Hebrew Charter School Movement Shows Signs of Growth — and Growing Pains

With Schools in N.J., N.Y., Fla., Calif. and More on the Way

Hungry for Hebrew: Students at the Hebrew Language Academy in Brooklyn interact in class.
Courtesy of the Hebrew Language Academy
Hungry for Hebrew: Students at the Hebrew Language Academy in Brooklyn interact in class.

By Andrew Brownstein

Published February 09, 2014, issue of February 07, 2014.
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That said, Rosenberg is no stranger to the world of education. He said the job “captures a lot of threads that are really important to me.” He worked as a senior civil rights attorney at the U.S. Department of Education during the Clinton administration, and was deputy general counsel of Edison Schools Inc., one of the nation’s leading for-profit charter management companies.

He likes the racial, ethnic and economic diversity of the center’s schools — a makeup that matches what Rosenberg calls “my family narrative.”

“My wife and children are biracial, African American and Ashkenazi,” he said. “Being able to lead an effort where we develop schools that combine education about Israel and the culture and history of its immigrant communities, really stellar proficiency-based education in Hebrew in a diverse public school context, is just a home run.”

Rosenberg’s appointment comes on the heels of another recent announcement that raises the center’s national profile. Sara Berman, chair of HCSC’s board, was named to the board of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

The center was founded in 2009 with the goal of creating 20 charter schools across the country. Two years earlier, the nation’s first Hebrew charter school was founded in Florida under the auspices of a separate organization, the National Ben Gamla Charter School Foundation. Ben Gamla operates four schools, all in Florida, though the foundation has plans to open schools in other states. The Florida schools are hugely popular and use lotteries to deal with the intense demand for places.

“We’ve tapped into a market that hadn’t really been discovered before,” said Sharon Miller, principal of Ben Gamla Hollywood, Fla., the nation’s first Hebrew charter school. “There’s certainly interest among families to have their children learn the Hebrew language in a secular environment, but at the same time explore their heritage and their roots.”

But, as both organizations have found, expansion sometimes brings growing pains. Over the summer of 2013, a Ben Gamla school in Clearwater, Fla., closed abruptly after the national organization withdrew support for it. The school performed well academically and had no apparent financial problems. The closing appears to stem from the view of Ben Gamla’s national leadership that the school’s local board in Clearwater had wrested too much control — a stance that some observers found to be ironic, since charter schools are designed to increase local governance. A writer for the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute called the episode a “study in bad charter school governance.”

“That school has not reopened, and that is a sadness for us,” Miller said. “But unfortunately, there were many things that happened there. It didn’t work. Sometimes that happens.”


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