How Will Lower Merion’s New Kindergarten Program Impact Synagogues and Day Schools?

Main Line Reform Temple-Beth Elohim
(Courtesy of Main Line Reform Temple-Beth Elohim)

In the fall, the Lower Merion School District will offer full-day kindergarten for the first time.

Synagogues in the area, such as Main Line Reform Temple-Beth Elohim and Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El, and Jewish day schools, such as the Kohelet Yeshiva and the Perelman Jewish Day School, also offer kindergarten. But at least — so far — they are not heavily impacted by the school district’s decision, according to synagogue and school leaders.

Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood has 18 families with deposits in for kindergarten in 2024-’25, according to Judith Mont Scarani, the Early Childhood Center director. A normal enrollment is between 12 and 20 students. Mitchell Daar, the head of school at Perelman, said, “I don’t think it’s going to have an impact.”

“We offer something that’s so unique and special, and that’s what sets us apart,” he added.

Amy Krulik, the executive director of Main Line Reform Temple-Beth Elohim, is not sure what kind of impact the Lower Merion program will have on her synagogue. Enrollment will take place in the coming months, she said. And families are weighing their options.

Main Line Reform Temple’s kindergarten program for this year has 28 kids and two classes. It also costs more than $15,000 per family. While public kindergarten requires taxpayer money, it is still significantly less per household.

“What’s going to be the best next step for their family?” Krulik asked.

Synagogues and day schools face different challenges here.

For a synagogue, kindergarten is essentially the last year of preschool. For a day school, it’s the first or still an early stage of their time at the institution. Perelman has a pre-K program, but it also goes up to fifth grade. Main Line Reform Temple does not offer schooling, outside of religious school, beyond kindergarten.

Krulik believes that Main Line Reform Temple can combat the challenge by doubling down on its preschool, which starts at age 2. But the synagogue will introduce an infant program in September.

Even if kindergarten goes away in the long run, the shul will maximize its space and bring in enough money to help it function. Its families are still looking to the synagogue for preschool. There are 162 kids enrolled in this year’s program across all ages, according to Krulik. There are also waiting lists for each age.

“I’m not worried about the long-term health of our preschool program,” Krulik said.

At the same time, Main Line Reform Temple’s kindergarten program has been around since the 1980s. Parents know what they can get from it. Lower Merion’s kindergarten program is untested and unknown.

“There may not be enough room in some of the elementary schools in the district to accommodate the full-day kindergarten,” Krulik said. “They may need kids to go to a partner school.”

“We know that this is going to be a transitional year, and it’ll be way easier by September of 2025,” she added.

Perelman is not too worried about the transitional year or the years beyond that, according to Daar. Families are already choosing the day school over public schools. Therefore, it just has to be a good school to compete and maintain its enrollment.

The head of school mentioned Perelman’s dual language program as an example of an area of study that might not be available at a public school. He also cited Perelman’s low student-teacher ratio of two teachers in every classroom with at most 18 students.

“Parents are deciding on our school through fifth grade,” he said. “What attracts people to our school is still there. It’s not changing.”

Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El has seen a couple of families leave for Lower Merion’s program, according to Scarani. She said one reason was that their kids already had older siblings in the public school.

“We have a great program and a great staff,” Scarani said.

“There’s a lot of unknowns about Lower Merion’s program,” added Ken Krivitzky, Beth Hillel-Beth El’s executive director. “They might bus your kids to a different school. What do you do about early or late care?”

“We have great teachers that have been here for a number of years,” he concluded.

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