By Michael Jacobs
An agreement between two day schools in Sandy Springs is a major step toward creating a seamless Jewish educational system that covers kindergarten through 12th grade and perhaps more, leaders of several schools say.
The Davis Academy, which runs from kindergarten through eighth grade and is aligned with Judaism’s Reform movement, and the Weber School, a high school that crosses Jewish denominational lines, announced their partnership agreement Sept. 26.
The arrangement “establishes a level of cooperation that will enhance each school,” according to a letter from Weber President Harold Kirtz and Davis President Tonia Sellers.
The bottom line is Davis students will be able to move into Weber as easily as students move from eighth to ninth grade in a public school cluster or at K-to-12 private schools.
Davis eighth-graders won’t have to apply for admission to Weber; they’ll be assured of places in the freshman class unless they opt to go elsewhere. And their parents can be confident the Weber curriculum will pick up where the Davis classes end.
K-to-12 private schools are the model for the partnership, said Davis’ head of school, Sid Kirschner, whose board chose a closer alignment with Weber after studying the feasibility of adding a high school to Davis.
“We examined that because K-to-12 makes sense,” he said. But Weber moved to its new campus at Abernathy and Roswell roads as Davis completed its study, and Kirschner said Weber’s convenience, quality and comfort with Reform Judaism made it a better option.
“It made sense to find a structure that at least simulated K-to-12 as well as possible” while the schools remain independent and preserve their separate cultures, he said.
“We’re not trying to dissolve into a sea of commonality or relativity,” said Weber’s head of school, Sim Pearl.
And Weber has no intention of limiting its partnership to Davis. Weber is talking to the other two Jewish day schools in Sandy Springs, the Conservative-affiliated Epstein School and the transdenominational Greenfield Hebrew Academy, about agreements.
Kirtz said the process began about a year and a half ago under the auspices of the Marcus Foundation. The goal is to make the best use of the Jewish community’s resources.
“It made sense for the three feeder schools to utilize Weber’s capacity and high school experience and faculty rather than try to create their own,” Kirtz said. “We hope the philanthropic community will see that the various institutions are working together to create the best system possible and that they will want to take part in helping this work.”
Weber gets about three-quarters of its students from those three day schools, he said, with Greenfield contributing the most, followed by Epstein and then Davis. Weber has 218 students but is built for 300 to 350 and plans a second phase of construction to expand to 500. Davis, Epstein and Greenfield combined have roughly 170 eighth-graders a year.
Pearl credited the Davis board for having “the courage and the gumption to step forward and just say, ‘Let’s make it happen. We’ll deal with the obstacles as they come.’ ”
He added: “We hope it will be a template for us to work with the other feeder schools.”
Greenfield’s executive director, Kevin King, said the school is talking about a similar arrangement but has not come to any conclusion. “We think Davis and Weber have done a great thing, and we’re happy for them.”
Epstein’s head of school, Stan Beiner, said the school’s leadership is interested in formalizing a partnership with Weber and “creating a more holistic system.”
“I imagine that we will probably arrive at a similar agreement, although perhaps different because it reflects the differences of the school and the different needs of the school,” Beiner said. “The spirit will be the same.”
He said that spirit extends beyond the K-to-12 network: The day schools are looking to create similar partnerships with Jewish preschools to complete the educational path.