The Fragmented School System – A Layperson’s Response

The following reader-submitted article is in response to this earlier school article: I grew up in Lakewood, and was raised in the Lakewood school system all the way through-that is all the way from cheder through mesivtah, and eventually BMG. I’ve experienced my share of rejection, truthfully though I don’t remember cheder being such a hassle, back in my days there was only two or three chadorim and girls schools throughout the whole Lakewood, Mesivtah’s had tough acceptance policy’s but the chadorim were pretty basic back then.

I believe the Lakewood school problem is born as much out of logistics as people’s “attitudes”. Somewhere along the line it came to be that Lakewood would have a fragmented school system with virtually no central planning. So instead of having two large schools, say one for chassidish and one for litvish, we have instead “entrepreneurial” types going ahead and opening their own schools.

Now every time someone opens a new school there’s this thought process that they have to be different, that somehow they have to set themselves apart from the other schools, we have “this hashkafa” or that. There are what 15 schools for each gender now? how can each one possibly have a coherent message that we “stand for this or that”. For goodness sake 15 schools! (maybe even more?)

Yet people try, and if anyone complains they are told to “open your own school” or go to that school, or move away to a different city. There’s no native achdis or feeling that we as a community are responsible for our people. Ironically this feeling and this situation is probably the very result of this fragmented approach to mosed building. Its basically a self perpetuating problem, here’s a possible breakdown of how it works.

step 1: Many mosdes- Results: this feeling of “he who goes to another mosed is necessarily different”.

Step 2 picky schools. why should we let this person in to our school? is he “Our” mosed material? Result: resentment among those rejected from certain schools, this eventually leads someone to open his own school, thus perpetuating the cycle.

Step 3: Which school to choose? You have parents who are perfectly reasonable people, yet when they are told they cannot send their kid to the school that their neighbors kid might be going to they feel like they are missing out on something, and try to move heaven and earth to get their kid accepted. ” why should my kid not get the best chinuch” etc.

Step 4:  Some people just don’t belong in any box, and the mere fact that we are establishing such fine critera or “boxes” causes these people to appear more isolated then they really are. We tell these people things like “maybe you shouldn’t have moved to Lakewood” You really don’t belong here, “You’re more of a Flatbush/Deal type etc. Again boxes, may be true may be not, but exactly who are you to judge?

It is interesting that people that live outside of Lakewood assume that lakewooders are a “type”, but the truth is; try moving here you’ll find out that the characterization of “emeseh lakewooder” seems to be an elusive thing. Why is that? 

There might be some that could influence the whole system if they put their mind to it, but instead choose to stick their finger in the dike and help out only individually “doing all they can to help kids get accepted”, this is usually done on an individual basis when someone comes to them, and then they might personally get involved by calling the minahel and so forth. If only we would focus on the problem as a whole instead of looking to blame individuals we might get more done.

In the end though, even if it is no one’s fault it still is everyone’s problem.

Signed: Emeseh Lakewooder  (after all I’m an emesah lakewooder, you cant expect me to reveal my name, I’ve got to get my own kids into school, you understand don’t you?)

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  1. You hit the nail on the head. The are two ways we learn to become great. Dig a pit or stand on your own mountain. The shift in paradigm is an immediate need to provide our children the “right” derech in life.

  2. i think you r making a big deal- schools reject ppl because they simply dont have enough space- you cant take more kids then you can fit in a classroom. or more then the rebbi can teach.

  3. It’s not like any of the schools are particularly small, two or three parallel classes per-grade is more than enough for a menahel to handle. The size of the Cheder is not one of it’s ma’alos.

  4. In my opinion what Lakewood needs is a central board including all the schools. A parent lists 3 schools he wants for his kid. Board decides if appropriate & if not recommends 3 schools & then they negotiate. Schiools want either to have the best kids or serve a niche. This not only givves a niche but should help with fund-raising as a member school of the board of chinuch.

  5. Good article.

    In the other article on this topic, someone wrote how they saw two types of families in lakewood, one where the father was wearing tight jeans and the other where the father was pushing a used graco holding a sefer.

    That WAS a valid point in that parents would not want their children mixing with kids who have different views. BUT there are now 30 schools because everyone has established what is acceptable to their kids.

