Thursday, December 8, 2011

KSA--A True Gem in our Community

A couple weeks ago, Dr. Michael Agus, President of our Board of Trustees sent a letter to all parents in our community on behalf of the Board. Since then, there have been quite a few questions raised to which I’d like to respond in this forum, as I want to create the opportunity for us to engage in dialogue around the issues that we are facing. As the Head of School, I am so appreciative of the partnership that the Board of Trustees provides for us, for the commitment of each and every member to the success of the school, and for the time and energy our Board members give. We are lucky to have such a dedicated group of individuals who lend us their passion, excitement, and wisdom each day.

Our Kehillah Schechter Academy community is like no other. It is hard to find the words that best describe our school…I often hear from parents that the only way to truly understand our school is to see it in action.
A science fair project board
The warmth of the community, the ability of the teachers to work with each individual child in ways that enable each student to soar higher than before, and the creative engagement in learning that we see in classroom projects, activities like the science fair, the creation of Sukkot and hanukiyot, and of course, all school events like Rosh Hodesh Live--click here to see a video.

The "life size" version from our model sukkah contest.

Creative Hanukiyot made by our students

If you are not a parent in the school or did not have a chance to read the letter, you can click here to see the text.

The letter was an open, honest communication about things going on in relation to the finances of the school. Although there are economic indicators that tell us that the economy is no longer in a recession, many in our community are still reeling from the effects of the downturn in 2008. The school has largely weathered the storm, but now, as we are in the midst of another year of economic challenge, the Board felt it necessary to reach out and begin the conversation and here are some of the reasons why:
1. Since the downturn, the school has been able to assist families who needed increased financial aid in order to remain in the school or to join our school. The level of tuition assistance has gone up, peaking last year at a record high for our school, at a level that is not ultimately sustainable. This year, that number dropped slightly. Throughout this time, we have made a Jewish education financially accessible to every family who applied.
2. Our teachers are an incredibly committed and talented group of professionals. They work many hours per day planning lessons, creating centers for their classrooms, and preparing the wonderful education our children receive each day. Unfortunately, one of the ways we have kept the budget in check has been to keep salaries fixed for the last 5 years.
3. We still own the building at 710 Turnpike Street, though it has been on the market since we moved to our new campus. The building was leased (at a slight profit to our school) until this past June, but at this point is a vacant building and is now a draw on the budget.

So what does all this mean from my perspective and what do we want our parents and the community to take away from the letter and this follow up?

1. The school is in a difficult financial position right now. We are committed to working with every family to keep every student in the school. However, the model of financial aid has to change. We don’t yet know what that will mean for each individual family, but what we do know is that we will do our best to work with everyone, to be open, honest and fair. Some have asked if they should be looking for a new school if they are on financial aid. The answer is absolutely not—we want and need every family to remain in the school so that we can continue to grow and develop our program and welcome more new students in to the school.
2. Our teachers are committed to our school. They love our children, love their work and are passionate about our school continuing to be everything that it can be.
3. Tuition will increase again this year. We recognize that the costs of day school are high and we are working with communal organizations, combing through our budget, and working to increase our donor base so that we can help mitigate steep increases.
4. We continue to aggressively market the Turnpike Street building and know that there is a buyer out there somewhere.

The biggest takeaway, however, is one that hopefully resonates with all of us—we are a Kehillah, a community. The school is an extremely important and integral feature of our community and together, with our collective wisdom, passion, financial support and our ever-precious human resources, we will enjoy continued growth and success!

I welcome you to join the conversation and to engage with us!

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