When saying goodbye is not enough

To the Editor:

The last Town Hall of the year has left my head spinning and a bitter taste in my mouth.  I’m appalled that, in a year that has seen more teachers leaving than any other, we go out with the weakest and most haphazard tribute I can remember.  I’ve already thought of all the reasons for why this could have gone down the way it did:  we tried to pack too much into the last session (seniors talking about their Poland/Israel trip, presentation of underclassmen awards, AND acknowledging teachers who won’t be with us next year); Monday, when the Agenda Committee usually meets to plan Town Hall, was a holiday; it’s always awkward to figure out the best way to honor and say goodbye to people.  All of this being said, I find it unacceptable that this is the way so many of my cherished friends and colleagues, not to mention my husband, are going out.

In past years, there have been incredible videos put together by students, some to honor teachers that taught at Shalhevet for one year.  This year saw perhaps the most iconic figure of our school, and particularly Town Hall, go out with one sentence from the Agenda chair about how she helped guide him this year – it was such an afterthought I’m not sure anyone even heard it.  In past years, students have prepared words ahead of time about the teachers that have meant the most to them, having the time and space to think deeply about how to summarize how those mentors have influenced their lives.  This year, teachers were called out to speak to the community and say their own farewells without any preparation or warning, then forced to sit awkwardly while students scrambled on the spot to come up with something to say about them.  No one even made sure that every departing teacher was present at Town Hall to hear the community say goodbye.  This was a serious lapse in leadership and organization.

I know there is no single person to blame; this was a failure on the part of our community to send people off whom I know we all love in a way that does them justice.  I am angry at myself for not taking more initiative to ensure this was done right.  This school pays a lot of lip service to how much the faculty is valued and the unique teacher/student relationships that we manage to develop, but when it came time to show this, we really fell short.

How can we have an entire assembly dedicated to thanking and saying goodbye to the Sabos (don’t get me wrong, this was more than deserved) and then devote 20 minutes to send off seven teachers who have devoted a combined 60+ years to Shalhevet? How can the community organize a sit-in to protest the letting go of a beloved teacher, yet fail to send him off in a proper way in our most public and symbolic forum?  How can we celebrate a teacher’s 500th Town Hall and then allow this to be her last one?

Finally (and please excuse my obvious bias here), how do we let the man who has led the school in its most tumultuous times, who has been the only source of stability while everything around him has changed, who has devoted the last 11 years of his life to the Shalhevet community and Jewish education, be the only one to say anything meaningful about his time here during his last Town Hall?   Mr. Tranchi is not only the most phenomenal teacher this school has ever seen – and probably ever will see – but someone who truly embodies the values of kindness, service, dignity, and compassion upon which Shalhevet was founded.  We did him an injustice today.

Once again, I include myself in this collective failure.  I hope that we as a community can come up with a way to compensate for this missed opportunity and to find a way to properly honor these people who have meant so much to all of us.

At the very least, let’s make sure we never let this happen again.

Melanie Berkey, Chair, English Department

June 2, 2011