“In a year, Tiberias is going to be completely different”
The city of Tiberias was built on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, in one of the most beautiful areas in Israel. With a glorious past of 2,000 years, Tiberias is rich in historical landmarks, sites that hold religious significance for both Jews and Christians, and heritage monuments. It stretches from the banks of the lake to the top of a pastoral mountainside, in an area that offers countless attractions, guest rooms and hiking trails. With the water level rising, it seems Tiberias should have easily infiltrated the top of the list of desirable cities in Israel, but its potential is far from realized.
An ongoing mismanagement at the local level meant that even when budgets were allocated, the funds went down the drain or simply were not used. Even before COVID-19, Tiberias had a cumulative deficit of NIS 80 million, and ranked 4 out of 10 in the socio-economic index. The average monthly salary in Tiberias is just over 6.5K, and the rate of eligibility for matriculation certificate is about 60%. The COVID-19 lockdowns only made things worse. Tourism has completely stopped, neglect has increased, the number of empty stores has multiplied, and the unemployment rate has soared to 33%.
About 50,000 people live in Tiberias today, a third of whom are children. Since Mayor Ron Kobi was removed from office in early 2020, the city has been managed by an appointed committee, which is currently headed by Boaz Yosef, his deputy Roy Dahan, and The CEO Ofer Azard. This new local leadership is highly motivated to perform nothing less than a transformation in the city. This is why Tiberias was chosen to participate in two of the more strategic and ambitious projects of Menomadin Foundation – “The Education Masterplan” and “The Day After Coalition”.
Just after Israel was declared “green” from Coronavirus, we headed north – to get to know the people and see the action from up close. We came back feeling optimistic.
“The Potential for Impact is Greater”
The “Strategic Masterplan for the Advancement of the Education System in Local Authorities” project, initiated by the Menomadin Foundation, intends to develop a generic, replicable model for quality education that can be implemented in any local authority in Israel and abroad, with adjustments to local characteristics.
At the core of this project lays the notion that local governments are a powerful vehicle for change. Two cities were chosen for the pilot by which the model will be built – the city of Beer Sheva, representing cities with strong effective education system, and the city of Tiberias representing cities whose education system is struggling.
The education model that is going to be developed in Tiberias will, on the one hand, meet the specific requirements and needs of Tiberias, as they are determined “from the ground up”, and on the other hand will meet the Ministry of Education requirements as they are dictated “from above”. The process is expected to take 18 months, at the end of which local authorities will be able to get access to an interactive tool, guiding them how to implement the model and how to adapt it to their specific local characteristics.
For the research part of the project, Menomadin Foundation recruited Gilad Tanai’s ERI Institute. Their job will be to translate the field activity into a structured implementation methodology. To lead the project, the Foundation chose education expert Dr. Rami Sulimani, who, as the former CEO of JDC-Ashalim, knows a thing or two about leading lateral processes in the educational system.
Haim Taib, the president of Menomadin Foundation, was aware that Tiberias is a complex city with a complex set of problems, “we are not looking for the easy places”, he clarified. Taib, who is also the owner of the Mitrelli Group, had established hundreds of schools, youth villages and vocational training institutions, which for over two decades have changed the reality of hundreds of thousands of people in difficult and complicated places in Africa. “On the contrary,” he explained, “it is precisely in the complicated places that the potential to generate a significant impact is greater”.
To ensure meaningful and sustainable impact, Menomadin Foundation makes sure to include as many stakeholders as possible in its social endeavors. Thus, the steering committee that leads the project in Tiberias includes also the district supervisory representative in the Ministry of Education, Malka Eliassy, who will eventually be in charge of the implementation of the model at the district level. Beneath the steering committee operate a number of teams and sharing circles, whose job is to gather insights from the field and enable in-depth work on the various topics. The program will be funded using the Blended Finance Model, which blends philanthropic funds with government budgets, thus ensuring a continuous collaboration between the many parties involved.
Today, after two months of working closely with Tiberias’ steering team, Sulimani is convinced the city is right for the pilot. “Tiberias is ready to lead meaningful processes”, he said, “We see the willingness of the city’s education chiefs, led by the Head of the Department Eli Meiri, to improve and advance the local education system and to promise a better future for the young girls and boys of Tiberius”.
“It all begins with education”
Our visit started at the spectacular vantage point Mitzpe Adi, overlooking the city and the Sea of Galilee, where we met Ofer Azard, The Municipality’s Director General, Eli Meiri, Director of the Education Department, and Dr. Rami Sulimani.
Azard and Meiri gave us a brief overview. The municipal educational system encompasses 143 schools and kindergartens, most of which in the state and state-religious education streams. Four of the city’s high schools are considered high standards on a national scale. Of the population enlisting in the IDF, recruitment rates are high, when about 50% of them volunteer for a significant service. The city offers programs that encourage excellence, there are youth movements and youth clubs. Although the population in the city is diverse, the schools are independent and advocate a personal approach to the student.
