A Breakthrough Model For Day Schools?

Planned Bergen County yeshiva inspires national funding effort.

11/15/11
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Nearly 400 young parents attended an open house this week for a Modern Orthodox yeshiva, planning to open in Bergenfield, N.J., next fall, that will not only offer a bargain-rate tuition but promises to be a model for Jewish education in the 21st century.

And the still-to-be-opened school, called Yeshivat He’atid (Hebrew for “Yeshiva of the Future”) has apparently already inspired one still-anonymous donor, representing several wealthy businessmen interested in the effort, to form AJE, Affordable Jewish Education, a fund with the goal of starting schools like Yeshivat He’Atid around the country.

Gershon Distenfeld, He’atid’s executive vice president (a lay position) told the enthusiastic, overflow audience at the Teaneck shul hosting the open house, “We are not here to discuss the tuition crisis; we’re here to talk about the solution.”

The school, which is expected to open with up to 150 children in pre-kindergarten through second grades, will offer a “blended learning” model, featuring individualized, “project-based” education that combines computers and face-to-face instruction.

He’atid’s model comes as many schools, public and private, are stepping up their use of technology in the classroom, both as a cost-cutting measure and a way of individualizing instruction.

A new low-cost and high-tech Jewish day high school, the Pre-Collegiate Learning Center of New Jersey, just opened this fall in East Brunswick, with 20 students and a $5,000 tuition. That school, which like He’atid has received funding from the Avi Chai Foundation, combines online classes with face-to-face instruction, in-person mentoring and courses taught via videoconference.

However, some observers have noted there is only minimal evidence so far demonstrating the effectiveness of new, high-tech approaches, and have expressed reservations about small children spending too much time in front of a computer screen.

Having already achieved more than half of its planned enrollment, He’atid is offering a $7,990 tuition for pre-K, and $8,990 for K-2, with none of the additional charges like registration fee, building fund or dinner obligation, that are common in other day schools.

Rabbi Netanel Gralla, the newly hired principal of the school, told The Jewish Week that “savings come from the efficiencies of the educational model,” where teachers will have some administrational responsibilities, and will deal with remediation and enrichment in the classroom.

“Our educational model can personalize and customize so that students can learn at their own pace,” said Rabbi Gralla, who is currently director of special services at a yeshiva high school for boys in Woodmere, L.I. He also served as head counselor this past summer at Camp Kaylie in Woodsboro, N.Y., said to be “the first integrated camp with equal numbers of typical campers and those with developmental disabilities,” according to his bio on the He’atid website.

He emphasized that his operative word is “achdut,” or unity.

The new principal said he was excited by the prospects of putting into practice a new model school that can make full use of the fast-paced advances in technology and educational content.

“The key point is that we are not offering a no-frills institution,” Rabbi Gralla said. “We are not cutting corners. Our goal is to create analytical thinkers while maintaining a sense of community and personal responsibility.”

Distenfeld said there was “a sizable amount of money” set aside for the Bergenfield school, which will rent space in an existing school with a playground, and will have a separate scholarship fund so that those parents paying tuition will not be burdened by extra dollars to subsidize those in financial need.

He said students would be fluent in Hebrew by the end of the eighth grade.

A small group of young professionals are the backbone of the new school, volunteering their services in recent months to plan the educational and financial components necessary to launch. One member of the board said small meetings with young Bergen County families concerned about the high, and sometimes prohibitive cost of Jewish day schools, created interest in the new model.

More than $100,000 was raised from “typical” families over the summer, enough to convince a wealthy, anonymous donor that there was a real interest and need for an affordable but high-quality day school.

Distenfeld said that while he and the board initially thought the strongest asset of the new school would be its affordable rates, they now believe it is, instead, the blended learning model of combining face-to-face learning and interactive technology.

“We discovered that you can have your cake and eat it, too,” he said, asserting that the new model of education offered the added benefit of significant cost saving.

With the help of a grant from the Avi Chai Foundation, a proponent of incorporating new technology advances in day schools, Yeshivat He’Atid commissioned Rebecca Tomasini, CEO of The Alvo Institute, active in the education reform movement, and Randolph Ross, general studies principal of the North Shore Hebrew Academy in Great Neck, as educational consultants.

