They say the best things in life are free, and it seems the Jewish day schools of Pittsburgh are listening.
The collective three schools — Community Day School, Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh and Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh — are launching a program offering new students who currently attend school in Allegheny County a free first year for the 2011-2012 school year.
The tuition-free start isn’t a new idea, necessarily; Hillel Academy has used the program to enlist about one new student a year for several academic years, but now marks the first time that all three schools have collaborated on such a project.
With support coming from each of the schools as well as the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Centennial Fund for a Jewish Future, school administrators were hesitant to set a cap on just how successful the program could be.
“We won’t turn away any child,” said Daniel Kraut, CEO of Hillel Academy, “so the answer is, if 300 kids say they want to start going to Hillel Academy, we’ll find a way to get 300 kids to Hillel Academy.”
Tuition at the schools ranges from $4,675 to $14,000 per year. Financing a Jewish day school education can be a major roadblock for interested families, said Avi Baran Munro, Community Day’s head of school.
“For some families, the thought of private school tuition is a barrier. And there are some families that don’t know enough about what we can offer them in terms of private school education with Jewish quality,” she said. “We want them to get a taste for the experience so they can prioritize it.”
Prospective participating students must be currently enrolled in an Allegheny County school, meet standards of admission and be Jewish to benefit from the year of free tuition.
As administrators at the three schools have been collaborating and meeting for the past three years, this launch coincides with a “marketing campaign to show how important day schools are to our community and local leadership,” said Kraut.
Munro, Kraut and Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld, the dean of Yeshiva Schools, all said the cooperation and collaboration of the city’s three Jewish day schools was fairly unique, and certainly special.
Remembering a recent education conference he attended, Kraut said, “There was a discussion about schools that had merged together because they couldn’t survive apart. That’s not this. This is three schools coming together that recognize that we’re all part of this Jewish education.”
That collaboration between schools of different levels of observance tells Jews, according to Rosenfeld, that, “we have a place for you in Pittsburgh, and we have education fit for your children.”
Whether the free tuition program will actually reshape the enrollment rates of the schools remains to be seen; at press time, several families had expressed interest. At present, about 280 students attend Community Day School, with 242 at Hillel Academy and about 400 at Yeshiva Schools.
The schools hope to show local families that a good Jewish education has roots in the day school system.
“We’re on a mission from God,” said Kraut, “like the Blues Brothers.”
Interested families can visit pittsburghjewishdayschools.com for more information.
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)