Friday, July 26, 2013

AJE Founder Responds to Rabbi Krauss

First off, let me say that I believe the overall quality of the Jewish high school system to be outstanding. I am blown away by the quality of education being offered our high schoolers. But this quality has come at a devastating cost and price to our community. The emphasis of trying to get our kids into the best colleges, offer  the  most extra curriculars, the most AP’s, the arms race to attract the best and most expensive teachers, has not come cheaply and is in fact crippling our community. We are losing countless students to public schools, less Jewish children are being born, marriages are strained, and we are fostering resentment towards religion amongst our parents due to this unfortunate situation of ever escalating tuition costs.

 I believe that in their zealousness to address the ever escalating costs of high school education and to assure parents that their children will still be receiving a quality education even at a lower price point, Gershon and Jeff overreached and were off base in attacking the quality of our educational system. You correctly call them to task for it.  They have acknowledged their mistake. That having been said, I would be remiss if I did not respectfully point out  you have engaged in some overreaching of your own and in the spirit of everyone learning from each other, I think there are some things that Gershon in his actions has accomplished in the last few years you are not giving enough credit to.

Your dismissiveness of Yeshivat Heatid is unfortunate. You say you are skeptical a quality Jewish education can be offered at half the price . But why? It is being done at Yeshivat Heatid . Yeshivat Heatid will be cash flow break even towards the end of next year and by all accounts, parent satisfaction of education quality is extremely high,  they have attracted quality teachers and are offering a top notch Jewish education. Westchester Torah Academy has likewise attracted top notch educators.  These are real live living and breathing institutions that are not just talking but acting to make a difference to ease the devastating financial burdens of our community.  Just as you were rightly offended by what you perceived as an assault on the  level of education in the Jewish high school movement, we in the affordable Jewish education movement are offended by your attack on our newly formed schools and on the existing schools we are working with  such as HALB (that is roughly half the price of SAR and has been in existence just as long)  whose leaders are credentialed educators who also give a lot of thought into best practices in education and are providing children with a high quality Jewish education. You say time will tell whether these institutions can be successful? Why? They are incredibly successful already. Quality of education has subjective elements to it. Affordability does not. Our schools are offering a price point that works for the community. The higher “quality” schools, should they continue as the only options in the community, clearly do not.

 Rabbi Krauss, you know I admire your contribution to Jewish education and feel that SAR day school thanks to your leadership, is the very best in Jewish day school education, but your implication that a school like SAR high school at nearly 35 k a year is the ONLY way to serve the community is misguided and must be denounced in the strongest terms.   We are not saying that all schools must adopt cost cutting and innovative teaching  methods we espouse but we do feel very strongly that there needs to be an affordable option in all major population centers where successful Jewish parents earning north of 250k annually can send their child, receive a quality education and not have to get undressed asking for scholarship.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

SAR Principal Responds to He'atid High

From SAR Principal Rabbi Binyamin Krauss:

Dear Gershon and Jeff,

So let me get this straight- the current schools are bad and expensive.  Kids don't feel engaged- they told you so.  And they don't like tests.   You are going to build a new school.  What will it stand for?  

Learning- The kids will learn what they want. Will there be a curriculum?  Will there be any expectations, in terms of skills, on your graduates?  How will those expectations be assessed? In the survey you referenced, less than 30% of respondents were interested in learning Tanach or Gemara, and less than 40% were interested in history or science.  Less than 25% were interested in literature.  Will these courses be absent in your school?  Will they be optional? Over 60% of the respondents felt that critical thinking is taught in their current schools, yet you make the claim that your school will be different as it will focus on critical thinking? Does that add up?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

He'atid High Coming to Town

Below is an email sent out today by Gershon Distenfeld:

You are receiving this e-mail because you have a child entering 7th grade at a Yeshiva Day School in Bergen County. As we cobbled together e-mail addresses from various sources which are certainly incomplete, please forward this to others who may be interested.

Allow us to introduce ourselves. My name is Gershon Distenfeld and for the past several years, I have been heavily involved in efforts to make Yeshiva education better and more affordable. I have previously served on the executive board of the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey and am currently the chairman of the board of Yeshivat He’Atid.

Jeff Kiderman is the executive director of the Affordable Jewish Education Project (AJE), a 501c(3) organization that was started in 2011 by a group of community leaders and philanthropists to find and implement innovative and sustainable initiatives to ensure that a high-quality, affordable Jewish day school education is available to every child. You can learn more about AJE at

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Hebrew Comes To Harlem

If anyone wants to take another crack at starting up a Hebrew language charter school in Bergen County they should work with the Hebrew Charter School Center.  Take a look at the extremely thorough job they did with this report filed to get the Harlem Hebrew school up an running:  243 pages of information, which is 243 pages more than SACS ever provided.

HH is expecting at least 168 students in just 2 grades (K&1) in their first year!  And 20 more days of school than most of the BC yeshivas.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Pre-K Price Wars

Here is the price of Pre-K at each BC JDS.  One of these things is not like the others:

He'atid   $7,990
Moriah   $8,500
RYNJ     $8,500
Yavneh  $8,750
Noam    $8,950
BPY    $12,700

You have to give credit to BPY for not caving in to pressure from the new competition and slashing pre-school prices as the other schools did.  But you have to wonder whether this is going to impact the sustainability of the school.  The reduced pre-k enrollment for this coming year could hurt them in the future if parents send to other schools to save money in pre-K & then keep them in the other schools by default in later years.

They may try to make up for high prices with generous tuition assistance but they have to take into account that a lot of upper middle class families don't want to subject themselves to the tuition assistance program, and don't want to feel that they are accepting charity.

2013-2014 Calendars

The calendars for next year are out.  Not surprisingly, He'atid once again leads the pack in total school days with 178.   Though for some reason He'atid clone Westchester Torah Academy has only 172.  I still think we should have as many days as the public schools, which have 180.  We can make up for the chagim by adding days in June.

He'atid is having Professional Development day on Christmas, rather than on election day as most schools do (except this past year, when we needed to make up days lost to superstorm Sandy).  So I guess the consultants are all Jewish & don't mind working then.

I'm a little concerned about Thanksgiving break being called Thanksgiving/Channukah break.  Does that mean that when Channukah & Thanksgiving are on different days that they will need 2 separate breaks?

[Update:  Harlem Hebrew will have 190 days.  Though I'm guessing the high number was designed to help them accommodate the many students who will be taking off for Jewish holidays and who will need to make up for lessons lost]