An Excellent Jewish Education

August 21, 2013
BY Maayan Jaffe
Bnos Yisroel has carved its niche in Jewish Baltimore
Sara Itzkowitz (left), Rabbi Chaim Amster and Ahuvah Heyman are three professional leaders growing Bnos Yisroel from great to even greater. David Stuck

Sara Itzkowitz (left), Rabbi Chaim Amster and Ahuvah Heyman are three professional leaders growing Bnos Yisroel from great to even greater.
David Stuck

When you walk into Bnos Yisroel there is a sign that reads, “Teaching students, not subjects.”

And that message says it all.

According to Rabbi Chaim Amster, director of development, since the all-girls school was founded in 2000 it purposely kept itself on the sidelines, growing “very quickly but quietly.” As the school prepares to open later this month, it boasts 460 students in grades kindergarten through 12.

Like most schools, explained Rabbi Amster, Bnos focuses on knowing and caring for every student. However, he said, what is different about Bnos is that the mission “permeates everything that we do. … The principal, coordinators, teachers, specialists, assistants and staff in the office — everyone has the same goal and vision for how they would like Bnos Yisroel to look and to affect the children.”

He said individual attention is not only the focus, but also the reality of the school.Parent and board president Jason Reitberger has had three daughters enrolled at Bnos since its inception. He echoed Rabbi Amster’s sentiments and said he has witnessed how the faculty and staff enable each student to maximize her potential.

“Its quest for academic excellence is something that was very important to my wife and me,” said Reitberger. “The success, in and out of the classroom, that my girls have experienced is a testament to the fact that [the school is] succeeding in its mission.”

Rabbi Moshe Hauer has consulted with Bnos. He described the school as “not just an institution, but a family.”

Reitberger said he has watched as the school grew from what he called “a mom-and-pop operation” into a top-notch institution “with sophisticated professional leadership supported by an active and engaged board of directors.”

Over the last year, explained Rabbi Amster, the school has been working closely with The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore to further its sustainability and success. Rabbi Amster noted that through The Associated Bnos took part in the Yeshiva University benchmarking process, which evaluated the school’s operation. It was found that enrollment is strong, tuition income was stable and overhead expenses were minimal. This was good news, he said. The program also recommended ways that Bnos could improve, which included greater fundraising and strengthening its board.

Last year, he said, the Bnos annual campaign increased by 70 percent and constituted 620 donors of whom about 100 give more than $1,000 annually.

“This last year, the budget was about $3.25 million. We receive approximately $2.25 million from tuition and fees, which leaves $1 million [to raise]. We get about $230,000 from the Associated and about $130,000 from the Weinberg Foundation,” said Rabbi Amster. “Then we get about another $250,000 from other foundations, including government grants. Add in the $400,000 from the annual campaign, and we have a positive cash flow.”

This situation, as has been reported through the media, is an anomaly.

Despite the successful model, Bnos plans to keep small. Reitberger said this allows every child to be noticed, appreciated and given the tools to succeed.Reitberger said the school has paid attention to the data, however, and recognizes that the Baltimore Orthodox community is growing. According to the 2010 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community Study, Orthodox households average 3.5 persons, but 4.9 persons if there are any children in the household.

“We take the needs of the Baltimore community very seriously,” said Reitberger, “and understand our place in supporting its growth. Our board has recently established a task force to address this critical issue internally, and we anticipate working with the other schools in the community to ensure that every child can access an excellent Jewish education.”

Said Rabbi Hauer: “I look forward to seeing [Bnos] continue to flourish in the heart of our community.”

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