Despite the upheaval Jewish day schools are experiencing in York Region, two schools, at opposite ends of the denominational spectrum, are, in fact, thriving.
Both Netivot HaTorah Day School, a modern Orthodox school, and Bialik Hebrew Day School, a labour Zionist school, report that enrolment for the coming school year has grown.
The news is a bright spot in a year that has seen the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto close its northern campus and Leo Baeck Day School sell its northern branch building. Associated Hebrew Schools is also selling its building in York Region.
Bialik’s northern branch, located on the Lebovic campus just north of Bathurst Street and Rutherford Road, will have its largest-ever junior kindergarten class this September, with 50 students enrolled, said Jodi Tanentzap, president of the school’s board of directors.
The school, which opened its second branch in 2013, is adding a grade at a time, and will take students up to Grade 5 by September. About 200 students are enrolled at the northern branch, with another 800 at the southern Viewmount campus, which is at full capacity, with record enrolment in junior kindergarten and Grade 8 classes next year.
“We are offering a program that a lot of families up north are attracted to. We are a Zionistic school. We’re not Orthodox, we’re not Conservative, we’re non-prescribed religion. I think, especially for a lot of the Israeli and Russian community and somewhat less affiliated families that live (in York Region), it’s really quite attractive,” Tanentzap said.
The school also started a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program a few years ago that is growing. Bialik is the only Jewish school that participates in the provincial Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) assessments of Grade 3 and Grade 6 students, and the results are carefully studied, she said.
A greater percentage of families that send their children to the northern campus receive financial subsidies than at the southern branch, which the school anticipated and planned for when it opened, Tanentzap said.
The school has opted out of a tuition-capping pilot project offered by UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. The subsidy was only available to parents in York Region and only to parents just starting in the school.
“We felt, as a school, that it seemed unfair to our current parents who had already made a commitment, as well as to our south parents. We had hoped Federation would have offered something to all parents, based on their income, no matter where they lived, but at this time, they weren’t ready to do this,” she said.
Netivot HaTorah, meanwhile, is also continuing to grow. In 2015-16, the school had an enrolment of 575 students. This coming year, enrolment is expected to be about 645, with most of the growth in the youngest ages, said Rabbi Jeffrey Rothman, the outgoing head of school.
The Atkinson Avenue school’s early childhood program is being moved next door to the Leo Baeck building.
Leasing space next door will ease pressures on the gym and lunchroom and give Netivot space to offer a pre-nursery class for two-year-olds. The move will also allow Zareinu, a school for children with special needs in the building, to integrate its students into Netivot’s classes when possible.
Netivot’s growth is the result of a deliberate strategy that has seen the school work to improve not only its academic offerings, but extracurricular and special programs, as well, Rabbi Rothman said.
The school has also “professionalized,” he said, including steps such as moving all school forms online and improved communication with parents.
“We’ve worked very hard on building a sense of community and a positive culture,” he said. “We’re a very welcoming place … and that’s been recognized in the community.”
Subsidy rates are as high at Netivot as at surrounding schools and, in the last few years, the school has made a strong push for fundraising, Rabbi Rothman said. The school has also introduced a loan program for the early childhood division, which does not receive subsidies from UJA Federation.