While students were enjoying their summer, the Jewish day schools of Greater Philadelphia were busy preparing for the new year.
From completing renovations to hiring new staff, many changes have come in preparation for the 2019-2020 academic year. Here is a rundown of the highlights at some schools.
Abrams Hebrew Academy
School Director Rabbi Ira Budow said that Sharon Abergel, owner of the Espresso Cafe & Sushi Bar in Philadelphia, was brought onboard to facilitate community outreach. Abergel will play several roles at Abrams, such as helping with recruitment, expanding participation in Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit program and bringing Israeli culture and spirit to the school.
Recruitment is one of the big focuses this year for Abrams, Budow said. To help refine Abrams’ program, in January an electronic survey will be emailed to parents to obtain feedback. Budow said the school does this survey every three years or so.
“We do it because we really want to know what’s on the minds of our parents,” he said.
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
The rooms at the middle and upper school will be a bit brighter this year at Barrack, as accent walls were painted in each classroom. Other updates include a complete overhaul of the school’s website.
Some staff changes were put in place as well. Meryl Sussman, a counselor at the middle school, was promoted to a newly created position of director of Israel education, experiences and special programming.
“Over the past couple of years, we have really worked on our Israel education center here, and now we have someone who is directing our efforts,” Head of School Sharon Levin said.
One of the responsibilities of this new position will be to manage a new exchange program. Through the nonprofit SOS International, Barrack forged a partnership with the Lauder-Reut Educational Complex, a Jewish school in Bucharest, Romania. In December, five teachers will spend a week at the Romanian school, which will send its own delegation to Barrack in March. The plan is to start exchanging students in the 2020-2021 school year.
Morris and Rose Caskey Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia
This year marks the completion of a two-year construction and renovation project. With the completion, Caskey’s middle school students will return to the main campus after spending last year at Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley. A Chanukat Habayit celebration will kick off the new year along with a Hachnasat Sefer Torah and Mordechai Shapiro concert, all taking place at the school on Sept. 15.
As for new leadership, Rabbi Zecharia Weitz joined the school’s administrative team as its assistant principal for Judaic studies. He comes from Columbus, Ohio, according to Rachel Mazurek, the school’s director of communications and community relations.
This year marks the unveiling of a new 30,000-square-foot building for grades K-8. The project took three years to complete and includes a mix of large, open multi-age classrooms and smaller breakout rooms for group instruction. Each of the K-5 classrooms features a full kitchen, said Rabbi Gil Perl, the head of school.
Other features include a Beit Midrash, humanities center and a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) lab for middle schoolers. The lab will be used for math, science, indoor agriculture, woodworking, art and pottery instruction. It’ll also have a 3-D printer and a kiln. Outside, there is a new amphitheater, playground with a 20-foot climbing web, playing fields and a garden.
This year, the high school will unveil a Fabrication Lab, featuring 3-D printers, a laser cutter, a computer-controlled cutting machine, pottery wheels, saws, robotics and computers loaded with design software.
As for faculty, Hannah Rothschild will serve as the school’s new director of inclusion, lab and middle schools. Also of note: This year marks the school’s first class of fourth-graders, with plans to add fifth grade next year.
Raymond and Ruth Perelman Jewish Day School
This year marks the unveiling of a newly renovated classroom dedicated to Perelman’s Hebrew-immersive junior kindergarten program. Head of School Judy Groner said the school moved its business office to the administrative floor to make way for the new space. This year there are 21 students enrolled in junior kindergarten, the largest since its creation two years ago.
Other building changes includes a new faculty room at the Stern Center.
In addition, a partnership with Adath Israel and Temple Sinai of Dresher, along with a grant, will bring Rabbi Josh Warshawsky to the school to spend 10 days to amplify its music program.
For its science program, the school’s portable planetarium was updated with help from a grant. The planetarium can be moved from classroom to classroom and includes a projector that can show different skies and constellations in 180 degrees. The school also was able to acquire two new 3-D printers and Bee-Bots, which are small programmable robots.