The decline in enrolment can be reversed

The Jewish News Syndicate recently published an article by award-winning reporter and children’s book author Faygie Holt “If you lower it, will they come? The high costs of Jewish day school.”

The article is a mini-tour-of-the-horizon of efforts in diverse, non-Orthodox day schools in the United States to increase enrolment by drastically reducing tuitions and then ensuring the long-term sustainability of those schools with the new tuitions and enrolments.

One of the initiatives that Holt features is “Open Door,” at the San Diego Jewish Academy (SDJA). Open Door lowers the cost of tuition for students entering kindergarten and ninth grade at the K-12 pluralistic schoolboy half. The reduced tuition continues for the next four years. The school also offer a discounted tuition rate for Jewish communal employees who might otherwise not be able to afford to send their kids there.

“We studied this forever and did a lot of research with different groups, and we learned that the biggest factor that prevented people from even touring a Jewish school in the Carmel Valley was the [tuition] sticker shock,” said head of school Chaim Heller. “Our data showed that if we could lower our sticker price point to between $10,000 and $15,000, depending on the grade, we would have more than 1,100 local families who would give our school a look.” And once they looked, Heller said, they might be more inclined to give the school a try. Heller told Holt that the enrolment at (SDJA) enjoyed “a significant increase over last year.”

The link between tuition levels and enrolment price has been empirically proven by the successful experiment two years ago in the GTA by the drastic reduction in tuition by Tanenbaum CHAT. Indeed Holt points to CHAT’s positive experience in her article.

We commend the article to readers for its broad examination and summary of the enrolment situations of non-Orthodox day schools in the United States. Not all of Holt’s observations apply to our situation in the GTA. But the information in the article is worthy as a base of comparison to the current efforts underway in our community to bring down tuitions and ensure the permanent futures of the schools. The article also contains some important nuggets about the importance of day schools in securing a permanent Jewish future in our respective communities.

Holt quotes Jack Wertheimer, the Joseph and Martha Mendelson Professor of American Jewish History at the Jewish Theological Seminary who asks: “Is there a communal will to identify Jewish day schools as a major asset of the community, especially given the data showing that Jewish-day school alumni are among the most active participants in Jewish communal life, serving not just as followers but leaders in the community?”

And for parents, Wertheimer says, ask them to come to the school and check out the vibe. “See the faces of our children and their relationships with their teachers and their classmates,” he says. “Then decide if this is the wholesome environment you’d like your child to be placed in.”

Wertheimer believes that with thoughtfully directed initiatives by the schools and their respective communities, the decline in enrolment can be reversed.

GAJE agrees with Prof. Wertheimer. Let us all prove him to be right.

The Holt article is available at:

https://www.jns.org/if-you-lower-it-will-they-come-the-high-costs-of-jewish-day-school/

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Shabbat Shalom

GAJE, October 11, 2019

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In the best interests of all Canadians

The CJN recently published a comment by Josh Leiblein entitled “A Guide to Jeiwish Issues in the Federal Election”. In his commentary Leiblein reflected upon why some of the issues of concern to our community seem to resonate with the wider community while other issues do not. He suggested that the framing of the issue is determinative of its broad acceptance in the Canadian demographic landscape, ie, whether the issue is seen as narrowly particular to the Jewish community or as more widely universal to Canadians.

He challenged community leaders to “make the case that our community’s intentions are in the best interests of all Canadians, not just Jewish Canadians.”

Leiblein was correct in his analysis.

However in citing the lack of fair funding for faith-based schools as an issue perceived as distinctively Jewish and thus a “loser for the Canadian Jewish community,” Leiblein somewhat overstates the matter. For the issue is a “loser” only in Ontario.

All the western provinces and Quebec long ago decided to provide public funds – to some extent – to faith-based and secular independent schools. Apart from the Atlantic Provinces, where numbers do not warrant such interventions, Ontario is the outlier in Canada in refusing to extend funding to faith-based independent schools. 

The rest of Canada – again except in Atlantic Canada – understands, accepts and adopts the notion that helping fund at least part of the general studies portion of independent schools is entirely in accord with the values and principles entrenched in The Charter of Rights and Freedoms and a minimum testament to fairness. It happens also to be ultimately more economically efficient even as it creates conditions for better educational outcomes.

With the proper, factual framing of the issue, it is highly questionable whether the Ontario electorate would today reject funding some portion of independent schools, as it did more than 12 years ago in 2007.

Educational funding falls within provincial not federal jurisdiction. Thus the issues does not arise in the upcoming federal election. But readers must realize, nevertheless, as GAJE has been saying since its founding and as experience in other provinces persuasively shows, extending some funding to the general studies curriculum of independent schools is indeed, as Leiblein wrote, “in the best interests of all Canadians, not just Jewish Canadians.”