The Alvo Institute is a think tank specializing in individualized learning.

One innovation for the new school is to have key data collected and analyzed so that each child can be given individualized assignments to strengthen skills needing extra attention.

Acknowledging that other day schools in the area have expressed concern about competition from the new yeshiva, Distenfeld said, “our goal is not to hurt any of the existing schools. We’d be happy” if they all followed the new model.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “if we as a community can’t lower tuition, community growth will slow. There will be fewer children in day schools,” and families will be having “fewer children.”

Associate Editor Julie Wiener contributed to this report.

Last Update:

11/29/2011 - 16:08

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The negativity comes because He'Atid is not catching on as quickly as the founders would like. They simply aren't filling up classes according to their schedule. The negative attacks against the current schools is an attempt to push those on the fence over and the constant refrain about the need to sign up now or else get closed out is a tactic to create urgency for the school which simply isn't there. Alternatives are great and low cost is really great if you can't afford it but people aren't quite buying the idea that you can have everything you want and it will all be significantly cheaper. Most of us know that technology is great but it usually costs more not less (an Ipad is a heck of a lot better than a lot of alternatives but it is certainly not cheaper). People are smart consumers and just don't buy all the hype. Hopefully, those that do won't be too disappointed.

Of course another alternative to high tuition costs in Yeshivas is to move to Israel where education is excellent and free. In fact many people in my Yishuv sited education as one of the reasons they moved to Israel and mentioned child 3,4 and 5 who they would not have had in the US. Naturally, education should not be the only reason to move to Israel - quality of life, more focus on the family and the fact that the Torah urges Jews to do so are other good reasons.

I hope that people take your words to heart - and mind - Julie, but they'll probably be lost in the sea of comments focusing on America. Education in America shouldn't be the focus. I would rather have the problems that we have in Israel (Arabs, the "wonderful" government etc.) and know that my children are living where they should be and getting a first-rate affordable education - and health care - than live in supposedly comfortable America and constantly worry about how I'm going to raise my children Jewish.

I love it how people are so quick to critisize He'Atid as if the existing schools are so good. They are not, either educationally or financially. Maybe He'Atid succeeds, maybe it doesn't. But their founders are heroes for trying. Beofre you write anything negative about this effort, look in the mirror and ask yourself what you've done to solve the tuition crisis.

I don't mind the hype all that much. Heatid is a start up school and needs to push really hard to get its message across and make sure that people don't perceive them as a low cost school.

I do mind all the negativity. Whether this is from Heatid or just those passionate about the school I don't know. I've just heard so many conversations that start off to the effect 'I don't want to say anything bad about the current schools but you should know'. That doesn't even include the ridiculous comments on blogs bashing the schools. Supporters of Heatid should focus on their school and making it a great place. If there is strong interest they will get students. The negativity only reflects badly on the school.

Heatid is using donation to keep their tuition low and then claiming that the savings come from a new educational approach. For the average parent this probably doesnt matter but overall this approach is not sustainable in the long term. In a business context youd call this predatory pricing. Lowering the price below the cost to produce so that you can run competitors out of business.

Oh well. I guess the He'Atid hype machine has found these comments and is out in full force.

Did anyone see this report from YU. It mentions YU and PEJE both taling about leveraging online leraning as well as increasing class sizes.

http://www.yuschoolpartnership.org/about-us/in-the-news/176-making-day-schools-affordable-to-the-middle-class-the-futurama-of-jewish-education

Rather than criticizing He'Atid, why do we not see existing schools (and the pepople posting above) complaining about them?

When did we as a community set such a high bar for what is "normative" and therefore anything less is "no frills"? By way of an analogy, it seems we now consider a sunroof in a car "standard", and therefore a car without one is "no frills". Frankly, if it would make it less expensive, we should ditch the sunroof. Are there any "sunroofs" in our existing schools that we should simply raise our hands and say we will cut it out? We should give our children the best we can afford, but right now we are at a cost level that we cannot afford. So we are really offering our children the best we cannot afford - what a terrible example to set for future generations.

