The past few years have not been easy ones for the Jewish day school world.
The recession and the related “tuition crisis” have hurt enrollment, although not as much as many had feared. Add to that the emergence of Hebrew charter schools, which many day school leaders worry will draw away their tuition-paying students.
But things may start to be looking up for day schools.
While it is widely acknowledged that these schools are unlikely ever to enroll the majority of non-Orthodox American Jews, they are increasingly being promoted as schools of excellence and as training grounds for the Jewish leaders of tomorrow.
Reflecting that approach are two new investments announced recently.
The Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education, which already provides various technology, science infrastructure and training to day schools, is partnering with Israel Sci-Tech, an Israeli network of science-and-technology charter schools, to dramatically upgrade science and engineering offerings in seven New York-area day high schools. The plan is eventually to bring the curriculum and training, funded with hundreds of thousands of dollars from CIJE, to many more day schools around the country.
“We wanted to change the culture of schools,” said Judy Lebovits, CIJE’s director and vice president. “Not just in [Jewish] schools, but throughout the U.S., there’s a tremendous need for better science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.”
Added Jason Cury, CIJE’s president: “We want to encourage parents to send children to Jewish day schools not just for the Jewish content, but also for the secular content. We want Jewish day schools to offer the best of all worlds.”
Meanwhile, the Boston-based Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE) is launching “Generations,” a major initiative to help Jewish day schools ensure their long-term fiscal stability by establishing and building endowments.
Using a $3.1 million grant from the Avi Chai Foundation, PEJE is partnering with Jewish institutions in Los Angeles and Baltimore — and is in discussions with UJA-Federation of New York — to work intensively with 20 schools, with the ultimate goal of helping each school build an endowment of at least $20,000 per enrolled student. ($2 million for a school of 100 or $20 million for a school of 1,000.)
Under the pilot program, which, if approved, would be rolled out in up to seven New York schools this fall (Baltimore and Los Angeles have already agreed to pilot with approximately seven schools in each region), day schools will receive extensive training in fundraising for endowments, with federation endowment departments managing the investments.
Noting that PEJE was “was founded with the belief that if we want a vibrant Jewish future, we need to invest in day schools,” Amy Katz, the group’s associate director said the endowment campaign represents a vote of confidence in day schools and an investment in ensuring that they become fiscally sustainable.
While endowments are increasingly the norm in the private school world, very few Jewish day schools currently have endowments, said Jill Goldenberg, PEJE’s strategy manager for growing endowment and legacy revenue.
That’s mostly because there is “such a worry about the day to day” and fear that soliciting endowment dollars will “cannibalize” the annual campaign.
“If you plan for the future, you don’t have so many crises,” she said, adding. “We have wonderful data that demonstrates that the type of relationship-building that endowments and legacy giving creates with donors actually enhances annual campaigns.”
The CIJE/Israel Sci-Tech program will provide courses in biotechnology and scientific engineering for seven high schools in the greater New York area during its first year of implementation and will expand to additional schools over the next five years.
Helen Spirn, principal of Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls, one of the seven schools selected to participate this year, described the program as a “wonderful opportunity.”
No slouches in science, the 308-student girls’ high school, in Hewlett, L.I., in 2001 became the first yeshiva to have students win first place in the Siemens-Westinghouse competition.
“We love empowering our girls, love breaking the myths of girls not being able to excel in math/science,” she said, adding that engineering — particularly the practical applications of biotechnology that the Israel Sci-Tech program emphasizes — is “the wave of the future, and we’re not equipped to do this on our own.”
The other schools participating in the initial year are the Solomon Schechter High School of Westchester, the North Shore Hebrew Academy High School, the Yeshivah of Flatbush High School, The Frisch School, the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County High School and the Yeshiva University High School.
Under the terms of the agreement, Israel Sci-Tech Schools, which is also working with various secular school systems in the European Union and in preliminary discussions with secular schools in North America, will bring its curricula and educators to the U.S. schools this summer and begin training teachers for the 2011 fall term. In February, teachers from the participating day schools will travel to Israel for ongoing training.
The partnership will bring cutting-edge curricula to the American Jewish high schools with a goal of strengthening science education and preparing students for careers in science and engineering. Curricula will be adapted to meet the specific needs of an American student audience. Israel Sci-Tech Schools will supply teaching aids for use in the classrooms, conduct required teacher training, develop dedicated web sites and provide e-learning tools to complement classroom teaching. CIJE will fund the development and implementation of the programs and will provide day-to-day pedagogic support to the high schools.