Startup Day School Finds Established Home


It was supposed to be the Five Towns’ answer to Yeshivat He’Atid, the popular low-tuition Orthodox day school that has taken Bergen County, N.J., by storm.

Instead, Tiferet, which had hoped to launch in September with 100 students in pre-K through first grade, is a little like the ambitious college graduate who tries to strike on his own, only to end up moving back in with the parents.

One of two “blended learning” day schools slated to open this fall with backing from a newly formed philanthropy called Affordable Jewish Education (AJE), Tiferet announced last week it will instead be absorbed into the 58-year-old Hebrew Academy of Long Beach.

In what AJE officials are calling a “groundbreaking partnership,” the 1,700-student HALB will incorporate Tiferet’s 47 students and educational approach. AJE will hire Tiferet’s head of school, Rabbi Avrum Sacks, and provide funding to help bring the new approach — combining computerized assessment/instruction and face-to-face attention, and following a “rotational” model in which children spend much of the day working independently or in small groups — to HALB’s kindergarten and first grade, and eventually other grades as well.

Annual tuition and fees next year for pre-K through first graders will range from $10,200 to $12,100, higher than the $6,990-$9,290 range Tiferet had promised. (HALB’s tuition increases with each grade, with high school students paying over $20,000; its tuition is comparable to, or lower than, other Five Towns day schools.)

Asked in an e-mail interview if Tiferet’s move means Westchester Torah Academy, the other AJE-backed startup slated to launch this fall (tuition $9,750), might also be absorbed by a neighboring day school, AJE’s executive director, Jeff Kiderman, said, “The WTA team is continuing to move ahead with its plans to open an independent school in New Rochelle this coming September.”

Lance Hirt, HALB’s president, told The Jewish Week his school had already been exploring technology innovations, and stepped up the effort earlier this year when Tiferet burst onto the scene.

“We kept asking, ‘Wouldn’t it make more sense for the AJE and leadership of Tiferet to bring their thinking and innovation to a bigger platform like HALB, where it could affect more kids?’” Hirt said.

Meanwhile, Tiferet was struggling to get a critical mass of families to commit to enrolling and organizers felt pressured to make a decision about the school’s viability before April 1, the Nassau County deadline for requesting school bus transportation.

When a mutual friend brought the parties together, “we realized our philosophy was very much aligned,” Hirt said. He added that Tiferet’s Rabbi Sacks “is very open-minded, forward-thinking administrator.”

Asked if HALB expects to lower tuition as a result, Hirt said the school’s goal is “over the long term to, if not lower tuition, at least maintain it.”

For one parent, Jonathan Katz, who had been struggling to choose between the two schools, the decision is welcome.

Katz, who has a 4-year-old and 6-year-old at HALB, had initially been planning to transfer them to Tiferet, but a few months ago opted to keep them at HALB so as “not to rock the boat” for the children.

“We agonized over it, because the blended learning model we think is fantastic. Now that HALB has adopted the model … I’m the happiest man in the world,” he said.

Ovadya Aryeh, whose 5-year-old son was to be in Tiferet’s kindergarten, said he and his wife are still deciding what they will do next year, but are leaning toward HALB.

“My wife and I were very disappointed” that Tiferet won’t open as planned, he said, “but I don’t fault anyone.”

Tiferet’s leaders “did the prudent thing,” he said, adding that he was pleased they made the decision now, rather than waiting until the summer, when parents would have fewer options.