First English-Hebrew public charter school to open in Clearwater
The newest Ben Gamla Charter School, which teaches Hebrew as a second language, will open in Clearwater this August with classes from kindergarten through fifth grade, according to Principal Jayme Joslyn.
The charter school will utilize leased classrooms at Temple B’nai Israel in Clearwater.
As a public charter school, Ben Gamla will be open to all students in Pinellas County free of charge. Initial registration is open through Jan. 20. A registration form is available through a link on the website of the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, www.jewishpinellas.org. The school’s telephone number is (727) 642-1593.
Joslyn said in a telephone interview she expected about 100 students to enroll this year. If more students apply than there are spaces available, a lottery will be used to determine which students will attend.
An open house for the school is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. at the temple at 1685 S. Belcher Road.
Temple President Evan Frayman said in an email message to congregation members that the school will lease eight classrooms and an all purpose room from the temple during school days, which will run from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. He said the rooms, which usually are not used during the week, would be available for use by the temple on evenings, weekends and non-school days.
“This is purely a business relationship,” Frayman said. Financial details of the agreement were not disclosed.
“The school is not ‘taking over’ our temple or our religious school, nor is it a new community day school. It is a charter school with a charter granted by the Pinellas County School Board, which will not teach Jewish religious education. By law, they can only teach Hebrew and cultural facts as they relate to Israel,” Frayman said.
Frayman said Ben Gamla will renovate the rooms it uses with new paint, flooring and furniture at the school’s expense and will build a playground for the school’s exclusive use on a field behind the temple’s parking lot. He said the lease agreement was modeled after one that exists between one of the south Florida Ben Gamla schools and Temple Torah of Boynton Beach.
“The charter school will not interfere at all with our continued observance of Jewish holidays. On holidays when the school must be open in accordance with the county school calendar, it is agreed that the school will vacate the campus well before our services begin and will return to it for dismissal only after services are over,” he said.
The first day of Rosh HaShana is on Monday, Sept. 17 this year and Yom Kippur is on Wednesday, Sept. 26, both regular school days in Pinellas County.
There are four Ben Gamla schools in South Florida. Known as Hebrew-English charter schools, the schools teach students to read, write and speak Hebrew but are not allowed to have any religious activities during the school day. Students are also taught basic school subjects such as mathematics, language arts, science, social studies, art and music.
The schools were founded by Peter Deutsch, a former U.S. Congressman from South Florida. They are named for Yehoshua ben Gamla, who is credited with starting the first compulsory public schools in the first century.
“Ben Gamla Charter School integrates Hebrew instruction, giving our students a useful tool in our global society. The vision of Ben Gamla Charter Schools is to create a community of learners that honor individual student needs, varied modalities of instruction and nurtures character traits that help to develop good citizenship,” Joslyn said in a news release.
Joslyn was hired in December. She was an assistant principal at Seminole High School and also taught at Tyrone Middle School and the Pinellas County Jewish Day School from 2008 until it closed in 2010.
She said she plans to hire eight teachers, including one to teach Hebrew. She said Temple B’nai Israel was chosen for Ben Gamla’s classes because of its central location in the county.
Frayman said Temple B’nai Israel would continue to offer Jewish education through its religious school. “In fact, this presents us with some unique opportunities to explore educational opportunities for our children in our religious school who enroll at Ben Gamla, since time will not be needed to practice Hebrew,” he said.
“There will naturally be some ‘bumps in the road’ but we expect that they will all be smoothed over and that we will enjoy a relationship with the school that will enhance our temple and our community for many years to come,” Frayman said.