Tuesday’s announcement that the in New City would be closing in June came as a surprise to many. Debbie Roth, vice president of the school’s board of trustees said since then the school has been calm and teachers were spending a lot time talking to students about the news. Overall, she said people seemed to accept it.
“Everything seemed okay,” she said. “People seemed to be responding positively to the new entity.”
The new entity is the proposed Rockland Jewish Academy (RJA), which would be located in West Nyack in unused second floor space in the JCC complex. Gittelman’s enrollment fell sharply over the past years impacting the school’s financial situation. The board worked for the past two years to try to improve finances but enrollment fell during that time from 250 students in 2010 to 150 students for the 2011-2012 school year.
The school, which was established 40 years ago, started construction of the building on New Hempstead Road in 1991. Now, the 20-year-old building is up for sale but few details are available. Roth said there is no signed contract.
“The board hopes to sell the building by the end of the school year,” she explained.
Gittelman employs 20 unionized teachers, 10 support staffers and five administrators for the 150 students in pre kindergarten through eighth grade. RJA, the start-up school, is hoping to enroll approximately 100 children in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.
The effort to keep a Jewish day school in the county is being supported by the Jewish Federation of Rockland County.
“We believe there should be a Jewish day school in the community,” said Diane Sloyer, Federation executive director.
She said the demographics of the county are changing but there is a strong feeling that a non-Orthodox day school should exist.
“I’m a believer in having that option for people,” she said. “I just think you need alternatives. We need diversity here in order to be a strong community.”
Sloyer attended the Tuesday meeting when parents heard the news. She said although it is “sad and unfortunate on a community level” that Gittelman is closing, there was renewed spirit when people heard about the possibility of RJA.
“By the end people were really excited,” she said. “People are very inspired.”
She said the Federation supports Jewish education, provided monetary support to Gittelman in the past and if RJA were established, it can apply to be a beneficiary. In the meantime, the Federation has offered temporary office space, a phone, mailing address and place to meet parents for the Working Committee members trying to make RJA reality. She is assisting the committee with contacting foundations and potential donors.
Sloyer said the Federation would contribute substantial monies - $15,000 to RJA.
“We also have an endowment fund that’s called the Lily Steuer Endowment Fund,” she said on Wednesday. “People who manage the money there have decided to give an endowment to furnish the library.”
Andrea Sherman is one of the volunteers working on the new entity.
“There are 11 members on the working committee - all are active, concerned community members who are passionate about Jewish education and the importance of such a school in our community,” she said. “They are either present or past Gittelman parents and one grandparent (whose grandchildren have gone to the school). However, since news broke of this Tuesday night, we've had an incredible response from other families, teachers and community members who are offering to help as well to make this a reality.”
Informational parlor meetings about the planned pluralistic day school will be held next Tuesday and Wednesday for parents of pre-k through first grade students and parents of second through fourth grade students.
Sherman said they are trying to get "indications of intent" from families so they have a sense of how many students may be interested. The indication of interest does not require a deposit. There is link to the form on the website and parents are asked by complete it by Febuary 1. The working committee is preparing marketing efforts to reach Jewish families in the Rockland and Orange counties and northern Bergen County, NJ.
The proposed independent Jewish day school will be under the supervison of the Solomn Schechter School of Westchester and its headmaster, Dr. Elliott Spiegel. The Westchester school has two campuses. The White Plains location enrolls kindergarten through fifth grade students and sixth through 12th grade students attend classes at the Hartsdale location.