THE AJN has published several letters in recent weeks about the leadership of Moriah College. The letters are uniformly critical, and I write to provide some balance about what has been a challenging period for the school.
Soon, members of the college will vote for prospective board members in a healthy and transparent contested election. For that process to deliver the best outcome, it requires those who advocate change to put forward a practical plan, responding to a factually accurate assessment of the challenges.
So far, critics, many of whom have chosen to remain “anonymous”, point to difficulties that the board has been addressing in a conscientious and diligent manner. Primarily, these are educational leadership, educational standards, the fraud, and financial and capital management. As I explained last October to an audience of more than 400 stakeholders, the current board has embraced these, and responded with practical solutions.
In a journey towards excellence, the college executive has experienced renewal, with college principal Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler, college vice-principal Roberta Goot, head of high school Mark Hemphill, and head of primary school Lynda Fisher, joining head of early learning, Cathy Milwidsky to form our leadership team.
We aspire for the college to once again be a top-30 school as measured by Sydney Morning Herald HSC rankings, while acknowledging that Moriah is a precious community asset and both an independent and a community school. This makes the goal complex, as we are proud to provide the best possible education for all levels of ability.
As part of our comprehensive School Improvement Plan, the college has made several changes including the re-introduction of formal examinations and marks alongside our high school rubric framework. We have also formed an Education Consultative Sub-Committee to provide expert advice, feedback, and recommendations regarding the educational strategy of the college.
This committee includes: Genia Janover, ISV (Independent Schools Vic) ambassador; Nicholas Sampson, headmaster of Cranbrook; Elizabeth Stone, principal of Queenwood; and John Weeks, head of college at Scots All Saints College.
The fraud issue is undoubtedly one of the most difficult the college has faced, and while the board is acutely aware that this has shaken confidence in our processes, we have acted swiftly and decisively rather than tried to downplay the issue.
The board appointed forensic accounting experts McGrath Nicol, and lawyers Arnold Bloch Leibler, to investigate potential claims against third parties, and appointed qualified chartered accountant Gavin Sher as Moriah’s new chief financial officer. Gavin has re-built the finance team including its systems, processes, and functions, to an impressive standard in a short time. This has restored confidence in the executive financial management of the college.
In regards to capital management and questions concerning the college’s debt level, thanks to the successful acquisition in 2011 of the land on which the school operates, the cost to the college of its current debt is approximately $900K per annum rather than a payment of rent to the NSW government, which would today exceed $3 million per annum.
The past 15 months has been a challenging time for many organisations, including Moriah. We have experienced human resources and business-related challenges, made all the more difficult by an unprecedented number of families requiring financial assistance. Through prudent financial management, several austerity measures, the generous support of our donors, the JCA, and stimulus received from the federal and state governments, we have endured, and in many ways, emerged stronger.
We are delighted that the SSDA application related to our Master Plan has been approved by the NSW government Independent Planning Commission, and we look forward to realising our vision to enhance our facilities for future generations of students, at the appropriate time – that time is not now. It is a long-term project that will require many years of planning and management. We have established a Capital Management Advisory Committee consisting of experienced business leaders Steven Lowy, Martin Moshal, Jeremy Dunkel, Phil Green and Robert Gavshon, to advise and assist in areas including debt, infrastructure, and strategic capital initiatives.
I am pleased that several committed and qualified individuals have nominated for the board at the upcoming AGM. In the past two years, four new board members have been elected to the 11-person board. In this election there will be at least three new board members. This is healthy rejuvenation, bringing fresh skills and perspectives while retaining continuity and “corporate memory” to inform decision-making.
The best interests of our children and community are at the heart of everything we do. I believe the Moriah board has demonstrated its commitment to the college and deserves the ongoing support of the community. I am confident that we can all work together constructively, so that we can continue to evolve in a positive and united way.
Stephen Jankelowitz is president of Moriah College.