Michael Danby’s words of praise for Genia Janover

September 16, 2009 by J-Wire
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Genia Janover retired last year as Principal of Melbourne’s Bialik College. This week, Federal MP Michael Danby sang her praises in Parliament.

This is what Michael Danby had to say:

Genia Janover is one of those legendary school principals who influences the course of history in their country. At a special function that I attended on Sunday, respect was paid to Genia with this wonderful book of tribute to her 20 years as principal of Bialik College in Melbourne, a college that she has brought, in the last 20 years, from some 400 students to 1,100 today.

Genia Janover

Genia Janover

Genia knew where she was going because she knew where she came from. Grounded in the knowledge of a world that might have been, like many in Melbourne she came from a family brought up in a now destroyed civilization. Genia’s elevation as principal was greeted by her mother and father as “the realization of the improbable”;

“I think of them every day. I wonder about the source of their courage. I feel gratitude for all of their striving which gave rise to my life. It is intriguing to me that a life’s work can be born of a wound. I think of my parents and their generation – the children they loved and lost. I look at my children, my beautiful grandchildren, my nieces and nephews and the thousand of precious children who have been entrusted to me these past 40 years. I can’t help but think of my purpose, the opportunity, the zechut – the tremendous privilege that I have had. This is a generation, a community, a school that was never meant to be. And yet, look! Look at what is here! Jewish children learning, playing, laughing, loving, devotedly nurtured with patience and care – Jewish roots growing strong and vital in this traditionally fertile ground of survival”.

To honour her at that wonderful warm ceremony, where the parents, staff and students expressed what I can only describe as love for her, an announcement was made that an early learning centre would be named in perpetuity in her honour.

Genia has also been judged by objective criteria. She was named as one of the 10 top educators in Australia in 2003. She was named as principal of the year in 2007. But this does not really describe the way people feel about her. I think it was best summed up by a teacher who said, ‘Most principals are tolerated, some are respected, few are liked, but you are actually loved.’ According to objective criteria, Bialik College is the top performing school in the VCE in Melbourne. That is in no small part due to her extraordinary ethos as an educator.

In a poem recited to staff reveals Genia’s attitude to her students and the children in her care,

[…]For the child of today is the person, they say,

Who will fashion the world that’s to come;
And I know that I can in that life take a hand,

Shaping those who’ll make tomorrow run,

So I pray that I’ll reach every child that I teach

With the finest that mankind can give,

And instil in these youth a love for the truth

Which will serve them wherever they live

Let me teach them to know understanding and show

A respect for each person they see;

Let me teach them as they will teach others some day-

And let it begin with me!

However I think her zechut (merit) clearly seen by all her staff, parents and students emerges from her farewell remarks last Sunday,

“Most of all I have learned that not everyone has the same opportunities in life. Some of us live with disabilities, many of us with burdens, all of us with limitations. We have no control over the hand dealt to us much as we would wish it otherwise. However, we do have control over how we play the hand. It doesn’t help to blame the dealer. The trick is to play it out with all the skill, integrity, determination, grace and dignity in our control – difficult though it may be”.

As I said in my introduction, Genia Janover is one of those history transforming educators whose message will have resonance with Australian’s, far beyond Bialik College.

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