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Tomorrow’s classrooms today

A man with a computer vision

Dan Fried woke up one morning with a vision for bringing technology to area Jewish schools.

“What if we just do a pilot project, with a one iPad per student for all the sixth graders?” he wondered. “What would it look like for them to have it?”

So he funded it, giving the money first to Yeshivat Noam, next to the Frisch School, and then to the Yavneh Academy, all in Paramus, so the schools could each provide a full grade of their students with iPads.

Fried is an enormous fan of Jewish day schools.

“I never had a day school education,” he said. “My children have. We became Orthodox about 15 years ago. I love Jewish education. As an adult, I’m studying to learn as much as I can. If I can affect Jewish education the way Jewish education has affected me, that would be an unbelievable payback.”

Choosing technology as the area tin which to make a difference is in part a reflection of his own interests. A chemist with his own company, he’s comfortable using technology; he has been using Apple computers since the 1980s.

And he sees technology as a rejoinder to families resisting, or pulling away from, day school education.

“You know how many parents I’ve met who say they’re taking their kids out of day school because the schools are not up to date?” he said. “That’s a bad, bad thing. If we can get our day schools and high schools updated with state-of-the art technology, they can’t use that as an excuse any longer.”

Fried moved to Bergen County three years ago. He lives in New Milford; his youngest son graduated from Yeshivat Noam last year and now attends Frisch.

Fried is enthusiastic, whether in person while joining a reporter on a guided tour of Noam’s iPad-equipped, in-session classrooms on Christmas day, talking on the phone, or emailing links to articles on educational technology.

It was his enthusiasm that enabled him to dream of the ambitious program of equipping the schools with iPads. He had been helping Yeshivat He’atid, the new school that opened in Bergenfield in September with promises of being able to keep tuition low, in part through enhanced use of technology to personalize instruction. He shares that school’s vision that technology will enable schools to increase class size, thus reducing costs and bringing tuition down.

But he realized he didn’t share Yeshiva He’atid’s skepticism about changing existing schools, or its leaders’ belief that only a new school can chart a new path. Were existing schools really impervious to change?

“It’s worth a gamble,” he figured.

Fried felt he found a fellow risk-taker in Noam’s principal, Rabbi Chaim Hagler.

“He said many times, ‘We’re going to try different things. Not every one of them is going to work, but we’ll try them,'” Fried said.

(Hagler was more cautious speaking to a reporter. “We’re going to try things in a responsible way, after we’ve researched them,” he clarified.)

All told, he has donated more than 500 iPads to the three schools; he plans to do it again next year, with an eye toward every student eventually working from his or her own tablet computer. He’s met with leaders of Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck and with the Moriah School in Englewood, and he has been “working on getting my foot in the door” with the Torah Academy of Bergen County, the Teaneck yeshivah high school for boys. He hopes to offer all these schools iPads.

He hopes eventually to work with all of the Jewish schools in the community. “I am a one man band looking for anyone who is interested in helping me get our Jewish institutions more in line with other private and public schools regarding the use of technology,” he said.

And he hasn’t been content just to write checks.

“I want to make it count,” he said. “I am not just donating. I’m participating. I’m not just giving you something and saying good luck. I’m very involved. Because I have no experience and am not an educator, I believe I can add to the big picture; I can give the educators guidance as an observer.”

Fried understands that hardware alone can’t change a classroom. He has been paying for training for teachers so they can learn to use their iPads, and he wants to bring an expensive consulting team in to train the faculty at the schools. “Pay them one fee for all three schools, and hopefully create a real collaboration,” he said. “Even though they’re competing schools, there’s room for collaboration.”

Fried’s actual donations have been made not directly to the schools, but to the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

“He appreciated our role in the community,” said Jason Shames, the federation’s CEO.

Fried said that working through the federation is designed to make a statement about its role in bringing the Jewish community together – and of the necessity of his own Orthodox community, whose schools are the majority of local day schools, to recognize the federations’ role.

“It’s my feeling that federation needs the Orthodox and the Orthodox needs the federation,” Fried said. “It’s time to work together.”

The federation has been working to encourage collaboration among the area day schools. This year, it has funded a collaborative professional development program – spearheaded by Dr. Elliot Jager, principal of the Moriah School in Englewood – that brought together teachers from all the area schools in August for a day of professional development, and it provides online seminars throughout the year.

The topic of the August session: “The connected learner experience.”

Collaboration will be an increasing priority for the federation, as it seeks to leverage the more than $200,000 it allocates annually to the area day schools.

“I want to build revenue and resources at the schools, I want to build enrollment at the schools, I want to build collaboration at the schools,” Shames said.

Fried is convinced the connected learner is a happy learner.

“I get people stopping me on the street, saying, ‘Thank you so much for what you did. My son hated school, he hated math. Now he loves it because of the iPad.’

“There’s so many great stories in each classroom. They’re all magical,” he said.

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