Shalom Torah Academy merges branches
'Great for the kids, great for the teachers, great for academics'
When school opens on Sept. 3, all 240 students at the East Windsor and Morganville branches of Shalom Torah Academy will be learning under one roof at the Morganville campus.
The combining of the two schools is designed “to provide increased financial strength” to the day school, according to its web site.
It is also intended to provide what head of school Rabbi Moshe Bak calls a “state-of-the-art education” that will include classes in computers, robotics, and high-end technology and more expansive outreach to students from non-Orthodox backgrounds.
“Both schools looked at each other over the past two years and asked, ‘What are we doing?’ We both want the same academic excellence. Let’s get together and fill these classrooms,” said Bak in a July 23 phone interview.
He said the merger “makes sense from a business standpoint and an educational standpoint.”
The school informed parents of the change on July 12 “and already we got phone calls,” said the rabbi. “The parents in Morganville are a lot less anxious and apprehensive than the parents in the other school. But we will welcome everyone with open arms, and everyone is going to be happy.
“Our classes will be great for the kids, great for the teachers, and great for academics as well,” he added.
The school offers classes from preschool through eighth grade. Although the school was founded on what Bak calls an “Orthodox mandate,” the student body is predominantly Conservative, with some Reform, Orthodox, and unaffiliated in the mix, he said.
The combining of the two campuses and the segue to a more multi-denominational approach is part of a series of moves to strengthen the school, which emerged from a bankruptcy filing in 2010.
In its wake, the 35-year-old academy installed a new board of directors. The school also received a grant that year from the Caroline and Joseph S. Gruss Life Monument Funds, which supports secular education at day schools, to purchase new computers and outfit language and science labs. In addition, parents raised about $1 million through a series of fund-raisers, donations, and matching grants.
A year later the board began planning for the merger that will take place in September.
For some students who had been attending the East Windsor branch, the extra travel time could be a problem, Bak conceded — the two schools are 15-20 miles apart. “But over the past few years we have had students coming here from Staten Island, Highland Park, East Brunswick, and Lakewood,” and the move from Mercer County “won’t add many minutes to the trip.”
The school has no immediate plans for the future of its campus in East Windsor.
“We are confident that we will love every child who comes through this building. Parents are going to love it. The teachers are going to love it,” said Bak.
Risa Gold, director of admissions and school development, agreed. “We have a big, warm heart, and that is not going to change at all as we go forward as a big, warm family,” she said.