Day school choices: KTD taking applications for inaugural term

Kentucky Torah Day, a new Jewish day school in Louisville, is taking applications for the fall.
KTD is one of three Jewish day school tracks in the Derby City, the other two being the already-existing Louisville Jewish Day School (LJDS) and a pluralistic track that is still in development.
All three are meant to address what many see as a dearth of Jewish education for young people, which could make Louisville less attractive to Jewish families considering a move.
“All forms of Jewish education are important,” said Sara Klein Wagner, president and CEO of the Jewish Community of Louisville.
But, “a community Jewish day school has the potential to offer both an educational foundation and create a unique sense of community to the families who participate,” she added.
KTD is currently accepting applications for students entering Kindergarten through third grade. According to its mission, it will “provide the entire Jewish community of Louisville an exceptional general and Judaic studies education that will equip our graduates with the competence, knowledge, and 21st-century skills to thrive in pursuit of the highest levels of educational opportunities and career endeavors.”
But the organizers of KTD have made clear that the religious instruction, and the teachers who provide it, will be Orthodox.
“While we are not technically a pluralistic school, the school is for the entire community,” said Rabbi Zack Blaustein, head of school. “Every Jewish family in Louisville is welcome, and any non-Jewish person is welcome to the school.”
At press time, the physical location of the school was not determined, though Blaustein said preliminary talks were being held with The J.
Tuition for the school costs $9,000 per family, with financial aid available.
The school has an eight-member advisory board in place and an educational coordinator, Ryan Levin, has been hired.
Levin’s responsibilities include hiring permanent staff, and educational planning for the general studies and Judaic curricula, which will align with Common Core State standards and Kentucky Academic Standards.
“We have a very unique philosophy focused on the whole child with child-centered, responsive, progressive education,” Blaustein said.
Starting a day school from scratch is a “challenge,” Blaustein said.
“It is hard to get a parent to commit and be willing to be that pioneer parent. Many parents are in the wait-and-see mode.”
Additionally, Louisville already has a Jewish day school. LJDS, a Chabad-run school, opened its doors 20 years ago for students in Kindergarten through fifth grade. Gan Torah started in 1996 as a kindergarten and preschool. It eventually became Torah Academy and when Eliahu Academy closed, it became the Louisville Jewish Day School.
LJDS Founder and Director Rabbi Avrohom Litvin said the school has enrolled as many as 58 to as few as 17 students in a single year and has taught students from all of Louisville’s congregations.
Meanwhile, a third day school track meant to appeal more to non-Orthodox families is in development. The Louisville Council of Jewish Congregations (LCJC), a forum for Jewish leaders, administrators, board members and clergy have discussed opening a pluralistic school.
Also, Louisville Beit Sefer Yachad and High School for Jewish Studies provide supplemental Jewish education from grade school to high school.
Using a 2014 grant from the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence for a day school feasibility survey, Keneseth Israel has engaged a demographer, Ira Sheskin, to facilitate Jewish education in Louisville.
“Adath Jeshurun, Keneseth Israel, Temple Shalom and The Temple agree that a new, pluralistic Jewish school is vital to the continuity of the Louisville Jewish Community,” said KI Executive Director Yonatan Yussman.
According to Yussman, the four congregations have launched a task force to determine the best way to establish the school. The 15-member team is tasked with developing a vision for Jewish studies from a perspective that is inclusive of all denominations as well as those who consider themselves “just Jewish” or “secular.”
The task force hopes to deliver its initial findings by September.
Yussman, who spent two decades leading and teaching in pluralistic Jewish schools, sees them as vital to community growth.
“They create the future leadership of the Jewish community,” he said. “They attract young families to the community and retain families who otherwise would leave to go to a city with a pluralistic Jewish school. They provide Jewish continuity.”
Having three day school tracks for one small size city has some people questioning whether Jewish Louisville can sustain them all.
“Obviously, the pie is not large enough,” LJDS’ Litvin said.
Yussman, however, pointed to the success of Louisville’s four Jewish pre-schools: Adath Jeshurun, Keneseth Israel, Jewish Community Center and The Temple. Those schools accept non-Jewish children, which Yussman said are important for a day school’s success.
“A viable Jewish school in Louisville will likely need to be welcoming to non-Jews as well in order to have a critical mass of students,” he said. “About 35 Jewish schools across America have a similar model whereby there are Jewish studies and global studies options for families.”
Reimagining the day school landscape in Louisville has encouraged dialogue on the issue, which many agree is a good thing.
“The advent of the new school really pushed into the forefront conversations about Jewish education,” said Rabbi Shmully Litvin, LJDS Judaic coordinator. “That’s a positive.”
While getting all parties to work together for one workable day school model has been difficult, “I remain committed to that goal, Shmully Litvin said. “I would love to see one gigantic school, not three schools.”
Wagner said much work remains to develop day school education here. Different schools might require various degrees of buy-in, she noted. Communicating to parents what each school strives to achieve could be “challenging.”
But the process is necessary.
“We have an obligation to hear and understand the desires and needs of the community,” Wagner said. “One school is a challenge, more than one has created dialogue and debate. Whether the visions for each school or potential school are unique or duplicative is only one element families and potential supporters will need to understand.”

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