After 39 years as Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Monmouth County, the Marlboro school will open the new year with a new name.
When students arrive for the first day of classes on Sept. 4, they will enter The Hebrew Academy.
The name change reflects the school’s diverse student body and role as a nondenominational Jewish day school. The schools in the network named for Rabbi Solomon Schechter (1847-1915), considered the architect of the Conservative movement in America, have traditionally been affiliated with that religious stream, but enrollment at The Hebrew Academy, said head of school Yoti Golan, includes students from a wide variety of backgrounds, including Conservative, but also Orthodox, Reform, and unaffiliated.
The school had been affiliated with the Conservative movement, but, Golan said, about five or six years ago the Solomon Schechter Day School Association became one of five Jewish educational organizations of varied denominations to found Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools.
“The Schechter day school association became the Schechter Network when it became part of Prizmah and removed the word Conservative from its mission statement,” Golan said. “Since then the trend across the country with other Schechter schools has been to take Solomon Schechter out of their names as other naming opportunities came up.”
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism declined to speak about the movement’s current affiliation with Schechter schools, referring all inquiries to Prizmah, a nonprofit body that offers services and consultation to schools across the denominational spectrum.
A Prizmah spokesperson, who declined to give her name, said that some schools still carrying the Schechter name do so because “it reflects their philosophy and ethos of Jewish education.” The Schechter schools do not have to affiliate with Prizmah, but if they do not, they can still attend the organization’s conferences.
“Conservative Judaism is shrinking,” said Golan. “We see it in our school and demographically in this area, where affiliations are shifting. It behooved us to remove the Conservative tag line from our mission statement to make it more appealing to a wider audience. The brand ‘Solomon Schechter’ connotes Conservative Judaism, and that’s not what we stand for.”
The pluralistic school will continue to be egalitarian and follow kosher dietary laws; it is now affiliated with the secular New Jersey Association of Independent Schools and the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
“We’re now in a strong enough position within the community that we don’t have to be branded,” said Golan. “We have created our own brand by having a name that is not associated with any branch of Judaism.”
The June 21 name change at the school, which will open with about 200 students from age 14 months through eighth grade, helped it attract six new students who formerly attended Yeshiva at the Jersey Shore in Deal, an Orthodox school that closed in June, said Golan. Several more of its former students are considering enrolling.
“The first question every parent asked was, ‘Are you a Conservative school?’” said Golan. “We are the only independent unaffiliated Jewish day school in five counties. You either go to Orthodox yeshiva or you go to us.”
The school, which, Golan said, is “thriving,” puts an emphasis on general studies, and offers an integrated Jewish curriculum of Hebrew language, religious practices, and Israeli culture.
“We teach customs, law, and tradition,” said Golan. “It’s all the same Torah whether you’re Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform. We teach the ‘how,’ and it’s up to the parents to implement” at home what their children have learned. “We never cross that line” — on the specifics of observance in the family — “because we have children from across the board.”
The school, which began with six classrooms, completed a building extension in 1999. It now has 16 classrooms; a library, nurse’s office, music and art room, faculty lounge, office suite, kitchen, gym/all-purpose room; and technology and science labs.
In September 2000, it opened its middle school, graduating the first eighth grade class in 2003. In 2006, the first preschool class for 3-year-olds opened, and a toddler program began in 2014. The early childhood wing and a renovated science lab were dedicated during the 2012-13 school year. A media center, including a state-of-the-art technology lab and an acoustically engineered musical stage, was completed that same year. The school’s summer enrichment camp opened in 2015.
The school declined to provide tuition amounts because it did not want to discourage enrollment based on costs.
Golan said the school has a 40-mile-radius catchment area encompassing 33 towns, and it operates bus routes from Toms River and Deal, with most parents choosing to carpool.
School president Maxine Macnow of Colts Neck said her own children were already too old to attend when the school first opened its doors, but her three grandchildren, one of whom has graduated, found an educational home there.
She described the school as “warm and nurturing,” and added, “They found a school that was a community and a school that provided a better-than-normal secular education.”
At the urging of her daughter, both she and her husband, Joe, became involved. She has served on the board nine years, six of them as president, while he became treasurer, a position he still holds.
“The school has done very well,” she said, adding that it has “no debt.”
Several years ago, Macnow said, the board began discussing changing the name, pointing out that in exchange for the annual dues to the Schechter association “all we got was a name.”
“We feel Hebrew Academy designates the Jewish people as a whole and reflects who we are today,” said Macnow.