Rabbi Michael Druin arrived on Long Island about a month ago with his wife and four children to become the new head of school at the Jewish Academy in East Northport, the only day school in Suffolk County, which this year added a fourth grade.
Rabbi Druin, 43, previously served for five years as rabbinic dean of the Hillel Community Day School in North Miami Beach. Born in California, he was 14 when his family became religious and decided to join Chabad.
Jewish Week: Why did you come to this school of 50 students from a school with several hundred in North Miami Beach?
Rabbi Druin: I decided it was time for me to lead my own school and what better way to do that than to choose a school that is ready to be molded and shaped. You don’t get twice in a lifetime the chance to develop your dream school.
Suffolk County is a difficult place to do this because of the relatively small number of committed Jews.
I don’t know of any other county with 90,000 Jews and only one day school. There are thousands of Jewish kids just within a 15-mile radius, and therefore I look at this as an opportunity. … If I were opening a shoe store, I would look at my potential clientele and say I have an amazing shoe store.
Why do you believe you have a chance to develop the Jewish Academy into a thriving day school when all other attempts to sustain Jewish day schools here have failed?
A poor economy historically works in favor of private school education. When the economy is on a downturn, public school districts cut the quality of their programs because they get less tax money. The enrichment areas like art and drama suffer, there is an increase in the number of students in the classroom, and there is a decrease in the professional development of teachers.
Therefore those parents who could afford it say it is time to move to private education to get the quality education that they are expecting. So I am positioned at a perfect spot now to join the high tide of private schools, where anyone who can afford it will think twice about private schools.
Have there been cutbacks at area public schools?
In Huntington some of the classes are up to 35 students. In Commack they are keeping the number at 24. I want to keep mine at 16 because that is what our board prescribed.
How else will the Jewish Academy be different?
Public schools teach to the test in order for them to get state funding. They have to demonstrate a level of proficiency and thus have a test-driven environment that minimizes the opportunity to give the students the 21st-century skills necessary to be successful in the world around them.
We believe in skilled-based education. I believe kids have to learn content and have standardized testing — but anchor it with skills-based education.
We are going to be giving the same standardized tests that are given in public schools so that third graders here will know where the school stands on the standardized test — both for New York State and that national average. The student will know his own grade and how he did within his class, and in the school as well.
The standardized testing will be coupled with a testing that is called a “writ-scaled” results in which a student will be able to measure his academic progress. I believe we will be the first in Suffolk County to do this. It’s designed to demonstrate the child’s individual growth.
In what other ways do you hope to attract students?
We are a Jewish community day school and proud of it. I believe there are a hundred Jewish families that want to give their kids the opportunity to be the leaders of the Jewish community in the future.
The school is not Orthodox; it is a community day school, which is the fastest growing network of Jewish day schools.
The Jewish community day school model in the country has demonstrated its growth and that’s why we are bringing that model to Suffolk County.
I’m looking for support from across all denominations because we are not a single denominational school.