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ARIZONA: High school offers new Jewish education option

jewishA new education option — a Jewish high school without high tuition costs — is being developed in Phoenix for this fall.

Jerusalem High of Arizona (the working name) represents a partnership with a Phoenix charter school and an effort within the Jewish community, led by local attorney Farley Weiss, to offer an affordable Jewish education to high school students.

“The fundamental problem in the United States with Jewish education is that the tuitions are too high for the average family to afford it,” Weiss said. “That it why the vast amount of American Jews don’t send their kids to Jewish schools.”

This is how this partnership works: In the mornings, the students — boys and girls in ninth and 10th grade, and possibly 11th grade if there are enough students — would meet at Chabad of Phoenix for a morning program where students would learn about Jewish history, Israel history, Torah study and other Jewish studies. After lunch, they would be bused to a Phoenix charter school, the north campus of Career Success High School, which is located at Bell and Cave Creek roads. During the afternoon session, students would take the core classes of math, science, history and English, as well as Hebrew classes.

The charge for the morning program is $5,000 for the school year but the afternoon program at the charter school is free, Weiss said.

In essence, this allows Phoenix families to obtain an affordable Jewish education “without violating the church/state separation clause of the U.S. constitution,” he said. “It’s like Hebrew High [a program run by the Bureau of Jewish Education] but a much more expanded version.”

Because Jerusalem High is not actually a school, it would not be eligible to receive funds from the Jewish Tuition Organization, Weiss said, but the program plans to seek other funding options.

Jerusalem High is open to all Jewish students, regardless of their background or previous Jewish education, Weiss said.

Paul Labate was in his first week as the charter school’s new principal when Weiss contacted him about working together.

“Farley and I will both agree, this just happened at the right place, right time and the right opportunity,” Labate said. “The powers that be above were looking out on us.”

Last year, the school had about 135 students enrolled in grades 9-12, Labate said, and is trying to increase enrollment.

All the school is doing, Labate said, is providing the classes that the children will need to graduate high school to go on to college. “I think everybody deserves an opportunity to receive an excellent education that fits their needs.”

A unique aspect of the high school is that it is approved to offer afternoon and evening sessions, Labate said, which offers the opportunity for Jerusalem High students to take their classes together.

Labate’s assistant principal, Randy Polse, who was active in the Jewish community in Northern California before moving to Arizona, was also part of the discussion for this partnership. “We felt like it was a perfect match,” he said.

Weiss said now that the partnership is finalized, he is working on staffing, which includes rabbis from within the local Jewish community, such as Rabbi Pinchas Allouche from Congregation Beth Tefillah and Rabbi Laibel Blotner of Chabad of Mesa, as well as teacher Chanie Lapin. Candice Fellheimer will serve as administrator.

Pardes Jewish Day School in Phoenix, a K-8 school, had 26 graduates this year, including Weiss’ oldest son, Benjamin, who will attend the new program. According to Tobee Waxenberg, Pardes assistant head of school, one of the school’s graduates plans to attend The New Jewish High School in Los Angeles and the rest of the graduates plan to attend private high schools (not Jewish ones) or go to public high school.

At the Phoenix Hebrew Academy, seven out of the nine eighth-grade graduates will move on to Jewish high schools.

Currently, there are two Jewish high schools in the Valley, both located in Central Phoenix. Shearim Torah High School for Girls and Yeshiva High School of Arizona, which is for boys. Their tuition for this past school year was $14,100 and $15,500 respectively. Last fall, Shearim Torah had 21 students and Yeshiva High School had 16.

Another school, Jess Schwartz Jewish Community High School, opened in 2001 and closed in 2011, after merging with The King David School to become a K-12 school. It also explored becoming a charter school and merging with Pardes but neither occurred. Another high school, Phoenix Preparatory High Schools, was located on the Chabad of Phoenix campus from 1998 to 2001.

“The facts are very clear,” Weiss said: More than 90 percent of those who attend a high school with a Jewish framework don’t intermarry, citing a statistic from the Council of Jewish Federations’ 1990 National Jewish Population Survey. “The numbers are dramatically different for those kids who go to public school,” who are more than three times likely to intermarry, he said.

“The success of the school depends on people sending their kids to it and making a decision that having a Jewish education and continuing in the Jewish community is a priority. We hope people will make that decision.”

Source: Jewish News of Greater Phoenix – by Leisah Woldoff

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This entry was posted on June 13, 2013 by in Arizona, Charter Schools and tagged , , , , .

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