Over Shabbat lunch tables with friends across the metropolitan area, many an observant Jewish parent has lamented the high cost of a day school education.
Now, locally, a few families have taken matters into their own hands — launching a yeshiva whose tuition is considerably less than those of area day schools, especially when factoring in the additional fees charged by existing schools.
The West Orange Cooperative Yeshiva, which is scheduled to open in the fall with a class for kindergartners and first-graders, plans to charge $8,000 per year, with no additional fees (scholarships are also available); plans call for adding one grade per year through the elementary grades.
Other local Jewish elementary day schools charge between $8,200 and $14,000 dollars, not including additional fees (and before tuition subvention grants for those who qualify).
The new school will be located at Congregation Beth Ahm of West Essex in Verona.
Organizers of WOCY are calling the school a “cooperative” model because parents are expected to take an active role in its day-to-day operations. Their responsibilities will include arranging carpools, volunteering as classroom aides, organizing field trips, arranging publicity, organizing and/or obtaining school supplies, and writing grant applications.
“It’s a huge community effort,” said school treasurer Aaron Spool of West Orange, who became involved with its formation about two years ago. The number-one goal, he said, is to offer a “yeshiva day school at an affordable tuition.”
It will not be, however, a “no-frills” institution, Spool said. “We would have been dead in the water if we didn’t [offer a] top-notch education.”
To that end, the school has engaged Lea-Nora Kordova as its lead kindergarten teacher. Kordova, who taught at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston for 20 years, is a veteran educator with both Judaic and general studies experience. Currently a teacher of four-year-olds at Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob and David in West Orange, she is fluent in Hebrew and certified in the NETA program for Hebrew language educators.
Kordova emphasized that the new school is far from being an experiment. Instead, the yeshiva is “a new situation with veteran, experienced teachers,” she said. “We are absolutely not guinea pigs.”
‘Everything’s in place’
Barbara Hollander is the school’s curriculum developer and math educator. Her husband, Larry, another school organizer, helped secure the Verona location; their youngest child will be in kindergarten this fall. He noted that more children from the Orthodox community are attending public school, some who have special needs and others who can’t afford day school.
While it’s certainly acceptable for such students to attend public school, said Larry Hollander, “we’d like to give another option.” He noted that WOCY students will be entitled to special services through the public school system.
Spool is the father of three children — the oldest a student at Kushner — which, he said, he “just can’t afford for the rest of my children.”
The current model of applying for scholarships at many schools — with a family’s finances under scrutiny — is not a comfortable process for some families, he said. “If scholarships were easy to get” and the process comfortable to go through, “no one would be talking about this.”
How can WOCY charge such a relatively low tuition? Spool said there will be no compensation going to administrators; the main cost will be teachers’ salaries. Building costs will be kept low thanks to a synagogue that has “plenty of space for us.” The school, which is Modern Orthodox, will pay rent to Beth Ahm, a Conservative synagogue, but will otherwise not have any formal affiliation with it.
Other responsibilities will be carried out by volunteers, including a parent who will teach music twice a week. The school, without major capital expenses, will mostly be funded by tuition fees — although other contributions would certainly not be turned away, Spool said. “All the hard stuff’s done; everything’s in place.”
The school offers fresh competition to two popular area Orthodox day schools, the Kushner Academy and the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth.
Tuition at JKHA’s lower school for 2011-12, from pre-K through grade five, ranges from $10,975 to $14,060. That does not include registration fees, a required building fund contribution, and dinner journal obligation. Tuition subvention grants of $2,000-$5,000 are available for families whose earnings do not exceed $250,000 a year, executive director Michael Grad told NJJN; the school gave out $170,000 in such grants last year.
At the JEC, where many students also hail from Essex County, 2011-12 elementary school tuition ranges from $8,200-$10,500, with additional fees incurred in such areas as registration, journal contributions, and building fund assessment.
Administrators at JKHA, where many West Orange students are enrolled, are confident that the school’s reputation and numbers speak to its success. There are 340 children currently enrolled in the lower school. “I can really only respond to what my school stands for,” said head of school Susan Dworken. “We look forward to continuing our growth.”
Grad, who said about 50 percent of JKHA families receive some sort of financial aid, added that he believes the scholarship process, which is confidential, is not as daunting or restrictive as some make it out to be. “We try to work with every family based on what they can afford to give us,” he said.