Scwieg sitting in a chair with students
Head of School Tania Schweig in the classroom at Oakland Hebrew Day School (Photo/Courtesy OHDS)

Before it’s too late, let’s unify Jewish schools in East Bay

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While reading J. recently, I noticed that the three Jewish middle schools of the East Bay graduated a total of 38 students.

First, yasher koach to the graduates and the parents for their incredible dedication to Jewish education.

Second, thank you to all the teachers, rabbis and staff of these great institutions: Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito, Oakland Hebrew Day School and Contra Costa Jewish Day School in Lafayette.

Lastly, let this be a final wake-up call to the East Bay Jewish community that one school is better than three — that is, one large Jewish day school today, instead of possibly zero tomorrow.

One principal, two assistant principals, one gym teacher, one art teacher and one fundraiser is enough for 500 graduates! Instead, we have triple that amount for 38 graduates! That’s probably the largest student-to-staff ratio in the universe. And don’t forget the extreme financial burden of running extremely small classes and schools (a turn-off to incoming students) and maintaining three large properties.

I’m well aware that the lower grades of these schools are double to triple the size of their graduating classes, but the total enrollment of each school is still roughly half that of one grade at Piedmont High School or one-10th of a typical grade at Berkeley High.

The current situation of multiple schools averaging more than 75 percent in financial aid and class attrition is simply not sustainable.

The answer is obvious: Combine all three schools into two campuses — one campus dedicated to nursery school through fourth grade, and the other for students in the fifth through eighth grades.

Then sell the third property and put the proceeds toward scholarships and a teachers’ fund (to avoid immediate mass layoffs while the schools transition).

This fund, in addition to the economies of scale and larger class sizes, should bring down tuition dramatically from around $27,000 to $15,000 per year. A sustainable tuition, combined with normal class sizes and better-directed, more efficiently used resources should lead to the growth of the Jewish day school population — which is also a critical feeder for the Jewish Community High School of the Bay (in San Francisco) and a future East Bay Jewish High School.

There will always be one or two naysayers and/or doubters — for example, the few who insist on mandatory kippot for all classes and the fewer who don’t want it for anyone. But to both I say work it out (unless you can donate $1 billion dollars for free school for infinity).

There will be a parent who wants to observe the nakba (“the catastrophe,” as Palestinian Arabs and their allies refer to Israel’s War of Independence) instead of Jerusalem reunification day; others who insist on having the word “Orthodox” on every letterhead and mission statement; and still others who will complain about having to drive through a tunnel to reach their child’s, or children’s, school.

To all of these people, I say figure it out!

If a community school works for ninth to 12th grade, then we can make it work East Bay-style for K-8.

It’s time for the Federations, dedicated donors and school boards to call an urgent meeting of the minds. Consolidate now in order to grow tomorrow. Come together when you can and not when you must.

Reuven Kahane
Reuven Kahane

Reuven Kahane is a real estate developer based in New York and Oakland. He has a J.D. and rabbinical degree from Yeshiva University.