The full Leiblein commentary is available at: https://www.cjnews.com/perspectives/opinions/lieblein-a-guide-to-jewish-issues-in-the-federal-election

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Shabbat Shalom

Gmar chatimah tovah

GAJE, October 4, 2019

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Shaping and creating our Jewish future

In the past we have referred to a volume of essays that resulted from a conference titled Creating the Jewish Future which was held at the Centre for Jewish Studies at York University in 1996. It is fitting, in our last update of calendar 5779, as we restate both our purpose and our resolve, to refer once again to this publication.

In the Afterward of the volume, Prof. Irving Abella wrote the following: “It seemed self-evident that the major challenge to our Jewish leadership in the next generation should be building a Jewish community that is not simply concerned with survival, but one that is creative and attractive to our children – a community with substance and content, a community that stresses not only memory but other important values of our traditions – primarily social justice, equity, compassion and spirituality. We pride in its activities and achievements. We will have to find ways to convert alienation to action and passivity to pride, the pride of being possessors of a great legacy, a legacy which has meaning for today and beyond.”

Prof. Abella’s observation is eloquent and on the mark. It is fair to ask: Have we succeeded in the intervening 23 years since the conference or in the 20 years since the proceedings of Creating the Jewish Future were published, to give it true meaning?

I suspect that giving Prof. Abella’s exhortation true meaning is an ongoing task for each generation and has always been so – with adjustments according to the circumstances of the times and place – in every generation. That means it falls to all of us in each of our homes and in our respective social circles to contribute our own parts to the collective communal legacy.

The final instruction on “creating a legacy which has meaning for today and beyond” goes to Prof. Michael Brown who was then the director of the Centre for Jewish Studies at York University. His words still guide us.

North American Jewry “cannot allow blind forces to determine its destiny. It must create its own future out of the legacy of the past and the realities of the present. As Morton Weinfeld notes…the future is not determined; it need not be accepted passively; it can be shaped and created. But if the community is to take its fate into its own hands, then present reality and future goals must be clearly defined and squarely faced.”

Jewish education, in all its peoplehood-sustaining manifestations, is the key to creating the legacy Prof. Abella described. Therefore we must ensure that Jewish education, in all its manifestations, must be accessible and thus, affordable.

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Shabbat Shalom

Shana tovah umetukah

GAJE, September 27, 2019

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Advancing the public good

Last week we pointed to research by Cardus, a non-partisan, faith-based think tank, that debunked the harmful myth that independent schools are primarily the domain of the elite and that the families in independent schools are primarily rich and privileged.

This week we bring readers’ attention to a companion piece of research by Cardus that appeared in The Toronto Star August 12, 2019. Under the headline, “Independent schools contribute to the public good and deserve public support”, Ray Pennings, Cardus’ executive vice president definitively puts paid to the false notion that students in independent schools graduate to a life of self-interested disregard for the community at large because of a presumed exclusive loyalty to their elite socio-economic milieu.

Pennings relies upon data that shows the benefit to the wider public educational systems – in this case, Australia and Finland – arising from the infusion of public funds to independent schools. He also cites information gathered over the past decade from independent schools in the United States and in Canada to demonstrate the positive contributions of independent schools to the overall health of their host societies.

He notes that individuals who graduate from independent schools are far more likely than public school graduates to become involved in the life of their wider community by volunteering their time and giving charity. These graduates also tended to view their independent school educations as positive experiences and as good preparation for life.

In helping build character and educating students for a life of civic responsibility Pennings says “the evidence is significant that independent schools meet or exceed the outcomes of the government school system. And we can safely do away with arguments that assert public financing of independent schools harms public education. As we’ve seen in Australia and Finland, it does the opposite.”

These findings are not surprising in the Jewish community. Advancing the public good has always been a core Jewish value and a fundamental Jewish obligation. (Tikun olam b’malchut Shadai. Mending the world under the sovereignty of God.)

There is no contradiction between sending our children to Jewish school and teaching them to care for and always advance the public good. Indeed that is precisely what they learn at school.

This merely heightens the injury and the absurdity in the fact that Ontario provides no funding to the independent schools to help them bring graduate students with the active betterment of the community and the world in their hearts.

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The article by Pennings can be found at:

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2019/08/12/independent-schools-contribute-to-the-public-good-and-deserve-public-support.html

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Shabbat Shalom

GAJE

September 20, 2019

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Seeking ‘equitable access’ for independent schools

An op-ed appeared this week in The Toronto Sun co-written by Deani Van Pelt and David Hunt under the headline “Publicly-educated parents seeking other options for kids”. The writers are co-authors of the study ‘Who Chooses Ontario Independent Schools and Why’ published by Cardus, a non-partisan, faith-based think tank. 

The commentary commends itself to GAJE followers and to members of our community in general. The authors are scholars. Thus the findings in the larger study mentioned in the commentary are credible. And the subject is germane to our community’s effort to make Jewish education affordable for the majority of families.

The authors debunk the pernicious myth that independent schools are primarily the domain of the elite and that the parents of students in independent schools are rich and privileged. The truth is vastly different.

