Our Rich History
In the early summer of 1942, eight men of vision, leaders from the Associated Talmud Torahs and Hebrew Theological College, gathered to discuss what could be done to intensify the educational program of the Jewish schools and thus ensure the continuity of traditional Jewish life in the city. Present at this historic meeting were Max Cohen, Alex Eisenstein, Rabbi Ephraim Epstein, Rabbi Jacob Greenberg, Rabbi Menachem B. Sacks, Rabbi Samuel Siegel, Rabbi Saul Silber and Rabbi Leonard C. Mishkin.
They expressed fear that the superficiality of the Hebrew school system of education would not guarantee the continuation of Jewish scholarship. Many boys were dropping their Jewish studies after reaching age of Bar Mitzvah, just as they were beginning to reach intellectual maturity, when they could first comprehend and appreciate the teachings of our sages.
The plan proposed by this joint committee was to establish a high school which would combine under one roof the secular subjects taught in the public schools of Chicago along with Jewish studies and observances from 9AM-5PM. Students would no longer need to attend a Yeshiva or Hebrew High School late in the afternoon or evening, when they were tired and unreceptive.
It was unanimously agreed to establish the new secondary school of Jewish learning under the joint auspices of the ATT, the central agency for Torah education in Chicago, and the Hebrew Theological College, the yeshiva for higher Jewish learning in the Midwest–the two institutions which the founding fathers represented.
The group decided to develop the school by gradual stages, by starting off as a co-educational junior high school with grades 7, 8, and 9 and then add another grade each year. Girls Class 1958
At the time, there were only seven Hebrew day schools located outside of metropolitan New York. Over 90 percent of the existing day schools were established after 1940. The Academy was in a sense, the mother of the far-flung system of all day schools affiliated with the ATT.
On July 27, 1942, Dr. Paul R. Pierce, the principal of Wells High School joined as educational consultant with the responsibility of the organization of the curriculum, the recommendation of a principal, and a selection of the teaching staff for the Chicago Jewish Academy in its department of general studies, in accordance with the highest academic standards of progressive education. Selection of the teaching personnel was the first problem to be attacked. This involved an exhaustive survey of the personnel record of reliable teacher-supply agencies and placement departments of the leading universities, and personal interviews with prospective teacher candidates. A remarkably well-prepared and versatile staff, numbering four person (two men and two women) was assembled. Collectively, they possessed qualifications covering all the main academic fields of the high school curriculum. The principal appointed was Mr. Glenn K. Kelly, who had an outstanding record of successful high school administration for many years. He, together with the consulting director, Dr. Pierce, gave the school the benefit of their highly valued experience in professional school administration.
Six men of high caliber with many years of teaching experience in the local Talmud Torahs or Yeshivat Etz Chaim, (the preparatory department of the Hebrew Theological College) were engaged as instructors in the department of Judaic studies. Since these classes were taught in the morning, the staff members could still teach in the afternoon Hebrew schools. During the week before the opening of the school, the educational consultant conducted a curriculum workshop with the newly elected principal and teachers of the Academy to orient them in the aims of the school and to plan the program for the first semester.
In September 1942, the Chicago Jewish Academy opened its doors to 42 students. The building of the Hebrew Theological College, then located on the corner of Douglas Blvd.and St. Louis Ave. was the first home of the school.
Ten teachers comprised the combined faculty of both departments. Rabbi Herzl Kaplan was head teacher of the Jewish Department and Rabbi Jacob Greenberg and Rabbi Leonard C. Mishkin served as educational consultants, representing the Hebrew Theological College and Associated Talmud Torahs, respectively.
Since the Academy was a private school, the Board of Governors assumed the immediate responsibility to the parents and community for official accreditation of its courses. It was imperative that its work in the 7th and 8th grades be accredited by the local public school system, so that in case of a transfer to one of their schools, the student would not lose any credits. It was also important that after the first few years, with the addition of the high school grades the school would be recognized by the Illinois Superintendent of Public Instruction. The Academy would have to follow the criteria in the bulletin entitled “The Recognition and Accrediting of Illinois Secondary Schools.” Eventually, the school would be inspected and approved by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, the regional accrediting agency.
As the first step in the process of recognition by the educational authorities a committee of principals and teachers sent by Assistant Superintendent in charge of elementary schools, Leo G. Herdeg, under the leadership of Mr. Wm. G. Wilson, inspected the Academy on January 19, 1943 and spent the whole day visiting classes, examining the program, and interviewing students. As a result of the visit, the Chicago Jewish Academy was placed on the approved list of accredited elementary schools; and its elementary graduates and transfer students were to be accepted in the public schools of Chicago without entrance examination.According to the original understanding, Dr. Pierce was to serve as consultant until the school would be recognized by the Board of Education, and now this initial objective had been realized.
