Got Orthonomics in your Email Box?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Public Service Annoucement: Jewish Cooperative School (Flordia)

I received this annoucement and am publishing it as a public service. This is the second (formal) cooperative school that I know of. A few months ago I ran an annoucement for a Los Angeles Yeshiva alternative. I am pleased to be able to provide a forum regarding alternatives in education.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE



JEWISH COOPERATIVE SCHOOL

Contact: Daniel Wasserman
Tel: 786-554-2863
Email: jewishcoop@gmail.com
A Proactive Solution to the Overwhelming Tuition Crisis
Looking to provide a Torah-centered education in an intimate setting for significantly less tuition than a typical yeshiva or day school, a group of parents in North Miami Beach is offering a vastly different model of Jewish education. They have formed the Jewish Cooperative School (JCS). In this model, the school is administrated directly by the parents. The immediate benefits are readily apparent: tuition is reduced and classes are smaller (no class will have more than 10 children). This enables a child-centered curriculum, where the educator can truly focus on each student as an individual. The Cooperative model has existed for decades in the United States. It encourages parents to be more involved in their child’s education by donating time, skills and resources. For example, one parent who is a skilled gardener built a Havdalah Garden with fragrant spices. Each Friday, the students harvest a small bunch of fragrant plants from the garden and bring home scented herbs for the Havdalah ceremony.
“We wanted a high quality, progressive education with smaller classes. And we wanted it to cost less than a typical private Jewish yeshiva or day school,” said one of the founding parents. On almost every level, the Cooperative model makes a lot of sense. After all, a few hundred years ago, in the plethora of small towns throughout Europe, it was common for Jewish families to cooperatively hire a melamed who would be shared by the families.
“We have hand-picked our very own experienced teachers, and ensured that our children are receiving a warm, loving, Torah-based education with high secular subject standards. No one makes a profit - except our children. This is truly streamlining at its best,” said another enthusiastic parent.
One of the most refreshing aspects of this model is that all of the school’s finances are transparent. Tuition goes directly to (1) hiring the most fitting educator, (2) rent, (3) insurance, and (4) supplies. Parents share the cost of each expense. Therefore, with each additional child enrolled, the cost is proportionately reduced for each family.

Now that the model has proven itself to work this year, they have begun plans for beginning a kindergarten and first grade class for the 2010/2011 school year.

“We hope to contribute a proactive solution to the impending tuition crisis while vastly improving the quality of education,” said Daniel Wasserman.
For more information contact them at: JEWISHCOOP@GMAIL.COM

34 comments:

Commenter Abbi said...

A sincere and warm yasher koach to this group of parents. What an undertaking and it's great to hear they are meeting with success.

Disgruntled In Bergen County said...

From the bottom of my heart, I wish this school and their hard-working parents much success. Perhaps if we could get this type of school off the ground in Bergen County I could change my screen-name.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like this is being run for nursery aged kids.

This would be more than a little harder to duplicate for kids above the age of 6.

Orthonomics said...

The parents started this for pre-school children and are expanding the program to grade school, specifically K and 1st as per the announcement.

I know people that have made cooperative schools for kids in the middle and high school grades. It is certainly doable with commitment and momentum.

Miami Al said...

The trick is to avoid "becoming an institutions." The killer with the schools is that they stopped seeing themselves as a means to an ends of educating Jewish children, and instead an institution in and of itself.

With a board elected as a slate nominated by a nominating committee, they don't answer to the parents, just each other. They get the kudos when someone gets scholarship, while spreading the costs to everyone. They pick and choose who gets a job that they aren't qualified (or needed) for.

Staying as a coop will work as long as the parents keep it as a coop. Once it becomes a self governing institution, the same problems that plague the schools will plague it.

Anonymous said...

they tried to open a similar type school in bergen county - but it failed

Orthonomics said...

Anon:
Are you talking about the school in this post?
http://orthonomics.blogspot.com/2009/04/school-without-bells-and-whistles-i.html

I have communicated with the parent from the Flordia school and it is off the ground and they are looking to expand the number of participants. The two models are vastly different from what I can see.

The Bergen County proposal, as far as I could see, was a proposal for something vastly different than a group school or co-operative. Ther Bergen County proposal wasn't quite clear in terms of what they were trying to create. Was it a school within a school? A scaled down school? Would they offer assistance or not?

I do think there could be a full tuition school that is more efficient. But a cooperative is heavy on parental administration and doesn't require the type of startup costs that the Bergen County proposal seemed to entail.

