Recruiting From Long Distance

A Houston School Lures Students From New Jersey and Beyond

Competetive Market: The Robert M. Beren Academy in Houston was having trouble attracting enough students from a community estimated at 45,000. So it looked further afield.
Competetive Market: The Robert M. Beren Academy in Houston was having trouble attracting enough students from a community estimated at 45,000. So it looked further afield.

By Naomi Zeveloff

Published February 09, 2012, issue of February 10, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

One Jewish day school in Kansas cut its tuition in half. Another school, in Oakland, Calif., grew its endowment 15-fold. And a third, in Houston, succeeded in recruiting families from as far away as New Jersey, Venezuela and Israel. These institutions embraced bold, even risky moves in an effort to generate revenue and boost enrollment, which has been dropping at many schools outside the ultra-Orthodox community.

nate lavey

According to recent Forward analysis of reports by the Avi Chai foundation, non-Haredi day schools are in a state of stagnation or decline. The Schechter Network of Conservative Judaism has lost 20 schools and 35% of its enrollment since the late 90s. Unaffiliated schools, commonly known as community schools, are barely holding steady. For day school proponents, the shrinking numbers and shuttered institutions represent a blow to the idea behind Jewish education, the notion that Jewish day schools are a key to Jewish continuity.

The economic downturn is a major factor in perpetuating the downward trend, with unemployed or underemployed parents simply unable to make hefty tuition payments. But there are other issues at play. In making the case to the many Jewish parents who see day school as an option rather than as a mandate, day schools face myriad obstacles: how to accommodate those with special needs, how to retain students beyond elementary school and how to provide academic offerings on par with private prep schools.

Each day this week, the Forward will be featuring a story of a day school that met such challenges and reversed its fortune.


ROBERT M. BEREN ACADEMY (pre K–12)
Houston
Enrollment: 280
Founded: 1969
Tuition: $6,345 to $18,070
Percent on financial aid: 54%

As one of seven Jewish day schools operating in Houston, home to an estimated 45,000 Jews, the Modern Orthodox Robert M. Beren Academy has a lot of competition.

When a Sephardic day school in Houston opened eight years ago and drew a number of students from the Beren Academy, Beren’s administrators knew they had to replenish their numbers to stay afloat financially.

Beren’s administration decided it had to go beyond metropolitan Houston to find Modern Orthodox families to populate the school. Two years ago, Beren began offering Modern Orthodox families willing to move to Houston discounts on tuition, as well as breaks on Orthodox synagogue membership, summer camp enrollment and Jewish community center membership.

New families at Beren would receive half off tuition for the first two years and 25% off tuition for the next two.

Read the Forward’s entire week of coverage of creative solutions to problems facing day schools, including Naomi Zeveloff’s stories on Making Day School Affordable, Welcoming Special Needs Students, and Navigating the Transition to Middle School.

New Jersey native Samantha Steinberg, Beren’s director of admissions and marketing, traveled to the heavily Modern Orthodox community of Teaneck, N.J., to tout Houston as the affordable alternative to the sky-high costs of raising a Jewish family in the New York area. This year, 12 families from Venezuela, Israel, New Jersey and beyond took advantage of the program, enrolling a total of 27 students in Beren.

Donniel Ogorek, a father of two children enrolled in Beren’s preschool program, said that the tuition discount helped sweeten the pot when his family moved from upstate New York in August.

His family had decided to move to find a bigger Jewish community, and Houston was an unexpected choice. “With the discounts, I pay about $5,500 for both kids,” he said. “I’m thrilled about that.”

Contact Naomi Zeveloff at zeveloff@forward.com and follow her on Twitter @naomizeveloff


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.