During the first semester, the Academy was also commended by the University of Chicago in a letter sent by the principal of the Laboratory School, P. B. Jacobson, after a visit. The Academy also received nationwide recognition in the educational press through a notice that appeared in one of the outstanding educational journals.
The Early Years
From the very beginning of its establishment, the Academy made amazing progress. The courses offered were more than adequate to meet the desire of all parents for a good Jewish education as well as a regular public school program for their children. Besides the high standard of the secular and Jewish studies, daily religious services were held, where special emphasis was placed upon synagogue decorum, earnestness in prayer and social implications of Hebrew prayer and its content. A student council, whose purpose was to plan the activities of the student body and promote the general welfare of the school, was organized to offer opportunities for practical experience in democratic living and leadership. Other features of the educational program singled out for special distinction were the publication of a school paper, the establishment of a monitor system, a program of lunch hour activities, charity drives, the conducting of various assembly programs, and holiday observances. Classes were held in the special subjects art, music, manual arts, and physical education (using the facilities of the Jewish Peoples Institute gymnasium located across the street).
In the beginning, the Academy used the library of the Hebrew Theological College, supplemented by a Chicago Public Library loan of 100 books, and subscriptions to selected magazines. Before the conclusion of the first semester, a system of college scholarship credits as prizes for scholarship was established, and the first 8A Graduation Exercises took place in the school auditorium. At the end of the year (June 1943), a Parents’ Night and School Exhibit were carried out most successfully.
Throughout the early stages, there was a constant desire to integrate both departments of the school in course materials, through combined faculty meetings, and in the cooperation between the teachers of religious and secular subjects working on common projects.The teachers of both areas recognized the challenge of discovering a realistic relationship between religious and lay experiences and of inspiring the students to realize them for enriched daily living.
The Academy began its second year of operation in September of 1943 with an enlarged staff and with 57 students, in spite of several drop-outs and transfers.One of the first acts of the Board of Governors was to stabilize tuition income by establishing a standard tuition fee of $50.00 per year of $5.00 per month. Incidentally this rate continued for a period of four years.
Since the majority of the students hailed from the West Side, in the immediate area of the Yeshiva building, which housed the Academy, the school day was lengthened by beginning classes at 8:30 instead of 9:00 a.m. and continuing until 5:20 p.m.In the early years, there were five periods of Jewish studies, (divided between the beginning and the end of the day-three in the morning and two in the late afternoon) and six periods for general education, in addition to a thirty minute activity period for assemblies, special interest clubs, study groups, and other extra-class activities, such as chorus, athletics, etc. A P.T.A. group was organized on an informal basis, which served as a clearing house for some of the problems of the school, especially with respect to homework and teacher-student relationship.
A Critical Junction
In April 1944, the Office of public Instruction, together with the High School Visitor of the University of Illinois, was invited to visit the Academy during May for an informal inspection of the school.On May 31, the planned visitation took place by C.C. Byerly, First Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Mr. G. Trimble, Acting High School Visitor.This was followed by a written report, which indicated a criticism of the school plant, – the maintenance of the building, and janitorial service. It pointed out that the Academy was a “step-child” of the college, and that there was no independent library. There were specific recommendations offered for improvement with a view to possible formal inspection during the following school year of 1944-45.
The Academy had thus reached a critical juncture. The unfavorable report on the building and its physical facilities threatened the continued existence of the school. During the summer of 1944, the question of reopening the Academy occupied the attention and thinking of the Board of Governors. Without sweeping changes in its physical set-up, the Academy would not be able to gain accreditation. Although there were some opinions expressed that the school should close down as a brave experiment, the majority view prevailed that with a sincere desire and genuine effort, all requirements for recognition could be met. In addition, there was a moral obligation to both teachers and students to continue. After much debate on this vital issue, it was finally resolved to reopen the Academy in September 1944.
With the addition of the 11th grade in the fall, and the introduction of chemistry, two new laboratories for biology and the physical sciences were set up and completely equipped with furniture purchased from the Jewish People institute. A new and enlarged office was provided in the older wing of the Yeshiva building, and a new library room, separate from the college library, was set aside for use by Academy students only. The classrooms in the newer wing were set aside to meet the needs of the Academy, new and valuable equipment was purchased, and four additional teachers were appointed to the staff.
