A couple of days ago when I picked up ds5 from kindergarten, another mother asked me what track I’m putting him in next year. Not understanding the question, I said something intelligent like, “Huh?”
She said she heard that Amichai boys’ school will be having two tracks for incoming first graders; the Talmud Torah track and a regular track. The Talmud Torah track will be taught by a male teacher and the kids need to come into first grade knowing how to read; supposedly the level of Judaics will be higher. The regular track is what is in place now – a female teacher and the kids learn to read in first grade.
This was very interesting to me, since ds6 is currently in the first grade at Amichai and has a whopping total of twelve boys in his class and this is a typical class size in the early grades there. So how do the numbers support two classes?
The answer is connected to the new policy of the local cheder – notices have been sent home with all the kids currently attending the cheder kindergarten telling parents it’s time to register, but letting them know that there is a new policy in place and registration is not to be considered as acceptance. The school admission committee will determine who will be able to attend. This is something new to Karmiel. There has been a good bit of speculation about this among the local Anglos ever since our family’s situation at the beginning of the year – at that time we were told that policy changes were in the works but it was anyone’s guess as to where the cheder acceptance committee was going to draw the line. I was mentally estimating where this line would be but as soon as I heard about the plans for two tracks, I immediately revamped my guess – there’s no way they can have two tracks unless Amichai has a much higher enrollment. And where can the dramatically higher enrollment come from? There will have to be a significant number of kids that will be turned away from the cheder.
I wouldn’t share my thoughts on this publicly if I hadn’t gotten more solid information to back up my assumption. A friend told me she spoke to her son’s kindergarten today who told her that the principal of the gan system is making calls to the teachers and asking for descriptions of the child and the family he comes from. She was told by the teacher that her son has been ‘x’ed. I asked what that meant, and she told me that her child got an ‘x’ next to his name, meaning that he won’t be accepted to the cheder and is being tracked to Amichai instead. The teacher told her that a number of other children were also tracked for Amichai.
This still left me wondering about exactly what the criteria for acceptance were. Then tonight I got an email from someone else who spoke to the administration at Amichai and was told that the cheder will now only accept kollel families. I’m still wondering about the specifics of who is considered a kollel family – what is the husband learned for a number of years and then went to work, or what if the husband is in kollel but is sephardi….
Personally, I’m not very affected by this. If my son is in Amichai’s first grade class, then he’ll benefit from staying with some of his familiar friends and having a stronger religious peer group. We made the decision to send to Amichai when no one else was doing it and have been very, very glad we made this choice. I don’t feel my kindergardener is being tracked because I made the choice to send to Amichai in advance of all of this and everyone knew that was our plan. When faced with the choice of the two tracks that will be offered at Amichai, I don’t know what I would choose since I like the regular track. I understand that they’re offering the Talmud Torah track so they can tell the families turned away from the cheder that the education will be similar in standards to they would have had at the cheder but the idea irks me since the education of the regular track has been just fine.
It makes me a little sad that this is happening. Some will say it’s inevitable, that once the numbers are there then the exclusivity begins, but we had a unique community here in which people who weren’t typical charedi families were accepted into the cheder and that led to a wider sense of social inclusion among the women. Now there will be a clear demarcation between the families who send to the different schools and along with that I’m concerned that there’s going to be more circling the wagons and an attitude of condescension towards those outside the wagons.
On the other hand, there are advantages. This will create a stronger moderate charedi school in Karmiel as well as a stronger cheder for the kollel families. I can see both of these being a draw for different kind of families who will be interested in moving here. I’m disturbed by the social engineering that is taking place and would have rathered see changes happen more organically, but it will probably be beneficial in the larger scheme of things.