Poway, Pittsburgh, Jersey City, Monsey…Our newspapers and social media timelines have been filled with news about the rise in antisemetic hate crimes throughout our country and it has left us feeling uneasy. As the world around us changes, I know that we — parents, students and teachers alike — are asking so many deep and meaningful questions. Top of mind for many of us is the question of security, both on our campuses and in our larger community.
A few years back, I sent out a Head of School Update that answered many questions regarding our security here at GOA, and I have once again attached that update (below) for your edification. While the structures we have in place and relationships with our community leaders have continued to be strengthened over the years, you should rest assured knowing that we are always revisiting our emergency plans and procedures and updating/adjusting them to ensure that they are in line with best practices and with the advice of our local police authorities and private security team.
Security is of paramount importance, and we are also focused on educating our students about the world around them. In the week before Winter Break, our Upper School students had the unique opportunity to hear from Attorney General Gurbir Grewal about the work that he and his office are doing to combat antisemitism and hate crimes here in NJ. It was an incredibly powerful experience for all in attendance. His message was strong, clear and quite simple. While delivering his opening remarks he referenced Nelson Mandela’s famous words that people must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate then that means they can also be taught to love. In order for us to be true to our mission in all of our educational work here at GOA we must always keep this idea in mind. While we prepare our students academically for the next stages of their lives; simultaneously, we must also focus on their social-emotional needs to make sure that the graduates of our institution are confident, proud, respectful and learned young men and women poised to face the challenges that lie ahead for them.
It is this pride that we instill in our students at GOA — pride in their learning, in their school and in their Jewishness. When the American Jewish Committee launched their #JewishANDProud campaign this week, it provided the Jewish community with the valuable opportunity to shout these messages from the rooftops. While the fear about all that is happening in the world is real and needs to be addressed; we must remain steadfast in our commitment to one another, our faith and our community. We thank our parents for the continued trust they place in our institution to educate their children, and we thank our students for their willingness to learn and accept the challenges presented to them by their teachers. We know that this will ultimately serve them well as they become strong, passionate leaders throughout their lives.
I look forward to seeing the many ways our students, teachers and parents continue to show how they are #JewishANDProud, while also remaining vigilant about the realities of the world around us and cognizant of the need for ongoing dialogue and education around these very important issues of the day.
Video: NJ Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s Conversation with our 6th-12th grade students - December 19, 2019
Anti Defamation League (ADL) Antisemitism Today: Family Conversations About Current Events
NJ Jewish News: It’s Time to “Turn Up” and Be Present, Dov Ben-Shimon, Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest VP and CEO American Jewish Committee (AJC) #JewishANDProud Campaign
Head of School Update: School Security
(Reposted from previous HOS Update)
Throughout the past few years, I have received calls and emails from parents asking about our school's security procedures. The response has always begun with a reassurance that we take security very seriously. First and foremost, we are quite fortunate to have a fully-trained security team made up of retired police officers, captains and chiefs. Our security team is stationed in both buildings all day, every day while students, teachers and parents are present on our campuses. We also spend a great deal of time working with the head of our security team, an independent security consultant and many members of our local police and fire departments to ensure that our plans and procedures are always up-to-date and in line with best practices when it comes to emergency management and response. Our number one priority is the safety and security of our Golda Och Academy community.
One of the most important ways that we ensure the systems we've put in place are working is through drills - both fire and lockdown - on both of our campuses. While these can be cumbersome at times and potentially scary for our youngest students, our administration and faculty do a great job of educating our students and teachers about the importance of these drills. They also stress the importance of listening and following directions in case of an emergency in order to keep everyone safe. We encourage our students and parents to ask questions and are always here to provide help and guidance when necessary. My own children have come home from school asking questions, and I am always eager to hear their thoughts, feelings and observations. I'm sure that many of our parents have had similar conversations at home, and it is my hope that these discussions provide a valuable lens into these events at school.
While the security measures our students and faculty see and experience firsthand are easier to digest, it's the confidential or "behind-the-scenes" measures that often fuel the most questions. A well-developed security plan and many of the protocols that we would put in place in the case of emergency, by definition, cannot be discussed to a wider audience for fear that important information could be compromised. What can be stated definitively is that our school's security expenditures are quite high, and we spend a tremendous amount of time and energy reviewing our procedures and protocols with both our local law enforcement and our security team.
Whenever we are planning activities here in West Orange, discussing our activities for our students to take part in while traveling outside of New Jersey, or putting together the itineraries for our Israel experiences, questions of security are always at the forefront. There is a big difference between living in fear and living with awareness of our surroundings. Through the measures we've put in place, and continue to work on, we feel confident that we are teaching our students what it means to be very aware while still fully participating in the world around them. While I know many of our parents never had to encounter such security measures and drills as children, we are living in different, and more challenging, times. I hope you can feel some assurance knowing Golda Och Academy is taking all necessary precautions and measures when it comes to the safety of our students, faculty and staff.