A new head teacher is roaming the halls of Calderwood Lodge, the only Jewish primary school in Scotland.
And though he has taken to wearing a yarmulke, the head teacher is not Jewish.
Last week, Jim Duffy took over as the acting head at the Calderwood Lodge school in East Renfrewshire, a suburb of Glasgow. Duffy was previously the head teacher at nearby St. Cadocs, a Catholic school from which he has taken a leave of absence.
He was named to the post after a search for a new Jewish head teacher — advertised in both Scotland and England — failed to produce any suitable candidates. Local officials emphasized that Duffy’s appointment was temporary, and that the school was eventually hoping to find a permanent Jewish head teacher.
That said, Duffy will not be a placeholder — nor can he afford to be. Calderwood, a school that has about 200 children, has been losing students for the past several years. East Renfrewshire Council spokesman Hugh Dougherty said the council is concerned that if the student population continues to decline, the school will have to close. “Jim’s job,” Dougherty said, “is to develop Calderwood Lodge so each Jewish person will choose to send their children there.”
In addition, the school, though very good, was “not quite achieving the heights we’d like it to achieve,” said Ricky Zinger, chairman of the school board. Duffy, he hopes, will move the school forward.
East Renfrewshire is home to 6,000 of Scotland’s 8,000 Jews. It is an active community, but a declining one. The population is aging, and many young Jews are leaving to attend universities abroad. They often go on to live in such large cities as London and Manchester.
Unlike in the United States, publicly funded schools in Scotland can offer religious instruction along with secular education. In addition to the standard Scottish curriculum, Calderwood offers religious study and instruction in Hebrew. Both are funded by the Glasgow Board of Jewish Education, which raises donations from parents. Boys are expected to wear yarmulkes and fringes, and Duffy has taken to wearing a yarmulke, as well. The school has its own rabbi, as well as Scotland’s only kosher school kitchen.
For parents, Duffy’s religious background is seen as a boon rather than as a detriment. Zinger said that the parents wanted someone who would be “comfortable with a school that also has a strong religious ethos.”
Having a different religious background shouldn’t cause too much shock to the children of Calderwood; a member of the Jewish council estimated that 10% of the children at the school are not Jewish. Even the school song, “Let’s All Be Friends Together,” teaches the virtues of diversity:
All head teachers, too.