Jewish Boarding School That Closed After Financial Struggles Will Reopen

    Editor’s note: The original version of this article, published Sept. 13, as well as a prior one published Sept. 11, contained several significant errors, which the Forward regrets. This Sept. 18 update includes new information and removes the erroneous material; details about the errors are appended. The Sept. 11 article has been removed from our Website. A Jewish boarding school that closed in June after years of financial struggle will reopen for the 2020-2021 school year — with a new name and changes to the curriculum and student body.

    Glenn Drew, chief executive of the Greensboro, N.C., school, American Hebrew Academy, wrote in an email sent Monday to former staff and parents of former students that the school had “secured the long-term financial support required to sustain robust operations.” Public records show that Puxin Limited, a Chinese education company, has loaned AHA $26 million with the campus and buildings as collateral — $1 million more than the amount AHA had previously been loaned by Titan Capital, a bridge-loan lending firm in New York.

    “The groundswell of support we have received facilitated the Academy’s re-opening,” Drew wrote in the email, which was shared with the Forward by a parent of a former AHA student. “Now, the next chapter in the Academy’s legacy is about to be written, and we fully expect it will be even better than the past.”

    He said the school, which closed abruptly in June after struggling to find a strong donor base to cover its costs, would serve a wider array of students, including non-Jewish local and international students. The email also said it would offer new courses in Chinese, entrepreneurship and international business, and that the school would announce its new name in the coming weeks.

    It is unclear whether Puxin, which says in SEC filings it is the third-largest private provider of after-school tutoring services in China, will have any role in the operations of the school or the recruitment of students.

    AHA, which opened in 2001 and cost about $42,000 in tuition for boarding students, was the only pluralistic Jewish boarding school in the country, serving students from all Jewish denominations.

    It was founded by Chico Sabbah, an insurance magnate and philanthropist, who had planned to bequeath the school with a $500 million endowment. In the early 2000s, however, Sabbah was found by an independent legal panel to have committed insurance fraud and settled out of court. The size of the settlement largely ended his ability to donate to the school, his former accountant told the Forward in June.

    In June, Drew announced AHA’s closure at a routine end-of-year staff meeting, stunning faculty, students and families. Many expressed frustration at having to rush to find new jobs and schools over the summer.

    Drew had been advocating to bring Chinese students to AHA, in order to offset the costs of running the academy and managing its 100-acre campus, according to a former teacher and administrator at the school who asked not to be named to avoid professional repercussions. Last year, they said, two Chinese students attended the school.

    Correction, 9/18/19, 5:15 p.m.: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Puxin Limited, a Chinese company, had assumed financial liability for American Hebrew Academy, leased its campus and assumed “de facto control” of the school, based on a misinterpretation of public records. In fact, the documents show that Puxin has simply provided a long-term loan to AHA, not unlike a mortgage on a house.

    The original article also said that the school’s chief executive, Glenn Drew, had declined to comment. In fact, in an extremely brief telephone conversation, Drew told a reporter: “Ari, I’m not speaking with you, I’m not speaking with you. Your story is false, that’s all I can tell you.”

    Ari Feldman is a staff writer at the Forward. Contact him at feldman@forward.com or follow him on Twitter @aefeldman

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