Monday, September 27, 2021

Yeshivat He’Atid is looking to the future and making plans to accommodate and best serve its growing number of students and families. The school brought its novel approach to the Bergen County community in 2012, starting out with 116 students—just six classes—in a rented space in Bergenfield. When He’Atid moved into its new building five years ago, and Rav Tomer Ronen came in as head of school, that number had risen to 300 students. Now the school has doubled its numbers again, in just five years, to over 600 students and has graduated its second eighth-grade class this year. More students mean more space is needed and the school is now embarking on the final phase of its building construction to better house and meet the needs of all of its students.

Rav Ronen stated that the school’s “mission was always to deliver excellent Jewish education in an affordable way.” Indeed, the school has stayed true to its promise of affordability and now enjoys across-the-board positive feedback from high schools, showing its students’ proven success, not just at the elementary school level, but in high school as well.

Ora Kornbluth, executive director of Yeshivat He’Atid, explained that this expansion was always in the plans, but “we waited until we were fiscally ready to do it” and now with every inch of the building in use, and even bringing in two trailers this past year, it is time to move ahead.

Until now, the school had only been using two of the three sections of the current He’Atid building. The third section, which has been empty, will now be renovated to include a full-size, two-story gym, with a middle school wing and beit midrash above. Kornbluth shared, “We are turning down students for lack of space. Our upcoming expansion is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.”

Kornbluth emphasized that He’Atid values its place as a community school and being able to partner with other organizations and the community at large. Its central location on Palisade Avenue makes it an attractive spot for those looking for space to run their programs. “Friendship Circle and JYEP use the school on Sundays. We host the Chai Lifeline Sixth Grade Melava Malka every year,” shared Kornbluth. This past year, the school has also opened its doors for COVID testing and antibody drives, and worked with Teach NJ to sponsor the food program.

The administration and board take their fiscal responsibility seriously, having tuition cover the cost of education. “About 5% of our families are on tuition assistance and the total amount awarded is only 1-2% of our annual budget,” said Rav Ronen. This translates to “$19.5 million dollars [in tuition costs] that have been saved for parents and the larger community.” Kornbluth stressed, “We will never turn [anyone] down for unaffordability. We do give scholarships. Scholarship funds however, don’t come from our operating budget and are not covered by parents’ tuition.” Instead the school hosts “a small event every year, with the proceeds covering the scholarship needs,” explained Rav Ronen. Incoming President of the Board Kate Davis added that “contributions to the scholarship fund are tax deductible.”

With the higher numbers in the upcoming grades—this year’s graduating class had 27 students; next year’s has over 60—this final building expansion can’t come soon enough, according to Kornbluth. The school will be reaching out to its families and the greater community for help with this renovation project, but Rav Ronen assures parents that this “investment is a one-time thing. We don’t need to come and ask parents for more. There will be a high return on this investment—650-675 students will benefit from these additions on a yearly basis.”

Davis also noted that the school is very aware of the needs of dual-income families and makes sure to incorporate early- and late-care options into its schedule. Rav Ronen echoed, “We are always thinking of working parents. We try to make all events in the evenings or on Sundays.”

The school announced its expansion plans at one such event last week, Dessert Under the Stars. The program celebrated the school remaining open throughout this difficult year and finding a way for students and teachers to be successful, despite the obstacles. When Rav Ronen shared the news, he saw that “families are excited, feel connected and feel this is an investment in their school and community.”

The gathering provided an opportunity for families to socialize and see new friends and old, something they haven’t been able to do all year. “It was nice to get to see everybody,” said Davis.

Kornbluth agreed, “This was a celebration on many fronts, celebrating growth and the future of He’Atid.”

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