Thursday, March 30, 2023

The Idea School, a modern Orthodox high school in Tenafly with a unique focus on project-based learning, has announced that the 2022-2023 school year will be its final one. The news was broken in an emotional letter from Ms. Tikvah Wiener, head of school, and Mr. Raz Haramati, board chair, confirming that the school will not reopen in the fall of 2023. Parents were informed of the closure as of 7pm on February 2, and are awaiting next steps from the administration.

The Idea School was established in 2018 to empower high school students using project-driven learning and build their confidence as “innovative thinkers and problem solvers,” according to the school’s mission statement.

“The Idea School has forged new ground in Jewish education,” reads the school’s official letter. “Students learned to engage with and solve problems in the world around them; collaborate and communicate easily with peers and adults; and find true passions and interests that they could explore throughout their classes. Students owned their learning, found their voices, challenged themselves to be better and do more with each project they undertook. And overall, our students grew as individuals who care for others and for the world around them and are steeped in the morals and ethics of the Torah and our Jewish heritage.”

Parents and graduates have reprised the success of The Idea School’s approach over the past five years. Isaac Glasman, the parent of alumni Ezra Glasman, shared, “Our experience with The Idea School was magical. Ezra is now in college at Oberlin. He did great on his ACTs and finished his first semester with 3 As and a B+. He knows who he is, never communicates through a false persona and has great emotional stamina. We got more from The Idea School than we could have reasonably hoped for. We are filled with gratitude.”

This announcement leaves the question: what’s next for The Idea School? The official letter assures that the school’s primary concern at this moment remains the success of its students in the months ahead, and what opportunities they may have for the remainder of high school.

“This spring we remain dedicated to providing as creative and challenging a semester of learning as ever. We would not be able to do that without the talented, passionate, and committed team of educators that we are so lucky to have in the school and to whom we express our boundless gratitude. Over the course of this semester, we will work with students and their families to find a high school that is the best fit for each of them, and help them transition in as seamless a way as possible.”

As for the faculty and administration, The Idea School is still exploring what lies ahead, especially in regards to its professional development arm, which has trained 1,750 Jewish educators in its innovative approach to teaching.

“The Idea School has opened up new opportunities for teachers and students to strengthen learning and the high school experience, thanks to the power of project-based learning,” said Paul Bernstein, CEO of Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools. “The commitment of the administration, faculty, students and family at The Idea School is inspiring to the entire Jewish day school community, and we see more schools looking to introduce these innovative, creative pedagogies to their classrooms.”

Despite the heartbreak over this decision, The Idea School is confident in the amazing changes that it has catalyzed for Jewish education. “We are so proud of the impact we’ve made and are eager to share the exciting new opportunities that lie ahead. Our team remains devoted to fostering innovation in Jewish education, and we look forward to sharing our next steps with you in the coming months.”

As Nina Kampler, friend of The Idea School, shared, “All visionaries are truly ahead of their time. They see it early. And what Tikvah Wiener did in bringing The Idea School to Bergen County Jewish education was a pioneering move that was likely too early to take deep root in the community. But an effective visionary knows when to pivot, and that is what she and the school are now doing.”

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