President’s Message Aug Sept 2014

jerryA Time to Turn Negatives into Positives

Summer is a time for vacations, relaxation, rejuvenation and reflection. We travel near and far to get away from the non-stop demands of our 21st century lifestyles. We go to spend quality time with friends and family, and go to places we dream of living in, or imagine provide a better place to live. We often find that, as the old saying goes, it is a nice place to visit, but we wouldn’t like to live there. We tend to take our homes here in Southern California for granted, and forget that we can actually have some down time to charge up our batteries right here. Sometimes we need to consciously detach ourselves from our work, and realize that we actually can disconnect from our electronic chains. The office really can survive without us for a couple of days, or even a week! Summer can be a time to take stock in our lives, and those who really matter to us. Life is too short to lose sight of our true priorities. For many of us those priorities consist of family and community. The unexpected death or serious illness of a family member, friend, or even a pet, can grab your attention and make you think about the priorities we set.

Our Jewish community has held education as being very important. We hold teachers in high esteem, and send our children to college in much higher numbers than others in our society. We, as a community, are charged with supporting our houses of knowledge. Support can take many forms: Participation in support organizations such as PTA or booster clubs; attending school events like Back to School Night; going to games or performances by students; or making contributions to scholarship funds. We can also support education by recognizing when mistakes are made, and assisting in developing ways to correct these mistakes.

The Rialto Unified School District made one of these mistakes when a misguided group of teachers developed a poorly designed writing prompt, trying to prepare eighth grade students to succeed in the rigorous demands of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). This prompt asked students to determine if the Holocaust actually occurred. Their contention was to be supported with “credible” source material. The creators of this prompt supplied three articles on the internet, including a notorious Holocaust denial site.  

Since 1980, I have proudly served this same district as a teacher and administrator. I have had the privilege of working with many outstanding educators, and served thousands of students during this time. This shocking lapse of judgment should not tar a fine group of people. We should support efforts to correct the mistakes made by a few, and mitigate the harm done to those whom we have been entrusted to provide a quality and sound educational foundation.

Rabbi Singer and I have been asked by the district’s Interim Superintendent to serve on a committee to develop policies and programs to ensure that errors such as this are avoided in the future, and those students required to participate in this poorly conceived assignment are given the tools to help them learn of the historical facts regarding the most horrific event of the 20th century. I look forward to participating in this committee, and will help in setting right the wrong that was done. A colleague of mine, whose daughter participated in this writing assignment, did note that this student knows more about the Holocaust now than she would have without this episode. Perhaps some good will come from this serious lapse in judgment.

Please take a moment to think about our people in Israel. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, URJ President, has said, “This is our time to come together as a community to show our solidarity with the people of Israel and the IDF … Please visit JewishFederations.org/StoptheSirens  to join this community-wide effort.” I urge you to keep our brethren in your thoughts and prayers, and support this effort.

On a happier note, Nancy and I are proud to announce the engagement of our son, Daniel Sturmer, to Sarah Colbert. They are both geologists in Houston and will be joining us for Rosh Hashanah. This will give Sarah a chance to hear just how a shofar should be sounded. I hope you will join in congratulating Daniel and Sarah on their upcoming nuptials, scheduled for April 25, 2015.

Until next time, Shalom.
Jerry Sturmer