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Preschool fills gap for Brody parents
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Preschool fills gap for Brody parents

Morris Plains temple welcomes families to full-day facility

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Marla Katz will serve as director of the new preschool scheduled to open this fall at Adath Shalom in Morris Plains.
Marla Katz will serve as director of the new preschool scheduled to open this fall at Adath Shalom in Morris Plains.

Adath Shalom in Morris Plains will open a preschool facility in time for the 2010-11 academic year.

The announcement comes on the heels of JCC MetroWest’s decision to close its Brody Early Childhood Center in Whippany.

Parents of preschoolers there approached the Conservative synagogue after their efforts to keep the Brody center open — including fund-raisers and a recruitment drive — fell short.

So far, at least 17 children from the Brody preschool are expected to enroll in the Adath Shalom preschool. A total of 36 had been expected to enroll at Brody for the 2010-11 year.

Sandra Matrick Forman, who spearheaded the parents’ group, expressed her excitement about the new school. Although she lives in Madison and said that the location “is not ideal” for her, she plans to enroll her two children there this fall.

“I am willing to travel to support two-parent working families in Morris County to have a Jewish option, and also to keep my children with many of their friends,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Marla Katz, who served as head teacher of the four-year-olds in the Whippany preschool from its opening in 1992 until 2000, has been tapped to lead the new school. She is currently youth and family director at Adath Shalom, where she works mostly with teens.

“A chance to start at the very beginning with little ones again — there’s nothing better,” she said.

She will continue working with the Adath Shalom teens, at least temporarily.

The synagogue board voted in favor of the preschool on March 2. The next day, Katz was ready to take registrations and has been putting together all necessary forms and paperwork.

Adath Shalom was positioned to move quickly once approached by the Brody parents. Congregants long had a vision that the synagogue would house a preschool and had designed the facility with that in mind; they had even obtained permits to open a preschool when it was founded in 1997.

Additionally, last summer, its child-care facilities passed an inspection by the State of New Jersey after JCC MetroWest CEO Alan Feldman approached the synagogue — when the future of the Brody school was still unclear — to explore the possibility, ultimately rejected, of a partnership between Brody and Adath Shalom.

“Efforts to maintain the program at the Brody Early Childhood Center at the Lautenberg JCC precluded our ability to work on starting a new school at that time and we postponed our discussions with Adath Shalom and turned our attention to trying to keep the Brody Center open,” said Feldman. He cheered the current effort at Adath Shalom. “Jewish early childhood education is at the heart of our collective communal efforts to nurture young families and help them develop strong Jewish identities. JCC MetroWest fully supports Adath Shalom’s efforts and will be happy to work with them to assure the success of this venture,” he said.

Dana Lichtenberg, Morris County outreach coordinator for the Morris County Connection — a program funded jointly by JCC MetroWest and United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ — said that although she generally does not get involved in the founding of new preschools, “once they get started and have their preschool set up, I will help them in the same way I help other preschools.” That includes helping get the word out through MCC’s monthly e-newsletter and including the new program in conversations she has with any parents searching for Jewish preschools in the area.

‘An excellent model’

Adath Shalom president Rick Rubenstein said the congregation is “ready and motivated.”

“All we need is a license, and that has a pretty quick turnaround,” he said.

The facility already has a playground, dedicated in memory of Steven Russin, a member who perished in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

Adath Shalom’s will be the fifth full-time Jewish preschool in Morris County. These are early childhood centers that cater to working parents, with early dropoff and late pickup hours. The others are at the Bohrer-Kaufman Hebrew Academy of Morris County in Randolph, the Chabad Center of Northwest New Jersey in Rockaway, the Morristown Jewish Center-Beit Yisrael, and White Meadow Temple in Rockaway.

The Adath Shalom preschool will be open 7:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. every weekday, including Friday. It will include at least two classrooms, each with two teachers, in its inaugural year. Age groups will be determined based on registration, and some classes may combine ages.

The curriculum will likely be an adaptation of the JCC curriculum, which, said Katz, is “an excellent model. I have parents working with me on the curriculum.” It will focus on Jewish values and socialization skills, she said, adding, “This will be a place for children to grow at their own rate, and where they will all be treated as individuals.”

Katz joined the preschool staff as a teacher at the West Orange JCC in 1988. After leaving the Whippany preschool in 2000, she continued to work with grade-schoolers in JCC MetroWest’s Children and Youth Services Division during the year and summers at JCC’s Camp Deeny Riback in Flanders until 2002. She then joined the preschool of Congregation Beth El in South Orange, before moving to Adath Shalom five years ago.

Although Feldman cited financial reasons when the JCC decided to close the Brody preschool, Rubenstein doesn’t seem worried about the new facility making a go of it.

“We are living in difficult, challenging times,” he acknowledged. He said Adath Shalom is better positioned than the JCC to run a financially successful preschool, because of the array of Jewish services offered by a synagogue community, and also because of location. “If I had two small children, and the choice to pick up and drop off children at Adath Shalom versus the JCC, living as I do in Randolph, the choice would be easy. If I lived in Morris Plains, most of Parsippany, Denville, Morris Township, or anywhere west of Route 202, again — the choice would be easy.”

Rubenstein said he is particularly looking forward to welcoming the Brody parents to Adath Shalom.

“These are the most vibrant, active, amazing parents we’ve had walk into Adath Shalom in a long time. They ran into a brick wall at their preschool, and they found another way,” he said. “Really, that’s the kind of people you want in your community.”

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