Phineas Taylor Barnum (a.k.a. P.T. Barnum) the great founder of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus has been quoted as saying, “Whatever you do, do it with all your might. Work at it, early and late, in season and out of season, not leaving a stone unturned, and never deferring for a single hour that which can be done just as well now.” I could not think of a better quote and better source to describe the people I have worked with for the past three years at the YU School Partnership (YUSP). You see the field of Jewish education is a three-ring circus and the team at YUSP are its ringmasters.
A “three-ring circus” is often used to describe chaos, disorder and confusing activity, but to a child attending the circus for the first time that is furthest from what s/he experiences. When I first attended the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden as a young boy it was a magical experience filled with wonder, joy, laughter and majesty. The acrobats, fire eaters, daredevils, tigers, hilarious clowns and towering elephants were unlike anything I had ever seen before. From my seats there was no chaos. There was an order that tamed the tigers, directed the clowns and calmly led the powerful elephants around the arena. At the center of it all was the ringmaster, a tall man wearing a top coat and tails who seemed to be guiding it all.
In reality the ringmaster was less responsible for the flow of things than keeping up the appearances of that responsibility. The real work was behind the curtains and the many years of training, organization and coordination that occurred long before the first of thirty clowns came out of the awkwardly hilarious multicolored tiny car. That is what I believe P.T. Barnum was referring to when he said the above quote and why he was so successful in creating an unforgettable experience for children, one that was far from chaos. It takes unfettered dedication to succeed at creating this highly ordered three-ring circus.
A school in many ways is no different than a circus in all the possible ways that can make it great and less than great. For the student, we hope that when they come to school they are mesmerized, filled with wonder and excited for everything that they learn, experience and do. As part of the YUSP team, I have had the privilege of visiting many schools and have seen the schools that are the P.T. Barnum version of the three-ring circus and ones that are just a three-ring circus. Like a wonderful circus, when you walk into a school that works well it is a vibrant magical place that spills into every aspect of the school. It is immediately obvious as the first time I walked into the stadium at Madison Square Garden and saw the three larger than life rings before me. Yet, like the circus, this school does not occur organically.
Anyone who is involved in the educating our children knows how much work goes into created an order of what would naturally be chaos and an order that allows our children to be chaotic safely and in meaningful ways. Most schools have a ringmaster or head of school, but the flow of the school does not happen without the hard work and dedication of everyone in the school working hard together. While the head of school is far from just there to keep up appearances (in most cases), the behind the curtain work that brings order to the three-ring classrooms is a team effort. However, what happens when a school does not have the right tools, skills and leaders to bring healthy organization to the chaos? That is where the ringmasters of the field, the YU School Partnership team, are called upon.
The team that I have had the privilege of working with until 2:30pm est today take responsibility for not one classroom, one school or even one city of schools. They dedicate their lives to the world of Jewish education, ensuring every child that attends a Jewish school walks in daily with a sense of wonderment and leaves excited for what comes next. I am not sure P.T. Barnum was referring to Shira Z., Maccabee, Melanie, Dina, James, Jacob, Eitan, Shira L., Shira H., Donna, Odelia, Shoshi, Eliana, Yechiel and, our ringmaster, Jane when he said, “Whatever you do, do it with all your might….”, but he might as well had been. I have never worked with such a dedicated team of professionals who care as deeply about Jewish education. They work tirelessly day and night “never deferring for a single hour that which can be done just as well now.”
A little over three years ago I had called Dr. Scott Goldberg who is the original ringmaster of the YU School Partnership and to whom I, the team and the field owe a great debt of gratitude for developing YUSP into the organization it is today. I had called him to discuss a project I was working on for my then Bar Ilan Fellowship: Leading Educators Online funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation and facilitated by The Lookstein Center. On that call he offered me the opportunity to join the YUSP team and train Jewish educators around the world. Honestly, I thought he was nuts as I was not calling him for a job, nor looking for one. I was taken aback that he would take such a risk making such an offer to someone he hardly knew. However, it was exactly that willingness to take risks and being a true visionary for Jewish education that after a few more conversations I took the job; a job I have enjoyed almost every moment of (come on, every job has its other moments – but this one had very few).
The field of Jewish education can be a three-ring circus that creates wonder for all its students or one that creates chaos not teaching our children anything. The YU School Partnership exists to create the former and has successfully been doing so with all the schools it works with. I am grateful to have been behind the curtains of Jewish education with the YUSP team for these past three years and for having had a small part in enhancing Jewish teaching and learning. I will miss everyone I have worked with as I don the top hat and tails of a principal at Valley Torah High School (VTHS). I don the hat and tails with great confidence and humility having had great mentors and models of excellence at YUSP, yet fully aware of the great work that lies ahead and how I am nothing without the team I will be working together with at VTHS. I also begin with a sense of calm as I know that the three-ring circus of amazement and wonderment I want to create is carefully watched by Jewish educations ringmasters at the YU School Partnership.
Thank you everyone at the YU School Partnership for being an inspiration. You have always being there for me as well as the field. You are models of the highest caliber for any educator. I am proud to have been your colleague and honored to have you as friends.
To end this post I want to specifically thank Jane Cohen Taubenfeld who is my boss for the next hour. Honestly, I struggle with the words to thank you. You have not only been an amazing leader for our team, you have personally mentored and supported me way beyond the role you accepted at YUSP. Your dedication to us at YUSP, the students, teachers and leaders of our Jewish schools is one that knows no bounds. You are an inspiration to all that meet you and especially to me. Having had your precious time for at least an hour a week for our weekly meetings is time I will always value. While I know you have many people to supervise, so many pieces to organize and the biggest three-ring circus to lead you did it with grace and always made me feel like I was all that mattered when we spoke. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you have taught me and how you prepared me for the next three-ring circus I am joining.
Until we meet again YU School Partnership!