Sunday, November 18, 2012

Interview with Tiferet Academy Board Member

This interview was published by the Five Towns Jewish Times about the new Tiferet Academy opening in the fall in Woodmere, NY:

Q & A With Tzvi Saperstein Of Tiferet Academy

By 5TJT Staff

5TJT: Tzvi, as a board member of Tiferet Academy, can you summarize the current plans for the school?

TS: Tiferet Academy represents the future of yeshiva classrooms, featuring cutting-edge educational practices known as 21st Century Learning and financially responsible operational policies that allow for lower, sustainable tuition pricing. We are excited to open our doors next September, with classes for pre-K through third grade. Our facilities will be in the local Five Towns area.

5TJT: You say that Tiferet is the future of the yeshiva classroom. How’s that?

TS: In a traditional classroom, you have one teacher lecturing to a large group of children for hours at the average pace of the classroom. This doesn’t effectively teach the students at their own level, which is unfortunate.

At Tiferet, we are focused on teaching every child at his/her individual pace and making sure that students develop skills like critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration. To accomplish this, the classroom is divided into different sections where children can learn in different ways. In one section, a small group of students learn from a teacher in the traditional way. In another section, they will learn collaboratively with other students on hands-on projects, under the direct supervision of a teacher. At another section within the classroom, students can interact with laptops or iPads, to test their mastery of the lesson and either move ahead if they understand it, or get additional assistance from a teacher, if needed.

5TJT: How does that help teach children?

TS: It helps in three ways: It allows for more individualized face time with the teacher, because instead of teaching 20 children at once, they can teach a group a fraction of that size. Secondly, it allows for the development of social and collaborative skills, in that students spend a lot of time working directly together. Lastly, because the software is assessing students on a daily basis, teachers are able to track a student’s progress and know where the knowledge gaps are in real time. Teachers and parents no longer need to wait for quizzes and tests to see how much of the material a child truly understands, and get them the help they need immediately.

5TJT: Does that mean you can replace teachers with technology?

TS: Not at all. If anything, we empower teachers even more by providing them with complete insight into their student’s subject mastery in real time. Instead of having to waste time grading tests by hand, the technology frees up the teacher to focus on the lesson content and their individual relationship with the child. We can also give them even more administrative responsibility, which helps the school operate even more efficiently.

5TJT: Does technology help with Judaic studies as well?

TS: It does. While there are far more providers of general studies, more and more Jewish and Hebrew providers have been offering software programs as well. Where certain content doesn’t yet exist, we will teach in the traditional way, with emphasis on more project-based and collaborative learning.

5TJT: Who is going to be heading Tiferet?

TS: The board selected Rabbi Avraham Sacks, a warm, engaging administrator with a fantastic administration background to be our head of school. He previously served as the head of school at Hillel Academy in Pittsburgh, and before that as assistant headmaster of Ramaz Lower School, where he worked for 13 years in various administrative and teaching roles.

5TJT: What was your motivation in helping found Tiferet?

TS: Well, I am a father of three children myself and very interested in making sure that they get the best possible education, using the best tools and methodologies we currently have available. When I learned about the 21st Century Learning educational model and saw what the potential impact could be on the yeshiva community, it was really exciting to me. It represented a much better way to teach our children as well as a way to help operate schools with greater financial efficiency.

I also loved the idea that we would be a part of a growing, collaborative movement, along with Yeshivat He’Atid and Westchester Torah Academy. The potential for independent yeshivas to share resources and learning between their schools as a way for everyone to operate more efficiently has never existed before to this degree in the yeshiva world.

5TJT: What are some of the challenges you will face in opening Tiferet?

TS: I think we have to dispel certain myths about 21st Century Learning and incorporating technology in the classroom. People tend to fear change and progress because they aren’t familiar with it. So my biggest challenge is to demystify how the Tiferet classroom will work and how big an advantage to educating a child it actually is. Along with Rabbi Sacks, I recently drove out to a school called Achievement First in Connecticut to see a 21st Century Learning public charter school in action and was amazed by what I saw: 80% of the kindergarten class were able to read without any trouble. I’m really excited to see those kinds of results in Tiferet!

We also have to stress to parents that the quality level of a 21st Century Learning education is not new or “experimental.” The success rates have been proven. These educational practices have been in place for over a decade in private and charter schools, with tremendous long-term success. They are only getting better and already far exceed scores from traditional education in standardized testing.

5TJT: If the education is more advanced, how are you able to lower tuition costs so much more significantly than other schools?

TS: Because 21st Century Learning allows us to operate significantly more efficiently, we can save money and return those savings to the parent body in the form of lower tuition. When you add in some of our operational plans, such as not forcing parents to pay extra money towards a scholarship fund, the tuition savings are impactful.

5TJT: Does that mean you won’t have any financial assistance for parents who need it?

TS: We absolutely plan to offer assistance for parents who need it due to circumstances out of their control. Funds will be raised separately from ba’alei tzedakah and from Tiferet parents who voluntarily choose to donate money towards our scholarship. We will not make our scholarship fund mandatory, nor are we padding our tuition numbers to cover some of the scholarship fund. This is because we want to offer long-term sustainable and stable tuition prices for our families.

5TJT: Will there be an open house so parents can learn more about Tiferet?

TS: Yes! We are holding Tiferet’s open house this Sunday, November 18 at 7:30 p.m.! We’ll be doing a presentation in the Lawrence Woodmere Academy auditorium at 336 Woodmere Boulevard in Woodmere where people can hear from Rabbi Sacks in person, as well as a representative from Education Elements, experts in 21st Century Learning, and others. We’re putting on a really exciting and eye-opening program. Any parent that wants to see where the future of yeshiva classrooms are headed should definitely come and listen. They can find more information and RSVP for the open house at

5TJT: We are looking forward to hearing more about Tiferet in the coming months. Thank you so much for your time!

TS: My pleasure!