CAJE set to reshuffle priorities


The Central Agency for Jewish Education will no longer operate the St. Louis Jewish Community High School, the Jewish Community Hebrew School and the Reform Post-Confirmation Academy, beginning in the 2008-2009 school year, according to agency officials.

The changes are a part of a new strategic plan approved by the CAJE board during a meeting in mid-May.


The plan was developed by an 18-member strategic planning committee, which started working in September, 2006 and recommended changes in order to redefine the agency’s role in the community and to make CAJE more focused on being a resource for educators and congregational schools, rather than running school programs for students in the community.

“Every agency needs to look at themselves about every three years. If we don’t do that, we’re stagnant and not moving forward,” said Linda Kraus, president of the CAJE board of directors.

After the last strategic planning process was completed in 2003, the agency has faced declining allocations from the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, losing about eight percent of its allocation from 2006 to 2009. In the 2005-2006 year, CAJE received an allocation of $935,759. For 2008-2009, the allocation has dropped to $853,412.

In addition, Kraus said the CAJE strategic planning committee found that the agency needed to redefine committee found that the agency needed to redefine itself in order to more effectively accomplish its mission: to support and provide opportunities for lifelong Jewish learning across the community.

“In the past we really tried to be all things to all people. Somebody would come and the idea sounded wonderful and we would try to help,” she said.

“We were really being spread too thin,” Kraus said. “And so we really needed to refocus our agency.”

Sonia Dobinsky, interim executive director for CAJE, said the Federation’s allocation cuts were only part of the reason for the changes.

“I think it’s less about budget,” Dobinsky said. “Although one could certainly think that’s what it is about because of the allocation cut, really it’s less about budget and more about thinking strategically for the longevity of the agency.”

“Across the country, very, very few agencies are running Hebrew schools,” she said. “While someone might say ‘just because they do it other places, it doesn’t have to happen here,’ there are some really sound reasons in terms of delivery for doing that.”

Dobinsky said the cost for running the Reform Post-Confirmation Academy, the Jewish Community Hebrew School and the Jewish Community High School represent about 25 percent of CAJE’s annual budget. CAJE’s budget for 2007-2008 is $1,360,000.

Last year, the Community Hebrew School, which has served students from the local Conservative congregations for the past 30 years, had 143 students enrolled. Kraus said the Conservative congregations will continue the school in some form after CAJE withdraws, although no formal arrangements have been announced.

The Jewish Community High School, which had 57 students enrolled last year, is open to students from all denominations. Rabbi Ari Vernon, who has worked as the high school’s director for CAJE for the last four years, said he hopes the program will find sponsors in the community who can keep the school running after CAJE withdraws from the school programs.

When CAJE stops administering the three programs, effective July 1, 2008, Dobinsky said the agency will use staff resources and funding previously used for the programs to provide expanded services to the community’s congregational schools and teachers.

Beginning in 2008, CAJE will provide professional excellence grants to congregations throughout the community, which were given out previously only to Reform congregations, Dobinsky said.

In addition, Dobinsky said she hopes CAJE will be able to provide consultations for schools serving students with special needs, and to expand teacher education and professional development programs.

“We really need to deal in economies of scale,” she said. “When you touch a teacher, you have an opportunity to impact hundreds of students as opposed to just interacting with a small select group.”

“We hope to be able to attract and train people in this community who would be willing to staff the programs in our congregational and our day schools,” Dobinsky said. “There is a huge gap right now in that ability.”

Dobinsky said that she is hopeful that the changes at CAJE will not result in any loss of the agency’s full-time staff.

Staff members currently administering the school programs ending in 2008 will be shifted to other duties.

Rabbi Vernon, the high school’s director, said he has mixed feelings about the end of CAJE’s involvement with the school, which has been running in some form for about 25 years.

“I’m a little bit disappointed that this project is coming to an end for our agency,” Vernon said. “It will be one less thing that CAJE will be doing for teenagers, in terms of pursuing their Jewish learning and interests,” he said.

“But I understand the reasoning behind it, and it’s going to allow me to invest my energies in the other part of my job: building programs for teens and improving the quality and variety of what we’re offering for our teenagers,” said Vernon.

Dobinsky said the changes, though difficult, are the right move for CAJE in order to assure the long-term health of the agency.

“All of the decisions we have made, both to increase and expand, as well as to contract our programs were difficult decisions, and they were thoughtful decisions,” she said.

“Although we are in transition, there are many opportunities that we are going to be able to take advantage of, and continue to facilitate excellence in Jewish education for this community,” Dobinsky said.

The Jewish Community Hebrew School and the Jewish Community High School will remain open, under CAJE administration, for the 2007-2008 school year.