Back to School, Breaking Ground
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
September 1, 2015
It’s a great time to be at Akiva. For students, teachers, parents and administrators, alike, the upcoming year promises to be transformational on every level.
Thanks to the commitment of the Detroit Jewish community and generous philanthropic funding – from the Audrey and William Farber Family Foundation and the William Davidson Foundation, Akiva’s 50th Anniversary Improvement Plan – 2 years in the making — is coming to fruition.
Both the Farber and Davidson gifts have come from families that have historically been leaders in the community and strong advocates of Jewish education to meet the needs of 21st Century learners. Two years ago, the Farber Family set the pace for the community campaign with a motivational gift of $3 million. The William Davidson Foundation then followed with a $2.25 million grant over three years to fund major improvements to Akiva’s academic offerings.
Meeting the challenge
Akiva’s 50th Anniversary Improvement Plan was originally conceived as a community initiative with an overall goal of $15 million to address academic improvements and the need for repair and renovations in the school itself. With the $5.5 million boost in funding from the two foundations, Akiva inspired the community and stakeholders of the school to “dream bigger” – putting into motion an audacious “multi-year upgrade” of facilities as well as new academic opportunities for students across the board from pre-K through high school.
“It was an ambitious plan from the start, but we have embraced the challenge,” commented Leah Ann Kleinfeldt, President of Akiva. “To assess areas of the most critical need, we undertook a comprehensive study of the school’s academic and overall performance. The study was an independent assessment conducted by the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education of Bar Ilan University, taking into account the input of students, parents and teachers. The visiting team reported that they were impressed and moved by the very positive energy of our school, by our honest appraisal of our challenges and opportunities and by our determination to bring Akiva to a new level distinction.”
In tandem with the Lookstein review, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and a team of architects and school design professionals studied several options for renovation or expansion of the aging facility – at its present location on the Schostak Family Campus. The facility originally stood as a church and was purchased by Congregation Beth Achim twelve years ago. The Jewish Foundation, the banking and real estate arm of the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit subsequently stepped in and purchased the building to lease it to Akiva.
“Founded in 1964, Akiva always has been dedicated to excellence in education fostering committed and productive Jews,” says Jordana Wolfson, Akiva’s Interim CEO. “Our students come first, regardless of the conditions of our facility. But in recent years, it’s become abundantly clear that we are out of space in which to grow and our options for efficient repair and expansion in the present building are costly. We concluded that our 50th Anniversary Improvement Plan would best be served with new construction – a state-of-the-art school to be built on the same property.”
“Akiva’s expansion comes at an opportune time,” observes Darin McKeever, Program and Strategy Officer for the Troy-based Davidson Foundation. “There is so much momentum in and around the resurgence of the city of Detroit now, we have seen a significant influx of young families and professional moving into to the area. We expect that pattern to continue, particularly in the Orthodox community where the schools and homes offer truly attractive and affordable choices. To contribute to that growth and to be a part of building on William Davidson’s legacy presented a rare opportunity for impact.”
The Davidson grant of $2.25 million is specifically geared toward three areas of academic development and achievement:
- Faculty recruitment and retention
- Professional and institutional development
Currently, the goal is to bring on a new headmaster of the school, an effort spearheaded by a Head of School Search Committee. Serving as Interim CEO, Jordana Wolfson is working alongside a strong team of professionals to ensure the school’s smooth operation and allow for time to locate an ideal Head of School.
The Davidson grant has created a number of new positions in the Akiva staff, including an Education Technology Director, an additional Resource Room Instructor, a Curriculum Development Director for Grades 1 through 8 and a second Social Worker focusing specifically on the students in middle school and high school. The grant money is also being utilized to fund a comprehensive professional development plan for Akiva faculty and to increase salaries for current teachers as part of the school’s faculty recruitment and retention initiative.
A groundbreaking gift
Since the outset of Akiva’s 50th Anniversary Improvement Plan, the Farbers have become more involved with the school, and through the process, the family has been inspired once again to accelerate the Plan with an additional $5 million investment – a contribution that has more than doubled their initial gift. Adding the substantial fundraising efforts of parents, individuals and corporate supporters, Akiva has now achieved nearly 85% of the original campaign goal of $15 million.
Now in striking distance to that final goal, Akiva will proceed to the plans detailed by French & Associates Design Firm and Rand Construction, anticipating ground breaking in the fall with a completion of the 68,200 square-foot project by the opening of the academic year 2016-17.
One of the many unique aspects of the building and a major improvement for all grades will be four separate and distinct wings and classroom areas – one for each of the four divisions of the school so that each has its own identity, look and feel.
“Many of our students stay with us from day-care, pre-school through high school, from age six weeks to 18. That’s a significant span of time in a life – and reason why in so many ways we feel like a family,” observes Malkie Rosenbloom, Akiva Marketing Director. “We want every child who comes to us to feel they are embarking on a new path with each step of their education. Our new building will more clearly direct that path.”
“As with so many achievements in the Detroit Jewish community, Akiva’s dream is about to become reality because of the vision and generosity of the many extraordinary families committed to the future of our children,” stated Bill Farber, a pharmacist and pioneer in genetic pharmaceuticals. “Our hope is that by support Jewish education, we may positively impact the Jewish identity of many families for generations to come.”