Perhaps you are familiar with the following joke?
Early one morning a mother went to her sleeping son and woke him up.
"Sonny, what are you still doing in bed?!? You have to get up and go to school!"
"But why, Mom? I don't want to go to school."
"Give me two reasons why you don't want to go to school."
"One, all the children hate me. Two, all the teachers hate me..."
"Oh! that's no reason, sonny. Come on, you have to go to school!"
"Give me two good reasons why I have to go to school?"
"One, you are forty-two years old. And two, you are the principal of the school!"
Funny and yet, poignant as well, because it speaks to how hard it is to be a head of school --or an educator or school staff member-- under these difficult conditions.
A typical day for a Jewish Head of school is much more than sitting in an office, taking phone calls, or doling out discipline for problem students. A head of school wears many hats and has a staggering list of responsibilities that would astound and alarm most people.
Because they are the school leader, they put in long days and more time than most staff members. They are tasked with trying to ensure the safety of their students and staff, at the same time they are trying to ensure the school is providing high quality education, whether virtually or in person. And often these two priorities are frustratingly at odds.
To help all of us grasp the challenge, let’s take a look at a “typical day” in the life of a Jewish day school principal:
7:00am: Pulling into school, ready to welcome students and greet parents. Oh! Let’s not forget managing the carpool line that has tripled since all the new families from the northeast have moved down to Florida. Keeping a watchful eye, smiling and saying hello to the crowd of students entering the building while standing in the middle of the carpool lane, trying to navigate traffic – calmly - and praying not to get run over. Oy, there’s a student without a mask. Now I have to play policewoman and that will surely be a great start to this child’s day (and my own)… not!
8:00am: Thank G-d for Tefilla [prayer services]! A moment of inner peace praying to the Almighty and grateful to see the students participating so beautifully and connecting to a Higher Power in such a meaningful way. If only this sense of peace can last… uh, oh, there’s a text from my board chair. This can’t be good so early in the morning…
11:00am: Just finished a meeting with the Medical Advisory team and the nurse walks in. We have just been notified that a student in grade 4 and a student in grade 7 have tested positive for COVID-19. Emails to the parents of the affected classes go out immediately followed by frantic calls from same parents demanding to know what their child should do while in quarantine since no Zoom option is being offered. Starting to feel a migraine coming on…
2:00pm: Dealing with unhappy parents for the past couple of hours. Had a quick lunch that I don’t remember eating, while brainstorming with, and also venting to, a colleague of one of the other Federation-funded schools. I decide to set up a last-minute meeting with the principals of our different divisions to discuss some potential solutions.
2:30pm: Meeting is in full force. We draft emails that will be going out to the parents of the different divisions with clear instructions on what to do if their child has tested positive and is in quarantine to ensure that they remain up to date with classes and homework.
3:15pm: Meeting just ended. Rushing to carpool to make sure the required staff is in place and carpool runs “smoothly.”
4:15pm: Carpool just ended. Had a little unpleasant encounter with a parent who disagrees with our COVID policies. Going back to my office to wrap up some of the work that I was not able to finish earlier.
6:20pm: Get home. Now I am not sure I ate lunch at all today because I am starving! Have a quick dinner and now I have to jump on to the first “Back to School” information Zoom for parents. When do I get to focus on education in the midst of all this? Hmmm, maybe later tonight after the kids go to bed I can read that important article…
Actually, far from a “typical” day, the above-imagined inner dialogue represents a fraction of what our Heads of School are currently dealing with. Through it all, CAJE has remained a constant source of support, offering a listening ear, resources, and sometimes advice.
We are living in unprecedented times. There is no manual on how to operate a school while living through a pandemic that is now entering its second full school year. And while we may not always agree on the various policies and mandates put in place in the schools our children attend, one thing we can agree on is that our Heads of School are working hard and doing a great job under tremendous pressure.
So the next time you see a Head of School, a teacher or a school staff member, give them a virtual hug and tell them how grateful you are for all the hard work they are putting in to make our students’ school experience the best that it can possibly be!