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Day School Spreads Wings
I is daring and controversial.
But Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit's deci-
sion to become a Jewish community day school celebrat-
ing the unifying forces of Jewish life, and to no longer be
directly affiliated with the Conservative movement, also is
strategic and forward thinking.
This is significant because for many years, evaluators commis-
sioned to study Hillel's inner workings bore a common finding:
the school must become more strategic. That means securing
the future of the Farmington Hills
school, including its educational quality
and financial resources.
I understand the uncertainty by
some parents over the Sept. 10 deci-
sion. Change is never easy when it
involves kids and their education.
Hillel was founded in 1958 by
Rabbi Jacob Segal of Adat Shalom, a
Conservative synagogue based then in
Detroit. It's refreshing
to see the Hillel Board
of Trustees focus on
the reward of a trans-denominational setting
that promotes Klal Yisrael (the Jewish people)
and not dwell on day-to-day operations like
what day of the week special lunches should
be served. Hinds day-to-day dealings hum
under Head of School Steve Freedman.
who transmit a passion for Jewish learning and living.
By The Numbers
School officials insist the change wasn't made to boost enroll-
ment, which has dipped from 592 in 2006-07 to 578 in 2007-08
to 550 this school year. In fact, Hillel's strategic plan is predicated
on reduced enrollment while maintaining high standards and
quality. Michigan's turbulent economy and the region's shifting
demographics have contributed to the decline.
Still, Hillel enrollment has the potential to grow as a result of
the school's new designation. The main hitch will be increased
need for financial aid among current and prospective students
given that more and more families have limited budgets.
Tuition is now $14,740. Almost 43 percent of the students
receive aid. Total school staff is about 100. Families with more
than one child face an extra financial hurdle.
The dream of turning no Jewish child away from a day
school education, regardless of financial means, is collid-
ing with the reality of too few scholarship dollars despite
the generosity of the Jewish Federation of
Metropolitan Detroit, the Shiffman Family
Day School Tuition Assistance Fund, the
Goldman-Hermelin Education Foundation
and a host of donors. Federation's current
allocation of $725,725 is 9 percent of Hillel's
$8.4 million operating budget.
Hillel's decision to
become a Jewish
school, and to no
longer be directly
strategic and for-
Mechanics Of Switch
In January, the Independent Schools
Association of the Central States launched a
re-accreditation review, a process that spans
two school years. This year is the self-study
with an onsite ISACS visit to follow. It's the
same process other independent schools like
Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood and
Beverly Hills Detroit Country Day go through.
Part of the review calls for examining the
school mission. It was during this review that
Hillel trustees chose to ruminate on what
it would mean to continue to be guided by the principles of
the Conservative movement: How would these principles help
ensure that Hillel students get a top-flight Judaic and secular
education? How would they help ensure the school's vigor? How
would they help the school serve the broader community?
Hillel has been part of the Solomon Schechter Day School
Association of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism for
more than 30 years. The Hillel vote was to move beyond affilia-
tion with just the Conservative movement. It did not address the
school's Solomon Schechter status, which may be worth retain-
ing as a support organization if the projected yield is compelling.
During the review period, the Hillel board considered feed-
back from Solomon Schechter representatives, the indepen-
dent day school movement, Jewish education and secular day
school consultants and professionals, and Jewish day school
professionals and lay leaders. Hillel parents, past presidents
and a range of communal and rabbinic leaders, including
Conservative rabbis, also were quizzed.
Hillel will continue to be guided by a set of principles and
core values (like honor and respect, repair of the world and
mitzvot) that won't diminish the school's commitment to
Halachah, Shabbat, kashrut, Zionism or Torah study. It will be
open to kids from families of various Jewish backgrounds and
True To Mission
A press release issued Sept. 11, the day after
the school board vote, stated, "As it always
has done, Hillel will continue to evolve to
meet the educational and religious needs of
area families and the Jewish community."
That's an important pursuit.
No one is smart enough to know what the
Detroit Jewish community, the Conservative
movement or Hillel Day School will look like
in 10 or 15 years. The decision of the school
board helps assure that with its guiding core
values in place, Hillel can welcome many
more students. Participating families not
only will gain from a high-caliber Jewish and secular educa-
tion, but also make a prime investment in Metro Detroit's
The road won't be barrier free. Hillel's current student mix
is largely Conservative with 18 percent Reform and 7 per-
cent Orthodox. What happens if significantly more Reform
students attend Hillel? Would this affect prayers, rituals or
admission? The question of patrilineal descent won't go away.
Further, not all parents are happy with the decision or at
least the way it came about or was explained. Clarity of pur-
pose and direction should remain high on the Hillel board's
agenda to assure a seamless transition.
The burden is now on the board to hone the exciting new
strategy so it brings benefit, not confusion. ❑
Head Of School Steve Freedman's commentary: page A37
How will being a community school
How can we increase day-school scholar-
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October 16 • 2008