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Parents, community concerned over Associated’s potential closing

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Associated Hebrew Schools Kamin Education Centre, on Atkinson Avenue. ASSOCIATED PHOTO

Concerned parents and community members packed into the sanctuary at Associated Hebrew School’s (AHS) Kamin branch to ask questions and vent about the future of the school’s presence in York Region.

Since May 18 when AHS announced its plans to sell Kamin, located on Atkinson Avenue in Thornhill, the Jewish day school has held five such information sessions.

Associated’s board of directors will take 90 to 120 days to solicit feedback, both online and in person, and to consult with the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto before it makes any final decisions about the school.

Now that these community and parent meetings have wrapped up, the board will take its next steps forward.

“We’re setting up two different action groups, so one is going to focus on enrolment and one is going to focus on fundraising and those will be chaired by members of the board and administration,” Stephanie Goldschmied, an AHS board member and parent, told The CJN.

READ: TO SAVE DAY SCHOOLS, COMMUNITY MUST PUT MONEY WHERE ITS MOUTH IS

The branch needs a seven-figure donation (about $10 million) and three Grade 1 classes to remain afloat.

At the meeting on May 29, board president Mayeer Pearl stressed relocating Kamin to the Danilack branch, at Bathurst and Finch, would be a last resort. “We are trying to find a solution to keep us in York Region. That’s what we want, I know that’s what everyone in this room wants and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said.

If it shuts its doors, Kamin will be the latest casualty in a series of closures north of Steeles. The Shaar Shalom synagogue called it quits in 2016, Leo Baeck will vacate its Atkinson Avenue building (Zareinu bought the space) and earlier this year, the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto announced it would be consolidating its two campuses at its Wilmington location.

Right now, the hope for Kamin is to stay in, or around, Thornhill, whether that means renting out space from a new owner of the current building, renting another space near the existing building, or renting a building further north.

The conversation May 29 touched on the myriad issues facing Jewish day schools in York Region, as well as in the Greater Toronto Area, including soaring tuition rates, which make these institutions largely inaccessible for low and middle income families.

For the 2017-2018 school year, tuition at Associated is $16,785 for grades 1 through 6 and $17,835 for grades 7 and 8. Pearl says about 40 per cent of students at the Kamin branch receive some financial assistance.

Parents and community members expressed their concerns for the future of Kamin with many parents of current students, especially those with kindergarteners, showing passion for the Atkinson school.

While they hope it stays in York Region in some capacity, some shared they would be willing to trek to Finch if the elementary school moved to Toronto.

“I am one of the parents who will go to Finch,” said one woman, who has two children at Kamin. “The tagline I would like to get approval for a T-shirt is, “It’s not about the commute, it’s about the community,” she continued, to thunderous applause. However, she stressed the importance of maintaining that sense of community up north.

Many members of the Zichron Yisroel Congregation of Associated Hebrew Schools – the Orthodox congregation that calls Kamin home – also attended the meeting, with some questioning whether a move would include space for the shul.

The future of Kamin isn’t set in stone quite yet. “I don’t think it’s 100 per cent going to be sold,” Pearl said after the meeting.

“If the right donor comes up coupled with some signs of population increase, it’s not a fait accompli. But realistically, as I said, it’s cavernous for the population, even if it grows to a core group of three classes per grade.”

Over the past five years, enrolment at Kamin dropped from 689 to 305, which is too few students to fill the massive building created for 700-800 kids. Over the past three years, AHS has averaged $1.6 million in operating losses.

The board will look at all its options, gleaned from its outreach work, in August before making a final decision in the fall.