Harlem Hebrew Charter Gearing Up

Harlem Hebrew Charter Gearing Up

A Hebrew charter school slated to open in Manhattan in August has hired a head of school, secured a location and is beginning to accept applications for kindergarten and first grade.

Robin Natman, a longtime public school teacher and administrator, will head Harlem Hebrew Language Academy Charter School.

Located in District 3, which encompasses part of the historically black neighborhood of Harlem and all of the Upper West Side, the new school will occupy the former School of St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church, on Saint Nicholas Avenue.

Most recently, the site, between 117th and 118th streets, has been used for after-school programming by the Harlem Children’s Zone, a nonprofit that oversees three charter schools and a network of early childhood, parenting and social service programs serving low-income families.

Harlem Hebrew, the second Hebrew charter school to open in New York, is one of three publicly funded elementary schools that will open this fall with the backing of the Hebrew Charter School Center, a group funded by Michael Steinhardt and a handful of other major Jewish philanthropists.

Sela Public Charter School, in Washington, D.C., hired a director — a former priest and police officer — in September and recently found a location in the racially mixed, middle-class neighborhood of Takoma Park. Kavod Elementary, in San Diego, has a head, but is still seeking a location.

HCSC also oversees Brooklyn’s Hebrew Language Academy Charter School, which launched three years ago, and the Hatikvah International Academy Charter School in East Brunswick, N.J., which opened two years ago.

The National Ben Gamla Charter School Foundation, a separate network of Hebrew charter schools founded by former Rep. Peter Deutsch in 2007, operates five Hebrew charter schools in Florida.

Approximately 2,500 children nationally attend Hebrew charter schools; while the schools are not allowed to collect information about students’ religious backgrounds, many observers estimate that the student bodies at HCSC schools are about 40-50 percent Jewish, while the Ben Gamla ones are at least 85 percent Jewish.

At Hebrew charter schools, children study the Hebrew language and learn about Israel and some aspects of Jewish culture. By law, they are tuition-free, cannot teach religion and cannot discriminate on the basis of religious or other background.

For more information about Harlem Hebrew, which will be open to children from throughout District 3, go to www.harlemhebrewcharter.org.

Julie.inthemix@gmail.com, @Julie_Wiener

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