Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Will the JCC Host Steinhardt's New Jewish Day School?

The Nov 13 issue of New York Magazine features an article "Building the New Dalton" that discusses the demand for new private schools in New York City and the huge number of new schools opening in response. The article outlines the challenges of starting a new private school in Manhattan: The lack of real-estate, the need to get the support of a community of parents, and most importantly, the high costs. If you're looking for a quick-get-rich scheme, apparently investing in private education is not the path.

The whole article is terrific, as it shares the struggles of three new schools to become viable: the Harlem Academy (start-up costs: $500,000), the ideal School ($1.5M), targeted to have a 75/25 ratio of inclusion of students with special needs, and the top-shelf Wall Street area Clairemont school (a staggering $40M), whose head of school is Irwin Shlachter, former headmaster of the Rodeph Sholom Day School.

The article also follows the story of Michael Steinhardt's attempts to start a new school:

Steinhardt’s particular vision is a Jewish-inflected high school that would educate nonreligious Jews in their culture and heritage, but whose intellectual rigor would appeal to non-Jewish families as well. Hebrew would be taught, in the same way Latin is taught at schools like Dalton, “as a classical language to better understand history and literature,” he says. The student body would be one-quarter non-Jewish, possibly more.

Steinhardt struggled for ten years to get the school started, but with no luck. The article goes on to explain that

...the school became mired in debates over its mission — would putting Jewish and non-Jewish teenagers together lead to more interfaith marriages? — and eventually Steinhardt’s co-backer, who was planning to match Steinhardt’s contribution of more than $10 million, withdrew his financial support.

But the story is not over for Steinhardt's dream:

Instead of launching a high school, he is now pursuing the less ambitious plan of piggybacking an elementary school on an existing nursery school. Steinhardt approached the 92nd Street Y with the idea; it seemed like a perfect fit—an organization that bills itself as a New York cultural and community center first, an association created by and for Jews second.

But Steinhardt says his vision was “too Jewish” for them. He was worried that the Jewish Community Center would be hesitant to commit for the opposite reason: because his school would be primarily secular. But discussions with the JCC are progressing, and if they are able to come to an agreement, it would allow Steinhardt to start his school with a significantly smaller financial burden.

“If the school starts as an outgrowth of the JCC’s nursery school, and we begin with a kindergarten and a first and second grade and slowly grow it from there, it would not be an overwhelming cost, perhaps a couple million to start,” he estimates.

The not-exactly-for-the-proletariat New York magazine is actually a surprisingly good source for articles on the NYC education scene, or at least the upscale part of it. Some of their recent features include a round-up of the most influential people in NY education, a (somewhat leering) look at teen sexuality and the "cuddle puddle" at Stuyvesant High School, and an (adulatory) article on private investment in a public school in Queens (using the controversial "Success for All" curriculum).

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