Shalom Academy insider speaks
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Shalom Academy insider speaks

Behind the scenes at the charter school

When the September opening of Shalom Academy Charter School was postponed for a year by New Jersey’s Department of Education last week, the question was what went wrong.

Most directly, the cause was seen as the failure to secure in time a home for the school that was acceptable to certifying authorities.

Some observers blamed what they said was a lack of transparency on the part of Raphael Bachrach, the Englewood businessman who secured the school charter after multiple applications. In the last few months, Bachrach maintained an elusive profile, returning neither phone calls nor e-mails from reporters from several newspapers seeking comment.

He briefly broke that silence this week to say he plans to open the school in September 2012. That comment aside, according to one insider who spoke to The Jewish Standard this week, Bachrach’s reluctance to speak to reporters was part of a larger pattern of distancing himself from early and close supporters of the school.

This insider, who is listed as a school founder on the school’s website, spoke on condition of anonymity. She said she did not want to upset relatives who feared that the charter school would undercut existing private Jewish day schools. Many in Bergen County’s Orthodox community felt the same way.

Bachrach did not respond to a request to comment for this story, nor did others listed as founders on the SAC website. For her part, the founder who did speak still believes the school is necessary. What went wrong was Bachrach’s desire to go it alone, she said.

She offered “a considerable amount of my time,” she said, but he “never took me up on it.”

Bachrach, she said, was also reluctant to turn to the Jewish community for help. He feared that support from the community for SAC would imperil it. “The most important thing is that we don’t give the appearance that this is a Jewish community project,” the source quoted him as saying.

“The people he had been working with had put a great deal of fear in him, a great deal of paranoia, that his whole precious school project would be overturned by people standing up in front of a committee in Trenton and claiming that this was somehow a backdoor for a publicly funded Jewish school,” she said.

“I don’t think it’s an untrue fear. However, how are you going to raise money if you can’t go to a community that is going to benefit from this school? Who do you think is going to write the checks? The state does not give you a starting grant to go and open the school. But Rafi …was fearful that if a lot of Jews were seen to be giving money he would lose the school.”

The founder speculated that not having money in the bank was one reason the school failed to rent an acceptable space by the June deadline set by the state.

“Why couldn’t he get a building? What’s up with that? We’re in a recession. There are many buildings available,” she said.

The source said that Bachrach “cut off all communication” with her in May, after she questioned the pedagogical basis for the school’s planned Hebrew immersion curriculum, which proposed to teach subjects such as math and science in Hebrew.

Looking back, she said, “Getting a building is when the rubber hits the road. It means you have the community backing and financial heft to convince a building owner that you can manage the lease. It shows your seriousness and the depth of the commitment of the people behind you. I see that now.”

Looking forward, she wishes Bachrach success and hopes the school will succeed in opening in September 2012.

“Nobody has experience starting a charter school,” she said. “Everybody makes mistakes. I can only hope that Rafi will rethink his strategy, that he learns from his mistake. I sincerely hope that he learns and brings people in who can steer the school into opening successfully. I sincerely hope it happens.”

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