Reflections: President’s Mid-Year Letter

Our 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,

Wow — what a year it has been since I sent my last mid-year update in January of 2020.  I am here again mid-year to share some things that the Board of Trustees has been working on, and to let you know about tuition changes for next school year.

A year ago I could not have imagined the tremendous depth of creativity, flexibility, dedication and love that came forward from all corners of our community, from last January to this one.

Schechter Manhattan has transcended space – from distance learning last spring to a mix of in-person and online this school year – and with most of our students still going to school in person each day now in January!  (Back in September, who thought that would be the case?!!)  Our faculty continue to teach and nurture, with the child-centered rigor across Jewish and General Studies that is a hallmark of Schechter Manhattan, and our students continue building their muscles as critical-thinking, collaborative, curious people in our world.  We continue to make good on our mission for Schechter Manhattan graduates to “confidently go forth to meet the intellectual, social, and moral challenges that lie ahead, poised not only to do well in life, but also to do good in the world.”

In addition to the strong continuity of a Schechter Manhattan education in difficult times, the tremendous depth of Schechter Manhattan’s community connections have sustained through this time of physical distancing.  It has been great to also welcome into our community both new families and geographically-far-flung family members who are now able to join community events from around the globe.

This community, led by Ben Mann, in partnership with Gary Pretsfelder and Chris Aguero and the whole Senior Staff, Coordinators Group and faculty, and supported by the Board of Trustees, the PA Board and other volunteer leaders, has given me confidence in our collective ability to imagine and to actually create things that were never possible before.  Guided by our school’s core values and principles, grounded in our school’s mission, our team’s ability to innovate and to deliver has been profound.  I have never been prouder to help lead this amazing, special place, and I know you join me in deep appreciation for all the teachers, administrators, maintenance staff, nurses, school psychologist, and lay leaders who have brought us to this moment.  Shehechiyanu.

Growing Enrollment

Recruiting new students continues to be a strategic priority from the Board of Trustees, and our staff, supported by volunteers in Marketing and Outreach, continue to introduce new events and strategies for reaching more prospective families and “selling” them on Schechter Manhattan’s amazing education and community.  For example, this year we have had an ongoing series of Sunday morning events for preschoolers, introducing prospective families to our school’s ethos and fantastic teachers even before they start looking for an elementary school.  We have done several of these events in partnership with other organizations, such as the JCC’s Camp Settoga or the 92 Street Y,  to expand our reach even further.  We have also created even more opportunities for prospective families to get to know us and our community, including open houses, virtual tours, information sessions, “Meet the Teachers” Night, and inviting prospective parents to join us at community events like Yom Chesed.

We have heard great feedback from prospective parents about these newly imagined activities (all, of course, planned in this new world of zoom-land – thank you to our recruiting team!), and we believe that these new ways to engage, new partnerships, and new relationships will enable us to grow and strengthen our school.  If you know any prospective families – either to next year’s Gan or to transfer to another grade – please let us know at [email protected] so we can be in touch.  You, our parents, are our best ambassadors.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Grounded in Jewish text and the values of b’tzelem Elohim (all human beings are created in the image of God) and klal Yisrael (maintaining positive and supportive relationships with Jews of all sorts), our focused work at Schechter Manhattan on diversity, equity and inclusion has been ongoing for the past five years.  The events of this past summer – and the past few years – have highlighted for me the importance of our taking up this work in such a serious way.

We have invested in professional development and changed curriculum, empowering our faculty to have different types of conversations with our students.  I am grateful to the leaders of our parent-led Conversations about Race initiative which continues to offer Schechter Manhattan parents space to learn together in community, offering a reading/listening series on historical topics, such as the history of the electoral college and history of white supremacist insurrection in the US.  This year we are also bringing this work and these conversations to the Board of Trustees.  I look forward to sharing more as this work unfolds.

Tuition for 2021-22

Setting tuition and managing expenses are among the Board of Trustees’ most important jobs. This year we are especially aware that many of our families have been challenged by the economic impacts of Covid-19.  At the same time, the pandemic has added costs to running the school.   It has also put extraordinary additional pressures and responsibilities onto our staff and faculty — from hybrid teaching to public health support — and compensating them appropriately is by far the biggest expense in our budget.

For the 2021-22 school year, tuition will increase an average of 1%, ranging from less than one percent in the grade 1-2 tuition band, to just above 2% in the middle school band.

Our overall tuition mechanisms have not changed, including the criteria for tuition assistance, which, as always, are based upon each individual family’s circumstances. Specifics about tuition for 2021-22 are here. In addition, the Tuition Calculator continues as it has in years past, designed to allow families who may be seeking a relatively small amount of tuition assistance to check their eligibility quickly and confidentially.

At Schechter Manhattan, we are dedicated to creating a diverse and engaging environment where every child thrives. Tuition represents the majority of our income, enabling us to provide a special combination of personalized, academic excellence and meaningful Jewish living and learning. It enables us to invest in dynamic teachers and their professional development, as well as the tools and technology that create inspiring learning experiences.  We are grateful to all of our families for their participation in this work.  And in particular we are grateful to the 77% of you who, in addition to tuition payments, have already donated – many of you more than once! – to help with both the Covid-19 Fund and also the Chanukah / Year-End Match.  I am glad that we are a part of this vibrant community together.

Leadership Transition

I spoke with many of you a few months ago when Ben Mann announced that this would be his last year as Head of School.  I am very happy that we have the opportunity to give Ben a proper send-off and express our gratitude by honoring him at the 25th Anniversary Gala on June 9.  (Please mark your calendar!)

While Ben’s last day is still months off, the transition work is already in motion.  Gary Pretsfelder and Chris Aguero, our Co-Leadership Team for 2021-22, are already meeting regularly, both building themselves as a team, and doing the learning and pre-planning necessary for a smooth transition.  I am excited by my conversations with both Debby and Gary, and I am grateful that our beloved school is in such good hands, now and looking forward.

Final Note of Gratitude

I want to end with one last specific note of gratitude – for our faculty. They are incredibly talented, dedicated, and creative magicians.  Even with masks, even with teaching both in-person and online at the same time, even without singing and other “normal times” go-to teaching tools, our teachers have gone above and beyond to create different modes of educating and nurturing our children that feel wonderfully the “same as usual” for our students.  Please join me in reaching out to all of our faculty – classroom teachers and specialists alike – to say a HUGE todah raba / thank you.

As we have the past few years, I’d love to sit with you, hear your thoughts, and answer any questions.  Please rsvp here if you’re planning to join me on zoom on February 4, at 8:30pm, or February 11 at 12pm for conversation.  Or you can always reach me at [email protected].  I look forward to hearing from you!


All my best,

Julie R. Sissman

President, Board of Trustees

Schechter Manhattan