Sunday, April 09, 2006

HAFTR & Rambam - Analysis: Physical Changes

[Throughout my analysis, I will refer to people by their last names, with the exception of an introduction, where I will attempt to use the correct title. Yes, that means Rabbis will be referred to only by their last names. Get over it.]

For the last several years, rumors have swept the Five Towns about a merger between HAFTR and Rambam. Like most, I was skeptical. HAFTR is a coed institution which leans to the left. Rambam is an all boys institution, more to the center. Parents unsure of where to send children for high school had to agonize between DRS (HALB’s boys’ high school) and Rambam. Few probably agonized between DRS/Rambam and HAFTR. The mindsets were just different. Indeed, in my high school days, before DRS, we would joke of a merger between Rambam and SKA (HALB’s girls’ high school). But HAFTR? You’ve gotta be joking.

To be sure, there are many details which need to be worked out. On Friday, Rabbis Friedman and Eliach, the founder/Rosh Mesivta and principal of Rambam, respectively, met with HAFTR high school teachers. At least some expressed reservations. And parents...suffice it to say that I'd be shocked if most of the HAFTR parents (and Rambam parents) reacted negatively to the deal, at least initially. Of course some things would change. That’s only natural. The question is, how much and will the changes be positive?

The more of the community that's involved in these conversations the better. So let's email our friends, tell them to show up, and put in their 2 cents. We'll all be better off for it.

Before getting to the educational aspects, let’s deal with the physical changes. Machon HaTorah (MH) plans on building a sports complex and a beis medrash. Despite rumors (months old) that the sports complex will be built on a vacant piece of land behind Costco, that appears not to be the case. Aside from the difficulty in getting there (its centally located outside of the Five Towns, and not within walking distance for anyone), a sports complex in the middle of nowhere won’t help with the cohesiveness of the Five Towns or the MH “campus.” But, should the complex actually be built, the change it could have for the community would be tremendous.
Why? There’s always talk about using the public school buildings for their gym. There is a JCC but no one uses it, and it lacks the facilities. A new modern sports complex could alleviate that. Championship and playoff games could be had in the complex, with seating for fans. In an expanded role, the sports complex could even become the focal point for night leagues amongst students and parents (midnight basketball writ large) in the community.

Onto the Beis Medrash. Where? Well, Rambam has land that can be used, though zoning and parking permits would be issues. But, not more than a couple of blocks away, centrally located between Rambam and HAFTR high school is a lot which used to house the Nassau Herald. Empty after a fire, the location would be prime real estate for a new beis medrash. Again, it may only serve the school, but as the press releases and emails have hinted at, it can serve the community too. As it is, there are few places for people to go and learn at night. Shor Yoshuv is around and available, and many make use of it. But if something is closer, people would go there too. Not to mention community shiurim and talks.

There is also the opening of an all-girls division (names anyone?). George faults MH for concentrating on the sports complex before the girls school. But, as I pointed out in my reply, building a beis medrash and sports complex is less time intensive (from the board and administrative point of view) than opening up an all girls school. They’d need to hire a principal and teachers, set up curricula, register with NYS and find a building. But more on MH’s all girls division later.

In short, from a capital expenditure point, the expansion plans may turn MH from schools into the community centers that the community sorely needs.

Next: Educational Changes