Although the opening of the third year of the school was beset with many difficulties, its future success was slowly but surely becoming more apparent. The enrollment had more than doubled since the Academy opened its doors, and had reached a total of close to 100 students. During the 2nd semester of that year, courses in business education were introduced: shorthand, typing, and bookkeeping. Another attempt at organizing a P.T.A group was made. There was also a distinct improvement in the area of school records and guidance. In February 1945, an invitation was extended for a second informal inspection of the school by state authorities, regarding further steps necessary for final approval of the school.
The school year of 1945-1946 marked a turning point in the history of the Academy. At the conclusion of the preceding year, Mr. Kelly submitted his resignation, and during the summer months, Rabbi Shlomo Rapoport, until then a member of the teaching staff in both departments of the school, was appointed as acting principle of the Academy. The services of Dr. Pierce were again utilized with his re-engagement as Consulting Director of the school.
In September, 1945, the Academy opened as a complete six year secondary school (junior and senior high school) in the final stage of its development.An important change took place in of the organization of the school day. The Jewish studies which until then were broken up between the morning and late afternoon, were now taught consecutively for 3.5 hours during the morning only, from 8:30 to 12:00; and the secular studies followed from 12:45 to 5:30 p.m. The Home Room as an administrative unit of the school was also introduced that year, and the weekly Activity Period restored. In May 1946, Rabbi Rapoport, upon the recommendation of Dr. Pierce, was appointed by the Board of Governors as Principal.
In June 1946, Mr. William Siegel was elected as chairman of the Board of governors and Rabbo Harold Berger continued to serve as secretary. Dr. Pierce later proposed the organization of an Administrative Committee, and Rabbi Oscar Z. Fasman, who assumed the presidency of the Hebrew Theological after the passing of Rabbi Saul Silber (September 1, 1946), was elected as Chairman of the Administrative committee. It was further decided that the Academy should apply for final accreditation during the school year of 1946-47.
On May 16, 1947, representatives from the state department visited the Academy for a second time. The report of R.C. Edmundson, Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction was highly satisfactory, in contrast to the report of 1944. However, formal recognition could not be granted, until the Academy would relocate in its own home.
A survey was undertaken by the principal regarding the teaching of Hebrew in Jewish high schools in other cities and the acceptance of Hebrew by colleges and universities as foreign language credit. Because of the almost unanimously favorable response, it was decided to make Hebrew a subject in the secular curriculum during the following school year, required of all high school students for four years. The annual tuition was increased to $100.00, beginning with the school year of 1947-48, because of the move into the new building. The reasoning was that the Academy must be established upon a more substantial financial base if it were to gain strength in the community and obtain the allegiance of the parents.
The year 1947 was an important milestone in the history of the Chicago Jewish Academy. For five years it had been housed in the Yeshiva building, and on June 22, 1947, the new Associated Talmud Torahs Center on Wilcox St. and Pulaski was dedicated as the future home of the school. The three-story edifice had been remodeled and converted into a completely modern school plant with all the necessary facilities. The difficulties inherent in moving an entire school to a new plant was minimized by a procedure planned by the principal, beginning with the summer months of July and August, so that when the fall semester opened, the school would begin to function as smoothly as possible under the circumstances. Although there were a few technical difficulties connected with the operation of a school in a new building and the setting up of the classrooms with the necessary furnishings and equipment, both departments of the Academy functioned without delay. Hebrew was introduced as a subject for credit in the high school curriculum and taught as an afternoon subject. Enrollment reached a high of 119 students.
With the transfer of the school to new quarters, Dr. Pierce was relieved of his duties as educational consultant for the Academy. At the end of the school year, (on June 2, 1948) the Academy was visited again by Dr. F.C. Hood, Assistant High School Visitor, and was granted official recognition by the University of Illinois and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. In the report addressed to the principal Rabbi Rapoport, Dr. Hood wrote among other things: “The school is well administered and well supervised. It is my impression that the efficiency of the instruction is above average. In general, the program of studies and the activities program seem to be well suited to the needs and future prospects of your student body. The instructional equipment and school plant are very satisfactory.”
Philosophy and Objectives
The educational philosophy of the school which had been formulated prior to the inspection was now formally recorded in terms of the major objectives:
- The training for responsible citizenship and successful living in a democracy.
- An appreciation of the Jewish heritage and an understanding of the classic sources of Judaism.
- The preparation for college and institutions of higher Hebrew learning through an integrated program of general and Jewish studies on the secondary level.
- The development of good character and desirable personal and social traits, and potential for effective leadership.
