New Orleans Jewish school changing name to broaden appeal

Next month, the New Orleans Jewish Day School will usher in a “new era of Jewish education in the city” by broadening its outreach and changing the school’s name to Community Day School.

The school, which currently has an enrollment of 40 students in Kindergarten through fifth grade, will have the same curriculum as it does now. Bob Berk, head of the school, said “our mission will not change,” but “we aim to become a Jewish school that also serves the greater New Orleans community.”

Part of the change is to make “greater inroads” to the Reform, unaffiliated and intermarried communities. “We also feel this could be a great option for non-Jewish students in the community who otherwise would be looking for a good education.”

There are already non-Jewish students in the school, and they want more people to be aware of it.

In a February article in the Forward, many Jewish day schools around the country with declining numbers were examining admitting larger numbers of non-Jewish students. At that point, Berk said the New Orleans school had been admitting non-Jewish students but not deliberately looking for them. Now, the school will be marketing to the general community.

The new name will be officially unveiled at a family Sukkot celebration Oct. 4 at 6 p.m. Students will receive new shirts with the new logo, and marketing will kick off for the 2013-14 school year.

Berk said that having “day school” in the new name makes it familiar to the Jewish community, and the term “community” resonates both with Jews and the general community.

As for the school’s “in memory of Patti Arnold Samuels” line, after consulting with the family, it will be altered to “inspired by Patti Arnold Samuels.” The school was founded in 1996 “to provide New Orleans, for the first time, with a Jewish community day school… so that Jewish and non-Jewish children from all backgrounds and from the entire spectrum of religious observance could learn, pray, and celebrate together.”

The school’s enrollment declined substantially after Hurricane Katrina, dropping from 85 to about 50 as the school went on hiatus for the 2005-06 school year. After reopening, the school closed its middle school, ending at fifth grade.

Each year, the school hosts a community-wide math contest for fourth and fifth grade students.

Berk said the foreign language component of the school will be attractive, and the text study “enhances critical thinking skills” and uses concepts that cross religious lines.

“Jewish observances have universal messages of sanctity, hope and faith,” he said. “This model is as unique as New Orleans itself.”