Herzlia proposes closure

Herzlia Constantia welcomed back its Grade R pupils this month as lockdown restrictions eased.

There is a proposal on the table to shut down Herzlia Constantia by the end of the year.

The school group, which marks the 80th anniversary of its founding this year, says it is undergoing a consultation process with all stakeholders to close their primary school campus in Constantia as well as the Kerem Pre Primary School (also situated at the Constantia campus) at the end of December 2020.

In a press statement, Andries van Renssen, executive director of United Herzlia Schools, said the school had a proud heritage of providing Jewish and secular
education to the youth of Cape Town.

“While the school is an open school, meaning it also enrols students from other religious affiliations, declining student numbers, a reduction in the overall size of the Jewish population due to
emigration and even lower birth numbers, which impact the potential number of students into the future have all significantly impacted this decision,” the statement said.

The poor economic climate had also taken its toll on the school. Mr Van Renssen said the schools at the Constantia campus had run on a budget deficit for several years, and it wasn’t sustainable.

And Covid-19 had only compounded the problem.

“Pupil numbers have been a problem for the last 10 years and more, and sustainability has been marginal for a number of years at the school,” Mr Van Renssen said.

Asked whether all the teachers at the Constantia campus would be retrenched, Mr Van Renssen said, “Not necessarily. The process affects all Herzlia staff, and it is possible that vacancies can arise from the process in which Constantia staff can be placed.”

The proposed closure has drawn some backlash from parents and members of the Jewish community and a petition on change.org to stop the move had more than 4000 signatures by Tuesday.

Ivan Levin, a parent at the school, started the petition. The announcement of the closure “came like a bolt out of the blue” in an email to parents on at 3pm on Friday June 19, he said, and it appeared to contradict the financials from the annual general meeting on May 20 that said the school “has or has access to adequate resources to continue in operation for the foreseeable future”.

Yet a month later, the school was announcing closure of the Constantia campus.

Mr Levin would like to see a Constantia/Kerem working group set up to liaise with the board and speak on behalf of stakeholders.

Andrea Milwidsky, who was Kerem Pre-Primary’s principal for seven years before leaving last year, said she was devastated to hear about the closing.

“This campus has ruach (A Jewish name for holy spirit) and heart and soul and real love and acceptance of everyone who walks through their doors, big or small. I left this community a year ago due to emigration. I don’t regret my move, but it has taken me the year to stop dreaming about the children and their families and enquiring about them and wondering about their progress.”

A light in the Cape Town community would go out if the school closed, she said.

Justin Asher, author, blogger and alumni of the school, wrote an open letter on how he feels about the closure. “Did you give any thought to the families who would sit across the table on Friday night and be forced to discuss the possibility of uprooting their lives without any time to digest or consult on the matter?” he said.

The shul, with its members, rabbi and congregants, should also be involved in the consultation process and alternatives considered for the sake of the southern suburbs Jewish community, he said.

It would be hard for many parents to find schools that aligned with their beliefs and values in such a short span of time, he said.

Mr Van Renssen said the board was deeply aware of the impact the closure of the school would have on the community, pupils and teachers. “While this is not easy, it is very necessary,” the statement read.