Ten years ago, in Crown Heights, a dream was born. A new Yeshiva, the brainchild of Yocheved Sidof, slowly took form. Based on the Montessori Educational model, with true focus on the needs of the child, the school became a haven for those parents disillusioned with other schooling options in the community.
Smaller class sizes, personalized student curriculum and staff to student ratio became forefront thoughts as the school grew in leaps and bounds. From an inaugural class of 12 boys aged 3-5, the school grew to over 130 children, ranged from preschool through High School. On the outside, it was a school regarded as a model for peer institutions nationwide.
Behind the scenes, sadly, was another story entirely.
Steeped and driven by their mission to help each and every child on an individual level, founder Yocheved Sidof and Head of Education Rivkah Schack, found themselves reaching deep to fund the school with rapidly rising costs, and plummeting approval.
Eli Nash, one of Lamplighters major donors, wrote a letter in which he outlined the issues facing the school. He noted that “it wasn’t uncommon for me or a family member of mine to receive an email from a parent expressing disappointment around Lamplighters.” Poor academics was a repeat concern according to Nash, with issues never really being properly addressed.
Problems really came to head in the 2017-2018 school year, when major donors backed out, claiming the dissatisfaction of parents and lack of a concrete funding plan.
With the cost of running the school for the past years at approximately $18,000 a child, the average tuition paid, just $8,000 per child, simply couldn’t cut it. Rents were not paid, and staff were owed nearly $300,000 in total unpaid salaries.
In the letter published by Eli nash, his family sat down for a meeting with the school administration at the end of the 2017-2018 school year. In the words of Eli Nash, “The meeting did not go well.”
Nash outlines in his letter a picture of an administration refusing to acknowledge the issues facing the school. Parents concerns were brushed off, and pending financial doom was propped up with the promise of a “Lamplighters miracle.”
In a desperate attempt to right the sinking ship, the school moved to a new and condensed location on Albany Ave. All tuition payments were earmarked for salaries, and major donors gave one last chance to the school, with conditions.
The new board of Lamplighters were well qualified for the job. A wide array of professionals and businessman, they wasted no time in demanding an educational and financial audit.
The educational audit came back satisfactory, according to the board. The financial audit on the other hand, was dismal.
While no fraud or gross misuse of funds had occurred, years of financial mismanagement had left the school wallowing in massive debt. The past, though, was only half the problem. There was no way the school could continue to survive on its path. There was simply no viable plan in place for the school to survive even for the next month.
Faced with the stark truth, the board weighed two options.
- The ethical closing of the school. As distasteful an idea as it may sound, liquidating the assets and paying back whomever possible what they were owed, was perhaps the best solution.
- Attempt to reform the school, and lay out a durable financial plan.
The board decided to attempt the latter, drawing up a general framework for what a new Lamplighters would look like. It would be painful, the school would not look the same, but there was some hope.
With the school possibly closing within days, a charidy campaign was launched in the hopes of fundraising enough money to complete the school year. Although the $350,000 goal was not reached, the $230,000 fundraised kept the doors of the school open. It also showed a deeper, and perhaps more important fact. The community still cared.
When all the parties involved sat down to look at the plan, there wasn’t happy acceptance. The reality of the required balances was too much for some. Teachers dissented, and Rivkah Schack immediately resigned from her position.
In her resignation letter, she wrote that she was “too mission centric to a particular vision” to be involved in “financial cuts”, preferring to step down than face the changes such cuts would require.
Now as a new leadership begins to reform the school, the future of Lamplighters teeters on the balance. It is up to the parents and community to tell the future of one of our communities schools.Letter to LL Parents - Eli Nash