Larger class sizes and less administrators are not a secret in how to lower the cost of education. Wages make up the vast majority of the budget, so it is obvious that you need to decrease the staff to student ratios.

The school is saying that maybe we can possibly live with less administration (whether it is sacrificing some of what the administration provides, or figuring out how to diffuse the tasks), and maybe leveraging technology can mitigate the concern of more students in a classroom. I don't think any of this is a secret. It is obcious to anyone that gives it some thought.

Will the adjustment of the ratios have any impact, a major negative impact, a minor negative impact, or possibly a degree of a positive impact? That is the question, and that is what we will find out. It seems like the critics are saying that it will definitely have a major negative impact. The parents signing up may feel that the cost savings is worth it even if it has a minor negative impact (and are hopeful it will even be a positive impact).

Forget discussing the educational model between this school and traditional schools. Why is no one simply comparing the staffing between existing traditional schools. From my understanding, there are schools like JFS that are very lean outside the classroom, whereas there are other schools that are not so lean. Has anyone documented these differences and published the results? I understand YU got a very large grant to "benchmark" such items (where benchmarking doesn't solution anything). Where can the general public see the Organizational Chart for all the schools lined up compared to each other in relation to the number of students they each educate. I think it will highlight areas of misalignment.

Rather than existing schools criticize those that are trying something to address the problem, let's see them provide their own answers (other than simply raising more donations).

Also, the other schools are dabbling in utilizing technology. If they truly believed blended learning is impossible, they would not be doing anything. The fact that they are playing with it shows they see potential. As such, we can say that all parties see the potential, but it is just a matter of degrees in terms of how deep each school is implementing it.

I find it sad that so many of the above posts are critical of this school. Are there challenges, is blended learning relatively new, can costs stay down over time? These are all fair questions. The sad part of these posts are not that these questions are raised, but it is the lack of solutions to the rising cost fof education that is sad. It is very easy to poke holes and be skeptical. It is much more difficult to solution. Not every solution will work, but I can guarantee you will never succeed if you never try.

Existing schools know there is an issue. Specifically for Bergen County, the OU blatantly pointed out that collapsing into a single community school would be a tremendous help in lowering costs. Do you hear any of these schools calling for a meeting to discuss this course of action? If people do not want to try new methods and models, then simply consolidating what we have should be much more palatable. If the existing schools were really "doing it all for the community" I would expect some of them stepping up to the plate and volunteering to shut down their school in a merger.

Let's see some hard-hitting jouranlism from the Jewish Week calling for interviews with the OU, and the local school boards and blatantly ask them such a question. All we get from the Jewish Foundations (OU, YU) and the press are speeches and fluff articles. It is an incestuous community (the broad Jewish community) and no one wants to call anyone out. Very sad. Shame on all these people for shying away from using their positions of influence for the betterment of our people.

It's incredible to me that people so freely attack this model. Anything is new at the beginning. Anything is unproven at the beginning. New ideas need a chance to develop so they can be proven!!! If you try to knock this model down because it's unproven, it will never have a chance to be proven. It shows ignorance and short sightedness. And it is very upsetting. Give it a few years and see what happens. And to think that parents will be duped by "slick" advertising and promises that can't be kept - again - it's insulting and shows the writer's ignorance. Parents are consumers. They will do their research and decide if the product is right for them.
And of course none of this addresses the prohibitive high cost of yeshiva tuition and the fact that there is finally a group of people who are doing something about it, not just talking about the "crisis." Our schools and our rebeim have turned a blind eye to the suffering of parents who just cannot afford a tuition bill of $60-$80K+. If there is a school that thinks they can operate a good program at a good price, we should all be applauding and volunteering to help, not knocking it! So either you commenters are very rich and don't care about yeshiva costs or your fellow man, or you're from the threatened existing schools and shame on you - you are just trying to protect yourselves! (and you likely dont pay full tuition!).

Class size for he'atid for prek and k is limited to 20. Many schools in the Teaneck area have 21 or 22 kids in prek or k. Class size for grades 1 and above will be 22-26. Again, many Jewish Day schools in Bergen County already have 23 or 24 children in their class. He'atids model, rather than 'expected larger class sizes' calls for about the same number of kids in a class.

