Four Jewish day schools experienced increased student enrollment this year. More students are attending Gross Schechter Day School, which is Conservative, and the Cleveland area’s three Orthodox Schools: Fuchs Mizrachi School, Hebrew Academy of Cleveland and Mosdos Ohr Hatorah.
“Last year we were at 438,” head of school Rabbi Barry Kislowicz said about Fuchs Mizrachi in Beachwood. “We were projected to go to 441, since many children were moving with their families to Israel. Despite that fact, we had a net growth of 23 students to reach our current total of 461. It was very exciting. The kids kept pouring in.” He said some early childhood classes are at capacity.
Hebrew Academy, with campuses in Cleveland Heights, Beachwood and Lyndhurst, stands at record enrollment: 855, a net increase of 16 students from last year.
“We are completely out of space,” education director Rabbi Simcha Dessler said of HAC’s Cleveland Heights facility. “The good news is that the academy is thriving with many young professional families relocating here. The academy’s founding fathers were visionaries who, in 1943, knocked on doors to convince parents to embrace an unheard of concept: day school education. I don’t think they could have ever envisioned this level of growth in size and scope.” Current enrollment includes hundreds of second- and third-generation students.
Mosdos Ohr Hatorah in Cleveland Heights has a student population of 487. The school saw an increase from last year, especially in the younger grades.
“We’re growing by leaps and bounds and had to split classes,” said Rabbi Dovid Schnurman.
With an enrollment of 271, Gross Schechter has 10 more students than a year ago, including some in the school’s two-year-old program. Next year the program will be expanded to include tots 18 months old and will be offered up to five days a week. “Parents were craving to have the opportunity to have younger children in the program,” said head of school Ari Yares. “We’re meeting the needs of the community.”
The Agnon School in Beachwood saw a decrease from 341 to 331.
Day school incentives
Looking ahead to future growth, Agnon and Gross Schechter in Pepper Pike recently announced tuition incentive programs for Jewish communal employees starting in 2014-15. Agnon will reduce tuition 40 percent for children in early childhood through eighth grade. Gross Schechter will offer a 35-percent reduction in tuition, which includes all fees, for such Jewish workers for preschool through eighth grade. Schechter also announced a $1,000 tuition credit to Schechter parents who refer a new family that enrolls in the school.
“Things look promising for next year,” said Agnon head of school Jerry Isaak-Shapiro. “The tuition incentive for Jewish communal professionals is doing what we hoped it would do.” He said community day schools across the country are interested in the results, adding, “We’re hoping this will be a game changer.”
“We’re excited to offer the tuition incentive to the community,” he said about Gross Schechter’s program. “Historically, Jewish community professionals have turned to us time and time again to educate their children.”
All of the day schools surged ahead with new initiatives and programming for the 2013-14 school year.
Agnon has added a middle school course on Rabbinics, which includes the study of Mishna (rabbinical commentaries). “Our Hebrew and Tanach (Holy Scriptures) curricula have always been stellar,” Isaak-Shapiro said. “This provides us with an opportunity to bring even more sophisticated Jewish learning to our students.”
“Our plan is to continue to build on the excellent programming we have in the school and create a supportive environment,” said Yares, who took the helm at Gross Schechter last summer. Tikkun olam (repairing the world) is high on the list of this year’s endeavors. Other initiatives are the Read for Life – Go for the Gold literature program and “Standing on One Foot” partnerships to educate students about Jewish holidays.
Hebrew Academy has expanded its Advance Placement course offerings, and enhanced the programming of the state award-winning Bigs and Littles mentoring program, which matches elementary school girls with female college and seminary students. In addition, Hebrew Academy increased the number of classes in the early childhood program, earning the State of Ohio’s Star Award for the fifth consecutive year.
At Mosdos, Schnurman said, “We’re amending and perfecting what already is tried and true, whether it’s studying a passage of Talmud or mastery of the states and their capitals.”
“We’re continuing our rigorous academic program to ensure that we provide the highest-quality, 21st-century education to our community,” Kislowicz said. “We’re looking to the endowment to serve not only the students today but also to serve their children and grandchildren.” Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, Fuchs Mizrachi is bringing in a special speaker, Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer, to its spring gala Sunday, March 23. His presentation at the school will be open to the community.
The Lippman School in Akron continues to have a strong partnership with the Northern Cheyenne tribal school in Montana. “The Northern Cheyenne share many challenges and opportunities that the Jewish people face,” said head of school Sam Chestnut. These include conserving their religion and understanding the importance of their homeland. “We also understand spiritual elements through a new lens. The Northern Cheyenne have a strong tradition and prophecy,” similar to the Jewish religion and culture.
The Lippman School, which has approximately an equal number of Jewish and non-Jewish students, continues the model it started in recent years.
According to the model, students can concentrate on Judaic studies and Hebrew, or global studies and Spanish.
“An important component of our model is that we understand that when we have the opportunities to teach others about Judaism, it strengthens our own Jewish identity,” Chestnut said.
A majority of students, Jewish or not, participate in the Judaic studies and Hebrew language curriculum. “What has been interesting for us is that our model may speak to Jewish families who would not have been interested in a traditional Jewish day school,” Chestnut said.
Local Jewish day schools are not only growing in population but also in other ways, including educational programs, facilities improvements and professional development.