- The training for synagogue and community participation on the American Jewish scene and dedication to the high ideals of Torah learning and religious observance.
- The development of loyalty to Jewish tradition and identification with the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
Following the formal accreditation of the Academy in its new home, there was at first no limit to the continued growth and expansion of the school. In 1949, a program of visual education was inaugurated, a 20-page booklet of information on the Academy was printed, and the Board of Governors was reorganized. Rabbi Mishkin was elected as secretary and Rabbi Menahem B. Sacks as Financial Chairman. In the summer of that year, the library was moved to a larger room and tuition was increased to $150.00 a year because of increases in teacher salaries and rising educational costs.
North Side Branch Established
In September 1957, a North Side branch, consisting of the 7th and 8th grades and the first year high school was organized, in order to accommodate more students desirous of an intensive Jewish education who resided in the northern sections of the of the city. The location was the Torah Center (at 530 Melrose), the home of an elementary day school with complete and modern school facilities, including a gymnasium. The same program followed in the main building was offered at the branch. With the 30 students at the branch and 244 in the main center, enrollment reached a total of 274 students. A new brochure on the Academy was prepared in 1958, in order to attract more students to the school, especially the branch.
Although the branch existed for three years and was very successful in its educational program, it was decided to terminate it because of the disappointing enrollment and the out-of-proportion costs per student. Thus, in September 1960, the two divisions of the school were combined in one center on the West Side with an all-time record of 272 students in that building.
Academy Moves Again
With the rapid deterioration of the West Side neighborhood and the Wilcox Street location, the Academy was forced by circumstances to relocate in mid-winter between semesters (February 1961), to the Torah Center, (which formerly housed the North Side branch of the school).
Some of the advantages of the Torah Center over the former location were that it was situated in a better geographical area, the building had more modern facilities, the school had a gymnasium on the premises, the kitchen and dining area were much more spacious, the office had a much larger area, and in general, the structure itself was much more compact. Also, since the majority of the student body lived in the greater North Side area, the Lake Shore location of the Academy was more accessible to them and at the same time could still serve students from the South Shore and other outlying areas.
Yeshiva High School Branch
Simultaneously with the relocation of the Academy, primarily because of the long distance involved in transporting the boys, a Yeshiva High School was established in Skokie on the campus of the Hebrew Theological College as a branch of the Academy under the general supervision of Rabbi Rapoport, for the out-of-town boys and those Chicagoans who would reside in the dormitory. The educational program of the Yeshiva High School was to be parallel to that of the Chicago Jewish academy, except that the Talmudic studies would be intensified.
Girls' Branch Opened
In order to relieve somewhat the congested conditions in the main center of the school, and at the same time to satisfy the needs of those parents desiring separate facilities for girls, a 9th grade girls’ class was organized by Rabbi Rapoport at the Beth Shalom Ahavat Achim Synagogue building in September 1963. This was the nucleus for the third division of the Academy, the girls’ High School, (in addition to the Academy and the Yeshiva High School in Skokie), which increased the total enrollment to over 400 students. As in the case of the parent school, a grade was added each year until the Girls’ School became a four year school. In the fall of 1965, it moved to the Religious Zionist Center, for two years. Beginning in 1967 the school was housed in the building of Congregation Bnei Ruven, and it remained there until 1978, when it moved to the Decatur School for two years. Presently the Girls’ High School is located in the Green School building on Devon Ave. bearing the name Hanna Sacks Bais Yaakov Girls’ High School. (It now functions as an independent school, having separated from the Academy in 1990.
Plans for the Future
In the early months of 1964, with the acquisition of land in the heart of West Rogers Park, the Associated Talmud Torahs, after having received clearance by the local Jewish welfare Fund (forerunner of the Jewish United Fund), formally announced to the Jewish community, that a new education center and home of the A.T.T. would be constructed to house the Academy. The Associated Talmud Torahs proclaimed a campaign of a million and a half dollars to erect the school plant which would accommodate 500 students. The school would bear the name of Ida Crown Jewish academy, as a result of the generous philanthropy of the Crown family.
In the Pratt Facility
The Academy took advantage of the gymnasium – auditorium set-up by participating in a Metropolitan basketball league of Catholic and private schools with Senior and Junior varsity teams. An intramural basketball tournament was also organized. Some of the other extra-curricular activities were a program of community service projects and participation in a Model United Nations (U.N.) activity, both locally, at Harvard University, and more recently at Yeshiva University. The annual Chanukah Dinner and Winter Revue between semesters became traditional annual events.