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California’s first Hebrew language charter school approved for Santa Clarita Valley

by Rebecca Steinberger

March 18, 2010 | 2:08 pm

A charter school emphasizing Hebrew as well as other languages is expected to open in the Santa Clarita Valley in fall 2010, after being approved by a Santa Clarita school board on Wednesday evening. “This is an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of our children,” said Rabbi Mark Blazer of Temple Beth Ami, who has spearheaded the project from the start. “I am very excited and proud that the process ended up being passed by our local district,” Blazer said. “This will allow the growth of other charter schools that will offer Hebrew.”

Officials hope to open the Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts and Sciences with 225 students in grades 7 through 9, on a temporary site. The school hopes to add 75 students per year until reaching capacity of 450 and would ultimately be expanded to reach 12th grade.

The school has been labeled a Hebrew language charter school, and its Web site says it is “is the first charter school in California to incorporate the Hebrew language into its curricula.” It was originally conceived to be built on a new Jewish community center site, alongside Temple Beth Ami, but the curriculum has since been expanded to include other languages and the ultimate home for the school is now not yet determined. The school’s Web site states: “An important area in which Hebrew cultural content will be added to the curriculum is through the school’s regular enrichment workshops.”

The William S. Hart School District approved the proposal in a 4-0 vote. Plans had previously caused concern among some board members over separation of church and state. During the district’s first consideration, board members requested amendments that the school will accommodate all religious holidays, as determined by the students’ and staff’s needs, and would include more resources for special education.

Backers of the charter say the school will not be a religious school. Its principal, Edward Gika, has spent more than a decade as an educator, and served as dean of students at Montclair College Prep School. Speaking of the Einstein Academy, he said, “Nothing is blurred between church and state.”

The school’s stated mission is to prepare students for college with an emphasis on multiple languages, as well as communication and critical thinking. Students will study two languages, choosing from Hebrew, Spanish, Latin, Greek and Arabic. Officials said the school will apply for accreditation through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Hebrew will be optional.

“If you study Hebrew, you have to be of a particular faith?” Gika asked parents during a recent meeting. “This is a battle we don’t have to fight.”

The meetings, which have taken place over the last few months, showed that parents and community members were mostly concerned about transportation, enrollment and how soon the academy would expand into additional grade levels.

Although the school will likely be attractive to Jewish families, the diversified curriculum and array of extracurricular activities, including athletics, arts, educational travel, writing programs and after-school programs would likely have a larger appeal as well, particularly in a time when public schools are facing statewide budget cuts. 

“We need to focus on giving our kids the greatest and broadest education they could have to be more successful adults,” said Fabian Malinovitz, father to twin 5th graders.

Malinovitz became interested in the school when he realized his daughters were memorizing a foreign language rather than finding meaning in the words. The charter will give more options than the district he said.

Parents interested in enrolling their children may request an application by visiting the Albert Einstein Academy website at www.ealas.org.

Additional information may be found on the website or by contacting Edward Gika at 661-373-3286.

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