Israel 2010

Update (2) November 24, 2010


AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech with Principal Karen Tal.

Where Superwoman Runs the Show

Karen Tal has become a media celebrity in Israel. The day before our visit to her school, a documentary featuring the Bialik Rogozin School entitled "Strangers No More" premiered in, of all places, New York City. The school has also been the subject of much media attention in Tel Aviv. Israel is not waiting for superman, they have their own superwoman.

South Tel Aviv is definitely the other side of the tracks. Bialik Rohozin was the most diversely integrated school we saw on our trip. The school population includes poor third generation Israeli born children, immigrants from the former Soviet Union, refugees from Darfur and Arabs. It very much resembles a large, urban American school.

Multi-Tasker with Single-Minded Devotion to Children

The premise of the documentary revolves around Karen's efforts to prevent having 300 of her refugee children deported, a battle she is still fighting. Ms. Tal is the principal we all want to have. She is a multi-tasking dynamo who entertains guests, deals with emergencies, manages the school, handles the media, while draped with two or more of her primary grade students who hang on to her as Linus hangs on to his blanket.

Staggering Achievement Gains

Five years ago Karen was offered a lucrative, high profile, assignment with the Israeli Ministry of Education. She rejected the offer and instead took on the unification of two of the lowest performing schools in South Tel Aviv. The combined Bialik Rogozin center educates 865 k-12 students with 60% of them being treated by a variety of social services and with over 50% coming from single parent homes. During her five-year tenure Principal Tal has increased the graduation rate from a paltry 28% to a more robust 73%. A unique benchmark in Israel is the percentage of students who go into the required military service right after graduation. Ms. Tal, herself a former soldier, has raised the military induction rate from 26% to 79%.

Salvation for Neighborhood School

The superintendents in our delegation take pride in their ability to instantly recognize an outstanding school the minute they step into one. The broad smiles of appreciation in all of our faces was unanimous acknowledgement that we were in the presence of an outstanding leader heading up a remarkable school. Bialik Rogozin is affirmation that an outstanding principal and the dedicated teachers that are attracted to the school are the primary ingredients needed for school transformation. In South Tel Aviv, impoverished minority children are not waiting for the superman in the local charter school to save them. They have already found salvation in their neighborhood public school where superwoman runs the show.

Posted November 24, 2010 by AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech

Update (1) November 24, 2010


Superintendent Herb Berg from Columbia, SC. Talbot, MD, Superintendent Karen Salmon

View From School Steps Peaceful Now

From the front steps of the Sandala School in the Gilboa region of Israel, you can see the Palestinian village that was the hub of terrorist activity just a couple of years ago. Today relative peace and harmony prevail as we visit this Arab Israeli school. Dror Lalush is the equivalent of the superintendent of schools in this Arab community not far from Tel Aviv.

Coexistence Means Separate but Equal Schools

Unless you are in this country, it is difficult to visualize how close these people who are occasionally engaged in mortal combat are to each other. Across from the Palestinian village, the Arab inhabitants are Israeli and the children attend predominantly Arab Israeli public schools. As Jewish children would, the Arab children are learning to speak, read and write Hebrew, the official language of Israel. Coexistence here means that separate neighborhoods are adjacent to each other with Arab children attending Arab schools and Jewish children attending Israeli schools - separate but equal. Mr. Lalush says that the Arab and Israeli children have the opportunity to play together after school but that is likely to be the older children participating in sports clubs.

Language Acquisition One Barrier to Achievement

Israeli children are not performing well on the international tests. They freely admit that their results are worse than the United States. They cite, not as an excuse but as the reality that they must confront, that the poor showing is due to the many students, like the Arab population, who do not speak Hebrew. Another troubling factor revolves around the Ultra Orthodox Jewish community that has established its own system of schools that refuses to follow the prescribed curriculum in favor of religious studies.

Tomorrow we'll report from Tel Aviv.

Posted November 24, 2010 by AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech

Updated November 23, 2010

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AASA Past-President and Paw Paw, MI, superintendent, Mark Bielang, being interviewed by Israeli media.Superintendent Rodney Green from East China, MI, with Mrs. Green and air force cadets from the ORT Academy.

One of Israel's Best High Schools Led By Top Educator

On the outskirts of Jerusalem, overlooking the Judean desert, Principal Nisim Yaluz can be rightfully proud of his school, the ORT Flight and Space Academy. It is considered one of the best high schools in the country and Mr. Yaluz was recently honored with Israel's top educator award. It is in essence a technical military academy. The students apply to attend and those accepted sign on as cadets and will go on to fulfill their military duty immediately upon graduation. The school is a charter school part of the ORT network which operates 190 institutions throughout the country. Ten percent of all Israeli students attend ORT schools. The Flight and Space HS boasts its own observatory and planetarium.

High Tech Learning Prepares Students for Modern Army

The school has a close relationship with the military and they are responsive to their needs in the training offered to the students. This guarantees that, in a country of only 7.5 million people in a perpetual state of alert, soldiers are trained to fulfill the high tech needs required by a modern army. Courses include electronics and computers, aerospace engineering, bio-medicine, astronomy and astro-physics. The school's services are supplemented by air force soldiers who tutor the students after school hours. The facility is modern and attractive with the latest scientific labs, computers and something you would not find in an American public high school, a synagogue.

Extended High School Provides Opportunity for Engineering Degree

Students also have the opportunity of continuing their education for two more years to earn an engineering degree with 80% funding by the Air Force. It is a unique relationship between the military and a secondary school that I am not aware of in the states. We have ROTC Programs and we have college level military academies, but ORT is clearly an armed forces military prep school with an interesting 9-14 option allowing for a higher ed degree. East China superintendent and AASA Executive Committee member, Rod Green was impressed by the school as was AASA Past-President Mark Bielang.