Van Pelt and Hunt categorically prove that independent school-parents are mostly middle class and that fully “75% of the parents in Ontario who send their kids to something other than their neighbourhood public or Catholic separate school attended public schools themselves.”

In other words, the Van Pelt and Hunt research show that the families at independent schools, in the main, are indeed “ordinary” Ontarians in terms of economic status and background. So too are their aspirations for their children the “ordinary” aspirations of most, if not all, parents.

As Van Pelt and Hunt point out, “the top reason” parents send their children to independent schools “is safety. And not just from the schoolyard bully, but the kind of safety and security they and their children experience when they trust both the curriculum and teachers. Parents also say they gravitate toward independent schools because they want a supportive, nurturing learning environment for their child. “

Van Pelt and Hunt also write about the financial hardships borne by parents who send their children to independent school. They bemoan the still astonishing fact “that too few Ontario families have equitable access to independent schools since they get no government funding.” Parents of children attending Jewish schools understand this very well.

And then they urge what we, and others, have urged for months and years: “This needs to change. Addressing the access gap means letting some education funding follow students to the school they attend. That’s what provinces like British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec, as well as countries like Iceland, Ireland, Italy, and India do.

“As ordinary folks increasingly find refuge in schools not operated by government, it’s time to ask: Shouldn’t Ontario catch up with the rest of the democratic world and fund a diversity of education providers — government and non-government— especially for those of limited means?”

Indeed, Ontario should. It makes educational sense. It makes budgetary sense.

And it is the fair and just thing to do.

••• The full op-ed by Van Pelt and Hunt can be found at:

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Shabbat Shalom

GAJE

September 13, 2019

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Investing in education is important

The Canadian Jewish News (CJN) this week featured an article entitled “The unequal cost of Jewish education in Canada.” It is a source of important information. The reporter, Alex Rose, deftly covered the three most compelling aspects of Jewish education, namely, (1) its importance, (2) enrolment is directly tied to tuition, and (3) one may presume, as a matter of fairness and the pursuit of educational excellence, the largest provinces in the country – apart from Ontario – do provide some assistance to the independent (Jewish and non-Jewish) schools. 

Daniel Held, the executive director of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Education, told The CJN that Grade 9 enrolment at TanenbaumCHAT, the community high school, will likely exceed 300 students. This compares with a figure of 175 students two years ago before a generous and innovative philanthropic intervention reduced tuition by about one third for a trial period of four years.

“It clearly points to the fact that there’s pent-up demand,” Held said. “With the right initiatives and the right philanthropy, we can enable that [enrolment in Jewish school] to happen. It’s about serving those families who really want to have a Jewish education for their kids, and making that possible for them.”

Held also astutely explained why it is important to get as many children as possible into the schools. “It looks toward the future and says, ‘How can we have the strongest, most vibrant, most vital Jewish community?’ And decades, if not centuries, of research and experience shows that by educating our kids today, we strengthen the community of the future, we create both a knowledgeable and passionate community and we also create empowered leaders,” he said. “That’s why investing in education is so important for UJA and for our community in general.”

GAJE unreservedly supports and encourages every philanthropic effort that brings more children into our schools. Another such worthy effort is to bring about a change in Ontario’s education funding policies. As Jeffrey Stutz, one of GAJE’s founding members told The CJN reporter, “If Ontario funded even half the cost of general studies in the day schools, the impact would be huge. It’s not a radical idea – five other provinces in Canada do this,” he said.”

Our community has the ability and the strength to make Jewish education forever.  Let us all mobilize to make it happen.

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The full CJN article can be found at:

•••https://www.cjnews.com/living-jewish/the-unequal-cost-of-jewish-education-in-canada

Shabbat Shalom

GAJE

September 6, 2019

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May the coming school year be excellent for all

School returns next week for most of our children. As we know, the first day – the first week – can be fraught with anxiety and worry for the youngest and the oldest. Even as our children look forward to seeing friends and some teachers again, their nerves may also be pounding a bumpy tune on their inner bongo drums.

A recent blog posting on the Times of Israel by Simcha Weiser, head of Soille San Diego Hebrew Day School, deftly used the back-to-school jitters as the beginning point for a discussion about the purpose, in general, of our children’s education. He poses a simple, but pointedly phrased question that pins our respective consciences to our responsibilities as parents and as a Jewish community.

“What are we doing about belonging to the Jewish people? Can we muster the courage to commit to Jewish schooling, sending our kids without reservation to a place which will connect them and us to one another and to the Jewish people for our entire lives?”

Weiser also provides the answer: “Do it, [enrol your child in Jewish education] and you will learn that it is all possible.”

As the young ones – Nursery through high school – start the school year next week, we fortify them against the inevitable jitters with our love and the remembered love of all those who helped bring them – again or for the first time – to this new, first day.

May the coming school year be excellent for all.

GAJE’s mission, in Weiser’s words, is to try to help parents “do it” for their children.

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Weiser’s op-ed can be found at: https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/for-whom-the-school-bell-tolls/

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Shabbat Shalom

GAJE August 30, 2019

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