After several years of unsteady enrollment, Talmud Torah of St. Paul’s board of directors voted Tuesday night to close the Newman School, its kindergarten through 5th-grade day school, effective immediately. The decision comes as the school had 10 students enrolled for the upcoming school year – almost half what had been budgeted for.
“It’s a devastating decision by the board,” said Jared Miller, the interim board chair of TTSP. “We concluded that it was no longer feasible to operate the Newman School. We let the families of the students enrolled for next year know, and obviously faculty and staff. That’s where focus is now: on families and staff. We know the timing is less than perfect and recognize we left them in a difficult position.”
Miller said it wasn’t a secret that the school had been losing students for a number of years. The trend had appeared to reverse during the COVID-19 pandemic when the number of students ticked upwards and family interest led to expanding the program through 5th grade in the 2021-22 school year. However as life opened back up, enrollment continued to slide.
“It’s very expensive to operate a school, and as we looked at the numbers, it wasn’t financially reasonable” to stay open, Miller said. “It’s simply about the numbers: costs were rising and the student numbers were falling.”
Ted Flaum, the CEO of the St. Paul Jewish Federation, said their board had discussed ways to support the families affected by the closure.
“We’re talking with Talmud Torah and Heilicher [Minneapolis Jewish Day School] leadership,” Flaum said. “Our interest in supporting families is in alignment with our decision to support families who send their children to supplemental education at synagogues. We want to support families wherever they decide to get their Jewish education.”
Miller said the decision doesn’t affect the other three programs that TTSP operates: its Afternoon School, Midrasha, and Hineni, although the latter is looking for a new director as Rabbi Tamar Magill-Grimm is leaving to become Beth Jacob Congregation’s interim senior rabbi.
Miller said what hurts him the most is the faculty and staff that no longer have jobs.
“That is devastating, and it’s obviously very challenging for them. We’re trying to do what we can to make things easier for them moving forward,” he said. “In a school, the faculty and staff are the lifeblood. We hope for the best for them and feel terrible we had to make a decision that affects them and the community so much.”
Another path forward?
While this decision was made now, for the past two-and-a-half years, a committee of board members from TTSP and HMJDS have been meeting to plot a communal path forward for Jewish education in the Twin Cities.
“The Board remains committed to efforts already underway by the Talmud Torah of Saint Paul and Heilicher Jewish Day School in Minneapolis to plan for a Twin Cities Jewish day school, with a presence in both St. Paul and Minneapolis/St. Louis Park,” said Ari Parritz, the TTSP board member who is leading the plan with HMJDS board member Wendy Smith. “We plan to share more information about this exciting opportunity in the coming months.
Until that time comes, Robyn Schein, the HMJDS board president, said they want to welcome St. Paul families that want a Jewish day school experience.
“I have a lot of empathy for the board of Talmud Torah of St. Paul. This couldn’t have been easy for them,” she said. “It’s very sad for our community that it’s losing a beloved institution. We’re committed to working on being a warm and welcoming place for St. Paul families while we work through this.”