As the Conservative movement bids farewell to its seminary’s outgoing chancellor, Ismar Schorsch, it will also say goodbye to the Conservative high school that he created, as Solomon Schechter High School of New York will merge next year with Solomon Schechter Regional High School in Teaneck to form the Metropolitan Schechter Academy.
On Tuesday, the two schools announced the planned merger which will move all of Schechter of New York’s students and operations to Schechter Regional’s campus at the Jewish Center of Teaneck, shortly after informing the parents, faculty, and student bodies. The new school will remain at the Jewish Center until it can find a property of its own somewhere in northern New Jersey.
Rosenheck and Dewey look forward to the merger
Officials from both schools said that they are making the move partly out of financial necessity and partly out of what they see as the potential to create a top-flight Conservative high school that can draw students from both New York City and northern New Jersey.
"For Schechter Regional, joining forces with the Schechter High School of New York accelerates our young school’s growth trajectory, propelling us to the next level of our development, which is building a new, permanent campus," Schechter Regional president Sy Sadinoff said of the four-year-old school, which was set to graduate its first senior class next year. "This is a remarkable opportunity for a productive pooling of energies, relationships, and resources."
The New York school, which Schorsch started in 199′ with eight students housed in classrooms in the Jewish Theological Seminary, grew to include nearly 100 students by the late 1990s, but enrollment has leveled off. School officials attribute the stagnation to a vicious cycle created by its facilities.
In 1999, the school moved to scattered rooms on several floors in a residential apartment building on 91st Street and Central Park West, which it rented for more than $100,000 per year, according to Schechter New York President Mary Sanders. But space constraints and the need to hold athletic and physical education activities at facilities across Manhattan, ranging from a Harlem Church to Chelsea Piers to Central Park, curtailed enrollment. And then the school’s small classes, while possibly an academic draw, may have scared off some potential students who were wary of limited social outlets, said Schechter New York Head of School Dorothy Bowser.
Her counterpart at Schechter Regional, Rhonda Rosenheck, said that the Teaneck school faces the same wariness about the small student body from potential students. So while her school averages ‘1 students per grade and was expecting an incoming freshman class of about ‘0 next school year, the new Metropolitan Schechter school will double both schools’ student bodies, which should make it easier to recruit students, said Rosenheck.
The merger was also financially necessary for the New York school if it ever wanted to find an appropriate facility, for which it had been searching since its inception.
"We were looking at having to raise $70 million to buy a space in Manhattan," said Sanders.
Officials are now trying to raise in the neighborhood of $’0 million to build a school in northern New Jersey, somewhere between the George Washington Bridge and Route 17. They have raised $6 million since discussion of the merger began in mid-March, according to Sadinoff. Schechter Regional has a series of consecutive one-year leases that run through ‘010, he said, but it hopes to be out of the building by ‘008 and should be able to leave at no penalty. The synagogue fully supported the influx of students next year, he said.
The key, he said, is staying as close to Manhattan as possible so as not to exacerbate a long commute for students living in New York boroughs other than Manhattan or in lower Manhattan.
The New York school draws from all five boroughs and has students who commute from Queens and Brooklyn, and officials plan on continuing to recruit heavily in New York.
Officials think the two schools will mix well. Bowser, Rosenheck, and Jay Dewey, co-head of school at Schechter Regional, will form a triumvirate, each with an equal say in how the school is run. The trio plans to pull from the strengths of each school’s philosophy. The new entity will be run with Schechter Regional’s town meeting method, in which students, faculty and other staff hold regular meetings to decide collectively on important school matters. It will also incorporate Schechter Regional’s accelerated Hebrew program. The New York school will bring its Intel Science Research Program and its "Think Tank" program, which offers lagging students tutoring and other resources to catch up.
The primary short-term goal for the New York school, especially, will be to retain its current students and its incoming freshman class of 17 students who have placed deposits.
It is trying to sell the idea, said Bowser, that even the school’s temporary facility has everything that Schechter of New York students have wanted, including a pool, a gymnasium, an auditorium, and access to nearby athletic fields and that the additional 10 miles in commute will be worth it.
Sadinoff said that school officials are trying to work out the transportation issue at no extra cost to New York students who at $’1,350 per year pay a slightly higher tuition than Schechter Regional students and who will continue to do so next year. But there are still many fine points of the merger to work out, he added, as it has only been under discussion for about a month.