Emphasis on education & values helping area day schools grow
Rachael and Ken Ovitz sent their daughter Maia to preschool and kindergarten at the Katz JCC. When she was ready for first grade, they sent her to public school in Marlton. The family noticed, however, that something was lacking in public school.
“Maia expressed to us that she missed being in a Jewish environment,” said Rachael Ovitz. She added that the family missed the sense of community and wanted their daughter to have a meaningful spiritual and religious education as well as a quality general education. When it came time for Maia to enter second grade, the Ovitzes enrolled her at Politz Day School. The family is extremely happy with their decision.
“We love Politz,” said Rachael Ovitz. She said that the teachers know each child personally. Because Maia started Politz in second grade, she needed a little help with her Hebrew. Rachael Ovitz said Politz made sure she got up to speed quickly.
The Ovitz family is one of hundreds throughout Southern New Jersey who have made the decision, often difficult in these tough economic times, to send their children to the area’s two K-8 Jewish day schools—Politz and Kellman Brown Academy (KBA). The schools themselves are working hard to both retain and attract families.
Rabbi Moshe Schwartz, who is in his first year as KBA head, said that the Voorhees school’s leadership has a vision that combines great education with financial sustainability and affordability. Kellman Brown’s recent efforts are paying off, according to Schwartz. He said that this year’s enrollment of 196 in the nursery-8th grade school topped last year’s student population of 185. “We have exceptional interest for next year. We’ve given dozens of tours and there is tremendous buzz in the community,” said Schwartz.
One of the areas KBA is expanding, according to Schwartz, is in the staffing of the Solomon Schechter-affiliated day school. This year, the school hired Amanda Ross for the newly created position of coordinator of student life to direct programs and activities for students and their families. The school is also planning to hire a Rav Beit HaSefer (school rabbi) to help shape the Judaic curriculum and programming. On the financial side, the school has hired Jim Wellen as development director. KBA recently launched its “Our Children, Our Future” campaign to raise $4-million. Half of that money will be used to create an endowment for scholarships.
Politz Day School, located on the western side of Cherry Hill, has kicked off its own capital campaign to build a new gym and cafeteria. The Modern Orthodox co-educational school moved into its new building in 2004, with 150 students currently attending nursery school through eighth grade.
“Because we send our kids to a variety of high schools— Kohelet Yeshiva High School (formerly Stern Hebrew High School), Foxman Delaware Valley Torah Institute/Mesivta Bais Dovid, and local public high schools, one of our priorities is coordinating our curriculum with these high schools,” said Rabbi Avraham Glustein, head of school at Politz. He said that Politz graduates are desirable students because of their work ethic, skill sets, and midot (character traits).
Glustein said that Politz has a new gifted program for eighth graders and has introduced Project Adventure out of Boston. Project Adventure, said Glustein, is an activities-based program in which students engage in goal setting, teamwork, and problem solving. “These are critical to success in today’s world,” said Glustein.
“We are constantly revamping our curriculum so that students can excel,” said Marilyn Roth, director of general studies at Politz. She added that the school also views itself as a family. “It’s a warm, haimische atmosphere in which teachers truly care about their students— that goes far beyond the school day,” she said.
“Our goal is two-fold,” said Glustein. He said that Politz wants to prepare students for the modern world academically as well as in character development. “We also have a very high level of Judaic scholarship—to read and interpret Judaic texts and the commentaries in Torah, Mishnah and Talmud.” Politz, said Glustein, is interested in the “Adam HaShalem,” the complete person.
Administrators and lay leaders at both Politz and Kellman Brown acknowledged that day school education is expensive, but both schools are committed to providing a day school education to all who want it. Glustein emphasized that it is part of the Politz charter never to turn a child away for financial reasons.
“We are working to build our endowment so that we may allow all families to be able to give the gift of a day school education to their children,” said Judi London, president of the KBA Board of Trustees. The parent of two KBA alumni, London knows the impact that the school has had on her children and her entire family. “When your child goes to Kellman Brown, the school touches their intellect, their heart, and their soul,” she said.
London said that Jewish day schools play a vital role in creating a vibrant Jewish community. “Great clergy and lay leaders are attracted to our community because of our day schools. They come to the synagogue for an interview and to the day school for a tour,” she said.
Jeff Klein, president of the Politz Board of Trustees, said that Politz will be participating in the Orthodox Union’s Emerging Communities Outreach Program to promote the positive reasons to move to Cherry Hill. He said that the affordability of Politz, the lower cost of housing in Southern New Jersey, and the quality of life have made the area attractive to young families looking to relocate from New York City.
“Jewish day schools will be responsible for the future of our Jewish communities,” said Eric Shore. He and his wife Kelly send their three young children to Kellman Brown. He said that he views day school as an investment in the future of his children and the Jewish community.
Shore, a KBA vice president, wants his children to have the same rich Jewish experiences that he has had. “I want my kids to be involved in the Jewish community and to find Jewish wives. The statistics I’ve read show that kids who go to day school are significantly more likely to be involved in the Jewish community, marry Jewish, and continue the Jewish tradition,” said Shore.