As far as I can see, two different ideas.

Anonymous said...

I am one of the parents involved in this cooperative. Thank you so much for your support and well-wishes! This year has been extraordinary - for our children, for our phenomenal teachers, as well as for the parents. We are thrilled to continue this model into Kindergarten and First Grade for next year.

Shoshana Z. said...

Fabulous! Can't wait to hear more about this.

Jeremy said...

maybe we can try again to start one up in Bergen County modeled after the one in Florida?

Anonymous said...

Best of luck to the Florida parents. What would really help would be for them to document exactly what they are doing - how did they pick the teachers, what is the budget, who sets the standards and what is that process like? For this to help others, simply sharing the details would have the biggest impact.

Julie said...

Not going to work. The kids in the first group or two will have an amazing experience. The parents will all be invested in the process. They will know the teachers; they will put their heart and soul in the school dedicating thousands upon thousands of hours into making it work. The kids will move on to kindergarten, first grade, and maybe even second grade. Then the problem will hit--SIBLINGS. The siblings won't all be the same age. They can't all be put in the same "younger class". The parents will either need to bring in outside families, families who were not in on the ground floor, or they will need to find other ways of educating their younger children.

Dave said...

There is no requirement that all children in the same classroom be the same age, or even working on the same material.

The "one room classroom" was the rule in the western United States for a very long time, and they still exist today in some rural areas.

JS said...

Even if it only gets to 2nd grade, for example, each parent has likely saved 20K+ or more in tuition costs.

That alone is significant.

Glen said...

Julie - Why hate on the Co-op model? Why the negativity? At least they are trying to do something to fix the "crises" unlike the rest of us who sit back like sheep waiting to be slaughtered by the local day school administrators.

tesyaa said...

Trying to fix the problem is good; however, Julie has a right to point out the pitfalls. Just because a solution is offered doesn't mean it's going to work in every community. Change for its own sake is not productive, if the change is not for the better. I can think of a lot more pitfalls.

(Re "trying to fix the problem is good": From what I know of NNJKIDS, I give a lot of credit to the founders for what they are trying to do and for the tremendous effort they are putting in, but I don't agree with their approach and I don't think it's likely to have much positive impact).

Julie said...

I just wrote a long comment, politely responding to everyone. But the comment seems to have gotten lost in cyberspace. Lesson learned--always compose offline.

Orthonomics said...

Dave-When I was in elementary school there were mixed grade classes. This was in a non-rural area. Are mixed grade classes still around, or only in nonconvential environments?

Julie-I'm interested in your comment if you care to try again (offline).

I will try to contact the author of the press release for a follow up on details. I'd love to know the answers to the questions asked regarding choosing teachers, etc.

Bob Miller said...

There will have to be some continuity in the form of a small permanent staff, as parents and teachers will cycle into and out of the system.

The nature of the surrounding community is also important---is it growing, staying the same, or shrinking? Do those who attend the Jewish schools stay or come back to raise families, or do they leave for good at some point? Are there local Jewish high schools? If so, does the co-op school curriculum adequately prepare its students for those high schools?

Julie said...

Okay, let's try again.

1. I know that there is no rule against mixed-aged classes. My children go to a school where there is a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade girls class and boys class and a 5th-8th grade girls class and boys class. But people pull their kids out of the school for that reason.
2. I agree that even if the school only goes to 2nd grade, the parents will save a lot of money that would have been spent on tuition.
3. Don't get me wrong. I really want the parents in Florida to succeed. But I think that the opportunity costs must be considered.
4. The parents are going to invest a huge amount of time into something that will continue to require huge amounts of time and energy in order to keep going. There will never be a point where the parents will be able to relax. The learning curve will always be steep. Every year, they or the teacher(s) will need to find new material and create new curriculum. It seems like an amazing, creative, wonderful journey for the parents and kids involved. It is, as you correctly tagged the blog, home schooling. I dreamed of being homeschooled as a kid. But now, I kind of like the idea of schools with teachers who are not teaching the material for the first time every year.

Offwinger said...

The teachers won't have to create a new curriculum every year, because they can rely on the currciular resources that are already available to home-schoolers. Besides, it sounds like the school intends to hire teachers with some experience, which means that the teachers will have some background re: lesson plans and curricular choice.