“If the education system is in such good shape, why is there such a gap between its excellence and the socio-economic status and other indexes related to the education level?”, asked Dr. Meirav Galili, executive director of the Menomadin Foundation, “after all, it all begins with education”. We received the answer at our next stop – at a meeting with some of the city’s educators, which took place at the Ort BaMa’ale School.
“Islands” of Success
Ort BaMa’aleh, or by its full name “The Experimental School for Science and the Arts Ort BaMa’ale Tiberias”, is a middle and high school, that is considered successful and groundbreaking on a national scale. The middle school principal, Anat Turgeman, explained that the secret of success lays in the school’s unique approach to education, which places the graduate at the center. Thus, the school assists students in choosing their future career cycle, encourages them to expand their interests, connects them to mentors in the fields which they are considering, works to empower the students and provides them with opportunities for personal development and growth. The results are visible, the educational level is high, and both the students and their parents are satisfied.
The meeting was attended by teachers from all levels, kindergarten teachers, representatives of the informal educational frameworks, and even of the ultra-Orthodox schools. They told us that this was the first time they had all been sitting together. One by one, everyone expressed their appreciation for the project and said that they saw it as an opportunity to create a program customized for Tiberias’ needs, as opposed to past experiences – when they tried to “copy-paste” programs from elsewhere.
When asked why the city is spotted with “islands” of success with no expression to it at the systemic level, they pointed to the continuous lack of management the city had suffered from for many years, budgets that are not routed correctly, and a lack of communication between educators. But some also stressed that education doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The city itself lacks a sense of community today, there is no solidarity and mutual responsibility, and as a result the success is considered to be individual and the successful move away. To make the city successful, they said, requires a holistic view of the community, not just a good school.
“What we see here is a system of loose connections”, Dr. Sulimani explained, “Even if there are islands of success, without anything connecting them, no cooperations, an age sequence approach and more – we won’t see the excellence in the city’s education outcome”.
“No One will Do It For You”
“In the last few months, we’ve been through a process of winning the hearts, and now we have come to the point where we can make a profound and real difference”, Dr. Sulimani said. “Change is not an easy thing, it involves loss. Therefore, a strong local leadership is required, one that can take responsibility of the process”, he said, adding, “I joined the task because I was impressed by your understanding that change requires looking at the whole. But it’s important that you also understand that only you can make it happen, no one will do it for you”.
Throughout the meeting, Haim Taib sat and listened to each of the speakers. “You talked about building a future generation but none of you mentioned dreams”, he said. “I grew up in a simple family in a moshav in Emek Hefer, we were 7 brothers and sisters. But I had a dream of giving my children what my father couldn’t give me”, he said, and added, “Education, as good as it might be, is not what’s going to motivate the children to reach their full potential. You need to empower the children and instill dreams in them. Only dreams can inspire them to truly succeed”.
“When I see your determination, I have no doubt that the project will succeed and that we will be able to copy the model that will be developed here to other authorities that are in a similar or more difficult situation”, Taib added, and then promised, “I will be back here in a year, and I am sure by then Tiberias will be completely different”.
“Community is the Key to Success”
The second project taking place in Tiberias is “The Day After Coalition”, led by Menomadin Foundation along with the Or Movement, the Kirsh Foundation, SFI, The department of Human Capital Planning and Development in The Ministry of Interior, and The Federation of Local Authorities in Israel. Tiberias is one of the four cities in Israel participating in this project. The Day After Coalition deals with finding a solution to a social challenge that has been made more difficult in one each of the cities following COVID-19. Once the challenge has been chosen, the coalition and local authority publish a call to action encouraging entrepreneurs to submit solutions for that challenge.
When the solution is chosen, a pilot will be carried out in one neighborhood in the city, harnessing the community, businesses in the area and other stakeholders, for the implementation of the solution. The idea is that once the process is proven successful, the project will be expanded to other neighborhoods in the city.
In consultation with the residents and local authority officials, the challenge that was chosen in Tiberias is the issue of disconnected youth. The pilot will take place in the neighborhood Shikun Alef – an old neighborhood that inhabits about 200 families, with about 100 children. Currently, there are no after-school activities for youth in the neighborhood, no informal education frameworks or youth movements, the perception of the neighborhood is rather negative, and it lacks a sense of community.
Shikun Alef is located on a mountainside overlooking breathtaking scenery. The contrast between the beauty of the area and the neglect infesting the neighborhood is highly apparent. The senior residents had told us what caused the neighborhood to decline, how the more privileged populations have left over the years, that with nothing to do after school and on vacations there are growing problems of roving youth, vandalism, and drug problems.
Ofer Azard and members of the municipality’s welfare department also attended our meeting with the neighborhood’s residents. “This project is an opportunity that Shikun Alef has never had,” said Lizzie Panchasi of the municipality’s welfare department. “It is an opportunity to finally create a community”, she said.
“Community is the key to success”, Haim Taib agreed, “there is no one who lives in a community and does not contribute to it as well as contributes from it”. He explained that first a change of thinking is needed . “You have to make the kids want to change their own reality”, he said, “take advantage of this project, succeed, and when you succeed – the other neighborhoods will want to do the same”.