Thursday, April 19, 2012

He'atid on the Potomac

The Washington Jewish Times reports on a new "affordable" Yeshiva opening this fall in the DC area.  They hope to maintain a $10k tuition by using some very familiar sounding methods.  It will start with 7th & 8th grade girls & IY"H will expand to become a high school for both boys and girls.

Affordable Orthodox day school slated to open in fall

by Emily Jacobs
Staff Writer

A new Jewish high school is set to open this fall, providing an Orthodox education to seventh and eighth grade girls. Named the National Torah Academy (NTA), the school will be located at Congregation Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim in Silver Spring and will eventually expand to a full high school with separate classes for both boys and girls.

With the major issue of affordable Jewish education on the rise, the creators of the NTA have come up with a tuition price of $10,000 a year, a 40 percent difference from other Orthodox high schools in the area.

Yaakov Lipman, the vice president of internal operations for the NTA, explained that the idea for this school did not come from parents, but rather from those in the area that wanted to design a school for the greater good of the community.

Lipman added that a group of people convened last year to discuss the existing issues in the community and "the tuition crisis was the elephant in the room, because it threatens the fabric of the Orthodox community and the Jewish identity of kids," he said.

"People are being forced to choose public school over the Jewish day schools based on tuition costs. The even larger problem is that people are being forced to reduce the size of their families based on tuition prices that continue to grow. The core of the issue is that people aren't having as many children as they would like because they see the tuition price on the horizon, and our goal is to help solve that crisis."

Lipman emphasized that a lower tuition cost does not mean a lower quality of education. Founders of the NTA came up with a plan to use four innovative models of education, that when put together will lower the cost of tuition while keeping the same high level of education in place.

The first is a style of education called blended learning. Students will get a combination of classic classroom education and innovative technological tools to get the best out of both. The second is higher salaries for teachers with fewer levels of administration.

"By doing this we can compete with the county to get top quality teachers who have master's degrees in education as a bare minimum requirement. By putting the best teachers in the classroom we're ensuring that the students will get the best education," said Lipman.

Third in the list is the integration of volunteerism wherever possible. Teachers aside, the majority of staff and faculty at the NTA will be professionals who have expertise in certain fields, and who have volunteered their services to the school.

"This saves us money but we also feel that it's important for the students to see volunteerism first hand in their education so they will learn to volunteer and be a part of the community as they grow up. The NTA was started by people who have volunteered themselves in the community, so we're hoping to education to next generation to follow suite," explained Lipman.

Finally, they have restructured the cost of tuition because in the current day school model, "a full paying tuition goes towards scholarship funds for tuition assistance of other students. While we believe in tuition assistance, we don't believe that it's the burden of the other parents in the school to shoulder alone, but rather that it should be fundraised from across the community," continued Lipman.

Leading the administration of the NTA is Rabbi Yehuda Waxman, head of school. Waxman, who has a master's degree in education and more than 13 years of experience in Jewish high schools, explained that he believes that "an excellence in education does not mean an enormity in tuition fees."

"We have a chance to really make a huge difference and to really offer an excellent and empowering education in kodesh and secular studies, where the students are the first, middle and last consideration in everything," he said.

Waxman added that students at the NTA will not learn how to cram and memorize information, but will be taught to think, understand and apply.

"We're going to be teaching them how to ask questions and find the answers themselves so that they will become independent thinkers."
Looking forward to the first day of school is Chanoch Kinovsky, community member and parent of a future NTA student. Kinovsky has been involved with the school since last September and explained that what drew him to the NTA was the focus on the quality of education and the integrative models they have set in place.

"I feel that the use of technology will prepare the students for the 21st century workforce. Additionally, I really want to see the school succeed because as a parent and a community member, I feel that it's important that the NTA is taking a look at the tuition crisis that we're all experiencing nationally and restructuring it to reasonably meet the needs of parents and shift the burden of the cost of Jewish education onto the community," he said.

Lipman explained that the name of the school reflects the goals of those at the NTA who want to have other schools follow their model on a national level.
"While we're in the nation's capitol, we plan to be a national model to show that a school can be built not just by parents but by a group of people in the community that want to build an excellent school and to show that they can follow our model and hopefully we'll all be able to relieve this problem nationally," Lipman said.