President of the Board Mid-Year Update Letter

Our guest columnist is Julie Sissman, President of the Board of Schechter Manhattan, who shared these reflections and announcements with Schechter Manhattan parents earlier this week.  Please see her mid-year update letter to the community below.

Dear Schechter Manhattan Parents,

A few snapshots of Schechter Manhattan students:

  • I overheard a second grader giving instructions to a fourth grader: “Walk 10 steps.  Turn right. Walk seven steps. Oops!! Not far enough. Now… walk, umm…, 3 steps. Turn right.  Walk 5 steps. You made it into the elevator!” When we start teaching coding to kids in Kindergarten – maybe we should call it “kindercoding”? – the kids sometimes start coding each other into elevators!
  • At the end of a weekend community service project, kids are offered a Certificate, noting that they completed community service that day.  The Schechter Manhattan kids say, “No, thank you” and whisper to their grown-up, “Why would we need a certificate?  That was fun, and we got to help people!”  That’s what happens when curiosity and a love of learning, aside from tests and grades, is nurtured in our kids.
  • “Did you know that God hardened Pharoah’s heart over and over again?  Not just once?! Why?!! How could God have done that? It is mean for the Egyptians to have to go through all of those plagues.”  When we teach kids that they have a place in the tradition and encourage them to bring their critical thinking skills to the text, we enable deeply engaged learning.

Schechter Manhattan is a unique place.  Unique in the landscape of Jewish day schools in Manhattan, unique in its pedagogy and approach to learning among Schechter schools.  The values that our students learn from the curriculum itself and the values they learn from the way that the curriculum is taught, and the way students are taught to treat each other and care for each other, are priceless.  This combination enables our children to grow into critical thinking, collaborative, menschy people out in the world.  I am so proud to be President of the Board of Schechter Manhattan.  This is a values-based school that knows what it stands for.

Schechter Manhattan stands for…

Schechter Manhattan stands for individualized attention.  Our students grow to be their best selves because Schechter Manhattan is a place where teachers work hard to get to deeply know each child.  From that place of social-emotional safety, students can take risks in their learning and soar to new heights.  Teachers then customize a curriculum for each student in each subject – from math to reading to Judaics to science to Hebrew to writing and more – so that each student is being challenged and supported in the right ways.  Standards are high because research shows that children reach up to the standards set before them.  This boutique, academically rigorous education we offer leads our graduates to the most prestigious high schools in New York City, prepared not only to do well in life, but also to do good in the world.

Schechter Manhattan stands for teaching skills that are critical for today’s world.   Our students learn design thinking through solving real-world problems, whether it be middle school students designing fun and functional benches for the mirpeset (terrace) or Gan students designing, testing, and building mobile carts for their lunches.  Students’ curiosity and critical thinking skills are nurtured, whether through close reading and critical inquiry of ancient Jewish texts or through figuring out how the Pythagorean theorem works before being given the formula.  Our students learn empathy, perspective taking, and how to have constructive dialogue across difference, whether it be Gan and 1st grade students learning how to solve problems together or 8th graders thinking about the perspective of a hotel mashgiach (kosher certifier) after he refused them a Torah for their tefilot (prayer) during the Israel trip.  More than ever, these are all skills our children need in today’s world.  I’m thrilled for our kids to be at a school that’s teaching them these skills.

Schechter Manhattan stands for a joyful, egalitarian Judaism that is shared within the walls of our school, while treating with full respect the many and varied ways in which our families live Judaism outside the walls of the school.  We are a diverse and inclusive place – a multi-cultural, multi-racial, varied-background community, filled with families with a variety of configurations.  Our common commitments are to provide a deep Jewish education for our children, alongside a rigorous and nurturing general education, and to being part of a non-judgmental school community where each child – and, by extension, each family – is celebrated for all of who they are.