    I wear a white button down shirt, so my kids should not be in the same school with kids whose father wears a blue button down shirt

    I wear a small brimmed black hat, so my kids should not be in the same school with kids whose father wears one of those large brimed hats

    My wife wears a sheitel on shabbos, so my kids should not be in the same school with kids whose mother wears a snude on shabbos

    I wait until 72 minutes after the zman for shabbos to end, so my kids should not be in the same school with kids whose father waits 71 minutes

    This is not a joke, this is what our town has become, digging and digging at the nitty gritty, unimportant, all the while isolating and confusing our children. Whatever happened to sending our children to a school where everyone keeps shabbos, kosher and is shomrei mitzvohs, and done! Noo, thats not enough, I cannot expose my children to kids who wear sneakers during the week. No way hosay can my children be within 100 yards of another child whose mother goes to zumba class. Is this really how Ha’shem wants us to define our lives and our yidishkeit? They say lakewood is an open, welcoming town, but it seems it is quite the opposite when everyone is judgmental of everyone else and everyone else is viewed as a threat and must be isolated and sterilized from our children

  6. I too am Lakewood born and bred. I grew up when the yeshiva community was a few square blocks and everyone knew everyone else. There was 1 school, maybe 2 for boys (don’t remember if Satmar cheder was around yet, I think it was). Obviously alot has changed. But the most significant change from then to now is what I see as an enormous lack of yiras shomayim today. Someone who is motivated only by yiras shomayim would never EVER have anything to do with the exclusionary polices that our schools have today. Can you imagine what the Chofetz Chaim would say if he was told what was going on with the schools in Lakewood? Think about it for a second. Can youimagine what the Borei Olam must be saying? Ooroo yisheinim mishinaschem. You want to know why tzaaros happen in our community? Tznius? Maybe. Personally I think this is a better candidate.

  7. I do hear some valid points, but I have to say that it doesn’t make sense to think that in a town of more than 1,000 aged primary kids to expect to have one school.

    Children cannot all thrive in such a large atmosphere, and there is nothing wrong with having a few places, some larger, some smaller. There is also nothing wrong with having a basic crowd. The problem begins when the criteria only fits a few people… and mosdos thrive on the begging and pleading of parents.

  8. One thing I’d like to say as a parent. You expect all Litvishe children in one school?!

    The James Street Cheder (7th and 8th grade) is already 300 children, I think. That’s already a very large school on it’s own. Having one Litvishe and one Chassidishe school is certainly not the answer. The many schools are all growing. We need many schools – not one school with thousands of students.

    I don’t know what solutions exist, but definitely there should be Rabbonim and Askonim to deal with the application process to help everyone.

    The second thing I was thinking yesterday. I really go to this site only because I don’t think I’ll be poisoned with treif ideas and loshon hora like there is found at other “frum” sites. But the comments yesterday… I think it is loshon hora to say how a person was treated when trying to apply to schools, the scrutiny they were subject to, someone went looking around in their house, etc.

    Maybe it is l’toeles and can be spoken about. But did anyone ask a shaila before writing in whatever they felt like?! Let’s keep this site one that we want to go to and be very careful what we say and don’t say as well.

  9. Was a time Lkwd had only the Cheder. There was a lot of disparaging and bad attitude (even among the staff, let alone the parents). Things are much better now, and constantly getting better, because competition is GOOD thing for EVERYONE (communism v. capitalism).

  10. If there would be community wide funding then there would be somethimng to talkabout . The only way we exist rightno is that each school foundr beaks his head to raise funds .we would need many big millions of dollas annually to support a school system for 20,000 to 25000 kids

  11. By the same token, why are there so many babysitting groups in Lakewood? Why are there so many playgroups in Lakewood?

    I remember the good old days in Lakewood when there were maybe eight or ten playfroups, and they were ALL on Forest Ave. Every one of them. Okay, you’re right, one of them was on Sixth Street.

    But today? Today, you have hundreds of playgroups, and it’s such a hassle to get into the one that you REALLY want. Everyone waits for Rosh Chodesh Shvat (as per Mrs Krieger) with so much anxiety, ready to call the playgroup that they REALLY feel is the BEST for their child.

    There’s so much stress in finding out about each Morah, with tons and tons of references, and then with all the pull that you need to get in to the BEST morah, and the one that is on Yeshiva schedule or Bais Faiga schedule or in Yeshiva area —— and don’t even start with the siblings getting kedimah – mamash a gevalt – vei iz meer.

