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OU-backed state program brings public school science teachers to yeshivas

Adam Katz, left, Dan Mitzner, Dr. Steven Stein, and Rabbi Ami Neuman
Adam Katz, left, Dan Mitzner, Dr. Steven Stein, and Rabbi Ami Neuman

state-financed program that pays public school teachers specializing in science, mathematics, technology, or computer science to teach in yeshivas and other non-public schools after their normal workday is done is set to begin its second year in New Jersey.

Last year, three Jewish schools took part in the program: Heichal Hatorah in Teaneck, the JEC High School in Elizabeth, and the Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston. The schools brought in a total of six teachers — four at Heichal Hatorah, and one at each of the other schools.

This year, the program is expected to expand to 14 schools, according to Adam Katz, associate director of government programs for the Orthodox Union-affiliated Teach Coalition. Teach NJ, the coalition’s local arm, advocated for the funding in Trenton; now, Mr. Katz has been helping schools apply for the funding.

“This is in line with our mission to work to make Jewish day schools more affordable,” Dan Mitzner, the director of state political affairs at the Teach Coalition, said. “The main budget item in every school is teachers’ salaries. Drilling down on that even further, finding good quality STEM teachers in particular is incredibly expensive — they’re at a premium. This program is a perfect blend of being able to address both issues. It allows non-public schools to access the public school STEM teachers, and the non-public schools don’t have to pay for it.”

Mr. Mitzner said the program “is a dramatic advancement in the model in which day schools and yeshivot are getting state assistance. If the program grows, then this could be revolutionary for how the day schools are actually able to pay their teachers and, hopefully, in time, slash their budgets.”

Rabbi Ami Neuman is principal of the JEC High School.

“Science and engineering are our most difficult teaching positions to fill,” he said. “Teach NJ was able to help us find teachers who are dedicated to teaching but who I might not have enough periods for to hire for full-time jobs.

“It’s a game changer.”

This school year, JEC brought on one teacher through the new program to teach the school’s engineering classes.

“He came on as the second person in the room but our person who was running STEM was ill and out for a while and he kind of took over, which was incredible,” Rabbi Neuman said. “When the applications came this year, we jumped on it, and we found an energetic science teacher who will change the way we do science. It makes science more available to more of our students.”

Dr. Steven Stein heads the science department at Kushner. “We were able to bring in one of the teachers to really add to our program in a substantial way,” he said.

The school hired Livingston High School robotics coach Jeanne Ziobro through the program. At the public school, Ms. Ziobro had coached a collaboration between Livingston students and their peers at a high school in Arad, Israel; the two groups entered contests together (with identically programmed robots on the two separate continents) and many of the American students visited Arad.

Last year, Ms. Ziobro taught Kushner juniors; “in an ordinary year we allow these sort of electives to be across grades, but in the pandemic we had no cross grade mixing,” Dr. Stein said. Ms. Ziobro’s teaching at Kushner was mostly virtual; this year, the school hopes she will be able to teach in person. That will give her a chance to guide students in the school’s fabrication laboratory, which features 3D printers and laser cutters.

“To have a professional come in from another school enhances our program,” he said. “Similarly, we believe some of the real innovations we’ve done in our programs are things public school teachers can take back to their schools. We have some state-of-the-art equipment and facilities, and we’re happy to share knowledge with the public school teachers.”

While the state program is open to all non-public schools, Jewish schools, which generally feature a longer school day because of the need to cover Jewish subjects, are particularly well-placed to benefit from it.

“One of the advantages of having a long school day is that when Livingston High School lets out at 2:30 or 3 o’clock, we still have plenty of the day left,” Dr. Stein said. Generally, Kushner’s classes end after 5 p.m., though during the pandemic it shortened the day by one period.

Bais Reuven Kamenetz in Lakewood is one of the schools joining the program this year. Miriam Harris, whose official title is resource room director but has many educational roles in the school beyond that, is “very excited.”

“We have an amazing teacher coming,” she said. “Marsha Pepper. This will make our program that much better. We don’t have so much time for English subjects, so the quality is important. We’re always looking to raise the bar.”

The Jewish schools in Lakewood serve a charedi Orthodox community and devote less time to secular subjects than their counterparts further north; recently, some communal leaders reportedly have sought to reduce secular studies even further, and ensure that textbooks conform with Orthodox ideology.

Ms. Harris said that Ms. Pepper will teach math to fourth- and fifth-grade boys. “She’ll be teaching by us from 3 to 5. In those two hours we want to put in four sessions.

“We’re very excited by the quality of it and the financial side is amazing. Because they pay nicely at a public school level, we can get that high quality teacher,” she said.

She praised the Teach team for its efforts in helping her school use the program.

“Adam has been unbelievable,” she said. “He has been so patient. He really walked us through step by step. He really helped us with all the paperwork.”

The STEM program initially was funded with a $5 million allocation from the state government. The money goes to the local public school district that employs the teacher; it’s used to pay for the additional teaching at the non-public school. “We were able to work with leadership in Trenton to make sure the funding is there every single year, and draw down upon it until it is completely spent,” Mr. Mitzner said. “Once that happens” — when more schools take advantage of the program — “we will be advocating for a major funding increase in the program. That’s why we’re pleased we’re seeing a substantial growth from year one to year two.”

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