New Orthodox high school opening in Palo Alto no boys allowed

Orthodox Jewish all-girls schools aren’t common in the Bay Area. In fact, up until now they didn’t exist.

Rabbi Baruch Noy

But after 10 years of planning, Meira Academy, the first traditional girls-only high school in the Pacific Northwest, is a reality.

Meira Academy will open next month in Palo Alto, on the bottom floor of the Global Fluency building on Middlefield Road. The school is the longtime vision of Rabbi Joey Felsen, executive director of the Jewish Study Network and the school’s founding board president, as well as other South Bay Jewish leaders.

Penina Noy

The school is geared toward girls in grades nine to 12 who are interested in a single-gendered learning environment, with an emphasis on Orthodox Judaic tradition.

“We believe that specifically for girls, they are much more geared toward success when they are in their natural surroundings,” said the school’s interim principal, Penina Noy, who also will teach Hebrew and Torah classes. “It is our goal that through this special learning environment we can facilitate and encourage our students to create a personal definition, uninfluenced by the opposite sex.”

This year’s class will have eight ninth-grade girls. Noy said that the school plans to add one grade every year.

“The response from the community has been amazing,” Noy said.

“There is definitely a noticeable excitement about what Meira has to offer and its innovative curriculum.”

Four of the students will be from the Bay Area, while the others are coming from as far away as Sacramento, Las Vegas and Seattle. The out-of-town students will live with their “dorm parents,” a new South Peninsula Hebrew Day School teacher and his wife, who recently moved to the Bay Area from New York.

Meira Academy has a total of 10 faculty members. All but one — Penina Noy’s husband, Rabbi Baruch Noy, who will teach halachah (Jewish law) and the Oral Torah — are female.

The school plans to emphasize the role of women in general academics and in Jewish history.

“Because much of our study is text-based, we are going to focus on the sometimes unspoken aspect of woman in both Judaic and American history,” Penina Noy said. “It is important that we show our students the accomplishments of their gender and the power that women have.”

The Orthodox aspect of the school will be mainly in the text and language study, as well as the dress code: All girls will wear a uniform that will honor the religious requirement of modesty and respect for one’s body.

“We have a full Jewish curriculum set up,” said Rabbi Baruch Noy. “With four years of Hebrew language and four years of text-based Torah study, students will be well on their way to furthering their Jewish identity.”

In addition to academic achievement, the school will put an emphasis on doing mitzvahs with its Chessed program, which will encourage students to participate in projects and community service. Some of the plans for Chessed projects include local tutoring and feeding at hospitals in the Palo Alto area.

According to Penina Noy, the general academic objective at Meira Academy is a comprehensive education in both general and Judaic studies.

“Right now we are taking advantage of the high student to staff ratio,” Noy said. “Students will get to work with their teachers on a more personable level and will be able to take on leadership roles as a result of the small classroom environment.”

Part of the weekly schedule at Meira Academy will include student and staff lunches, where students and teachers work together to discuss current classroom agendas and suggestions for the future.

Meira Academy plans to offer innovative, integrated math/science and humanities/arts curriculum as well as AP class for their students.

As a graduate of a single-gender school herself, Ann Goewert, who will teach math and science classes at Meira Academy, is hopeful that the school will provide an enriching environment for young girls.

“As a kid, I thrived in that kind of environment. I was able to express myself without the concern of the opposite sex,” said Goewert, who has a Ph.D. in geological sciences from the University of North Carolina.

Having worked with undergraduates for quite some time, Goewert is excited about making the shift to high school education.

“High schoolers are not prepared for college in the way that they used to be,” said Goewert, who left San Jose State University to teach at the school. “Part of my hope for the girls is that through my classes they will gain a new confidence in the fields of math and science, as well as a love for learning.”

For more information on Meira Academy, visit