s professional exchange.  This could never have happened without the support of the CJP Boston-Haifa Connection, which now is impacting Israeli education from north to south.”

“Both of our systems have one mission,” said Eran Dubovi, head of Haifa’s Administration for Education and Culture. “To break the myth that demography defines destiny. If you know your ZIP code, you know your future. It’s the same way in Israel, and especially true in large immigrant populations. That’s our vision, to break this myth.”

While the Israelis did visit a Level-4 underperforming school in Lynn, they are aware that Massachusetts has one of the strongest public education systems in the country, one that is not necessarily representative of the United States as a whole.

“When it comes to education, Massachusetts is not the United States, and we know that. But there is a possibility that the US could turn into a Massachusetts,” Rami Hoffenberg of Petach Tikvah suggested.

While the focus of the mission was public education, the Israelis did get to visit the Rashi School and Gann Academy, which provide excellent examples of the day school model in private education.

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