Nearly $2 million awarded to Conservative day schools

(JTA) — The AVI CHAI Foundation awarded nearly $2 million to support the Conservative movement’s Solomon Schechter network of Jewish day schools.

Two grants, for the Solomon Schecter School Network and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, include some $1.7 million in funding from AVI CHAI and a challenge grant from an anonymous foundation, according to a statement released Wednesday.

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“These grants are transformative, enabling us to provide an unprecedented level of service to our Schechter schools,” said Steven Lorch, president of the Schechter Network board. “They will generate extraordinary momentum for our programs, the immediate beneficiaries of which will be our schools, the gifted educators who teach in and lead them, and their students.”

Over the last 15 years, Schecter schools have been hit by 20 school closures or mergers. In the last decade, as enrollment at non-Orthodox day schools fell, Schecter schools were hardest hit, with a drop of 25 percent enrollment between 2003 and 2008. The economy is a large factor, along with affordability, day school researchers say.

Also announced Wednesday is the appointment of Jon Mitzmacher as the Schecter Network’s new executive director, following the retirement of long -time leader Elaine Shizgal Cohen, who is stepping down next year. Mitzmacher is currently director of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, a Schechter school in Jacksonville, Fla.