Fourteen months ago, I joined the Hebrew Charter School Center as its first CEO and president. During that time, I have been asked versions of the following questions dozens if not hundreds of times.
Question #1: “Hebrew charter schools? How can a public charter school be a religious school?”
Answer: It can’t and it isn’t.
The Hebrew Charter School Center’s network schools are public, nonsectarian, and serve students from a wide array of religious and non-religious backgrounds.
In a way, the confusion is understandable. Hebrew is a language that is closely associated with Judaism and the Jewish people. At the same time, Modern Hebrew (which we teach in our schools) is a secular language spoken daily by millions of people. Our Modern Hebrew dual language public charter schools are not Jewish religious schools. New York City’s Greek dual language public charter school is not a Greek Orthodox religious school, French dual language public schools are not Catholic schools, and the growing number of Mandarin dual language public schools are not Buddhist religious schools.
Question #2: “Hebrew charter schools? So those are just for Jewish kids, right?”
Answer: Wrong – our schools are for everyone, and serve as models of integration and diversity.
In many of our country’s school districts, including its largest (New York City) racial and economic isolation is a fact in the majority of public district schools. And in many district schools that appear to be integrated based on their total school enrollment, they are segregated at a classroom level, with significant racial and economic disparities in student assignment to gifted classes and self-contained special education classes. By contrast, the schools in the Hebrew Charter School Center’s network, including both of our schools in New York City, explicitly make racial and economic integration a goal – and have succeeded in creating integrated school environments. By way of example, Harlem Hebrew’s demographics are: 36% black, 20% Latino, 40% white, 4% multiracial, 53% students eligible for free/reduced price lunch, 21% students with special needs, and 12% English language learners. Our network, in turn, is a member of the National Coalition for Diverse Charter Schools (www.diversecharters.org) – a growing movement that sees charter schools not only as potential hubs of excellence and innovation but as a powerful means of creating integrated schools in places where segregation persists.
Of course, the best way to set the record straight about our work is to see our it in action. To arrange a visit to one of our network schools in Harlem, Brooklyn, New Jersey, Washington DC, Los Angeles, or San Diego, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jon Rosenberg President & CEO