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Friday, December 15, 2000 | return to: news & features


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Jewish Community High lands Tiburon ‘starter home’

by JOE ESKENAZI, Bulletin Staff

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After "leaving no stone unturned" in a yearlong search encompassing the East Bay, North Bay and San Francisco proper, the new Jewish Community High School of the Bay has found a home in Tiburon.

The building, which is owned by and adjacent to Congregation Kol Shofar, is considered a temporary site until a permanent one can be found.

School officials expect the "extremely generous" three-year lease to be finalized within the week.

"Real estate is scarce in the San Francisco Bay Area," said Noah Alper, school co-founder and president of the governing board. "It's not only supply and demand. Things become very tricky with schools because of zoning.

"We're talking about this site as a starter home, so to speak," continued Alper. "We have room for 100 students maximum here, so we feel very confident that we'll outgrow this site after three years."

Admissions Director Rena Rosen anticipates that when the school opens its doors for classes next fall, 40 to 45 ninth- and 10th-graders will be in attendance. The school will establish 11th and 12th grade curricula over the next two years as the inaugural classes move along.

A feasibility study conducted by the school indicated a full 50 percent of its future student body would hail from the East Bay, with an additional 35 percent drawn from San Francisco and only 15 percent from the school's native Marin.

While admitting that, in the face of these demographics, housing the school in Tiburon is "counter-intuitive," Alper said that the location makes sense upon further analysis.

"Marin is a reverse commute from both San Francisco and the East Bay, so you don't have to go with the heavy traffic flow in the morning," said Alper, the founder and former owner of Noah's Bagels. "What we tried to do is get our major population centers within a 45-minute commute from our school.

"I feel pretty good that we've accomplished that, located 10 minutes off the Golden Gate Bridge and roughly the same off the Richmond Bridge. And we will be providing bus transport from both San Francisco and the East Bay.

"The truth is, given the constraints of our geography, there is no perfect spot," he added. "We've done very nicely to be here." It's also a financial coup, in that typically, Tiburon is one of the priciest real estate markets in all of Marin.

Alper said the school is still searching for a permanent site in San Francisco or Marin. He estimated purchasing a campus would run between $25 million to $35 million.

"We are telling the students who are entering that we have every expectation that we'll be in our permanent site by their senior year."

The school, which aims to cater to mostly Reform and Conservative Jews, is working to draw its students from a variety of sources. School officials pointed out that the four Bay Area Jewish day schools -- Tehiyah in El Cerrito, Brandeis Hillel in San Francisco and Marin, and the Oakland Hebrew Day School -- graduate roughly 100 students a year.

JCHS' Head of School Tom Lorch said that among seven of San Francisco and Marin's most elite private schools, over 3,000 students a year vie for roughly 550 available slots. He estimated that between one-fifth and one-third of those students are Jewish.

"In the name of trying to find a high-quality high school education for their kids, many Jewish parents are sending them to Catholic high schools," said Nancy Zimmerman Pechner, JCHS' co-founder and executive vice-president of the board of governors. "So why not send them to a Jewish one instead?"

Jan Reicher, board vice president and marketing chair, said the JCHS' tuition will be $16,500 a year, which she called "competitive" with area private schools. She added that financial aid is available and the school's inaugural students would receive a $2,500 "remission" for the first year.

While the paramount task of obtaining a site is in the bag, there is still much to be done before JCHS will become a fully operational learning facility.

With Lorch, Rosen and office manager Rosanna Horton already aboard, the school recently landed its first teacher in Howard Rachelson, a math instructor at the Branson School in Marin for the last 16 years who is also fluent in Hebrew.

A principal -- who is also a rabbi -- has been hired as well. In an agreement with his current employer, another Jewish community high school, he will not be named until the first of the year.

Lorch said the school is "receiving resumes daily" for its remaining teaching positions. Meanwhile, Alper chuckles about the renovations necessary for the site to be transformed into a high school after its use by the current tenants -- the Ring Mountain preschool.

"We'll definitely need to raise the counters," said Alper with a laugh.

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