Fall is a time for new beginnings. And for many former Reuben Gittelman Hebrew Day School students and their families, this particular autumn will also be a season of unexpected change.
The announcement in January that the 40-year-old Conservative day school would not reopen this fall left many parents both surprised and disappointed. Many felt that their children were thriving in their local school community.
“We will miss Gittelman, but the memories will always be in our hearts,” said David Chapman, a parent to 10- year-old Caleb.
Students were sad as well. Noah Holand, 8, knew that it meant his class would not longer be together.
“It’s hard to think that people I see every day I won’t be seeing anymore,” said Noah.
Emotional ties notwithstanding, Gittelman’s closing has left a hole in day school options in Rockland County. The new Rockland Jewish Academy, which opens on Sept. 4, will fill it to a certain extent, providing a pluralistic preschool through fifth-grade option. (See related story on page 16.)
But middle-schoolers have to make other arrangements, as there is currently no non-Orthodox day school serving that population in Rockland County. As well, not all Gittelman students in the RJA’s grades opted to attend the new day school. Over the past several months, parents have made educational choices for their families. And the scattering of the RGHDS student body has helped enrollment at a variety of other schools.
For parents, finding a school that fits their children’s educational needs has proven to be a challenge of balancing a variety of important factors, including location, transportation, cost, philosophy, learning environment, and staffing.
Noah’s mother, Yael Holand, chose the Gerrard Berman Day School, of Solomon Schechter in Oakland, N.J. They live in Suffern, and location was an important consideration. However, Holand felt the school had a lot to offer. She wanted to keep her sons, Noah, entering third-grade, and Ethan, heading into middle school, together.
“Gerrard Berman has a program for both, with a lower and upper school,” she said. “I also felt a sense of community spirit, a sense of family and warmth from the staff.”
The Chapman family opted to send their children to two different schools. Caleb, entering fifth-grade will attend Yavneh Acacemy, a modern Orthodox yeshiva in Paramus, N.J. Their first-grader, Isaac, will attend the RJA.
“My brother’s kids and my friend’s kids went to Yavneh, so that’s where I have applied for Caleb,” said Chapman.
Other parents have opted to place their children into secular private schools and public schools. These students will be getting a Jewish education through Hebrew schools at local synagogues or private tutors.
“Sending my daughter on a bus back and forth for a total of two hours will take away valuable time from extra-curricular activities,” said Monica Feffer, parent of a third grader. Her daughter will be attending public school in Valley Cottage and receiving religious instruction from a Hebrew teacher.
Area schools were immediately aware of Gittelman’s closing. The various Schechter schools took different approaches, with both Gerrard Berman and the Solomon Schechter School of Bergen County in New Milford marketing directly to Gittelman families. Marian Kleinman, mother of a student entering sixth-grade, said that she received emails from different schools inviting parents to their open houses.
After attending the open house at Gerrard Berman, she decided to send her daughter there. Location and a challenging curriculum influenced her decision. The school will become the educational home to 10 former Gittelman students this fall, most of whom will be entering the middle school.
Other parents were invited to more personalized parlor meetings in Rockland County homes.
According to Erik Kessler, admissions director at the Moriah School, a meeting for prospective parents was held in a Rockland County home, where they were able to meet with Dr. Elliot Prager, head of school and former Reuben Gittelman administrator. The school will welcome three former RGHDS eighth-graders this fall.
Yavneh also held a parlor meeting with parents at a home in Wesley Hills, according to Chapman. There they met the rabbi and staff and were told about programs and activities to take place in the coming school year.
Solomon Schechter School of Westchester, a Conservative day school, with its educational ties to the RJA, held off reaching out to the lower grades. But the school did hold an open house so that parents could experience the many opportunities available for their children who would be entering middle school. According to Theora Calico, director of admissions for the upper school, approximately 20 students from Gittelman will be admitted in grades 6, 7, and 8 in September.
Calico feels that Schechter’s philosophy is very much in line with that of Reuben Gittelman’s enabling a smooth transition for these students.
Tuition is always a very important factor in choosing a school. Schools that accepted RGHDS students range in cost from $8,500 in the lower grades at Moriah to upwards of $32,000 in the upper grades at Schechter Westchester. That figure reflects all fees. Gerrard Berman sets their tuition on a sliding scale based upon the parent’s ability to pay. An assessment is given by a professional financial consultant to determine the cost.
All schools offer financial aid, if needed. Others have also offered to honor past arrangements families had with Gittelman.
According to Kleinman, there are also some funds available for students from Reuben Gittelman to assist parents if their children are attending Hebrew day schools.
Whatever the choice, this school year will be a new beginning for many families. Transitions may have their challenges. Having to leave one school and start another is always stressful, especially if it is unexpected.
“We are very pleased with the smooth transition, thus far, from Gittelman to Berman,” said Sylvia Berger, director of admissions.