Higher tech, lower cost is goal of ‘future’ school
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Higher tech, lower cost is goal of ‘future’ school

Yeshiva He'Atid draws strong parent interest as plans move forward

Yeshivat He’Atid is not scheduled to open its doors until September 2012, yet area parents are already clamoring to get their children into the new Orthodox day school.

Some have begged to sign their children up a year early, while others asked if their applications could be given preferential treatment if accompanied by a donation. School organizers, however, have been telling everyone the same thing: “Registration is on a first come, first serve basis,” said Keren Fisher, a member of the founding board of the new school.

A committee is scouring the Teaneck area for a building to accommodate the elementary school that is planned to open with pre-k, kindergarten and first grade classes. Additional grades – up to eighth grade – are expected to be gradually added each year thereafter, said school organizers.

Even without a building in place, however, Yeshivat He’Atid, which means school of the future, has already garnered enthusiasm from various quarters: Four parlor meetings held over the summer drew standing-room-only crowds; the school so far raised $250,000 in donations from potential parents, as well as private donors; and Yeshiva University is aiding in the search for a qualified principal.

Ian Fields, a local parent who attended one of the recent parlor meetings, said he was impressed by what he heard about the modern curriculum and about the school’s relatively low price tag.

The educational model employed by the day schools in Bergen County is not economically sustainable for the majority of families, Fields said. “In order for the average family to just make ends meet, they need to be making over $200,000. Most of the households in America are not making that kind of money,” said Fields, an attorney. “The time has long since passed for there to be an alternative to the $15-17,000 it costs to send a child to a Jewish day school.”

“We have a sophisticated financial model,” the founders said in an e-mail, “that indicates that tuition will likely be in the $8,000 to $9,000 range, based on inputs including salaries, building rental, insurance, etc. A LOT of work has gone into that!

“As for scholarships, like the other schools, we will raise outside funds to provide scholarships for families that have experienced a job loss or other such circumstance.”

Yeshivat He’Atid’s projected tuition represents a nearly 40 percent cut over other area day schools. It is a big reason why the new elementary school is generating such excitement while still essentially in the planning stage.

The projected lower tuition is also the reason for the school coming into being. The idea for it arose out of frustration generally with rising costs of yeshivas and day schools, exacerbated by turbulent economic times, said the founders of Yeshivat He’Atid, six young parents from Teaneck and Bergenfield.

“People are either leaving the day school system or suffering tremendously to pay for it,” said Gershon Distenfeld, a founder of the school, who also helped create NNJKIDS and is a board member of the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey.

But while much of the impetus for the school’s creation was about eliminating administrative overhead and cutting tuition costs, organizers assert that the quality of education the school will offer – Judaic and secular – will be superior.

The school will provide an innovative approach to learning that combines the benefits of face-to-face learning with interactive technology, say its founders. This method is likely to benefit a broader range of students than the more existing educational model, said Distenfeld.

“Every student learns differently,” he said. This program engages students and is more stimulating than listening to a lecture, Distenfeld said. Noting that today’s children are comfortable on computers and using e-mail and iPads, he added, “They are more progressive technologically than we were. It’s natural for them to use technology. It’s not natural for them to just sit in a classroom and listen to a teacher talk. This will result in a better education that will prepare them for the world they are living in.”

The blended learning model allows teachers to monitor students’ progress in real time. A dashboard function provides instant data that allows the teacher to intervene when students encounter difficulty or get stuck on a concept, said Fisher.

When the teacher comes to class, he or she will be better prepared to address the students’ needs by focusing in on the areas of weakness, said Fisher, who like several of the other members of the founding board spent months researching this model of education. “This is a much more efficient model of learning.”

The ultimate goal of the founders is not just to create a great school for Bergen County, but to establish an institution that can serve as a model for day schools across the country, Distenfeld said.

“I wish I could have gone to this school as a kid,” he said.

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