Charter school movement takes hold as NJ and Miami schools ponder transformation


As the tuition crisis at day schools comes to a head, it seems that the Jewish community is now seriously searching for affordable alternatives.

The Forward, the Jewish Week and the New Jersey Jewish Standard have all run stories in the past two weeks about an effort in Englewood, N.J., to create a Hebrew immersion program at a public school and then to offer an after-school Jewish curriculum to students.

From the Forward:

A school district in New Jersey may become the first in the nation to create a Hebrew-language immersion track in a public school — and to supplement it with voluntary after-school religious classes paid for by parents in space rented from the district.

Proposed by Richard Segall, interim superintendent of schools in Englewood, N.J., the public-private partnership is in the planning stages and has yet to be approved by the school board. But it has already drawn interest from hundreds of parents, and concerns among Jewish educators that a public school alternative would drain students from area day schools. Recently, more than 300 people attended what had been billed as a small planning meeting, and most were parents of current day school students.

The proposed initiative comes as Hebrew-language charter schools are gaining popularity, with one school already running in Florida, a second planned to open in New York City next year and billionaire philanthropist Michael Steinhardt gathering a group of multimillionaires to help support local efforts.

We are hearing that a similar movement may be afoot on Long Island, as parents there become increasingly concerned about the cost of keeping their kids in Jewish schools.

The day school system is in a serious moment of pondering how to bail out itself from its own financial mess. JESNA, last week published a 47-page study on how schools in smaller markets can potentially save themselves money. The includes a list of several alternatives to the day school model

But following the creation of the Ben Gamla Hebrew Charter School in Hollywood, Fla., and the recent approval of a Hebrew charter school in Brooklyn backed by Michael Steinhardt and others, the charter school movement seems to be the darling of the moment.

We have heard numerous ruminations out of Miami over the past week that even a fervently Orthodox elementary school, the Yeshiva Elementary School, attempted to turn its grils’ school into a charter school.

The school’s leadership brought the idea to its parent body two weeks ago, but it was summarily shot down by parents afraid of having non-Jewish students in their classrooms and afraid of giving up control over their curriculum, according to our sources.

The charter school movement is one that will be a bitter — or even impossible — pill for those on the more Orthodox side of the day school spectrum for percisely those reasons, say day school officials.

“There is a range: some schools that are not going to be comfortable giving up any control, some schools — particularly among the center of centrist orthodoxy — that might be comfortable as long as the limmuday kodesh [Jewish studies] are fully under their control,  and many schools would be open to that,” said an official at an Orthodox organization closely involved in addressing the day school tuition crisis, who wished to speak anonymously. But, he added: “On the more black hat or haredi side of things the answer is a resounding no.”

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