January 21, 2019

New Pay Model, New Leader at Kadima Day School

Kadima Day School Head of School Steven Lorch walks with Kadima students down a campus hallway. Photo courtesy of Kadima Day School

Kadima Day School, an independent, nonaffiliated prekindergarten-to-eighth-grade Jewish school in West Hills, is seeking to bolster enrollment by offering a reduced tuition model. 

“Kadima is a jewel of a school, but because of its [enrollment] numbers, a well-kept secret,” new Head of School Steven Lorch told the Journal.

Local real estate developer Shawn Evenhaim, the namesake of Kadima’s Evenhaim Family Campus, has provided the funds to create this new tuition model, now in its second year. The annual fees at Kadima are as follows: early childhood education, $11,600; elementary school, $13,900; and middle school, $14,900. 

Kadima’s lower tuition fees come at a time when non-Orthodox Jewish day schools across the country are grappling with how to attract families that view Jewish education as a luxury, not a necessity.

With a student enrollment of around 200, the school has an annual budget between $4 million and $5 million, Kadima also is a beneficiary of the Jim Joseph Foundation and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. 

Among Lorch’s goals for the school are boosting enrollment to around 280-300 and growing current class sizes of around 14 students per class to 18. The new financial model may well be the way to achieve that. Lorch said he already has seen a substantial number of families seeking more information about the school. 

However, he isn’t just focusing on the numbers. In their general studies classes, Kadima students are learning critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity – the “Four Cs” of 21st-century learning, according to the National Education Association — while the school’s Judaic studies program is not as far along its in incorporation of these skill sets, said Lorch, who would like to change that. 

“Our teaching of literacy — reading and writing — our teaching of social studies, science, math, that’s the [current] emphasis,” he said. “And so, my goal for Judaic studies is to match that — [for students] to become the same kind of engaged, motivated, independent and collaborative learners that they are in the other academic areas.”

While the Judaic studies program may need an overhaul, Lorch said he is very proud of the Hebrew language skills among the non-Israeli students.

“Without trying to overstate the case,” he said, “their proficiency in Hebrew and the types of texts with which they interact and the types of learning activities in which they engage are more advanced than any school I have been in or any school I have seen or heard of this side of Israel.”

Lorch also touts the relationships between staff and students. Many of the school’s students are Israeli, and while this has the potential to present challenges for non-Israeli families — at another day school in Los Angeles, the disproportionate number of Persian to Ashkenazi students led to tensions among students’ parents — Lorch said the atmosphere at Kadima is one of inclusivity and warmth.

Credit, he said, goes to the Parent Teacher Organization heads, U.S. native Margaret Sinai and Israeli native Dganit Simantov.

“They work hard together to create an atmosphere that is present at every community event that I’ve attended so far, and there have been quite a few,” Lorch said. “And that’s the [feeling] among the students within the school every day, every hour of the day.” 

Further illustrating his point, Lorch recalled his first day on the job. He was standing in the drop-off area watching the students greeting their teachers with hugs. Lorch admits he was shocked. A self-described uptight East Coaster with “hang-ups,” he was accustomed to sexual harassment training forbidding anything but a handshake between a teacher and students over the age of 9 or 10. 

“I’d like to say it was a phenomenon on the first day of school after a couple of months of summer, but it continues every day not only at drop-off but throughout the school,” he said. 

While he may be the new head of Kadima, Lorch comes to the position with a plethora of experience. He was the founding head of the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan and previously served as the director of professional learning at the Orthodox Shulamith School for Girls in Brooklyn, New York, and as interim head of school at Ben Porat Yosef, a Modern Orthodox yeshiva in New Jersey. He earned his master’s degree in education from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education and his doctorate in religion and education from Columbia University. He also received rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.

Bringing all that experience to Kadima, and working with the new tuition model, Lorch is optimistic about the school’s future, especially given the increased interest from families who now may be able to afford to send their children to a Jewish day school. 

“It’s early days yet,” Lorch said. “We don’t want to report on outcomes until we have seen how it actually plays out, but the early indicators are strong.”