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New York City
September 2001

Exploring Alternatives to Public School Education

Education has become a “hot” subject in our times. While the quality of public schools and the issue of raising their standards has taken center stage in what has become a national discussion, some parents have chosen to take a different route and have enrolled their children in private schools, parochial schools, yeshivas, and home schooling. In the coming months Education Update will explore these Alternatives to Public School Education. The series seeks to challenge the readers and allow them find their own answer to the question: “Why do some parents choose Alternatives to Public School Education?”as well as distilling techniques, valuess and innovations that might be imported to our public schools.We launch our series with a look at the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy.

By Marylena Mantas

When passing through South Orange Avenue in Livingston, New Jersey, it is impossible to oversee an architectural masterpiece resting proudly on the top of a hill. Large, black letters engraved on this modern building reveal its identity: Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy.

Charles Kushner, who founded the Academy in honor of his parents, ensured that this 225,000 square-foot structure leaves visitors in awe. The interior glass ceilings and walls in many classrooms, labs, common spaces and the library provide an aesthetic and cheerful home to its students.

“He [Charles Kushner] built a facility that people just marvel at,” said Rabbi Scot A. Berman, the principal of the Kushner Yeshiva High School, one of the two divisions of the school—the other being the Kushner Academy serving the elementary and middle school grades. “Many institutions come visit us to gain new ideas.”

The school’s state of the art facilities, its commitment to providing every student with a strong Orthodox Jewish education and its curriculum, designed to fit the needs of every single student, perhaps explain why parents from the entire metropolitan area choose to send their students to the Kushner Academy and the Kushner Yeshiva High School. Thus, as Rabbi Berman explained, the school is “regional.”

“Our philosophy about admission is inclusive with regard to academics,” he said. “I think we have established ourselves and our reputation for providing education for as many students as possible,” he added, noting that when interviewing a student for admission the school looks for a standard of seriousness, a commitment to Judaism and to academic studies as well as to ethics.

“If they are prepared to work then we will provide them with a challenging program,” he said.

Students are provided with a wide array of courses that include Jewish education,—Bible studies, Jewish law and Hebrew—the required basic subjects, and 18 hours/year of community service. Students receive individual attention from the over 40 teachers in the High School, while every classroom has 20 students or less.

Over 800 students walk through the doors of the building each day—260 students in the High School and 540 in the elementary and middle school. In addition, the building houses a school for students with learning disabilities, which is closely connected to the other divisions even though it runs as a separate entity. “The whole idea is to have as much integration as possible,” said Rabbi Berman.

The size of the building provides for outstanding interior facilities, including spacious hallways, a variety of science labs designated for particular subjects, two gymnasiums, a large auditorium and a library with individual and communal stations for students. Students also benefit from mentoring relationships established with some of the parents whose children attend the schools.

However, according to Rabbi Berman, the Kushner Yeshiva High School upholds three more standards that truly differentiate it from other schools of its kind.

The first said Rabbi Berman is “being concerned to provide an appropriate education for all students.” To achieve this goal the school has a Learning Coordinator, responsible for tracking the academic, emotional and social growth of every single student in the school. The principal plans to also institute a religious guidance counselor who will follow the religious and ethical growth and concern of every student.

The second differentiating component includes according to Rabbi Berman “a commitment to religious Zionism. The schools is unique in promoting a culture of being concerned with life in Israel.”

Students engage in prayer for the people in Israel and hold a community-wide event celebrating Israel’s independence. In addition, the school brings teachers from Israel. “I can think of no better way to bring Israeli culture to my students,” said Rabbi Berman.

The school seeks to further enhance ties with Israeli culture by sending the sophomore class to study in Israel for two months, a program unique to the school.

Finally, Rabbi Berman cited the school’s philosophical commitment “to promoting modern orthodoxy as a positive value.”

The Kushner Yeshiva High School graduated its first class last June. “Now we’ve established a track record,” said Rabbi Berman, noting that some of the graduating students will attend seminaries while others were admitted to a variety of schools, including Ivy League institutions, such as Harvard, Columbia and Cornell, Yeshiva University, Queens College, NYU and Hofstra University.


Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel: (212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919. Email: ednews1@aol.com.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2001.