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American Hebrew Academy, Prestigious Jewish Boarding School, Closes Abruptly

This is a developing story.

The American Hebrew Academy, a prestigious Jewish boarding school in North Carolina, announced its closure abruptly on Tuesday, stunning faculty and students, the Forward has learned. The school began operating in 2001.

An email to faculty and staff from Glenn A. Drew, the school’s CEO, and Leeor Sabbah, chair of the school’s board, announced the closing Tuesday morning.

“The American Hebrew Academy began as a dream, it was a dream fulfilled for 18 years, and it is a dream that must, unfortunately, come to an end,” the email stated.

The email said the closing was due to “insufficient growth in enrollment and our inability to secure adequate funding to cover future school expenses.” The email announced that all contracts of faculty and staff, except for a handful of faculty and some security and facilities staff, will be terminated on Wednesday afternoon. The email said that remaining staff members should expect additional layoffs later in the summer.

The email added that families that live on campus will be required to leave by September 15. Health insurance coverage for employees will end June 30th, the email said.

According to the most recently available tax filings, the school received nearly $3 million in donations and grants in the 2015 fiscal year. In 2016, that dropped to about $400,000. It is not clear what precipitated the drop in donations.

Tax records also show that the school’s liabilities had ballooned over the years, from about $1.5 million in the fiscal year ending in 2011, to over $25 million in the 2017 filings.

“Declining interest in and philanthropic support for the Academy specifically and Jewish education generally, has made it impossible to sustain the Academy’s operations,” the email read. “Unfortunately, this is true for many Jewish schools worldwide. These circumstances can no longer be overcome. It is unfortunate that we must now share this news with you. We are truly sorry. The Academy simply lacks the financial resources to continue as a viable concern given rising school costs and low enrollment growth.”

“This process is anguishing for everyone involved,” the email continued. “Some will be heartbroken. Others will feel anger but there is no one to blame.”

News began to filter out Tuesday morning, leaving many students, alumni and faculty stunned. One student immediately set up a GoFundMe page to try and “save” the school.

“I’m just in shock right now,” Alison McKane, a copy editor in Cary, North Carolina, who graduated from AHA in 2013, told the Forward in a message. “I’m sad that the place that helped shape me as the person and Jew I am today isn’t around any longer. I feel terribly for the students who have to find a new school, and I worry for the teachers who now have to find new employment so quickly.”

As of Tuesday, the school’s social media accounts had been deleted, and its website essentially taken offline, with only a landing page left up instead. A phone number listed on the landing page was also disconnected.

Drew, the CEO, did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

Ari Feldman is a staff writer at the Forward. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @aefeldman

Aiden Pink is the deputy news editor of the Forward. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @aidenpink


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