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Lessons to Learn from an Innovative Jewish High School

From Aryeh Rubin, Director, Targum Shlishi

March 2, 2014

 

Dear Friends:

Imagine a school that offers quality Jewish education, where the kids are engaged, learning at their own pace, doing well on state as well as national tests, and all of this for about $6,000 annual tuition.

Pre-Collegiate Learning Center of New Jersey (PCLC) is a full-day Jewish high school in East Brunswick, NJ, that, in three short years of existence, has created a groundbreaking approach to both Jewish and general education, providing an extremely high level of education while keeping costs down.

The idea itself is not revolutionary, but the execution is. PCLC has come up with an approach that is highly individualized for each student through blended learning, which mixes onsite and online instruction. At the same time, it has pursued a restructuring of an approach to the teaching model by relying heavily on part-time teachers and subject specialists, much in the way that medical and business schools deliver education.

This school has enormous potential and could even be transformational. While I have always believed that day schools and the like should be locally supported, I feel that PCLC deserves the support and attention of the national community.  To that end, Targum Shlishi has offered PCLC a modest grant to help it get the word out. I feel that PCLC is a worthy endeavor and has a story that needs to be out there.

PCLC’s co-founder and director, Lauren Ariev Gellman, explains it best: “We started PCLC to be both high quality and affordable,” she said. “If we can’t do both, there’s not much point. There’s a real need for affordable Jewish education for families of all denominations. Parents place a premium on providing their children with excellent education in both Jewish and secular subjects, but often can’t afford the traditional Jewish day schools. This situation puts many families under serious financial and social stress. We believe we’ve cracked the code and come up with a day school model that works extremely well to deliver excellent and affordable education.”

Of late I have believed, particularly after watching costs increase and quality decline, that much of the current Jewish educational system needs fixing. So I was thrilled when I learned about PCLC. But new ideas are often shunned when they seem a threat to the status quo. Much like the shunning of charter schools of just a few years ago, PCLC has had its detractors, many of whom are invested in the status quo, and are resistant to change.

I am far from a maven on the topic of Jewish education. I don’t know if PCLC’s model can work or if it’s sustainable. I am impressed, though, with the effort, the execution, and the thought that has gone into this school. Innovative ideas such as this need to be embraced in the Jewish education world; PCLC deserves a shot. It should be supported by the community, the federations, and foundations, which should be making sure this grand experiment has the funds and time horizon to see if it can work.

PCLC’s objective is to deliver quality education and meet the needs of its students. It looks as if it is accomplishing this—outside evaluators have confirmed that its business model is sound and its educational approach is effective.

It seems that PCLC students are getting a great Jewish education as well as a fantastic general education, all the while being encouraged to explore their own interests both academic and extracurricular, with the support of the school, its committed teachers, and each student’s team of coaches.

I like that PCLC recognizes that each student is unique, with different interests and different learning styles. I like that the Jewish Studies courses, which center around supervised Beit Midrash learning, assess student learning, but those classes are not graded. And I like that PCLC is utilizing technology in an intelligent and judicious way. PCLC’s model would not have been possible even ten years ago. It is only with the stunning leaps in technology and digital educational options—including distance learning and access to a large range of subject matter—that high-quality digital learning has become an option.

The only thing missing is the financial support to help the school become self-sustaining. PCLC requires outside support by donors as it builds its student body. The school currently has thirty students enrolled. It needs about 140 to be self-sustaining. PCLC received generous support from the Avi Chai Foundation, support that ends this year, as well as funding through the Tanzman Foundation and individuals in its community. A lot more parents would enroll their children if they knew that the school had the financial staying power. It is also worth noting that PCLC sees itself as a lab school that in the future can proactively nurture the creation of other learning centers, both in the Jewish community and beyond.

I’m sending this letter to get the word out that there are still innovators who are making a difference in Jewish education. In terms of fundraising, PCLC has initiated an inventive crowd-funding effort. Anyone interested in learning more should contact PCLC’s director of recruitment and development, Karen Eliezar, at keliezar@pclcnj.com.

PCLC could be a game changer and is a no-brainer. Take a look. Go here to view its website.

Thank you,

Aryeh Rubin

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