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The NSWAS Primary School in 2002 / 2003: a year end report.

Wednesday 6 August 2003, by Maya Karni

My history with the school began in December 2001, when I saw a newspaper announcement that the NS/WAS primary School was seeking a new principal. I felt that this application was directed at me. From that very moment I started to organize myself for this possibility and for the impact it would have on my professional and personal life.

I felt that I was at a very suitable stage in life, when maturity, experience and personal situation had provided me with the appropriate tools to do the job and contribute to the development of bilingual, binational education in Israel.

I received a positive answer in May and met with Samiha, the intended Palestinian co-principal. It was clear to me that a final decision could be made only after clarifying that the two of us could work together in harmony and concord.

In general, we found ourselves sharing a similar world-view - both of us favoured a collective management, a staff steering committee, humanistic values in management and participation at all levels – from students, staff and parents. We both thought that in the first year we would concentrate on learning more about the system already in place. As a result we made no changes either in personnel or in organizational structure.

When we actually began to work together, we found that in spite of our apparent commonalities, there were gaps in our perception and management styles. This was an obstacle that grew, rather than dissipated, as the year progressed, and hampered our ability to meet the challenges we both faces as co-principals. These were on several levels:

1. Understanding the relations between school and community. This was the first time that principals from outside the community had been appointed to lead the school. The extent of our autonomy in this role was unclear. On the one hand there was a feeling that “a miracle” was expected and that the school, which was in crisis, would once and for all overcome its difficulties and troubles. This of course was unrealistic. On the other hand, the community and its institutions proved unwilling to relinquish authority over school matters and, naturally, this restrained our own ability to make decisions.

2. Financially, the school operates on a minimal budget. The Israeli establishment does not see its true potential to build a new educational model. Rather, it seems to regard the school as a threat to national consensus. Consequently, we receive only minimal financial support. The teachers’ salaries follow the national standard, without additions for guidance, training or professional development. Even the transportation of students (a huge expense) is not covered – only a fraction of the latter is provided by the state.
In reality, because the school requires more teaching hours and smaller-than-average classes, salaries constitute an abnormally high proportion of the budget, while transportation is a real burden. These factors mean that little is left over to purchase equipment, invest in classrooms, maintain buildings, translate materials, etc. In these areas too, a binational educational system has higher than usual demands. Finally, the school lacks physical resources, such as a math laboratory, a science room, an equipment room and others. This all inhibits our ability to provide adequate services.

3. The burnout tendency of our educational staff is higher than in other schools due to the exposure of teachers to criticism from the community and parents. Since parents choose to send their children to this school and pay tuition fees, they expect a full return on their investment.
The complexity of the Jewish-Arab encounter, which provides the basis, the challenge and the uniqueness of our work, can also hinder our decision-making, due to the fear of hurting one of the two sides.
As a result, the school environment can easily become one in which staff feel exposed and vulnerable, and this in turn may inhibit personal initiative and ambition.

4. The visible lack of harmony between the co-principals only increased feelings of insecurity and vulnerability among the staff.

5. The incessant need to deal with these pressures and avert disorder prevented me from providing the teachers the support they needed in their daily work. Insufficient time was given for professional growth and to the development of a shared school language, which would promote a spirit of conciliation at the school – between teachers, students, parents and management.

This was a tough year for all of us; a learning experience full of pain. Hopefully, it has given us the opportunity to look deeply into the weaknesses of our educational system, so that we can overcome them in the future.

Since Samiha has recently married and moved back to northern Israel, a new co-principal, Fa’iz Mansour, has been chosen. He brings with him a rich experience as a school principal, and a reputation for implementing a humanistic approach and values at his former workplace. This seems a moment of opportunity to strengthen our school and improve the relations among the staff and with the community. I personally had doubts about staying on as principal. My decision to continue with this important work was based partly on the confidence that Fa’iz and I will work well together.

I am still convinced that life has given me the experience and qualities required for this position. My belief in the way of peace, in equality, and in the need for our school has not diminished – it has only grown. My personal world view seems compatible with the school’s mission and progress.

Despite all the difficulties and the dangers of burnout, I believe we can recover, grow stronger and further develop the school. In the coming year we will focus on empowering the staff and nurturing peaceful communication, while continuing to strengthen the status of Arabic. We will also formulate teaching programs and promote special projects.

We need your encouragement and your moral and economic support and we thank you for your trust, your concern and your faith in our mission.

see also Children report on the school year

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