Shalom Leases

An announcement last week by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) that it will not renew leases for its West San Fernando Valley properties will have an impact on two Jewish institutions: Kadima Hebrew Academy and the Rabbi Max D. Raiskin West Valley Hebrew Academy.

However, the announcement, which first appeared in the Los Angeles Times Jan. 9, may not be the last word on the subject, according to LAUSD spokeswoman Stephanie Brady.

"The Times article may have been premature," Brady said. "The closed-school policy for the district remains under review. There should be a recommendation to the Board of Education within the next month."

Although Kadima Hebrew Academy has only been a resident for 10 years, it seems that it has always been a fixture on the green and busy corner of Shoup Avenue and Collins Street in Woodland Hills. However, the reported decision by LAUSD to not renew its lease, which ends in July 2002, means that while the school will continue to exist, its address for next fall is yet to be determined.

Fortunately, the district’s decision was not unexpected. In September, Kadima’s administrator, Barbara Gereboff, and its president, Cheri Mayman, sent out a letter to parents alerting them that, "for a variety of reasons, LAUSD has decided not to lease its Valley schools beginning in Fall of 2002, which happens to coincide with the end of our 10-year lease." The letter noted that the school’s board of directors is seeking a permanent site for the future, as well as a temporary site for the next school year. A later letter, mailed in December, informed parents that a new site had been found but that the location would remain confidential in order to avoid a potential fight with neighbors over the required conditional-use permit.

"We’re moving ahead on another property, although we’re still unsure of the outcome for this property," Gereboff said, adding that Kadima had made a prior offer on the site several years ago but it was declined.

Until it is able to ascertain LAUSD’s intentions regarding the site, Kadima’s board continues its preparations for a possible move, including fundraising. Already, the school has a commitment from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for a $50,000 grant to use toward new development, and officials are also looking into applying for a loan through the Avi Chai Foundation, which provides funding to Jewish day schools throughout the country.

Kadima, a Solomon Schechter day school affiliated with the Conservative Movement, was founded in 1970 and has since built a reputation for incorporating a solid Hebrew language and Judaic-studies curriculum within the framework of a secular education. The school is also known for attracting students from a wide spectrum of the Jewish immigrant community, a factor which Gereboff regards as one of its greatest strengths.

"We want our kids to be proud of their diverse backgrounds and even rewrote our mission statement to reflect that," she said. "It’s a part of what makes our school unique."

With enrollment at 300 students from kindergarten to eighth grade, Gereboff said she anticipates continued growth, particularly for the middle school, which feeds into the new Milken Community High School currently in its first year at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills.

The West Valley Hebrew Academy, also a kindergarten to eighth-grade school, has experienced similar growth in the past year, although at 150 students, it faces fewer challenges to moving from its present location on Oso Avenue. The school is affiliated with Beit Hamidrash of Woodland Hills, which owns a large piece of property on Fallbrook Avenue that is already zoned and licensed for a day school although it still needs a city permit for any expansion, said Alan Shapiro, the congregation’s president.

"We do already utilize our campus on Fallbrook; we’re just going to have to use it more," Shapiro said, adding that school officials have been prepared for an announcement of this sort. "We all have leases and [LAUSD] made it clear that the lease was for 10 years and never promised to renew, although there’s always the hope and the thought they would."

Shapiro said West Valley actually has a little more time than Kadima, because the former’s lease expires in 2003.

"We would appreciate an extension of the lease because it would give us more time [to raise funds] for the expansion," Shapiro said. "Especially because of Sept. 11, which set back our fundraising campaign for the new campus by about a year."

Shapiro anticipates the eventual move will be a positive one for several reasons, among them a higher profile in the community and greater security for the school itself.

The West Valley Hebrew Academy is run by Rabbi Zvi Block, founder of the Aish HaTorah Institute (now named Beis Midrash Toras HaShem) in North Hollywood.