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Politz Academy Education Offers Tradition and Quality

April 2, 2009 By:
Amy Purdy, JF Feature
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Students from Politz Hebrew Academy (from left) Oriel Gola, Menachem Jacobs, Fitzy Bettoun and Eli Saks get into the spirit of Purim. Photo by Scott Weiner

Politz Hebrew Academy is more than a school, it's like a family, according to parent and PTO president Dolly Orbach.

"Children at the school feel loved and cared for," she says. And she should know: The Orbachs' children, Mattan and Tal, attend the elementary school.

Politz is a 25-year-old Orthodox day school in Northeast Philadelphia, where general studies and Judaic studies are equally important -- and both are intertwined with midot tovot, Hebrew for "good values." Some 260 students attend Politz, from kindergarten through eighth grade, and a nursery-school class for 4-year-olds is planned for fall 2009.

Politz offers a "tradition-based Orthodox education with a quality-based general studies program," explains Besie Katz, principal and founder. Politz's commitment to excellence is reflected in several recent accomplishments, including elementary-school accreditation by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools; the establishment of a parents advisory group; the addition of a new school wing; more extracurricular clubs; and a new Hebrew principal for the boys' division.

A Student-Centered Environment

The school combines intensive text-based Judaic and academic studies in an environment infused with the warmth of community and the dedication of staff and teachers, say those who attend.

Eighth-graders Bracha Fishman and Tzudi Couzens say teachers gladly help with questions. Adds Couzens: "The principals and teachers are always amazing!"

Students experience Judaism through lively daily prayer and school-wide celebrations of Jewish holidays. Politz welcomes children from a wide spectrum of synagogue affiliations, academic levels and financial circumstances.

Katz, who oversees general studies for male and female students, as well as Judaic studies for the girls, notes that "our school is a microcosm of the current challenging economy. Many come from large families, and parents sacrifice much to make Jewish education a priority."

Approximately 90 percent of Politz students have a portion of their tuition subsidized by scholarships, supported by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and generous individual donors. The school is also in the midst of crafting a partnership with the Kohelet Foundation, a Philadelphia-based philanthropy that supports day schools.

According to Beverly Bernstein, enrichment and special-needs coordinator, "Students are given academic support in Judaic and general studies, so they can learn to their potential."

Because class sizes are small, "students receive personal attention and lessons can be individualized," notes Bernstein, who is also the educational director of Orot, an organization that supports elementary- and middle-school students with severe learning disabilities in area day schools.

Accreditation Validates Curriculum

In November 2008, the school's elementary division was accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.

Says Katz: "We are thrilled to receive this independent, external validation. It helps dispel the myth that Orthodox day-school education is lacking."

Orbach, agrees.

"I expect my children to go to college, and I'm sure that they're being well-prepared" for it, she says.

Katz and her staff devoted a full two years to the accreditation process, which included a rigorous analysis of school programs and curriculum; evaluations by a team of independently appointed educators; and the creation of a strategic plan for school improvement.

New Parent Committee

As part of the strategic plan, a new committee called Parents Advocating Greater Excellence, or PAGE, was formed to streamline and enhance communication with the parent body, administration and board.

Moshe Vegh, serving his first year as president of the Politz board notes that "in addition to facilitating communication, PAGE is a wonderful forum for increasing parent involvement."

Vegh, a long-time board member, has three children at Politz and three who have graduated from the school.

A New School Wing

After kindergarten, male and female students attend separate classes. Middle-school girls moved into a new wing in September.

For Bracha Fishman, the brand-new classrooms and activity center enhance the school environment.

"We've used videoconferencing -- and it was neat to share ideas with Israeli students my age," she says.

The second half of the new wing, which will house the girl's elementary school, is in the process of being finished.

Extracurricular Activities

More extracurricular activities and clubs are an additional feature this year.

Orbach maintains that "after-school activities add to the unity of the school."

Clubs for girls include a writers cafe, gymnastics, a reader's club, and a group that combines art and tehillim ("psalms").

Activities for boys include a middle-school basketball team that plays area day-school teams, basketball workshops for elementary-age boys and a choir.

New Boys' Principal

In September, Rabbi Shaul Zelinger joined the Politz staff as the menahal, (Hebrew for "principal"). In this capacity, he provides academic guidance and mentoring to male elementary- and middle-school students.

Tzudi Couzens appreciates the opportunity for personal interaction with Zelinger. He says that morning davening "is more organized and focused" with the rabbi's guidance.

Couzens, who lives in Bala Cynwyd, with parents Rabbi Yakov and Nili Couzens, has three siblings at Politz: Esti (seventh grade), Moishe (fifth grade) and Rivka (second grade).

Reuven Horwitz, secretary of the board of directors and an active board member since 2001, and his wife, Shira, are the parents of three current students at Politz: Elisheva (seventh grade), Yaakov (fourth grade), and Daniel (second grade). Their two older children also attended Politz.

Horwitz asserts that "a Politz education is a wonderful investment in our children, the future of the Jewish community."

To learn more or arrange a visit, call Besie Katz, principal, at 215-969-5960 or e-mail: besiekatz@yahoo.com.

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