East Bay Jewish day school finds new, temporary home

The Contra Costa Jewish Day School, preparing to open its doors in fall 2001, has found a temporary home on the site of the religious school at Reform Temple Isaiah in Lafayette.

A three-year rental, allowing the day school to share the newly constructed building with the synagogue's religious-school classes, was signed by Dean Goldfein, head of the day school, in mid-December.

"We plan to eventually find a home of our own, but this gives us a very good foundation," said Goldfein, formerly the director of faculty team assessment at Brandeis Hillel Day School in San Francisco. The location, which overlooks rolling hills and the Lafayette Reservoir in the distance, is an aesthetically pleasing one, he added.

"It's geographically compatible for our community; it's comfortable and it's safe," he said. "It's a perfect short-term fit."

Temple Isaiah Rabbi Roberto Graetz echoed Goldfein's sentiments.

"It should give families a good feeling to know they're sending their children to a Jewish school at a Jewish institution, rather than some rented facility with no Jewish relationship," said Graetz. "A brand-new day school couldn't do any better."

Although the estimated 20 to 35 day-school students and 550 religious-school students will not occupy the 12 classrooms at the same time, specifics such as furniture and decorations are currently being discussed. In fact, Goldfein has worked with both an interior designer and a school-furniture expert to assess classroom layout needs of the day school and the religious school.

"We want the furniture to go along with our educational philosophy, that children should learn by doing," said Goldfein of the day school, which will most likely house kindergarten through third-grade classes. "How we use the classroom space is vital. It can really shape the student's educational experience."

Goldfein noted that a space can also promote certain educational experiences. For instance, he said there's "a really cool amphitheater in the round near the classrooms," that inspired him to "make a push" toward emphasizing drama in the educational curriculum. Children often learn a great deal through play, music and art.

At the same time, he said, the classroom space must meet the needs of the religious-school students in kindergarten through seventh grade.

For this reason, Goldfein said he has been assessing several samples of classroom furniture, from activity tables that can be raised or lowered, depending on a student's height and grade level, to storage spaces that double as work space. Graetz, meanwhile, described wall charts that can flip around from side to side depending on the class' occupants.

"There are a lot of obstacles to building a new program and to sharing space," said Goldfein, "but the temple has been really helpful in making it work so that there will be no sacrifice to them or us."

Goldfein, still the lone faculty member for the day school, is currently interviewing for teachers "that can inspire students to learn." He is "prepared to pay very well" in order to encourage "top-level professionals."

He plans to hire three to four teachers and two teaching assistants.

Goldfein is also spreading the word to prospective students and their families. Depending on student interest, he may consider combining the classes into multi-age setups — "an excellent way to learn," he said, if it is "done in a proper balance."

All the slots for both teachers and students should be filled by this spring.

Goldfein said he does not fear he'll encounter recruiting difficulties since there has been "a need for a day school in the Contra Costa area for some time," and because "community support has been so high."

Altogether, more than 40 volunteers are "helping to turn this idea into a reality," said Goldfein.

There has also been support in monetary matters. Along with a June Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education grant and a start-up grant from the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay's Community Foundation, anonymous donors recently provided funds to cover first-year tuition scholarships for every student.

Despite being located on a Reform synagogue's campus, Goldfein stressed that the school will not be affiliated with any particular stream of Judaism. The school, he said, "will welcome families from a wide variety of traditions."

In fact, the school's advisory council is made up of rabbis of all movements from every synagogue in central Contra Costa County.

Several opportunities will soon be made available for the community to learn more about the school. An informational event will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 4 at Congregation B'nai Tikvah, 25 Hillcroft Way in Walnut Creek.

Open houses are also planned for Tuesday, Feb. 13 and Thursday, Feb. 15 on the Temple Isaiah site, 3800 Mount Diablo Boulevard.

For more information or an application, call Goldfein at (925) 977-8218.