Soaring enrollment pumps up Brandeis Hillel to critical mass

When Rabbi Henry Shreibman first became head of school at Brandeis Hillel Day School in San Francisco, there were several debates going on: Was there a need for a second campus? What about a middle school?

Now, eight years later, the debate has long subsided. The second campus in Marin and middle school are flourishing, and when classes resume in the fall, Brandeis Hillel will have roughly 530 students, making it the largest independent — another way to say private — K through 8 school in the Bay Area.

Shreibman listed several signs of the school’s success. When he began a Wednesday morning tefillah (prayer) service for parents at the Marin campus earlier this year, he could count on one hand the number of parents that showed up. Now, he reports, anywhere from 15 to 30 appear.

Brandeis has gotten so popular, the school’s yearbook supplier printed 100 fewer yearbooks than ordered this year. Why? Because an employee at the print shop was convinced the number the school requested had to be a mistake.

The school’s annual dinner was completely sold out, and teachers and others who waited until the last minute to get tickets had to stand.

And, according to Shreibman, there are only a couple of classes at the San Francisco campus that are not at full capacity, “but both kindergartens are full, with waiting lists.”

There is a small downside to this success, the rabbi conceded, in that it has put a strain on the admissions process.

“We’ve had to turn away families in certain grades,” he said. “And in the past when people hesitated to send in their deposits, it wasn’t a problem. Now you have to hit those deadlines.”

Shreibman said overall, the growth of the school presents its administration with a challenge, and that is “serving those families as crisply and caringly and professionally as we did when we were a smaller school.”

On the upside, the average Brandeis Hillel parent can now feel that they’re part of a “solid critical mass of people who have figured out they can raise their children in a different way than they ever imagined,” according to Shreibman.

In addition to its growth, Brandeis Hillel recently reached another milestone: Shreibman was elected to the nine-member board of directors of the California Association of Independent Schools.

“The San Francisco Bay Area was not especially known as a hotbed of Jewish education,” he said. “So now to be on a statewide board is a huge tribute to Brandeis and to the day-school movement in general.”

J. Staff