By Stacey Dresner
NORTHAMPTON – Eighteen years ago, a small group of families in the Upper Pioneer Valley were seeking a Jewish day school education for their children close to home. They founded Lander-Grinspoon Academy, The Solomon Schechter School of the Pioneer Valley, (LGA) in Northampton.
Since it opened in 1996, the day school has grown from its first group of students – eight kindergartners who met for class at the neighboring Congregation B’nai Israel – to a student body today of 74 in grades K through 6.
This year, LGA is celebrating its 18th anniversary – or Chai Year – with a series of events and a new website.
“We just want to pay tribute to the families and the founders of the school and to all of the supporters who stepped up time and time again to help keep the doors open and keep the place thriving as an incredible resource to our community. The plans we have for our celebration are to honor all of the contributions from all of the people who have made the school what it is. It is a very exciting time,” said Lou Davis, president of the LGA board, who has two children at LGA – Asher, a sixth-grader and Izzy, a fourth-grader.
Deb Krivoy, vice president of the board and chair of the development committee, has been helping to plan a whole year of anniversary events. She and her partner, Jennifer Einhorn, have a daughter, third-grader Julia, at LGA.
“It feels really important to look back at how much has happened over the last 18 years, how much the school has really grown and become so much more an intrinsic part of the community,” Krivoy said.
On Oct. 27, LGA kicked off the celebration with a breakfast for students, faculty, staff, and families held at the school.
“It was really an opportunity to kick things off and get everybody excited for a year of celebrations,” Krivoy said.
At the breakfast, it was announced that the board of LGA was going to plant a tree in honor of the school’s faculty and staff, for all of their dedication and years of service to the school. The tree will be planted in the spring with a ceremony.
“It is significant because there are going to be a lot of honors over the course of the year and for the board, it felt really important to recognize the primary role and the foundational role that the faculty and staff play at the school,” Krivoy said. “It was really special for us to be able to bestow the first anniversary honor upon the faculty and staff.”
“We really have come a long way and we have an incredible staff. Our faculty is amazing. So many of them have been there from the beginning. They are the life-blood of our school,” Davis said.
The next series of gatherings will be LGA-sponsored oneg Shabbats held at the three Hampshire County syangogues that are a part of LGA’s core community: Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton, Beit Ahavah in Florence, and the Jewish Community of Amherst.
“We want to celebrate this 18th anniversary with the local congregations, and hosting these onegs is a small way of the school being able to thank the broader community for helping us to reach this milestone,” Krivoy said.
An LGA alumni gathering will be held on New Year’s Day for the graduating classes from 2003-2009. That event is being planned by alumna Rachel Brazie, an NYU graduate who has joined the board.
“She was in our second graduating class,” Krivoy said. “She has moved back to the area and is our very first alum board member. It is really exciting. One of the areas she is interested in working on with us is alumni engagement and getting alumni to stay connected to the school.”
On Sunday, March 8, the school will hold “Night Around the Table”, an event where simultaneous dinners take place around the valley and on Sunday, May 3, LGA will hold its Chai Year Gala and Auction at the Garden House at Look Park in Northampton. The Chai Year celebration will be rounded out by a grandparent event, “L’Dor V’Dor” in May.
“It’s really important to be able to recognize what a powerful milestone this is, and at the same time, while we recognize and honor the history, it is also an important time to look forward,” Krivoy said. “What we have been saying to your school community is that one of the best ways that we can honor the past is to focus on the future.”
Davis said that after a “bad patch” a few years ago, the school is now doing well financially.
“We righted the ship and made some changes to our organizational structure and raised a lot of money. We received a great match challenge from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation for $125,000, which we met and exceeded actually, and really turned things around. We are in a decent cash position at this point; we have a balanced budget. We are in a really good place; the school is thriving. The community is really engaged, the board is really engaged,” Davis said.
“Enrollment is our greatest challenge,” he continued. “We need to increase enrollment and we are making huge strides in terms of our marketing efforts and outreach. We have a whole program we have launched this year to engage families at the earliest point. We have PJ Pals and Jewish Family Jams, which we do every Wednesday. We have families with toddlers and babies coming in every week and it is really a way to get folks in the door and introduce them to the school and community.”
The school is getting ready to begin a search for an executive director. “We really need to professionalize our development function and provide some professional leadership to the school,” Davis explained. “The board has been running the school for all intents and purposes for the last year and a half, and that is not the function of the board and we need to change that.”
The board has devised a five-year sustainability plan, which was presented to the Grinspoon Foundation.
“It is an ambitious multi-year sustainability plan that’s in the process right now and obviously that’s with an eye toward long-term growth and strengthening the school,” Krivoy said. “A key component of that is being able to really fortify the school’s executive leadership, and that whole process is in place.”
In light of the board’s sustainability plan, Grinspoon has committed to paying for the executive leadership position for a three-year period.
LGA is also debuting a new updated website. LGA parent Jennifer Einhorn, a communication and media strategist, led the effort to create the new website.
“We want the website to reflect the vibrant, joyful and deep learning that takes place there at LGA,” Einhorn said. “And also, just as importantly, to mirror this incredibly unique community that is made up of the faculty, students and families… there are no stock photos on the website. All of the faces you see, all the smiles and all those images of kids practicing tikkun olam are real.”
Having an effective internet presence is important, Einhorn explained.
“People used to call this ‘new media’ but it isn’t really new anymore. I think in the world we live in it is ‘media.’ Whereas before, websites were kind of an addendum, now in many cases it is the face of the school, in many cases it is the first and sometimes the only impression that a potential family will have.”
With the new website and all of the celebratory events, LGA is hoping to have an increased presence in the Pioneer Valley.
“Our hope is that it’s a special and festive year for families and friends, new and old, to come together to celebrate where we’ve been and what the future has to hold,” Krivoy said.
Friday, December 5 | Dessert at JCA
LGA will sponsor a special dessert after Kabbalat Shabbat services at the Jewish Community of Amherst.
Thursday, January 1 | Alumni Gathering
Calling all alumni from 2003-2009! Catch up with old friends and join Morah Becky Lederman at LGA for food & drink!
Friday, January 16 | Oneg at Beit Ahavah
Following the musical Kabbalat Shabbat service, LGA will sponsor a special “oneg” at Beit Ahavah in Florence.
Friday, February 27 | Oneg at CBI
Enjoy an “oneg” of light refreshments after Kabbalat Shabbat services at Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton.
Sunday, March 8 | Night Around The Table
Join us at one of many dinners across the Valley, featuring lively conversations with luminaries!
Sunday, May 3 | Chai Year Gala and Auction
We hope to see you at at Look Park Garden House for this festive evening honoring LGA leaders.
Friday, May 15 | M’Dor L’Dor/Generations Day
Grandparents and special friends experience a day in the life of an LGA student. Always a favorite!
Visit www.landergrinspoon.org for more details.