What I'm curious about is how many kids they are starting with and how many families are involved. I agree that you can have mixed ages in the same "class," especially when you have such a small class size, so I don't see that as a problem. I'm just wondering exactly how many people are currently "running" the school & actively involved in decision making.

As the school grows in size (younger children come in, extra grades are added for the existing children), it seems that having families govern together in the cooperative model would be unwieldy unless there is a clear election/delegation of authority to a small group of individuals. Anyone who has ever belonged to a shul, participated on a school board, or any other similar organization can sense how the continued growth might present a real problem in "institutional" governance undermining the basic principles on which such a school was created.

Avi said...

I wish the FL group luck, but I probably wouldn't want to be a part of it myself. Seems like you're trading off time and energy for a reduction in cost. I'm certainly involved in my kids' growth and education, but only to a point; beyond that I'd rather spend the money and let a professional do the work.

Of course, I'd prefer it was less money, and it is obvious to me that a system that requires every family to earn $250K+ to cover large families, large tuitions, large mortgages, and large taxes is doomed to fail.

Orthonomics said...

Different strokes for different folks I guess. I'd be very interested. There isn't much more we can pay and I believe we are going to be facing higher taxes at least at the county level (property) and the federal level as my bit of contributions to family income, if Hashem continues to bless me, has pushed the next dollar earned into a higher tax bracket.

And, heck, the weather in Flordia is REALLY tempting right now.

Anonymous said...

The weather is gorgeous. Come on down Orthomom! - we could really use some action-oriented folks!

This is definitely a work in progress, but I will tell you this - our preK teachers are exceptionally patient, experienced, and loving. When we were interviewing teachers, one resume was better than the next. One of our teachers teaches in the morning at one of the local yeshiva day schools and comes to us in the afternoon. Her reputation is legendary (and well deserved!). The other teacher has her masters and was instrumental in setting up the local Jewish Montessori school. They were intrigued by the freedom and support and guaranteed paycheck. The one consistent comment we always receive from parents is how relaxed and pleasant the teachers are; how happy and engaged the children are - even at 3pm. I believe that our teachers are very satisfied with the situation - after all - who doesn't win with less than 10 kids in a class. And the care and love and empathy the kids themselves have for each other is really amazing - and I think this is a direct result of the smaller class size and interaction of the teachers with the kids. There is an extraordinary amount of trust we place in our teachers but the goal is to make everything so easy for them - provide all the support they need so they can come in and do what they do best - educate children. We have a core group of parents that initiated and set the program up; helped get everything together to be licensed by the Department of Children and Families of FL. That in itself was an achievement and draw and definitely lent legitimacy to our program. I think that Florida is unique in that there isn't necessarily any loyalty to any particular school - kids often transfer in and out of the few local dayschool yeshivas for different reasons and at different times. I think with most things you have the people that act and the people that just kind of watch and wait and go along. This model is definitely dependent upon the continued interest and dedication of parents, but I will say that it has been manageable and we all work outside the home. We just kind of divide and conquer. One parent is in charge of substitute coverage; one parent in charge of supplies; one parent in charge of the bank account; etc. The education and attention my daughter has received far exceeds anything my other children have received - with the exception of my older daughter who was in a similar smaller program last year.

Currently we are in the process of deciding upon location since we have outgrown our current one. This week alone we have been offered three different locations to rent from and each one was more excited than the next at what we were trying to create. Our goal is to have location fixed by January. Already we have been approached by several experienced teachers who heard how happy our current teachers are. We will start the teacher selection process shortly - as the first question is always where is the school? and the second to follow is who is the teacher? We would love more parents to become involved - but we take what we can get and are extremely determined and motivated to succeed. For us right now, this is our future of Jewish elementary education.
Warmly,
Janessa Wasserman

Anonymous said...

Janessa - how much would you charge to start up a similar school in the NY Metro area? :)

Miami Al said...

One of the unique things that Florida has going for it... it's a relatively lawless place... it isn't quite the free for all that it was down here 20 years ago, but compared to the northeast, this is the wild west. In the banana republic of Miami, I'm shocked that there is any licensing required. :)

Good luck!

David said...

Janessa,

Thanks for sharing. I would like to please know how much time a typical parent spends adminstrating the school?

How much is tuition?

Thanks. Do you have the model documented for other to evaluate and perhaps copy?

Upper West Side Mom said...

I am thrilled for the Miami parents who have managed to get this coop school started. I wish there was a like minded group of parents in the Manhattan/Riverdale area.

Anonymous said...

