Today was a momentous day in the history of the Perth Jewish community, with the dedication and opening of the new performing arts centre at Carmel School.
We are truely fortunate to have a community that can, amongst its membership, create, fund and deliver such a state of the art facility. In the words of the Carmel Board Chairman “now its Carmel’s turn to have facilities that are the envy of other schools”.
Many children, current and future, will benefit from the new infrastructure. Every person that has contributed toward this facility receives the heartfelt thanks from the parent body. It is truely a remarkable accomplishment to deliver a six million dollar project on time, on budget, and with so many vocational facilities within. The building delivers facilities to support drama and music, art, video production, food technology, and computing labs, amongst other features. As part of the project a new Beit Midrash and Shule also now stands as a prominent feature at the centre of the school campus.
Today’s opening ceremony was important for many reasons. Firstly, it allowed dignified and appropriate recognition to those donors who made the facility possible. Second, it again demonstrated the strength of relationship that that Jewish commuinty has with Federal, State and Local civic leaders whose vital support sustains our development. Thirdly, it highlighted the unifying role that Carmel school delivers to our community (in particular, the Rabbi’s from all four Orthodox Shules were present at the ceremony). Fourthly, it showcases the talent within the student body of the school.
If Carmel School continues to harness the energy of Perth Jewry as it has over the past decade, then we have much to look forward to. Discussions on this blog previously have been supportive, yet constructively critical of some aspects of the school’s development. This is not a time to be negative. However there is one small element of consideration that needs to accompany the huge and deserved accolade that Carmel School earned today, a matter upon which the school management itself would no doubt concur.
The issue is that Jewish education of Carmel School is for the whole community. As long as affodability is a concern for a section of the community, the School will not function to its full potential. The philosophy that no Jewish child should be denied access to the school on the basis of cost is a good one, but the reality is that there are in fact many children who miss out due to the fee committment that is required. The issue is not unique to Carmel School, but one that we need to think of at times such as these. Carmel is doing an amazing job by delivering facilities and new assets. It is also genuinely doing what it can to maintain the school fees at a reasonable level. However under the current private school model a social division will always remain.
It is time that the Jewish schools of Australia built a case for the Federal Government to reform the special education needs of ethnic communities. There are models in other countries, for example the UK and New Zealand, whereby Jewish Schools are integrated into the State system as special character public schools. The funding base of the secular education is therefore met by the education system, and the additional component of Jewish studies is met on a user pays basis. Were such radical reform to be considered in Australia, the Jewish community would greatly benefit. Without such change, some measures may be able to be put in place or enhanced to assist with those who could otherwise not afford to educate their children, but ultimately it has been recognised for some time that the existing model is not sustainable indefinately.
With this reflection on record, I can only stand in awe of the tremendous facility that has been developed, and how the quality of cultural education within Carmel School will be greatly enhanced as a result.
Sometimes, from our engrossed position inside the day to day development of the community, we struggle to see the transformation that is taking place around us. The early education centre, new drama centre, and future development plans of the school show how much physical change is taking place at Carmel School. The quality of the students at the school, paricularly when it comes to Jewish awareness, identity and pride, is also testament to the spiritual change taking place within the school. Long may it continue to prosper in this truely golden age.