A Light in the Window in East Ramapo

“I don’t just wish there were solutions, I believe that there are solutions to the problems in this district,” Dr. Deborah Wortham, Interim Superintendent of the East Ramapo Central School District  insists. She explains how she is building a team and finding solutions despite the enormity of the issues and roadblocks in her path.

She is greeting children in their schools every day and working on recognizing the strengths in the administrators and teachers. Every day she sends out a message of empowerment to every classroom in every school in the district. Building collaboration between the community, the schools and the families and their children is her goal. She says that a community is as strong as the education of its children, and she is working to ensure that the children receive the constitutionally guaranteed education they deserve. Dr. Wortham told us that she cannot start with one task and then move on to the next. The needs of the district require a full court press. And indeed she seems to be doing so during very, very long days. Even a hint of what she does in a day makes me feel dizzy.
Dr. Deborah Wortham sees her task as the Interim Superintendent as healing a broken district so that the East Ramapo Central School District can become a creative school system that leaves a legacy of greatness.
How does she do it? I watched her teach, acknowledge and cheer at a School Board Meeting that Rabbi Scheff, Deb Roth and I attended in November. I was amazed by her unflagging energy, but I did not understand the source of her drive.
The source of her strength, however, became clear to me after sitting next to her for a two and a half hour meeting with the Rockland Clergy for Social Justice.

Dr. Cohen and Clergy Dr. Wortham and Clergy

Dr. Wortham did not take a difficult position as Interim Superintendent because she wanted to leave her old job or was ready for a big challenge. She came to East Ramapo because she feels called by God to do this work, this daunting and seemingly impossible work. She told us that she makes no apology for her deep faith and close relationship with God. Her mission is to be what she calls an Educational Evangelist. I wanted to stand up and cheer when she described herself in that way. Dr. Wortham is fearless because she is using her blessings and gifts for the benefit of those who need them. For the four weeks during which she has been in her position, she told us, she has been filled with the grace of doing the work that God expects of her.
She listened to our concerns and responded to our questions, dedicating precious time to clergy leaders because she believes that the community must work together to heal and to repair.
On Sunday night, we will light the first candle of Chanukah, placing our menorahs in our windows to publicize the miracle.

Chanukiah

During the darkest time of the year when the days are short and the night feels endless, we cast our light outward to cheer and enlighten others. Dr. Deborah Wortham, it seems to me, is like one of those lights in the window. I pray that her energy and optimism stay with her as she continues on her mission of healing and education.

Dr. Wortham and PMD

What can we do? We can continue the work of supporting and advocating for the children of ERCSD. We still need a full time monitor with veto power in the District. We still need a long range plan to overhaul governance in the District. And we can all roll up our sleeves and give time to the children of the schools.
To become a DOVE, a volunteer from OJC who helps teachers in the Early Childhood Center at Kakiat Elementary School, contact sallykagan@gmail.com. If you are able to organize congregants and friends who would serve as mentors to high school seniors in the District, contact me.

Happy Chanukah! Let your light shine!

Rabbi Paula Mack Drill

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