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Changing Schools - Part One
Asking the Right Questions
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Publication: Chicago Community Kollel

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Our 12-year-old son is in 7th grade in a local yeshiva (there are quite a few yeshivos in our neighborhood) and not doing well at all.

We are considering changing his yeshiva mid-year as things are rapidly deteriorating. We are not asking for specific advice as you do not know him (or us, for that matter). But can you help us by sharing with us which questions we ought to be asking and answering when making this difficult decision?

Names Withheld

Note to Readers: I will be devoting 3 or 4 columns to this subject, due to the high-stakes nature of the school placement/change matter, and the sheer number of parents who are confronted with making these difficult decisions. Just to give you an idea of how prevalent these questions are; over the past 10 years, the percentage of calls to our Project YES office dealing with school placement issues has consistently hovered around the 40% range – meaning that 4 out of 10 callers were requesting assistance with school placements for their children.

As this will be a 3/4-part series, please feel free to pose questions or comments on the threads – either on my website, or on that of the Chicago Community Kollel,, which sponsors this parenting Q&A column. Due to the demands on my time, I do not usually have the time to read and respond to all comments on these 2 websites, but I assure you that I will read every comment on the sites before I prepare each essay on this subject.

I hope that you find these columns helpful.


Rabbi Horowitz Responds

I like the way you framed the issue by asking me to provide you with a list of questions, because that will help the 2 of you make the call yourselves rather than have me make it for you. For I think that it is healthiest for parents – and parents alone – to be making decisions such as these. Informed decisions, decisions with da’as Torah input, but in the end, it is your decision to make, as you alone will need to live the consequences.

I always encourage parents to discuss substantive matters with da’as Torah. However, I have found that there is a great deal of confusion as to the difference between an eitzah, p’sak and bracha. (I encourage you to read my column Answers About Questions ,” which was published in The Jewish Observer a few years ago for more details on this complex and often misunderstood issue.)

As per your request; here are some questions, and I’ll add some suggestions afterwards.

1. Which mechanech (educator) knows my child best?

2. Which Rov knows our family best?

I think that these are by far the most important questions for you to explore. You see, most parents in your predicament often look for high-profile individuals who do not know their children – such as leading roshei yeshiva, rabbonim, or mechanchim – to help them decide: a) whether or not to switch schools, and b) which school to switch to if a change is to be made.

I have found, however, that regardless of their wisdom, tzidkus (piety) or stature in our community, people who do not know your son and/or your family simply cannot and should not be asked to give you a substantive eitzah regarding such a complex matter like changing your son’s school placement. That would be like going to a renowned heart surgeon and asking him for medical advice (operate or not to operate) without giving him the medical records of the patient.

If that individual does have the time to do all due diligence necessary to ‘get the medical records’ of your son, by all means take advantage of the opportunity. But keep in mind that the higher the profile of the person you are going to, the more likely it is that there are incredible demands on his time. Trust me, that is not what you need right now – an overworked, busy person. Keep in mind that ‘getting the medical records’ would mean 1) getting input from the current rebbi/teacher, 2) inquiring about your child’s personality and current social interaction, 3) reading any educational testing you had done, 4) reviewing report cards, … you get the picture.

If you do have access to a leading rosh yeshiva, rav, or mechanech, you will be far better served doing all your homework first and then armed with all relevant information, consult with him to help you make that final decision.

With that in mind, I suggest that you look for one of the following: 1) a current or former rebbi, 2) the principal (if you are comfortable letting him know at this stage that you are considering a school change), 3) your son’s summer camp rebbi or learning director, 4) the Rav of your shul, 5) an educator who lives on your block, etc.

Picture the concentric circles of a ‘bulls-eye’, and think of your son as being in the middle of those circles. Whoever is in the innermost ring of his life is best suited to really give you the help you need.

More questions to ponder next week.

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

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Related Articles:
Changing Schools – Part Two
Changing Schools – Part Four
Changing Schools – Part Three

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