For personal as well as community reasons, Ron Prehogan jumped at the chance to chair the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s task force on Jewish high school education.
The task force will determine if a sustainable model for a full-time Jewish high school can be achieved in Ottawa.
“Like many people, I was horrified to learn about the school situation,” Prehogan told the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin. “I offered to help in any way I could.”
Both his children, now in their 30s, are graduates of Hillel Academy.
“It was a tremendous school and our kids benefitted greatly from their experience. My wife Avalee used to teach at Hillel Academy many years ago,” he said.
Prehogan’s two grandchildren, ages three and one, live in Ottawa, and the older one attends the Ganon Preschool at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre.
“I look forward to their Jewish future in our community,” he said.
“From a community point of view, the future of our community rests on having a vibrant Jewish high school. I remember well when the high school was first approved back in the ‘90s. It was so important then, and it is not less important now,” Prehogan added.
Bram Bregman, the Federation vice-president of Community Building is staffing the task force. A graduate of Yitzhak Rabin High School, Bregman worked with Jewish high school students for 10 years as Ottawa’s executive director of NCSY.
“I know the importance of Jewish identity building in the teenage years,” Bregman said. “We, as a community, must find long-term solutions to provide quality Jewish educational experiences to ensure our vibrant future.”
The task force, Bregman noted, “is made up of a group of past and future parents, community leaders, philanthropists, a current Grade 12 student, and an Ottawa Jewish Community School (OJCS) board rep. Our primary goal is to find a Jewish high school model that meets the needs of Jewish families in Ottawa, which is financially sustainable and attractive to students. We will also be concurrently looking at how to strengthen informal Jewish education offerings in Ottawa.”
Joining Prehogan and Bregman on the task force are Brian Aarenau, Orly Aaron, Barbara Crook, Jonathan Freedman, Jared Greenberg, Noa Kardash, Michael Polowin and Lewis Retik.
In a Community Announcement, Federation President and CEO Andrea Freedman said the task force was launched following the decision by the OJCS Board of Directors to phase out the school’s high school division. OJCS was created in 2009 as a result of the amalgamation of the elementary level Hillel Academy and Yitzhak Rabin High School.
“If a model can’t be developed, then the task force will determine how existing Ottawa Jewish organizations can gain the additional resources necessary to strengthen educational opportunities for Jewish high school students,” Freedman said in the announcement.
“Prehogan, a past chair of the Federation and an accomplished, well-respected and senior community leader, is fully committed and optimistic a sustainable model can be found,” she added.
“It was a wake-up call for community members when the announcement was made to close the high school. It is now our responsibility to try and find a model that will attract enough students to make it work,” said Prehogan.
The task force, which will hold consultations, will develop a plan for the assessment of the current state of Jewish education for Jewish high school students. They will do this by assessing trends, program options, best practices and delivery methods from Jewish communities across North America.
Other goals include analyzing recommendations on a revitalized Jewish high school; assessing action plans to overcome the barriers for those wanting a full-time Jewish high school education in Ottawa; engaging the community to determine what type of education current and potential future students desire; and determining how existing programs can provide additional Jewish educational opportunities to fill the void if there is no full-time Jewish high school.
The first task force meeting was held March 30, and the task force aims to report on its findings this fall.
Bregman said the community will be kept updated as appropriate to the process, which will be highly consultative with key stakeholders whose input is welcome.