By Sharon Wisch-Ray
The end of a more than one-year process came to fruition in mid-March when the boards of Akiba Academy and Yavneh Academy voted to merge the schools effective July 1.
In early April, Rabbi Yaakov Green was named the first head of school for the merged Akiba/Yavneh Academy.
“Merging our two storied institutions offers a multitude of benefits. The combined school will see economies of scale, greater efficiencies, and a more fluid sharing of knowledge and resources,” said Akiba Board President Josh Hochschuler. “These strategic savings and partnerships will allow the merged organization the ability to invest in new services, build a streamlined curriculum, enhance reporting and systems, and improve our administrative structure. Above all, this merger will offer a significantly improved ability to retain and recruit top-notch talent, ensuring that we are offering our students the highest quality educational experience.”
Yavneh Academy board president Debbie Katz added that Rabbi Green is the ideal person to shepherd Akiba/Yavneh as it moves forward.
“He is a great listener with new ideas and willing to get involved in all matters to make sure Akiba and Yavneh continue on their path to a successful future.”
The process of joining the schools began February 2018, when the boards of both schools voted to explore the idea of merging the schools and formed a task force to examine the possibilities. The task force presented its findings to both boards in June. In October, the boards independently voted to accept “an intent to merge” and began the due diligence process with a steering committee with extensive institutional knowledge of the Dallas day school landscape.
Throughout the process, Hochschuler and Katz kept their school communities apprised of developments with monthly missives, answering questions as they arose.
A number of parlor-style meetings were held with various stakeholders including current Akiba Academy and Levine Academy parents, the two schools which send the largest number of students to Yavneh. The balance of the schools’ populations come from the greater area Jewish community and include students from all streams of Judaism and backgrounds.
This is not the first time the schools have discussed becoming one since Yavneh opened in 1993. They have shared the Schultz-Rosenberg Campus since the school year started in 2005. During that time the schools have shared certain back-office resources, but maintained separate faculty and lay leadership. With such a shared history and campus, leadership of both schools saw the advantage of merging.
One longtime Levine Academy and Yavneh parent shared her view of the merger. Jolene Risch is the mother of two Levine Academy graduates, one Yavneh graduate, a Yavneh senior and a Levine eighth-grader who will be a Yavneh freshman in the fall.
“My sons who have graduated from Yavneh had good experiences as a result of the inclusive culture of the school. I was grateful to Dr. Portnoy [exiting Yavneh head of school], who had the ability to understand the unique qualities of each student and allow each an experience that would enable them to achieve the goals they desired.”
Risch believes that Yavneh’s new general studies principal will enhance the students’ academic experiences.
As the merged school charts its new course, the elements that have made the Schultz-Rosenberg Campus successful over the years will continue to be essential.
Andy Schultz, son of benefactors Howard and the late Leslie Schultz, and merger steering committee member, outlined these at the 10th anniversary celebration of the Schultz-Rosenberg Campus in 2015:
• A vibrant Jewish community, anchored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas.
• Committed benefactors and a community of volunteers.
• Teachers and administrators who are the very heart and soul of the institution.
• Beautiful Jewish children who seek a deeper, more meaningful connection to their Jewish identity, and to the State of Israel, and:
• Jewish parents, who make a tremendous personal sacrifice to provide their children with a Jewish education.
“This commitment in particular must always be remembered,” Schultz said.