As Jewish day schools strive to attract a new generation of computer-savvy students and their very discriminating parents, private funding from secular sources may be the key to the future.
This fall, South Area Solomon Schechter Day School, located in Stoughton, Mass., will launch an integrated math and science program with a cutting-edge curriculum designed by Boston professors and carrying a $500,000 price tag. But while day school expansions usually rely on donations from “angel” individuals or families, the Schechter middle school received support for this initiative from the Cambridge, Mass.-based biotech giant Genzyme, as well as the National Institutes of Health.
“Its one of those exciting things that happen in the life of a school,” said Jane Cohen, the school’s principal. “We are in a cycle: What is starting to happen is that the bio-tech companies are willing to work with us, so while we don’t have [all] the grants yet, we do have connections to some of the companies out there in the world.”
In fact, the initiative’s directors have just applied for a $30,000 gift from Tellabs, a telecommunications company that supports education in engineering, science, mathematics and technology through annual grants. Over the next few years, the program’s directors Shai Simonson, a professor of computer science at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass., and Nitzan Resnick, a biologist from Harvard University who has taken off from academia to work full time at the Schechter middle school, hope to win grants from Bayer Pharmeceuticals, HP Technologies and the National Science Foundation.
This ability to look outside Jewish or local communities for support has won Cohen admirers who herald her willingness to seek partners from the for-profit world.
“Jane is very innovative, very forward looking,” said Elaine Cohen, director of the United Synagogue Conservative Judaism’s department of education. “What she is doing with grants and corporations has not been yet fully explored in the day schools.”
“If you look at names of Schechter schools, you see they are named for individual donors — these individuals have been major sources of income but hard to come by,” she added. “I am hoping a number of our other schools pick up on Jane’s model.”
Cohen and Harry Bloom, the school’s director of institutional advancement, have been invited to several national Jewish day school conferences to speak about development and growth.
“There is a lot of corporate philanthropy out there that has been better tapped into by the public school networks,” Bloom said, “and slowly, we are getting more savvy about these pockets of money that are out there. There is a growing awareness of the potential.”