Strong, Effective Leadership Key to The Bialik-Rogozin School
REPORTING FROM TEL AVIV -- When I sat down to talk to Karen Tal at the Bialik-Rogozin School in south Tel Aviv, I was eager to meet the woman whose inspiring transformation of a failing school became the topic of the academy award winning documentary “Strangers No More,” which was produced and directed by Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon.
In 2005 when Tal was recruited to oversee the merger of the Bialik and Rogozin schools by the municipality, she was understandably overwhelmed. The two schools were located in the same decaying building. The atmosphere was marked by violence and a high rate of teacher burnout with only 28 percent of its students passing the bagrut (Israel’s national exam). Now the school boasts 90 percent of its students who achieve success on the exam, and it has become a model for other schools of how to achieve racial tolerance and integration. The campus’s entrance is a microcosm of the positive changes, with walls collaged with photographs of children refugees from Darfur and a mural of painted green trees, depicting Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish Arbor Day that celebrates the birthdays of all trees, brings life to another wall. Student demographics are similar, with refugees from war torn places, others who are the children of workers from such far-flung locales in the Philippines, Uzbekistan, and Colombia, and native-born Israeli Jewish, Muslim, and Christian children whose families are mired in poverty.
The transformation that took place at the school illustrates that Tal not only deinstitutionalized a failing school; she reimagined a new philosophy of teaching. She explains, “My vision is holistic. I want to build children’s self esteem and create a home for learning. In keeping with this philosophy, Tal keeps the doors of the school open well beyond the end of the school day. Until late in the evening the school offers a safe space where students can receive one on one mentoring from over 100 volunteers. This open door policy extends not only to the students but to families as well. After school hours, the building transforms into an ulpan (a language school) and resource center for refugee families struggling to find jobs, secure citizenship and adapt to the challenges of life in a different culture.
Tal is now working to export the Bialik-Rogozin model to other challenged communities, directing the new Education Initiatives Center that will work with and empower principals in poor areas of Israel to create community and public-private partnerships to turn around weak elementary and high schools. The non-profit initiative, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and municipalities, has the potential to touch thousands more disadvantaged students throughout the country. Over the next year, she will help oversee the reform and the reopening of schools in several cities throughout Israel. Although she will travel extensively throughout the country training principals to recreate her success, it is clear that the Bialik-Rogozin school is never far from her heart. She even plans to come back as a volunteer and work with students one on one.
Recently, Karen Tal was awarded the prestigious Charles Bronfman prize, a $100,000 award which recognized the achievements of a single humanitarian whose work is inspired by Jewish values and has broad global impact. In her acceptance speech, she commented, “The way we judge our society is by how we treat those on the margins. The magic in this place is from love and from the injunction of how we treat the strangers among us.”
Thanks to her unique philosophy, Tal has integrated a community of strangers, once living on the edge in their native lands, and welcomed them into a community of learning which celebrates difference and embraces tolerance. To learn more about the school or to request copies of “Strangers No More” for screening at your school, email firstname.lastname@example.org .#