Grant assures fall start for ‘low-cost’ school

Grant assures fall start for ‘low-cost’ school

With a second $50,000 grant, a new director of Jewish studies, and an East Brunswick location, the Pre-Collegiate Learning Center of New Jersey is set to open in September.

School founder and director Lauren Ariev Gellman of Highland Park said the nondenominational Jewish high school had signed a two-year lease with the East Brunswick Jewish Center with an option for a third year. The congregation already houses the Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley.

PCLC, offering self-paced individual learning and low-cost tuition, expects to open with about 20 students in grades eight-10 and eventually expand through 12th grade, said Gellman.

One of the school’s major lures is its $5,000 annual tuition, considerably less than other day school tuitions, which can run $15,000 or more per year. Parents will be expected to purchase some textbooks and supply certain items, such as a laptop computer, while students will access computer-based instruction materials, including lectures conducted or prerecorded by off-site instructors.

The school was recently awarded a matching $50,000 grant from the Woodbridge-based Marion and Norman Tanzman Charitable Foundation.

The school previously received a $50,000 planning grant from the New York- and Jerusalem-based Avi Chai Foundation with the promise of more funding if the school commits to meeting certain milestones.

The Tanzman foundation is one of the largest contributors to the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County. “We believe that the PCLC’s mission of delivering a high-quality, full-day Jewish education at affordable prices will benefit the Jewish community in central New Jersey,” said foundation president Jeffries Shein in a prepared statement. “We also hope it will become a replicable model for Jewish communities across the country.”

‘Forward-thinking leader’

The school also announced that Rabbi Francis Nataf, an author and educator with 22 years experience in administration and teaching in the United States and Israel, will become director of Jewish studies.

For the last eight years, Nataf served as educational director at the David Cardozo Academy in Jerusalem, an adult education institute.

Nataf was described by Gellman as “a forward-thinking educational leader.” Nataf is author of two books on the Bible.

Gellman said the new director will spend most of the year at the school, but will remain based in Jerusalem, where he has family.

Nataf, said Gellman, “will be commuting; he is intrigued by our project and wants to be part of it.”

PCLC expects to keep expenses down through lower teaching costs than those incurred by a typical Jewish day school. Students will be assigned to their own computer portals, which will also keep track of progress. Youngsters will work at their own pace, although “highly qualified” teachers will be on site to assist and keep order, Gellman said.

Although the first group of students will be mostly from the local area, Gellman said, the school will add one grade per year through 12th grade and reach an enrollment of up to 240 students from a 40-mile radius. She expects students from Middlesex, Mercer, Monmouth, Somerset, and Union counties and possibly from as far away as Bergen County, Staten Island, and Brooklyn.

In keeping with its nondenominational approach, students will be required to take part in morning prayers at a synagogue of their own choice.

Gellman said the school will probably not seek accreditation but will affiliate with another academic institution, probably by the end of the summer, through which students will be granted diplomas.

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