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.

I think taking a step back and examining Gershon’s actions in regards to starting a new high school in Bergen County is helpful. Gershon first met with administrators, educators and board members of existing high schools before embarking on his journey. Only after coming up empty in these meetings did he admirably throw down the gauntlet and say enough is enough. Gershon is launching an exploratory venture to launch a new institution that will provide a quality high school Jewish education at a price point that will accommodate parents across all income levels. Of course he doesn’t have the answers yet, he is at the beginning of a very important journey and while he may have overreached as to the need for better education, I think it’s equally clear he UNDERSTATED the need for an affordable, high quality option. Incredibly, that is something in 2013 that IS unavailable in the current marketplace.

We need to think from the bottom up. Let’s start with what can the community afford and then figure out how we can offer the most within that budget. I think as Gershon and others have proven in the day school arena, we will find the answer to be a lot. Gershon has consulted and intends to consult and learn from as many educators as possible. Any suggestion to the contrary is unfair.

We at AJE have not made a decision whether to support Gershon financially in this new high school. But given what he has accomplished on the day school level, I imagine when all is said and done, we will. The 80 percent in our community,  the middle earners, have been neglected for far too long and the movement kicked off by Gershon and his co-founders at the day school level has at long last brought relief and a ray of hope. I hope you can forgive him for his overzealousness in promoting his exploratory venture given what he has accomplished in a short time for Jewish education, reversing a destructive trend that was forty  years in the making.

Mark Nordlicht
Founder, Affordable Jewish Education Project