More than 120 students will be displaced and 25 faculty and staff members will lose their jobs when Yeshiva Rambam, the 60-year-old Modern Orthodox institution in Brooklyn, closes its elementary school at the end of the term in June.The Flatbush school is also phasing out its seventh and eighth grades in what school officials say is an effort to expand and improve the standards of its high school, known as the Zvi Dov Roth Academy.
“It’s painful,” said Board President Alex Rovt, noting the decision to restructure the school came after nearly a year of board deliberations. “I wish we could keep both … but it’s not possible.”The move was made at the urging of many parents of high school students, said Rovt, one of the yeshiva’s main benefactors. “They said having an elementary and high school in one building, it’s not healthy” because the older and younger students needed their separate spaces.Growing the high school, while maintaining the elementary division, would mean adding a floor to the school’s structure or renting classroom space elsewhere. Insufficient funds precluded both options, Rovt said.
“Everyone cried, everyone said, ‘Why?’ ” said Denise Dasa, president of the elementary school’s parent-teacher organization and executive secretary to Rambam Executive Director and Principal Jay Schechter. “I tell them there’s no money.”
Board Chairman Ron Hersh said Flatbush and the surrounding communities have an overabundance of elementary school slots and too few seats for students wishing to enter Modern Orthodox high schools.“We want to direct our energy in a way that will serve the greatest need, and the community needs a high school,” said Hersh, a 1966 Rambam graduate.Hersh said the school has retained its educational consultant and plans a curriculum “upgrade” to compete with the Yeshivah of Flatbush and Magen David Yeshiva, two Brooklyn schools known for their rigorous general studies curricula.“We’re going to be the third spoke,” he said.Additionally, the yeshiva’s Kings Highway facility will get a facelift this summer when the school installs two new science labs and remodels its gymnasium, bathrooms and executive offices.
School officials said the academy, which serves the children of many recent immigrants from Israel, Russia and elsewhere, would keep high school tuition increases to a minimum. Rovt estimated that the annual tuition would run from $7,000 to $8,000, significantly lower than comparable Modern Orthodox yeshivas.Enrollment at Zvi Dov Roth Academy, which opened seven years ago, stands at 114, but could top 200 by September, board members said.
Chana Kartaginer, the academy’s founding principal, will stay on in that role at the expanded high school.“Change is difficult even if change is necessary,” Schechter, who will be the executive director at the academy, said in an interview.Schechter said he is working overtime to ensure the displaced youngsters will be enrolled in Orthodox institutions come September. He said more than 90 percent of elementary school students have already submitted applications to one of 14 area yeshivas, including the Yeshivah of Flatbush, Yeshiva of Manhattan Beach and Ahi Ezer Yeshiva.
Still, some in the Flatbush Orthodox community expressed concern.“A lot of the students do not come from frum families,” said Jeffrey Wallach, who served on Rambam’s board from 1993 to 1999 while his daughter attended the school. “My fear is that they will wind up in the public school system.”Hersh said public school is not an option.“We’re doing everything to avoid that possibility,” he said. “We’re working very closely with schools and parents to make sure every last one is placed in a yeshiva.”