The following op-ed, written by Gershon Distenfeld, the Chairman of the Board of Yeshivat He'Atid, was published by The Jewish Week on Sept. 14, 2012. You can read it in its entirety here: http://www.thejewishweek.com/editorial-opinion/opinion/new-model-jewish-day-schools
Yeshivat He¹Atid, a new day school in Bergen County, NJ, is providing Jewish communities nationwide with a groundbreaking new model for high quality, affordable Jewish day school education. Opening with 115 students in our first year, Yeshivat He¹Atid is re-imagining the Jewish day school classroom of the 21st century.
We have hired a principal, teachers, and staff; ensured our facility is student-ready, and put in place the tools and curriculum to support our blended learning model. When fully built out, Yeshivat He¹Atid is estimated to save the Bergen County community $5 million annually. But our real goal is to serve as a model so that every Jewish community can build a school that is both affordable to most parents and delivers better educational outcomes.
How will we achieve this? While I admit that my purpose in starting a new school was to lower the high cost of yeshiva tuition, I learned over the past year that a blended learning educational model can deliver a higher quality education, one that will better prepare children for the realities they will face in an ever changing 21st century world. Blended learning is a revolutionary model that combines face-to-face instruction with online learning tools to optimize the learning environment for each student.
Blended learning empowers teachers our most valuable assets in educating our children with real-time data that will help them customize the learning approach to meet individual students¹ unique learning styles and academic needs.
Education in America is about to undergo revolutionary change. America also has a "tuition crisis." Property taxes cannot keep increasing at the rate they have during the past two decades. At the same time, educational outcomes have been stagnant for a generation. Bold educational leaders and innovators across this country have been building and operating completely different educational models for years now with proven and successful results. If we are serious about placing Jewish education on sustainable footing, we must boldly propose and quickly implement entirely new models of Jewish education.
Think about any consumer good with the possible exception of healthcare. We can purchase products today at a fraction of the price they cost a generation ago. Think about the TV you have in your home today that is so much better than the one you grew up with and costs far less. The same is true of education if only we are willing to embrace it.
As lay leaders, parents, and supporters of Jewish day schools, we have the responsibility to encourage our educators to move beyond their comfort zones. We need them to be more innovative and more efficient. We need to convince them that better education can be had at a significantly reduced cost and that their jobs depend on delivering on those metrics. The idea that the only way to improve educational outcomes is to spend more money is simply not true.
Schools like Rocketship, KIPP Empower, and others around this country have successfully implemented a blended learning model that achieves superior results at a significantly lower cost per student. The Jewish education field needs to learn from these models and become leaders in these revolutionary educational methods.
We at Yeshivat He¹Atid don¹t have all the answers. But we recognize that the status quo of spending more money on an unsustainable model is a ticking time bomb. We are thrilled that through the continued generosity of the Affordable Jewish Education (AJE) Project, two more schools in the tri-state area are in the planning stages for the 2013-14 school year using our school as a model. While we would love for many more schools to follow our lead, that may not be the right solution for every school or every community. We hope that our experience will motivate many other schools (existing and new) to experiment with innovative models.
We need to be bold and to encourage our educators to be bold. We have to allow them to experiment and, yes, sometimes fail but incremental change is no longer an option. We have to step out of our comfort zones and create
entirely new models of Jewish education that are both high quality and financially viable.
The Jewish people have solved far bigger problems in the past and I am confident that with the right leadership, we will solve this one too. But we won¹t do it by being timid. We need to embrace change now. We owe it to our children and we owe it to the future of the Jewish people.
Gershon Distenfeld is chairman of the board of Yeshivat He¹Atid and resides in Bergenfield, N.J.