Mosdos brings in numerous speakers throughout the year. Among recent highlights, Mosdos “menahel” (principal) Rabbi Raphael Gelley co-chaired with Rabbi Dessler at Hebrew Academy the Midwest Regional Convention of Torah Umesorah, the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools, last fall, which was attended by 700.
“We went the extra mile to make sure the presenters were not only outstanding speakers, but were at one time classroom teachers,” Gelley said. “The presenters had leadership positions, but were able to speak from the teachers’ vantage point.”
“The incredible energy at Cleveland’s convention was a silent testimony to the vibrancy of the national Jewish day school movement and the dedication and passion of our beloved educators wherever they reside,” Dessler said.
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland expanded professional development and adult education opportunities this year, Dessler said. Recent programs featured Rabbi Berel Wein, Harvard Medical School professor Ross Greene and other well-known scholars and authors.
Agnon continues to receive accreditation from the Independent Schools Association of the Central States.
“Every seven years, we need to have reaccreditation,” Isaak-Shapiro said, and the school is going through that process this year. “It’s a wonderful vehicle to hold our program up to ISACS’s high standards.” The effort entails a self-study document of more than 200 pages covering the school’s governance, curriculum, leadership, finances and facilities. A delegation visits the schools to meet the staff and observe classes.
Gross Schechter is among 15 Jewish day schools – only two of them outside the New York City area – selected to participate in the second year of the Day School Collaboration Network. Four educators from Schechter attended the recent DSCN retreat in New York, where innovative approaches to problem-solving were explored.
The Mizrachi faculty is deeply engaged in 21st-century professional development, Kislowicz said. “We believe that if we want our students to learn, we must model that by engaging in our own professional development. Teachers learn together in teams to develop new techniques to enhance their classroom and create learning environments that inspire 21st-century students.”
Local day schools noted facility improvements and quests.
With substantial donations and grants, Agnon is enjoying a $350,000 renovation of the auditorium it shares with the Siegal facility, and a new greenhouse to augment educational programs.
Mosdos, which long sought to purchase the former Millikin School in Cleveland Heights to accommodate growth, would like to go back to the table with the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School Board, according to executive director Rabbi Baruch Chaim Manies.
Hebrew Academy’s strategic planning committee is working on short- and long-term plans to accommodate the academy’s growth, Dessler said. This year the academy has expanded and renovated playgrounds for the early childhood program and elementary school.
Fuchs Mizrachi, which moved into its new structure in Beachwood three years ago, has focused on growth of its school and educational program, Kislowicz said.
“We continue to raise funds to grow our endowment, which is acknowledged nationally as the key to a day school’s long-term viability. The endowment allows Mizrachi to provide excellent education in Torah studies and general education.”
The Agnon School
26500 Shaker Blvd.
Beachwood, OH 44122
216-464-4055 • www.agnon.org
New this year: Like the “houses” in British schools with a Jewish twist, the school has been divided into 12 tribes. Each includes students from kindergarten to eighth grade, as well as faculty and staff, with siblings generally placed in the same tribe. Each tribe enjoys individual colors, educational and recreational activities and weekly Tribe Days. The goal is enhance school spirit, teamwork and camaraderie.
Fuchs Mizrachi School
26600 Shaker Blvd.
Beachwood, OH 44122
216-932-0220 • www.fuchsmizrachi,org
New this year: Student growth continues across the grades during the school’s 30th anniversary year. “We moved into the building three years ago with 407 kids. Now we’re at 461,” said head of school Rabbi Barry Kislowicz, referring to the school’s new facility in Beachwood. “There has been growth throughout, with most at the younger end. With little attrition, the likelihood is that the students will continue through 12th grade.”
Gross Schechter Day School
27601 Fairmount Blvd.
Pepper Pike, OH 44124
New this year: With new head of school Ari Yares at the helm, the school ushered in several initiatives. One was Read for Life – Go for the Gold, which expanded Reading Week into a four-month, Winter Olympic-themed program. From a symbolic torch-lighting at opening ceremonies, to author’s visits, book swaps, storybook fashion show and reader’s theater, the program aims to excite students about literature and reading.
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland
1860 S. Taylor Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118
216-321-5838 • www.hac1.org
New this year: With the largest enrollment in its history, the school added an early childhood class, expanded and renovated the early childhood and elementary school playgrounds, and started the strategic planning process regarding the need for more space. The school also expanded professional development and adult education opportunities, featuring renowned authors and professors, and increased its Advanced Placement course selection.
The Lippman School
750 White Pond Drive
Akron, OH 44320
New this year: The school’s close relationship with the Northern Cheyenne Tribal School in Montana added a new dimension in fall 2013. During their visit, tribal educator Durt Medicine Bull gave the d’var Torah (Torah lesson) at Beth El Synagogue, with which Lippman shares its campus. Lippman students visit the reservation on alternate years and also cap off their education with a trip to Israel.
Mosdos Ohr Hatorah
1508 Warrensville Center Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44121
New this year: With continued growth, the school has brought in speakers from across the country to address staff and students. Authors, Holocaust survivors, social workers, psychologists and other professionals have presented topics including the appreciation of life, anti-bullying and Jewish leadership. Other initiatives have ranged from providing Smart Boards for the classrooms to table tennis for students at indoor recess.