By Sara Horvath ’21
“One of the guiding principles regarding our approach to education is the belief that students do their best when there is direct and consistent communication between teachers, students and parents,” wrote Rabbi Noam Silverman, head of the high school, in an email to parents on November 10th. The email revealed a major shift in school policy as the administration’s explained their decision to include and strongly encourage students to attend parent-teacher conferences.
There has been a wide range of opinions on the decision; some are in complete support of the new policy while others are completely against it. There are even some who have approached the discussion with a degree of indifference, emphasizing that the conferences are still strictly optional.
On December 3 and 4, some students, parents, and teachers gathered in the high school gym for conferences. Junior Elana Nussbaum-Cohen chose to join her parents to hear about how she was doing in her classes, and she really enjoyed being a part of the conversation. “I hope, at least, that the teachers were just as honest as they would have been if I weren’t there, but I definitely got a lot out of it, and I’m happy that I could be informed about what my teachers and what my parents are saying about me so I can know how to do better,” she stated.
Junior Raphael Simonson chose not to attend parent-teacher conferences. “I think the fear many people have with attending parent-teacher conferences is that it will be awkward,” Simonson noticed. “It seems to me that being there would only be as awkward as you make it.”
In Rabbi Noam’s email to parents, he mentioned that student involvement in Heschel Middle School parent-teacher conferences was a huge success and influenced administration’s decision to implement the new policy. Senior Rebecca Rosenthal reflected on her middle school experience, saying, “I don’t think you could compare [high school parent-teacher conferences] to middle school [conferences] because the material and your general state of being is so different from [that of] high school.” However, she also expressed her satisfaction with the change in policy, emphasizing that one should be invested in his or her education from a young age. After attending her conferences, Rosenthal added, “I think it is sort of ridiculous that it hasn’t been this way until now.”
After witnessing a good deal of discussion between students about the change in policy, it came to the attention of Rabbi Natan Kapustin, Twelfth Grade Dean and Dean of Students; Rabbi Dahlia Kronish, Director of Jewish and Student Life; and Zeke Bronfman, President of the Student Government Association that this topic was one that students felt impassioned about. Consequently, they decided there needed to be a Town Hall to address the matter before the conferences actually happened.
Sophomore Sarah Zipkowitz mentioned, “It has the potential to be really good and helpful,” but she is apprehensive that teachers will not be as blunt with students. “They won’t want to hurt our feelings,” she noted. Like Zipkowitz, others have expressed concerns, saying that one of the advantages of going to a smaller school is that students have an opportunity to talk to teachers every day. Freshman Shaked Gilor added, “Students see the teachers every day, so we, as students, don’t need a special time to meet with teachers.” When reflecting on the discussion during Town Hall, Rabbi Natan noted, “The variety [of opinions], the number of people that spoke, and the ideas that were put out there were amazing.”
Freshman Forrest Denker points out an advantage of student involvement. “Teachers can’t say such bad things if we are right there, so students should go; that way they will not humiliated in front of parents.” He added that while he typically does not look forward to Parent-Teacher conferences, but this year his involvement lead his conferences to go well.