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Schechter plans high school in major expansion
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Schechter plans high school in major expansion

Announcement made at Early Childhood Wing dedication

The Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Monmouth County has unveiled plans to add a four-year high school at its Marlboro campus on School Road East. If all goes smoothly, the facility will be ready for operation during the 2014-15 school year, said co-treasurer Joe Macnow.

The announcement was made at the Oct. 11 hanukat habayit, or traditional dedication ceremony, of SSDS’s new Early Childhood Wing, a precursor of the planned expansion.

The new building, to be erected on land SSDS currently owns, is part of Vision 5773, an ambitious capital improvement program slated for the next two years, said Macnow.

Other program components include: the closing of four trailer classrooms, adding eight classrooms to the existing building, construction of a full-size gymnasium/auditorium with a stage, adding a full-service kitchen and cafeteria, new locker rooms and bathrooms, and two courtyards.

There also will be a 4,000-square-foot sanctuary with seating for 200, and expanded parking for the entire facility, almost doubling the number of spaces from 59 to 109.

Macnow estimated the total cost of the project at between $7 million and $10 million. The school, he said, is on “strong financial footings,” but a fund-raising campaign will be started immediately.

The addition of the high school will add a missing element to SSDS’s mission of educating children in a Jewish framework until they reach college age, said Joe Macnow; at present, he pointed out, the nearest Jewish high school is in West Orange, more than 30 miles away.

“Jewish day school education is the most effective way to ensure that children develop a strong Jewish identity and a continued commitment to Judaism and to the Jewish people,” said SSDS head of school Yoti Yarhi. “A Solomon Schechter high school will serve the needs of our extended community.”

More than 70 people — parents, teachers, staff, guests, and donors — turned out for the dedication. Honorees at the ceremony included four past presidents of the board of trustees — Sam Schweitzer, Nathan Reich, Ted Cantor, and Hank Locke — as well as two of the school’s original teachers — Harriet Abel and Judy Ferber. Rabbi Shmaya Galperin of Chabad Jewish Center of Holmdel affixed the mezuza to the doorpost of the new wing, and Rabbi Michael Pont of Marlboro Jewish Center delivered a d’var Torah, noting that each generation must plant seeds so that future generations can eat fruit.

Yarhi called the redesigned and reconstructed space “another major milestone” in the 34-year history of the institution, which began in a storefront on Route 79 before moving into its present location a few years later.

Wendy Cooperman, current board of trustees president, offered “special thanks to all of the past leaders of this school, upon whose shoulders we stand today.”

She also praised the students’ parents for choosing, even in financially difficult times, to give their children “a top-notch secular education and Judaic education that provides them with a strong sense of who they are and where they fit into the world.”

The new wing houses four classrooms, office space, and child-friendly restrooms, as well as a spacious area specifically intended for before- and after-school care.

No mere refurbishment, the project entailed gutting entire rooms and constructing new walls and drop ceilings, according to co-treasurer Maxine Macnow, who added that plumbing and electrical systems were upgraded, the rooms were painted in bright colors, and new furnishings were purchased.

While devoting so much attention to the new, the designers of the wing decided to keep two things that are old. During construction, the original slate blackboards were discovered under a layer of other materials, and they have been put back into use. Also, when the floor tiles were removed, they revealed the original maple wood floors, which have now been refinished and contribute a warm, natural appearance.

Concurrent with the modernization of the physical space, the curriculum underwent a thorough overhaul, with the installation of touch-screen computers; the addition of instruction in music theory, instruments, and voice; and — “most important,” according to school officials — introduction of a Hebrew language immersion program.

The Schechter school currently serves about 200 students ranging from preschoolers to eighth grade. Approximately 50 youngsters will be accommodated in the new Early Childhood Wing.

Another 50 are attending middle school at the Marlboro campus, and the rest are more or less evenly divided among grades one through five.

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