Toronto Jewish day schools opened this week after a year of upheaval that saw them merging, selling buildings and moving, in a bid to cope with declining enrolment and rising costs.
At TanenbaumCHAT, students from the high school’s northern branch, which closed in June, joined its North York campus. The merger was accompanied by a donation of $14 million, which allowed the school to cut tuition costs by one-third for the next five years.
Enrolment on the single campus was projected to be about 850 students. Head of school Jonathan Levy said admission figures were “still in flux” until mid-September and that it is too early to comment on the school’s actual numbers.
“A very high percentage” of students moved from the northern campus, but Levy said it was premature to say exactly how many students had transferred.
The school saw 40 new students apply after the tuition cut was announced, and the incoming Grade 9 class is over 200 students, he said.
A three-year collective agreement was reached with the Federation of Teachers of Hebrew Schools on Aug. 30. Shortly after the merger was announced, the union had filed a complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board, which was withdrawn.
The larger student population on one campus has allowed the school to run almost every elective, something that has not happened in the past, he said.
Engineering classes, which were not available on the north campus because of low enrolment, are now being offered to students in grades 9 and 10.
“No student has to give up a course they may have wanted to take, we’re really able to run just about everything that we offered and I think students will be thrilled with that,” Levy said.
The school has also made a “great effort” to bring sports banners, artwork and other artifacts from the northern campus, he said.
Meanwhile, that northern campus has been transformed into an elementary school for The Leo Baeck Day School, which is affiliated with the Reform movement.
Last year, Leo Baeck announced it was selling its building on Atkinson Avenue, in York Region, and moving further north into the building on the Lebovic Jewish Community Campus, which was formerly occupied by TanenbaumCHAT.
The school has spent $500,000 on the move, including $200,000 to transform the building’s central courtyard into an extensive playground, said head of school Eric Petersiel. Other renovations included adding more bathrooms and lowering sinks and water fountains in some areas for the younger children, as well as converting part of the library into a chapel and multi-use space.
Zareinu Educational Centre and AIM Programs have an agreement to buy the old Leo Baeck building, with the deal scheduled to close this winter, Petersiel said.
About 90 per cent of Leo Baeck students made the move further north and new families are now coming in to look at the school, he said.
“Unlike other schools … we are in fact expanding in the north, whereas other schools are shrinking,” he said. “We are making quite an effort and an investment to make sure there is a range of options for non-Orthodox day school education north of Steeles,” he said.
Associated Hebrew Schools announced last spring that it intended to sell its building on Atkinson Avenue due to declining enrolment and spiralling debt. It also started a consultative process with families, supporters and community organizations.
A representative for the school could not be reached for comment before The CJN’s deadline.