A Conservative day school in central New Jersey is closing, just three weeks before the first day of classes.
Solomon Schechter School of the Raritan Valley is one of several Conservative day schools in the New York region to close in recent years.
In an announcement posted on its website Monday, the more than 30-year-old East Brunswick school said it “will not be opening its doors this fall” despite “the heroic efforts” of many community leaders, parents and alumni to help in the past week.
The school had been struggling for years with declining enrollment, and on Aug. 7 first announced it would close. On Aug. 16, after an infusion of pledges, school leaders reversed course and decided to re-open, according to the New Jersey Jewish News.
But the next day, when school officials called parents of the 99 children enrolled, in order to confirm they would be attending, “so many of them had already made other plans, that sadly the plans could not be put into place,” said Head of School Rabbi Stuart Saposh, in an e-mail interview.
Rabbi Saposh said four factors contributed to the decision to close: declining enrollment for 2013-14, a “dramatic increase in the level of tuition assistance needed to retain and attract families,” loss of a “major financial award and the ongoing effects of the economic downturn” and “demographic shifts in the Jewish population in Central New Jersey.”
Asked if a nearby Hebrew charter school, opened in 2010, had adversely affected his school’s enrollment, Rabbi Saposh said, “It’s hard to say, but since the charter school has no tuition, it likely had some impact on our ability to recruit entry-level students.”
Jon Mitzmacher, executive director designate of the Schechter Day School Network (who fielded calls on behalf of the current executive, who is on vacation) told The Jewish Week two neighboring Schechter schools — Golda Och Academy and Solomon Schechter Day School of Monmouth County — have offered admission to Raritan students, arranging for bus transportation and financial aid.
Mitzmacher, who will officially assume his position at the helm of the Conservative day school umbrella group in a year, said, “It’s always sad to see a school close, and this particular school and community have worked valiantly and heroically over the last recent stretch of years to keep the school going in light of challenging demographic issues.”
Raritan Valley’s closing should not be seen as a “referendum on the state of the Schechter network,” he said, particularly because many of its students may end up re-enrolling at other Schechter schools.
“This is not part of a narrative of the failing of the Schechter movement,” he said. “I see this as one school’s story that unfortunately ends with it closing.”
The Schechter Network last month raised almost $2 million in new funding, the majority from the Avi Chai Foundation, in an effort to strengthen services for its 40 member schools.
First established in the 1950s, a period of intense growth within the Conservative movement, the Schechter movement at its peak boasted 63 schools enrolling more than 21,000 children.