Initiative shaves tuition for SSDS kindergartners

Initiative shaves tuition for SSDS kindergartners

Students at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley at work in the computer lab. Plans for the Discover Schechter Initiative include providing every fifth- and sixth-grader with their own laptop computer. Photo by Debra Rubin
Students at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley at work in the computer lab. Plans for the Discover Schechter Initiative include providing every fifth- and sixth-grader with their own laptop computer. Photo by Debra Rubin

A “very generous” donation from an anonymous supporter will allow Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley to offer a $3,000 tuition reduction for all incoming kindergarten students for fall 2011, fund additional technology and staffing, add busing for some students, and provide other innovative offerings.

“We obviously have a donor who cares very deeply about our school and the greater Jewish community in general and is trying to find ways to help incentivize parents to choose our school,” said Neil Weiss, president of the East Brunswick school.

The Discover Schechter Initiative comes at an opportune time, according to head of school Rabbi Stuart Saposh, when the school is experiencing its first significant enrollment increase in about a decade.

The initiative will also allow another $3,000 to be shaved off the tuition for 2011-12 kindergartners who go on to first grade in the fall of 2012.

The annual $14,000 tuition is being frozen for next year.

The number of students enrolled for next year at the 105-student school is up about 10 percent. Moreover, Saposh added, only one current student in grades kindergarten through four has failed to reenroll for September.

“It’s been a very good year,” he said. “We still have a lot of work to do but the future looks very promising. We feel we’ve turned the corner on rebuilding and strengthening our school, and this wonderful Discover Schechter Initiative only increases the value of a Schechter education.”

The school was designated two years ago a Blue Ribbon school by the federal Department of Education for its academic excellence. However, the recession caused a dip in enrollment in recent years, forcing it to drop its seventh and eighth grades last September.

In addition to the tuition reduction, the initiative will fund a number of new programs, including, for the lower grades, chess lessons and the Suzuki method of violin instruction, a widely used system that creates “high ability” in youngsters. Saposh said additional technology opportunities will be offered to students in the higher grades, including giving every fifth- and sixth-grader their own laptop computer.

He said he also expects to establish an internship program in math and science for the upper grades, pairing students with professors from Princeton and Rutgers universities or with members of Greenfaith, a New Brunswick-based nonprofit that helps foster environmental leadership in the religious community.

“The kind of research and experimentation that can flow from that kind of work can benefit not only Schechter but the entire community through improvement of ecology and the environment in which we live,” said Saposh.

‘Full steam ahead’

According to Saposh, arranging transportation for students is the second-biggest obstacle after tuition to parents wishing to send their youngsters to Schechter. The initiative, he said, would help overcome this by adding bus routes for youngsters from Metuchen, Princeton, East Windsor, and West Windsor. Students from other towns, including Highland Park and East Brunswick, are already provided with transportation by their local school districts.

“The donor has put us in the position to say, ‘If you don’t have transportation, if you can’t afford to get your kids from there to here, we will help you,’” Saposh said. “You will not have to carpool. If we get four or five kids from any town, we will try and find a way to provide transportation.”

Saposh said the way in which Schechter has managed its finances through tough times — not allowing itself to go into debt and creatively raising and wisely appropriating funds — has put it in a good position to seek out other donors who want proof their money will not be wasted.

The initiative, he said, is “a multi-year grant from a donor who hopes that Schechter will continue to thrive and grow. This is all about Jewish continuity and the Jewish future and ensuring that future. We are moving full steam ahead to create an engaging curriculum while providing a superior Jewish education.”

As a result of the new programming and other initiatives, Weiss said, he expected to have the financial backing to make some “exciting announcements” within the year. He said he is confident the seventh and eighth grades will make a comeback in the next several years as new students advance through the grades.

“Rabbi Saposh had done a wonderful job and has had a major positive impact on our school and families,” said Weiss. “This is an important time for us. Our enrollment is growing faster than we expected, the Jewish community has come out in support of our programming, and the school is going in the right direction.

“Hopefully, this initiative will bring even more students in.”

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