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JCC in Northeast Closes Preschool

August 14, 2013 By:
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The Klein JCC preschool, which closed in June, offered swimming to its students, a rarity among preschools.

The Klein JCC closed its preschool in June after more than three decades serving young children in Northeast Philadelphia.

The center will continue to rent space to Ann Kids Child Day Care Center, whose students come mostly from families from the former Soviet Union. The day care center, which started as part of the Klein in 2007 and became independent four years ago, will take over two additional classrooms.

Andre Krug, director of the Klein JCC, said that duplication of services — with nearby preschools operated by the Federation Early Learning Services and Congregations of Shaare Shamayim —contributed to the decision to close the school.

But he also said that economics and the changing demographics in the Northeast played an important role in the decision.

When the preschool closed, there were about 60 children attending, down from an enrollment of 110 students six years ago. In addition, Jewish enrollment had declined dramatically, down from a majority of Jews six years ago, to just a quarter Jewish last year. 

An increasing percentage of the children were coming from low-income families, with about 30 percent of students receiving some government assistance, Krug said, noting that with more families unable to  pay full tuition, the preschool’s revenue decreased.

Klein JCC has responded to the decline in young Jewish families in the area by concentrating its efforts on the large senior population that has remained in the neighborhood, Krug said. The center offers additional programming and social services, such as free meals, to low-income seniors.

“We need to face a reality that the younger Jewish population has left the Northeast,” he said.

The preschool’s last director said she was surprised and saddened by the decision.

“I didn’t think the school would ever close, even though it kept getting smaller and smaller,” said Shari Beck-Nahman, who was at the Klein for 13 years and spent six years as its preschool director. “I always thought it would be there to serve the community.”

In spite of changes over the last several years, the preschool remained a very Jewish place, said Beck-Nahman, who now holds the same position at the Shir Ami preschool in Newtown. The JCC school continued to celebrate Shabbat and Jewish holidays, with parents of non-Jewish students also attending.

Krug presented the change as a joint venture with Federation Early Learning Services, which is located down the road on Jamison Avenue. The latter, however, did not hire any of the eight teachers who lost their jobs, and none of the Klein students have enrolled there, according to Fredda Satinsky, senior vice president of FELS.

Krug said the result was beyond his control. “You can’t make people do anything. We suggested that people take their children to the Federation Early Learning but that’s the only thing I can do.”

He added: “This was a good decision that was supported by both the board of the Klein JCC and the Federation Early Learning Services. It’s a move that definitely benefits the community overall.”

The Shaare Shamayim preschool gained 10 families and hired two teachers from the Klein, according to its director, Sherri Herschfeld.

She said that when she started at Shaare Shamayim 23 years ago, there were a number of synagogue preschools in the Northeast, but now she knew of no others in the area. She  said that her student population also had changed from about 85 percent Jewish to around 65 percent. She said she was saddened by what she saw as the Klein’s diminished role as a place for young families.

“I’m hoping that with the preschool closed, there’s an outreach to communicate to families” that the Klein is “still alive and well, and I think that something that needs to be worked on,” said Herschfeld.

But at least one family lamented the loss. Ronit Kfir, 38, attended the Klein preschool as a child and then sent her son, Daniel, who is 4. She said she felt the school remained a quality place until its closure, offering activities such as swimming that most competitors did not have. Her son still attends the Klein summer camp but at the end of the summer, he will move to the Shaare Shamayim preschool. 

“It’s a shame,” said Kfir, a retail accountant executive for AT&T. “Because it used to be about the kids getting a great Jewish education and they took that all away.”

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