    Wouldn’t it be so much better if we all had ONE HUGE playgroup in town, and it would be on Forest Ave and be on Bais Faiga schedule AND on BMG schedule AND on Madison Title schedule? That would be amazing. Okay, we could even split it up to boys and girls. So we’ll have ONE HUGE one for boys, and ONE HUGE one for girls.

    Oiy, what about the Yiddish speaking groups? Okay, so ONE HUGE one for boys – English, and ONE HUGE one for boys – Yiddish, and ONE HUGE one for girls – English, and ONE HUGE one for girls – Yiddish.

    Wouldn’t that be great? It would solve ALL the problems in this town and EVERYONE would just love each other.

  12. I’m not suggesting that we have one school with 20,000 kids. but we should still have some kind of official board that unifies the whole system. Very hard to do logistically but not impossible. You know If you think about the concept of “ma tovi ohalecha”, it was not that each person for themselves decided to set up their tents in such and such a way that no tents faced each other. “Logistically” this is impossible, we’re dealing with hundreds of thousands of tents! There must of been some kind of “tent counsel” that advised everybody on the direction their tents must be, so that it works out as a system to be the most dignified and tzenuah it could possibly be.

  13. to #7

    My sentiments exactly. The Lakewood schools and community will never end their problems until every Jewish family can look at another and say .. We are all Jews…Am Yisroel regardless of color of shirt, length of socks or choice of head covering or lack there of. Children CAN and should be able to play or go to school with any Jewish neshama. We are all one people, loved and accepted by Hashem. If we can accomplish that….then schools can go about their business of educating every jewish child in Lakewood.

  14. centralization is the worst thing that can be done. although its not perfect, but the current state causes competition among schools. competition is the best mechanism for good results.

  15. I believe the author of this piece touched upon the true issue unfolding in this town. There are many fine mosdos and there are enough slots for every child in town. The problem is not that there are a few ‘elite’ schools that cater to a select few ‘lucky’ enough to have pull. Institutions like this have always existed in jewish yeshiva systems,high schools and seminaries. The problem are the young parents who are so enamored by their own importance and self worth that they cannot even fathom being happy in a regular typical lakewood school. These immature individuals (and to be honest, I was there too a few years ago and so were you) truly believe they have their childs best interest when they only apply to the one or two ‘elite’ mosdos. I personally have four young neighbors applying for their sons this year. These four families are extremely differant hashgafically, yet they are all applying to the one same school. May the strongest pull win! What a shame parents apply to school while they have so little humility and wisdom. What a differance a few more years would make.

  16. All these “eitzos ” are only good if the people giving the “eitzos” are willing to support the school or board or whatever . Unfortunately ,when it comes to money support everybody ( almost ) claims poverty . You can not have any central board unless the board has the funding to go along with their recommendations . On another note ,if everybody put tuition at the top of their pririoties ,then things would be different too .

  17. Decent letter, better posts. The truth is, however, that ur putting too much thought into the rejection. It has nothing to do w/ u or ur wife or whatever. The schools have no room. I spoke to a head of a popular girls school, this week, discussing the girl school I decided not to open, & he told me he has more siblings & teachers’ children than spaces. He has 80 siblings & staff applications, which he must accept, & only 75 spots, in 3 primaries. So, NO he’s not taking ur daughter. But – its not ur fault. Or his fault. He has no room. Don’t be like me, don’t chicken out; open ur own school. DB. o

  18. here is more to think about. We have so many little school’s with 15 to 25 children it’s costing us all a fortune in busing. Your taxes could be lowered if the future planning of all the Mosde’s were properly planned. Once again power and greed set in.
    If all the schoo’s were in one area of town you would also see a major decline in your taxes. Lakewood is on the verge of being ruined, save the town-make your voice heard.

  19. Imagine if there was a school in every neighborhood, your child didn’t have to sit on a bus for an hour (could even walk to school) & you didn’t have to sit in 1/2 hr traffic to bring a forgotten lunch etc.

    (The Township would even save a lot on busing! You would save on taxes!)

    Your child could easily go to a friend to do homework, study, or work on a school project, since there are neighbors in the same school.

    Yes, the school would have a mixture of the families in the area, but not that much because people tend to live in neighborhoods where they feel comfortable.

    In other words, we need a central school board to oversee the schools, combine them into districts…unfortunately, it would never happen.

  20. The best idea put forth, imho, was by # 25. Each neighborhood should have schools that serve that neighborhood. I find it hard to believe that neighborhood children, who likely interact socially in shul, the playground or in each others homes, cant sit together in the same classroom.

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