New Jewish high school plans to open

By Repps Hudson, Special to the Jewish Light

A new Orthodox school, Yeshivat Kadimah High School, is being formed under the direction of a seven-member board from Young Israel with the congregation’s Rabbi Moshe Shulman as the spiritual leader.

Shulman said in an interview Friday that the board hopes to begin classes for ninth and 10th grade students in August or September. Yom Kippur begins sundown Sept. 13, so he said it’s possible the school will open later in September.

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The word Kadimah in the school’s name is Hebrew for “forward.” The name signals a forward-looking high school Jewish education, Shulman said, with online classes using a blended-learning model that is not found in other Jewish high schools in the St. Louis area.

“At the same time, we want to help build the center of the community,” Shulman said. “This high school at the center of the community is quite important for the future of the Orthodox community.”

In a meeting at the Jewish Light’s office, Shulman and Jimmy Fendelman, board chairman, said they are negotiating for a space for the school, as well as interviewing for teachers for general studies such as mathematics, science and literature and for Judaic studies.

For the first year, they said, they do not expect to fill the position of head of school. However, there are enough qualified teachers here in both Judaic and general education studies to meet the school’s needs, they said.

They are also introducing what they call a blended model of education that will rely on a combination of classroom teachers and online learning by using courses from the University of Missouri High School website (http://muhigh.missouri.edu/).

“The teacher will teach content to a small group of students,” said Sima Oberlander, the board member who’s heading the teaching aspect of the effort to create the school in just a few weeks. “We will use online courses to enhance the classroom work . . . MU High School also offers courses from other schools. It’s really quite expansive. From K through 12, the lessons are very interactive. They are high quality.”

Shulman and Fendelman were circumspect as to why there has been a recent groundswell of interest in opening a new religious high school in addition to existing schools: Block Yeshiva High School for boys and girls, Missouri Torah Institute for boys and Bais Yaakov for girls.

“I have watched people take their students out of the day schools at various stages and send them into the non-Jewish educational system,” said Shulman, who will be the spiritual leader of the school.

He has been teaching courses on the Biblical prophets at Block Yeshiva.

“It’s been a source of great pain to the community as a whole,” he said. “As a rabbi, I have seen many of my congregants take that road. A sense of urgency has emerged from those families that really want to see this happen.”

One such example is Rabbi Mike Rovinsky, a mohel, who is a member of Yeshivat Kadimah’s board as well as a member of Young Israel. Rovinsky’s older daughter and son graduated from Bais Yaakov and Block Yeshiva, respectively. His two younger children, however, attend Crossroads College Preparatory School.

Rovinsky refused to comment critically on any of the Jewish high schools. Like Shulman and Fendelman, he did not want to go into detail as to why some parents at Young Israel believe their children would be better served in a new school.

“We’re not interested in fighting,” he said. “My concern is that we have more kids who will receive a quality Jewish education, high-quality Torah learning and a secular education in a warm, loving environment.”

He added that if parents take a market approach to looking at Jewish high schools here, it’s clear that some parents prefer secular private or public schools to what is available.

“For a large percentage of the community, what is available isn’t working,” Rovinsky said.

If things go as expected, Shulman said, the new Yeshivat Kadimah will have 10 students enrolled in the fall. Tuition will be $16,000 a year for each student. Eventually, if the effort is successful, board members hope to follow those students through the 12th grade while adding new students in the first two high school grades.

The board is moving quickly on several fronts at once in hopes of starting the school in roughly three months. Board members are focusing on fundraising, negotiating for classroom space, and meeting with parents of prospective students to explain their vision for a school that the say will emphasize respect for all students, regardless of their background or preparation in Judaic studies.

Shulman and Fendelman said they see this effort as a way to strengthen the modern Orthodox community in St. Louis.

“I don’t want to see any educational institution in this community hurt,” Shulman said. “At the same time, there is a clear need to address the fact that there are so many families that have chosen to go outside the system.”

Shulman said 20 to 25 high school-age boys and girls from the Orthodox community are not enrolled in a religious school. Block Yeshiva has 25 boys and 50 girls enrolled, said Rabbi Gabriel Munk, head of school.

When contacted Monday, Munk said he had heard rumors that a new religious high school was in the works, but he did not have confirmation. Block primarily uses in-class teachers for 98 percent of its courses, he said, while the new school is expected to use a strong blend of classroom and online instructors in both general education courses and Judaic studies.

The Missouri University High School website has often been used by families who want to home school their children, Shulman and Fendelman said. They plan to use it for such courses as chemistry, in which students are shown how to balance a chemical equation. The classroom or face-to-face teacher will lead the small class while using the online presentation to add to what he or she is teaching for that class.

For more information about the school, contact Shulman at [email protected]