Against odds, parent group tries to keep lower schools open

Zev Hurwitz, Opinion Editor

Lower school families are organizing an effort to keep some version of Shalhevet lower schools open next year, hoping to form a separate financial entity so Shalhevet High School would not bear any financial connection or burden.

Unofficially self-dubbed “Keep the Flame Alive,” a group of parents and teachers has met several times to discuss viable solutions to keep the lower school open and functioning. The largest meeting was last Sunday, when more than 70 parents of lower school students showed up at Chabad Sola on Pico Boulevard to discuss how to proceed with their agenda.

“We are for a commitment from parents to stick with a Shalhevet with the same philosophy and same teachers,” said Eva Orpelli, a lower school parent who is helping lead the cause. 

A Facebook posting on the group “HELP KEEP SHALHEVET!!” said that $500,000 was needed immediately. According to Larry Gill, a member of the Shalhevet board’s finance committee, the lower school had a deficit this past year of almost $1.3 million.

More than $100,000 had been raised as of Monday, said Orpelli. It was unclear where the additional funds necessary to operate the school would come from, but other members of Keep The Flame Alive were in the process of exploring different ways to raise more.

“Right now we need to set up an emergency fund that could sustain the school for three to five years,” she said. “We need to find donors and benefactors that will help the school immediately and get us on track for the long run.”

Mrs. Orpelli has a kindergartener, David, who is affected by the ECC’s closing. If Shalhevet does close after this year, David will either attend Hillel Hebrew Academy or a public school, she said. Keep the Flame Alive predicts that up to 80 students could lose their Jewish education in favor of attending public school.

Benjamin Thompson, father of junior Tziporah Thompson, seventh-grader Sarah Leah Thompson and two Shalhevet alumni, said that the most important thing was for people to maintain hope and keep an open mind.

“This is the time for a dialogue, not an epilogue,” he said. “The Torah teaches us that spirit can trump gold, and we hope to embrace that teaching.”

Whatever plan Keep the Flame Alive devises would need the approval of the Shalhevet Board of Directors in order to be put into action. 

A statement issued by the board on Monday night said that there was “general consensus on the part of the members… that if a viable plan is put together to save the lower schools… they would be open to discussing the lower school’s continuing to operate on the current campus.”

Abigail Yasgur, board member and parent of senior Emma Lipner and freshman Max Lipner, said that the board needs to see a proposal before anything is decided.

“It all depends on their proposal,” Ms. Yasgur said. “I will never trounce on anyone’s dreams and I’m excited to see what they come up with.”

The board is scheduled to meet with parents this coming Thursday night, March 25.