Schechter Manhattan stands for bold innovation.  It’s in our DNA.  From its founding 23 years ago through today, the school offers a cutting-edge approach of engaging, project-based learning where each student demonstrates mastery through exhibitions and portfolios of work rather than tests and grades.  Today, bold innovation also shows itself through new ideas like the just-launched Schechter Manhattan Alumni Leadership Award, as well as through new curriculum initiatives.  Reimagining Israel Education, in partnership with the Davidson School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary and with funding from the Jewish Education Innovation Challenge, and Transforming Jewish Day Schools for a Racially and Ethnically Diverse Jewish Community and World are two new, bold initiatives that seek to change the curriculum and the ways we think about these two important topics to best prepare students for the complex world of today.

Schechter Manhattan Is a caring and connected community.  On last year’s Annual Parent Survey, the most prevalent theme in the “write-in” section was how much Schechter Manhattan parents love the community at our school.  Whether it be individually organized events, like playdates and Shabbat meals, or PA-organized events, like the Schechter Shabbaton and Family Fun Night Out, or showing up when needed, like for shiva or when a parent or child is sick, this is a warm, friendly, down-to-earth, inclusive community that goes out of its way for each other.   In addition, the facts that last year over 84% of parents donated money to the school and 70% of parents volunteered their time in some way to help strengthen the school are testaments to the level of commitment that Schechter Manhattan parents have to this amazing community.

Schechter Manhattan’s Board of Trustees is thinking about…

In parallel with so many of our parents, the Board of Trustees has also been working hard to strengthen our school.  Trustees are asking critical questions:

  • How can we continue to deepen and enrich the experience that children and their parents have at Schechter Manhattan?
  • How do we expand the network of people who care about and invest in the important Schechter Manhattan work of growing our future Jewish leaders?
  • How do we maximally create growth and manage expenses to enable sustainability far into the future?
  • How do we continue to make a Schechter Manhattan education affordable for as many families as possible?

Tuition 2019-20: 
Tuition will remain flat for the third year in a row.

After much deliberation on these last two questions, the Board of Trustees has agreed to keep tuition flat next year – for the third year in a row.  (Please note that individual families’ tuition may change, as tuition differs for each grade; as always, financial aid is based on each family’s circumstances.)  We understand that affordability is one of the key challenges facing Jewish day schools across the country, and Schechter Manhattan is no different. Responding to this national issue for the Jewish day school community, in 2014, the Board of Trustees authorized the creation of an online Tuition Calculator, which allows families to anonymously check their eligibility for a pre-set tuition discount without submitting a full financial aid application.   The Board of Trustees is committed to making Schechter Manhattan as affordable as possible, while ensuring that we have the resources required to operate the school in a high-quality way that fulfills our mission and values and ensures sustainability.

Stretching makes a difference

Like other Jewish day schools around the country, we are also calling upon all of you to join in this endeavor of strengthening our amazing school.  As we look towards the future, we are asking families to stretch. Whether it be stretching by making Schechter Manhattan a philanthropic priority or stretching by paying a higher percentage of tuition – or both! – we are asking that each of you deepen your commitment to our school by contributing more.  Please join in an even more profound way with the Board of Trustees and with the broader community of people who contribute financially towards sustaining and strengthening Schechter Manhattan. Our wonderful school needs you. Ten percent increases make a huge difference.

My gratitude

This is month eight of my first year as Board President at Schechter Manhattan, and I am so grateful.  I’m grateful to all of you, the parents at Schechter Manhattan, for making up this wonderful community.  I’m extra grateful to so many of you who work with me as volunteers to do the work of strengthening our unique school.  I’m especially grateful to Benjamin Mann and other Schechter Manhattan staff and faculty who make this place happen day in and day out.  I’m grateful to the broader community of alumni parents, grandparents, and community members who donate their time and money to Schechter Manhattan.  Thank you, Thank you!

I’m very happy to talk about our school with you!  Please join me on February 4, at 8:30 am, or February 12, at 8:15 pm for “Coffee with the President.”  We’ll meet close to school, and I hope to see you there. Please rsvp to [email protected], or let me know if you’d like to find another time to talk.

With gratitude and warm regards,

Shabbat Shalom.

Julie R. Sissman
President, Board of Trustees
Schechter Manhattan