The Highland Park woman behind the campaign to start a charter Hebrew-language immersion high school feels confident that it will ultimately be approved despite being turned down by the state Department of Education for the second time.
“Many of those schools approved had applied three or four times, said Sharon Akman, referring to the list of 23 approved charter schools announced Jan. 18. “They did say they really loved our application and seemed to want to work with us, so we are encouraged.”
The state ruling means that the Tikun Olam Charter High School, which would have been the state’s first Hebrew-language charter high school, will not open in September in the Highland Park-Edison area as organizers had hoped. The state also rejected the school’s application in March, citing application deficiencies; Akman said she plans to reapply.
The Hatikvah International Academy charter school opened in September in East Brunswick as the state’s first Hebrew-language charter school, initially serving students in kindergarten through second grade. The Shalom Academy for students in Englewood and Teaneck was among the 23 charter schools approved and will serve youngsters in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Akman said the application process for the high school, which would have served up to 100 students in New Brunswick, Highland Park, and Edison, was more complicated than for an elementary school. It would have opened initially for grades nine and 10.
The school had been opposed by local school boards for budgetary reasons. The state Department of Education would not comment on the reasons for rejecting certain applications.
“I feel the high school years are a stepping stone for college,” said Akman. “Foreign language proficiency really gives young people an edge.”
She said another key component of the projected school is tikun olam, the concept of repairing the world, and the community service to support it. “Community service is so important for college admission,” said Akman.
Akman, a Realtor who has a bachelor’s degree in Hebrew language and a master’s in public health education, said she chose Hebrew because she has a background in the language.
Because charter schools are considered public schools, Tikun Olam would have been forbidden from teaching religion and was expected to attract a multi-ethnic student population.
Akman, who said the school “would not be a substitute for a yeshiva education,” added that her own children did not attend public school. However, if such a charter school had existed when they were younger, “I would have sent them.”