Chump Blog is not run by the people from He'atid. The author of Chump Blog has stated many times he is not affiliated with He'atid. The people at He'atid have been open and honest about the school fromt he beginning - they had a grass roots effort and that resulted in their being able to raise money to start the school. They did not need to rely on Chump Blog. It sounds like many of the people who are commenting were not at the Open House. Every school has children who disrupt class - why is there more of a worry here? To what extent are the regular schools good at individualized learning the same way He'atid promises to be? If you had gone to the Open House, you would have heard that one of the best things about He'atid is that the education will customize learning. This means they do not have to take kids only in the middle - this means that kids on the lower end and on the upper end can work more and succeed at their own pace. At many regular schools those on the lower or upper end cannot succeed in the classroom and have to be taken out because the teacher is only able to teach to the middle. Also, it is incorrect to say that the people interested in the school have mismanaged their own money and are now looking for a cheap education. Pricing was the last thing discussed at the meeting - it is the by-product of the education not the main reason for the school. Many of the founders and people on the Board are wealthy professionals who do not need 'low cost' schools but are promoting He'atid because they believe in its educaitonal model and mission.

The dark underbelly of this school's model is the practical elimination of scholarships. The school will give out scholarships if they can raise the money for it from the community. At first blush this is laudable but the founders know that there is minimal funds for scholarship flowing into schools so by definition there will be limited scholarships. I've heard many people associated with the school comment that is this is the biggest innovation of the school, forget about technology and 21st century approaches. The basic idea is that people who find themselves in this middle zone earning 200k don't want to be burdened to pay scholarships for others who they perceive as sponging off the community especially if it limits their ability to go on vacation or afford to upgrade their homes.

Although this idea may work at some point, from an educational point of view it is highly experimental, and an as yet unrefined work in progress compared to other more traditional modalities. The desperation of parents to affford a Yeshiva education is real, and I'm not confident that at even $6,000, $7,000 or $8,000 a year tuition, this school is going to be any more affordable than the existing ones with 2 or 3 times the tuition. The OU's recent campaign to influence young families to locate to more affordable communities outside of the New York Metropolitan area is also laudable, but the choice of such communities where employment is available makes that program a rather modest effort to attack a really big problem.

Ultimately the game plan has to be to neutralize the well-organized, and deeply entrenched antipathy to government's limited involvement in religion to allow for governmental funding of secular studies in Yeshivas. Transportation, books, and other materials are already legally provided by the government to Yeshivas, why is it such a stretch to have salaries and other expenses strictly related to secular studies provided as well? the answer is not that such support violates the Constitution, because it does not, and if carefully constructed, will not.

The answer is simply that the voting public has been cowed by special interest groups (and you know who they are) into believing that such support is illegal and bad for the public schools. So in the end it is a Hasbarah question, and a major one at that. We arevreligious Jews who have suceeded so well in virtually every endeavor in this country. Why do we feel powerless to change the status quo?

Any experienced educator would approach the following paragraph with trepidation:
"Rabbi Netanel Gralla, the newly hired principal of the school, told The Jewish Week that “savings come from the efficiencies of the educational model,” where teachers will have some administrational responsibilities, and will deal with remediation and enrichment in the classroom."
Translation: teachers will be expected to deal with learning disabilities or excellent students within the confined of the classroom. Teachers can accomodate a range of students, but given expected larger class sizes (due to lower tuition), is that really a reasonable expectation. Put simply, kids who cannot keep up or are too advanced will cause problems in the classroom, and will not be taken out for additional instruction due to budgetary constraints.
To my mind, Yeshivat He'atid has two options:
1. Accept all types of children, but then suffer the price in the classroom, as chidren who are either too strong or too weak disrupt
2. Only accept children in the midrange of academic ability, leaving the strong and the weak to fend for themselves.

