This June, the KeHILLAT mogen David Spivak Educational Center (KMDSEC) in the Pico-Robertson area will graduate its first fifth-grade class. The Orthodox Jewish Day School, created by Head of School Cecelie Wizenfeld and Academic Director/Principal Rabbi Gabe Elias, opened its doors as a preschool in September 2009.
“We opened up with 13 kids and two teachers,” Wizenfeld, who has more than 30 years’ experience in early childhood education, told the Journal. The school, which teaches both secular and Judaic studies, had 30 students at the end of the first year, and 45 by the end of the second. “When we got to the point where the kids would potentially go on to a day school, the parents didn’t want to leave,” she said.
“The school was so warm and friendly, both student-wise and parent-wise, that the alternative of going and changing to a different school didn’t sit well,” Elias, the former senior rabbi and executive director at Mogen David, added. “They asked us to start an elementary school.”
“We looked at each other and we were like, ‘Let’s do it,’” Wizenfeld said.
SEC was named two years ago in honor of the school’s original donor — Al Spivak — who died a few months after the school changed its name. The building, which is next door to, but no longer affiliated with Congregation Mogen David, has an indoor courtyard and yard, graas well as three preschool and six elementary school classrooms.
SEC is currently building resource and social skills programs to enhance its academics, as well as a “Parent and Me” program, and hopes to start adding middle-school grades in fall 2020.
Mindful of the cost of a Jewish education, Wizenfeld and Elias keep their overhead — and as a result, their tuition — low. Among her duties, Wizenfeld deals with the finances and legal operations, and a total staff of 30 ensures the school runs smoothly for its 130 students.
“Our tuition is half the price, if not less than that of any other institution,” Elias said. “Whether it’s Orthodox, Conservative or Reform, we offer an education to everybody.”
“I think our school is special because we’re all about the kids,” Wizenfeld said. “We aspire to bring in midot (respect, morals, and values) and mitzvot into everything we do.”
Quoting from Mishlei 22:6 Elias said, “Chanoch Le’naar Al Pi Darko,” (educate every child according to the needs of that child). “Every child is special.”
“We want the kids to have as much experiential learning as possible. Not just book and paper, [we want them] to get their hands dirty, to feel it, to live it, to become part of what they’re doing.” — Cecelie Wizenfeld
One program the school teaches is Ivrit B’Ivrit — Hebrew in Hebrew, where students read poetry and books and converse in Hebrew. “Our model is to chart and emulate some of the Israeli programs, so when the kids leave us, they will be conversing in Hebrew very well,” Elias said.
The school has also been praised for its Israeli, kibbutz-like feel.
“You literally walk into a garden,” Wizenfeld said. “We’re not just four walls, kids-sitting-at-a-desk classrooms. They come outside of their rooms to branch out a little bit. We want the kids to have as much experiential learning as possible. Not just book and paper, [we want them] to get their hands dirty, to feel it, to live it, to become part of what they’re doing.”
“The kids always seem happy to come to school,” Elias said. “It’s an environment of enjoyment.”