Monday, October 22, 2007

Is a Day School's Closing a Wake Up Call for the Conservative Movement?

With the recent closing of the Metropolitan Schechter Academy, a Solomon Schechter High School in New Jersey, questions are arising about the state of Conservative Jewish day schools in our country.

The Metro Schechter Academy was the result of a merger between the Schechter High School of New York and the Schechter Regional High School in Teaneck, New Jersey in 2005. The Manhattan-based high school began in 1992 at the Jewish Theological Seminary with the support of then Chancellor Ismar Schorsch. I remember how nice it was seeing the Schechter high school students in the Seminary halls on a daily basis when I began rabbinical school at JTS during the 1998-99 school year (and enjoying their annual theater productions each year in Feinberg Auditorium). The school moved to a Central Park West location in 2000.

As part of a Solomon Schechter Day School fellowship through the William Davidson Graduate School at JTS, I had the opportunity to work at the Schechter High School in Manhattan during the 2001-02 school year. I spent my time working with the admissions office and re-creating the school's website. I was very impressed with the school and surprised that the enrollment was not higher. Situated in New York City, however, this school had significant competition from other private Jewish day high schools (Ramaz, SAR, and the new Heschel High School).

It's a shame that the merged Schechter high school wasn't able to open for the currrent academic year. However, I must disagree with the New York Jewish Week article that this school closure might be a "wake up call" for Jewish education in the Conservative Movement. This case is clearly an anomaly due to financial issues that were beyond the school leaders' control.

Jewish day school education is growing in our country. My wife taught at the Schechter high school in West Orange, New Jersey and came home each day impressed by the high level of academics. In Michigan, the Frankel Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit has grown significantly each year since its founding in 2000 with 34 students. While it is a non-denominational Jewish high school, the majority of its more than 210 students are from Conservative Jewish households and many are graduates of Detroit's Solomon Schechter-affiliated Hillel Day School, which is celebrating its 50th year. Other Conservative day schools around the country are also growing in enrollment.

With the support of the new Seminary Chancellor Arnie Eisen and the Davidson School's dean Rabbi Steve Brown (both quoted in the NJ Jewish Week article), Jewish day schools in the country will continue to grow.

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