I am sorry to read this negative review. If I lived in that region I would find ways of supporting their efforts so they can maintain the reduced tuition level and provide all the support services that are required.
Many years ago I operated a nursery/preschool center. Each parents gave one session a month to work as classroom aide. Fathers helped with repairs if and when necessary. The teachers and I did custodial work, hence our tuition was affordable to families where the mother had to work, even if only part time. Be creative and supportive. You may be surprised!

The He'Atid group runs a slick blog called 200kchump.
This blog used to be an open platform for concerned parents to communicate about the rising cost of day school education in Bergen County.
Over the past few months the He'Atid group has taken over the blog.
They now use the blog to post positive propaganda about He'Atid and negative information about the other day schools.
I encourage you to try to post anything on this blog that is anything but positive about He'Atid.
If this fake propaganda is anything like what we can expect from the school I say buyer beware.

I strongly condemn this false advertising and negative campaigning. Shame on you He'Atid for hiding in the shadows.

I would be very concerned about experimenting with my childrens foundation (their core education) with a program that across many studies has been proven to not be the right model for grade school children.

Lets leave aside the education model...I have no idea whether it is good or not. To me, the question is whether the "low" tuition is sustainable. I dont think it is -- unless, amongst other things, the parent body is willing to live with very high class sizes ultimately. Remember -- as time goes on -- administrators and teachers want more money, the admninstrative burden becomes heavier, the building becomes too small, etc. I think there is misconception that the Yeshivas overpay their administrators and teachers and that is the cause of higher tuition. Lets see how this new yeshiva handles those issues.

Very interesting article that captures a lot of the excitement around Yeshivat He'Atid. There are, however, still many questions about the model of the school that the founders don't really want to acknowledge. The educational model has a lot of potential but to date is very unproven and models that more fully utilize technology are not performing as well as traditional instruction. One factor that makes many nervous about Yeshivat He'Atid's approach is the extreme hype around the school and the lack of acknowledgement that this is still an experimental approach. One of the founders was clear on why the need for the hype and doublespeak. In article in another newspaper he indicated that people won't come to a school they perceive as "low frill" so the school needs to promote itself as better even though it is cheaper. All is fair in love and war and when you believe that tuition costs are causing extreme pain to young families then anything is ok. But these same families that He'Atid is targeting are the ones who made poor decisions about their financial futures or were the victims of the unrealistic hype and promises that caused the current financial disaster in our country. Do we really need another hype driven entity that promises 'you can have your cake and eat it to'. If you think I'm being unfair in characterizing the marketing approach of Yeshivat He'Atid then just look at how they posted this article on their website - "Yeshivat He'Atid dubbed a "Breakthrough Model" by The Jewish Week". Really? Did they not see the question mark after the title they conveniently left off? Slick marketing and presentations work in the corporate world so why should they work in Yeshivas but shouldn't we hold ourselves to a higher standard of integrity?

Very interesting article that captures a lot of the excitement around Yeshivat He'Atid. There are, however, still many questions about the model of the school that the founders don't really want to acknowledge. The educational model has a lot of potential but to date is very unproven and models that more fully utilize technology are not performing as well as traditional instruction. One factor that makes many nervous about Yeshivat He'Atid's approach is the extreme hype around the school and the lack of acknowledgement that this is still an experimental approach. One of the founders was clear on why the need for the hype and doublespeak. In article in another newspaper he indicated that people won't come to a school they perceive as "low frill" so the school needs to promote itself as better even though it is cheaper. All is fair in love and war and when you believe that tuition costs are causing extreme pain to young families then anything is ok. But these same families that He'Atid is targeting are the ones who made poor decisions about their financial futures or were the victims of the unrealistic hype and promises that caused the current financial disaster in our country. Do we really need another hype driven entity that promises 'you can have your cake and eat it to'. If you think I'm being unfair in characterizing the marketing approach of Yeshivat He'Atid then just look at how they posted this article on their website - "Yeshivat He'Atid dubbed a "Breakthrough Model" by The Jewish Week". Really? Did they not see the question mark after the title they conveniently left off? Slick marketing and presentations work in the corporate world so why should they work in Yeshivas but shouldn't we hold ourselves to a higher standard of integrity?

This is a wonderful idea! Blessings from Jerusalem!

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