Our PreK tuition this year was $5200. No "nickel and diming" or, rather, "ten and twenty-ing" every other week. Kindergarten and First Grade is estimated to be about $7500 due to teacher salary increase, supplies and books will be more, and location will probably be a little more - but again this is a substantial reduction in price from the local yeshiva. We will have a better handle on the 2010/2011 cost once we can get location nailed down. (Although this week alone, we have had three different synagogues extremely excited and interested in renting space to us.)

Compare our price to the other options: one South Florida dayschool charged $10,500 for tuition, $2,800 mandatory scholarship fund, & $500 building fund for a total of $13,800 for Kindergarten. We all know that this will inevitably be increased for next year. This school's cost is just about the same as the other two local dayschools, although they may categorize the fees differently (First Grade at a different school charged: $475 registration, $1000 Give or Get, $825 Building Fee, $350 Insurance/Security Fee, $175 Book Fee, & $11,500 Tuition for First Grade). For us - no matter how we look at it - we still saved at the very least $6500 we would have definitely been paying for our daughter (based on a very real estimate of Prek being about $11,700 - I don't have exact 2009 Prek figures). But here's the real difference: she is getting the exact education we want her to have with the best teachers imaginable and the yummiest kids to interact with! And that is the bottom line.

In terms of administrating - since we have divided tasks and the teachers know who to turn to for what (substitute coverage, supplies, etc.) the time I have spent is pretty minimal. (Email is a beautiful thing!) Opening the school was a different matter - this took quite a bit of time and was quite an education navigating Miami-Dade's banana republic, but the core families were equally involved and the payoff was tremendous.

Field trip coverage and coming into the class is really left up to the parents - they can participate as much or as little as they would like and we have always managed to have the field trip coverage with no problem.

Additionally, we ended up with a bit of a gap on Fridays between our teacher coverage - only a half hour - so rather than pay an assistant to come in - the child who is scheduled to be the Shabbos Ima or Abba has one of their parents do the 9 - 9:30 am coverage. It works out to 30 minute coverage once every 7 weeks since we have 7 children in the PreK. If a parent cannot do the coverage, which has not happened yet since everyone has plenty of time to arrange their schedule, then of course a different parent is willing to switch or do that coverage. When it was my daughter's turn to be Shabbos Ima, my husband scheduled his patients a little later, he went in with his guitar, made up fun and silly songs with the kids and read them a story. What a blast they had!

We were also able to have an amazing enrichment teacher come in and do Nature classes once per week as the result of a barter between one of the parents and her. Our nature teacher has a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and is a certified Florida Master Naturalist. She takes our kids, along with the teacher and any parent who wants to join, to different area parks and teaches the kids about habitats, plants, etc. at their level with fun songs, games, and nature walks. It is just a truly amazing way for our kids to interact with the beauty Hashem has given us.

Yes, it definitely takes a village - but a small dedicated one. And this endeavor is manageable for our family - even with two working parents and a handful of other children to cater to.

Who's moving down to join us??? :) We would love the company! And if you live in South Florida, email us! We are waiting to welcome your family into our cooperative!

Warmly,
Janessa
jewishcoop@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

Those of you in Bergen county and elsewhere in the area may want to check out cliftoncheder.org. They are able to keep costs in check by employing a "bais medrash" style of learning for a portion of the day. I know several parents (and their kids) who love the school.

Orthonomics said...

Janessa,
Thanks for so many informative comments. I'm learning a lot.

Anonymous said...

As an active parent in the Cooperative school I feel good that my time and energy is going towards something I really believe in for my children and perhaps helping the community in general. With four school age children - (one in traditional school, one in the Cooperative and two homeschooled) I find that educating our children in any manner takes allot of energy. With the Cooperative my energy has a direct positive effect.

Anonymous said...

So sad,

At lunch today with 2 other MO couples. All three of us acknowledged that we couldn't afford more than the two kids we already have due to Yeshiva tuition. All 6 of us already work full-time jobs. One of the woman was almost in tears b\c she really wants a third kid but can't afford one b\c her husband already works 3 jobs to make ends meet. This my friends is the state of modern orthodoxy. Enough said.

tesyaa said...

One of the woman was almost in tears b\c she really wants a third kid but can't afford one b\c her husband already works 3 jobs to make ends meet.

This is sad, but in this case homeschooling and public school should at least be on the table as option. You can always educate the kids Jewishly, but you may really regret not having the children you wanted when it's too late.