Hebrew charter school holds lottery for slots

Hebrew charter school holds lottery for slots

The Hatikvah International Hebrew Charter School in East Brunswick has filled more than half its 108 slots after its first lottery and remains on track for a September opening.

More than 50 places were awarded to East Brunswick residents in the Jan. 14 lottery, according to Yair Nezaria, one of the school’s founders.

School officials held a second lottery that day, as state law requires, in which 20 nonresidents had their names placed on a waiting list for a chance to attend if the school does not attract enough township residents.

Nezaria said additional lotteries will be held in February, March, and August. In the weeks since the first lottery, additional applications have come in every day; those will be included in the next selection. Nezaria added that the kindergarten class is almost at capacity.

The school is the first Hebrew-language charter school to be approved in the state. Hatikvah leaders are in the process of hiring a head of school and expect to have a site selected within several weeks, said Nezaria.

Plans call for the school to have classes for students in kindergarten through second grade and add 44 students annually as it gradually goes up to eighth grade. Because it is considered a public school, Hatikvah is open to students of all backgrounds and is forbidden from teaching religion.

“We’re very excited,” said Nezaria. “Charter schools typically hold four lotteries. Since it is a public school, this is dictated by the state. Once we reach maximum capacity, we will have a waiting list, which we anticipate we will have by August.”

Start-up money for the school is provided through federal funding, but once the school gains final approval by the state education commissioner, 90 percent of pupil costs are funded by the local school district.

Describing the school as “a work in progress,” Nezaria said several Rutgers University professors are helping with the development of curriculum but that he expected everything to be in place in the spring.

“People love the idea of a public school based on Hebrew language and culture,” said Nezaria. “It’s open to students of all backgrounds, and we encourage diversity.”

Critics of Hebrew-language charter schools, including similar efforts in Brooklyn and Hollywood, Fla., include some Jews who say such schools undermine existing Jewish day schools and others who say the schools use public funds to serve a particular religious group.

When the school was first proposed last spring, opponents created a petition saying Hatikvah would adversely affect the Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley in East Brunswick and other day schools where parents have been struggling with high tuition costs.

Asked why a school focused on Hebrew language and Israeli secular culture would have appeal beyond the Jewish community, Hatikvah’s founders cited Israel’s global impact and the importance of Israel as an American economic partner.

For more information, go to hatikvahcharterschool.com.

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