Posted November 23, 2010 by AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech


Updated November 21, 2010


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Superintendent Amy Sichel from Abington, PA. Superintendent Joe Gertsema from Yankton, SD.

Israeli Public Education: Three Parallel Systems

It's a Sunday morning, but 865 students are already in class at the Sadot school here in Bat Chefer, Israel. The school week here runs from Sunday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The education system in Israel is unlike anything I have encountered in my travels. There are basically three parallel systems of public education. There is a system of public religious schools, a system of public ultra orthodox schools, and a system of public secular schools like the one we are visiting today.

Like US, Income a Key Factor in Student Achievement

It is clear that the one thing that the U.S. system has in common with the Israeli schools is that income is a determining factor in the achievement level of the schools. However, Israeli schools do not provide either transportation or lunch; therefore, students on free and reduced lunch is not a factor in determining income levels. Nevertheless, one look at Sadot tells you that you are in a middle income community, at least. The school is beautifully maintained with its own zoo, spacious classrooms and ample technology available to the students. We visited several classrooms where fourth grade students were learning English using a blended technology program called "Time to Know." Students had access to wireless laptops that allowed them to interact with the teacher on a lesson and then work independently on a program tailored to meet their individual needs. Joe Gertsema, a member of AASA's Executive Committee and superintendent in Yankton, SD, interacted with the class, as did Governing Board member and Abington, PA, superintendent, Amy Sichel.

Armed Forces Collaborate With Limited Vocational Curriculum

Unlike the educational systems we visited recently in Switzerland and Germany, Israel does not subscribe to the apprenticeship, vocational education type programs any more than the US does. Only about a third of their students participate and then primarily in programs run in collaboration with the armed forces. Israel requires that all young men and women, upon graduation from high school, must serve two to three years in the army. The collaborative programs recruit students in their junior year to enlist as cadets and be trained in fields deemed a need by the armed forces.

Tomorrow we will tell you about one such school we visited.

Posted November 21, 2010 by AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech


Updated November 19, 2010



The Israeli Delegation: from left to right, Dan Domenech and superintendents Herb Berg, Joe Gertsema, Amy Sichel, Rodney Green, Kathleen Kelley, Karen Salmon and AASA Past-President Mark Bielang.

A Closer Look at a Divided City

Jerusalem is a holy city to three major religions. An uneasy coexistence exists among its inhabitants. There is a wall that runs through most of the city built by the Israelis to secure the city from the terrorist attacks that plagued it some years ago. Nevertheless, within the city and within the wall, Arabs, Christians and Jews live together and wonder about the future. Jerusalem was not part of the original land grant of 1948. However, after the six day war of 1967, Israel occupied Jerusalem and it is now the capital of the country. There are ongoing negotiations as to the future of Jerusalem, but it is readily apparent to any visitor that an Israeli evacuation of the city is not in the realm of possibilities.

Jerusalem's Deputy Mayor Remains Hopeful

We met with the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, Naomi Tsur. Raised in Bristol, England, we were captivated by her British accent. Mrs. Tsur explained that the secret to Jerusalem's peaceful coexistence is the thirty-one neighborhoods that make up the city. The 24% Arabs, 10% Christians and the remaining Jewish majority live within these segregated communities. Everyone shares the common areas, but trouble can brew when one group trespasses on another's neighborhood.

Dividing the city in half to accommodate Israelis and Palestinians would not work, she says, because the neighborhoods are scattered throughout the city and a simple geographic division would cause displacement of one community or another.
Naomi is hopeful that at some point the powers that be would consult the residents of Jerusalem to see what they would suggest as a solution. She feels that a common cause, such as the environmental issues common to large urban areas, could unify the residents and maintain the peaceful coexistence that exists today.

A Wish for the Wailing Wall

As we stood by the Western Wall and watched the hundreds of people from obviously distinct ethnicities crowding the Wailing Wall in respectful silence, it occurred to me that the Deputy Mayor might be right. I would hope so for the sake of this historic city and its inhabitants. I wrote my wish on a piece of paper and inserted it on a crack on the Wall.

Posted November 19, 2010 by AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech

Updated November 18, 2010


AASA Executive Director, Dan Domenech, and Williamsport, PA superintendent, Kathleen Kelly (far right), with American exchange students in Jerusalem.

Personal Connections Foster Shared Values

The American-Israel Friendship League's (AIFL) mission is to strengthen the ties between the people of the United States and Israel. It's obvious that the AIFL would want to include the up and coming generation in that process. What better way than through student exchange programs where American and Israeli students have the opportunity to visit each other in their respective countries while staying with host families and experiencing the cultures, values and the beauty of both countries first-hand?

"We are more alike than different'

It is in that context that I find myself in Jerusalem with a delegation of American superintendents visiting Israel under the sponsorship of the AIFL. This is our first night in this fabled city and we are surrounded by a group of very excited and enthusiastic American high school students from New York City, Tucson, Virginia Beach and Oklahoma.
They have been here for a week, touring the country, and will be spending the next week with their host families. I am always struck by the poise and maturity of our high school students and this evening I am incredibly proud of this group. When asked to describe what they would take away from this experience an articulate young man from Virginia Beach explained how, in spite of religious differences, different languages and nationalities, after spending some time with their Israeli counterparts they all discovered that they are more alike then different. Getting to know one another trumps the preconceptions and stereotypes that arise out of ignorance. Out of the mouths of relative babes came out words of wisdom that would make any supporter of world unity proud.

And what do these young men and women intend to do about it? They are going back home intent on convincing more of their fellow students to make the trip. Their efforts should be facilitated by the superintendents in the delegation who very much agree with the students and will be looking to establish AIFL exchange Programs in their districts.

Posted November 18, 2010 by AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech