Buffalo Day School Students In New Experiment


Ozzy and Talula Enis, students at the Kadimah Academy, Buffalo’s 50-year-old community Jewish day school, attended the school’s graduation ceremony in June in its modest, rented one-story building.

Next month, the siblings, 12 and 10, respectively, and most of their nearly 30 classmates will continue their Kadimah education a mile away at one of the city’s leading private secular schools.

The Enises will be part of a unique partnership between a small, K-8 Jewish school whose declining enrollment and growing deficit had almost forced it to close down entirely, and a private school that will welcome them and some of their teachers, and offer a scaled-down curriculum of Judaic studies.

The two dozen Kadimah students, who will formally be known as “Kadimah Scholars at Park School,” will attend classes at the Park School, located on a grassy 34-acre campus in Amherst, the Buffalo suburb where most of the Buffalo area’s estimated Jewish population of 11,000 lives.

Kadimah will cease operating as an independent school, but will serve as an independent nonprofit, raising money for scholarships.

“It is not a merger of the schools but a relationship that transitions Kadimah Academy from a standalone brick and mortar building to an education program and scholarship fund … and marketing organization,” the school said in a statement. “If successful, it could also position Buffalo as a model for small and mid-sized cities around the country.”

Park School, a K-12 institution that has ranked among the most prominent private schools in western New York for 107 years, is still arranging details of the new arrangement, which will add Hebrew to its foreign language curriculum and may include on-site kosher food preparation facilities, time and space for the Jewish students’ daily worship services and celebration of major Jewish holidays, said Jonathan Epstein, president of Kadimah’s board of trustees.

Kadimah classes will be open to all Park School students.

While tuition at the Park School is higher than at Kadimah (last year it was $9,800, compared to a maximum of $23,560), financial aid from the Park School and a Kadimah fundraising campaign will ensure that no Kadimah families will have to discontinue their children’s Jewish education for lack of funds, Epstein said. The fundraising drive is expected to cover Kadimah’s budgetary needs, he said.

“We looked at a host of different options” to keep Kadimah open, Epstein said. “None of the options were as attractive as this.”

Buffalo’s Jewish Federation acted as matchmaker for the two schools, as Kadimah’s enrollment, which had peaked at more than 200 in the 1980s, steadily decreased in the subsequent decades, paralleling the dip in the size of the area’s Jewish community from about 26,000 some four decades ago.

“We’re committed to Jewish education in all forms,” said the federation’s CEO, Rob Goldberg. “This could be a potential win-win. Park was looking to grow. They had a vision of being more of a global school.”

Jeremy Besch, Park’s head of school, said “the new partnership …. furthers Park’s mission to … expose Park students to more friends from the wider world.”

Kadimah, which almost closed a year ago but was saved by a combination of stepped-up fundraising and a series of cost-cutting measures, is not affiliated with any denomination of Judaism, and has drawn students from a variety of Jewish backgrounds. Besides a small elementary school under the auspices of the Chabad-Lubavitch chasidic movement, it is Buffalo’s only Jewish day school.

With fewer students each year, Kadimah has faced the same financial problems as Jewish day schools in many U.S. cities that have experienced decreases in their Jewish communities in recent decades, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. As a further sign of difficulty in maintaining a Jewish school, the American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro, N.C., the country’s only non-Orthodox boarding school, announced abruptly in the spring that it was closing after 18 years.

As far as is known, no struggling Jewish schools have established an arrangement like the one Kadimah reached with the Park School, said Paul Bernstein, CEO of Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools.

“To the best of my knowledge, there are significant other partnerships with secular private schools, for example, on STEAM education [science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics]. But this is possibly — in contemporary day school life — the only one with such depth of integration.

“There is much to be said for such a partnership,” Bernstein said. “The possibility of creating an effective partnership model is exciting as other smaller communities work to secure the future of their Jewish day schools.”

Besides a few Kadimah students whose parents are moving from Buffalo this summer, nearly all of the school’s 28 students will transfer to the Park School, Epstein said.

“The whole family was on board” with the decision to transfer to the Park School, said Joseph Enis, a Kadimah alum and father of Ozzy and Talula, who is going into sixth grade. “We care a lot about Jewish education.”

He said his children are attracted to the Park School’s wider variety of secular subjects and extra-curricular activities and the opportunity to continue Jewish education through high school; Kadimah only offered elementary grade classes.

For Ozzy, who is going into seventh grade, starting classes at a new school will mean the chance to make new friends, he said. Because of Kadimah’s small size, he shared classroom space with students from higher grades; they will be in separate classes at Park School. “It will be a little bit weird,” he said.

Joseph Enis said the final graduation ceremony of the school in its original form evoked mixed feelings — joy that the students’ Jewish education will continue, sadness that Kadimah as a separate entity will end.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” he said.