April 20, 2024
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Temple Emeth to Close Pre-School

Teaneck—As enrollment for next year had been set since the beginning of May, it was with considerable shock that parents learned that one of the community’s beloved preschools is to close permanently. After more than 20 years in operation on Windsor Road in Teaneck, the Board of Trustees of Temple Emeth abruptly announced that its Early Childhood Center will close after its camp programming concludes on August 15th.

Parents who had already enrolled their children for the 2014-2015 school year were informed last Motzei Shabbos in an email from the Temple’s Board of Trustees that they would have their deposits refunded. In that message, the board did not explain why the school was closing.

Rabbi Steven Sirbu, speaking to JLBC on behalf of Temple Emeth, confirmed that the Bergenfield Board of Education has would be leasing the space occupied by the ECC, and it will be used for their special education programs.

A spokesman for Dr. Michael Kuchar, Bergenfield’s superintendent of schools, said that he was unable to talk to JLBC at this time due to contract negotiations still in progress.

Temple Emeth, a Reform congregation that was founded in Teaneck in 1947, has about 330 member families. Today, the membership is drawn from Teaneck, Bergenfield, and many surrounding towns including Leonia and Bogota. “When the program began about 20 years ago, the school was a service to the Temple members,” he said.  Now, the numbers of Temple member families at the school are very low. “This is consistent with the changing demographics of Teaneck. We still believe we offered a great education to the children who came through these doors; we just wish there had been more of them,” said Sirbu.

Temple Emeth has struggled in recent years to break even. The Temple ran at a deficit last year, Sirbu continued, with the ECC being one of the Temple’s only profitable departments.

The suddenness of the announcement, however, left 21 staff members out of jobs and 80 children without a preschool spot for next year. To break the news, a board member visited Floch when she was on vacation last week. “I was informed, on May 14th, that the Temple had concluded negotiations for renting the space,” said Sharon Floch, who has served as the ECC’s director for the past 11 years. “They told me nobody set out to get rid of the ECC at the beginning of the journey, and I believe that. What did happen was that they were looking for ways to increase profitability and the deal that they got happened to exclude ECC,” she told JLBC.

“Eleven years ago [when Floch began her service], the students in the ECC were a feeder to the Temple, and as time went on, fewer and fewer reform families moved into the area,” said Floch. Gradually over time, the school became predominantly made up of conservative and orthodox families, and many of whom sent three, four and five children to the program.

The ECC has sought to be accepting and supportive of a wide variety of Jewish community members, from reform to orthodox. In an effort to appeal to members of the observant community who have increasingly moved into the area, the school has always offered only kosher snacks and lunches. In recent years, they expanded morning davening for the ‘2s,’ ‘3s,’ and ‘4s’ age groups, added handwriting and parsha study, and the pre-k program washes and benches before and after lunch.

Many people give Floch credit for the school having become consistent with the kind of education people in the observant community were looking for. Over the last four to six years, the school also switched from following the Teaneck public school system’s schedule to following the schedules of local yeshivas, so that families would not be inconvenienced by different vacation weeks for their younger children.

“I could have sent my children anywhere, and I chose the ECC for their pluralistic, loving, and intelligent early education. The decision to close the ECC could have been forgivable, had the Temple warned the ECC of its pending demise, or at the very least, announced its decision before mid-May,” said ECC parent Gavriel Bellino.

Tamar Schiffman of Teaneck sent all five of her children to Temple Emeth and has been part of the school for the past nine years. “My children have all been fortunate to be students of the amazing teachers and faculty of Temple Emeth. It is because of my tremendous respect for these teachers and Sharon Floch, that I am so outraged by the board of trustees’ rash and callous decision to close its own school this past week,” she told JLBC.

“For a Jewish institution to fire all of its loyal and hardworking teachers without provocation and with absolutely no warning, is unconscionable and immoral. These teachers and staff deserved fair warning and a chance to find and secure positions at other schools. Sharon and the staff should have been given the option of continuing their excellent program elsewhere,” said Schiffman.

“In the competitive world of early childhood education, parents register their children months, if not a year in advance. To make matters worse, the Teaneck public school system closed registration for nursery on May 2. Couldn’t the synagogue have consulted with a calendar? With Sharon Floch? With a parent liason? A little communication could have gone a long way,” said ECC parent Cori Robinson.

“From the time this news was shared, my inbox has been flooded with letters of gratitude, sadness, appreciation and thanks,” Floch said.

At press time, 25% of the school’s student body has been placed at other schools. Floch is working with other school directors to help place the other children. While many schools have closed their registration already for the year, Floch said several have kindly expressed willingness to open new sections.

By Elizabeth Kratz

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