- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The country’s largest independent Jewish community day school, which is based in Montgomery County, has received a $15 million gift from its founders.

Administrators of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville think it is the largest monetary gift received by an independent school in the area. Charles E. Smith caters to more than 1,500 Jewish children.

“We’re just thrilled for the possibility it builds for the students and the impact it can have on students in similar schools through the work we do,” Head of School Jonathan Cannon said of the financial boost. “This is a huge continuing step.”

The school will match dollar-for-dollar the first $5 million of the gift to fund student scholarships. The money will offset the $3 million in assistance given annually to students.

The remaining $10 million of the gift will be used for educational purposes, including an expansion of the musical and visual art programs, enhancement of the social studies and history curricula, and an upgrade of the technological facilities, Mr. Cannon said.

At Charles E. Smith, general studies are combined with Judaic and Hebrew language studies and daily prayer programs.

“One of the real messages we want to give to the kids is there’s a lot of links between what you’re learning,” Mr. Cannon said. “We hope that these units will be a national model for other similar schools that face similar challenges or seek similar solutions. It’s not just us alone; if we can be of assistance to other schools, we will.”

The gift comes from the children and spouses of founder Charles E. Smith, who died in 1995.

Mr. Smith, who was a pillar of the local Jewish community, opened the school 40 years ago with a $17,000 budget. He wanted to provide a dual curriculum that intermingled general studies with Jewish tradition, teachings and values. Eight students were enrolled in the first class, Mr. Cannon said.

Today, the independent school has two campuses in Rockville.

One campus, at 1901 E. Jefferson St., offers kindergarten through sixth grade. The other, at 11710 Hunters Lane, offers middle and high school.

The independent school is one of the largest Jewish community day schools in the United States. The school celebrates all forms of Judaism, including orthodox, conservative, reform and reconstructionist.

Mr. Cannon said the school has a track record of success in sports, journalism, performing arts and community service.

Since 2001, up to 40 percent of its seniors have earned National Merit Scholarships, he said. Students have raised money for local educational programs by publishing a literary magazine written by homeless people, he said.

Irene Kaplan, vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, said the programs made possible through the gift will serve as a catalyst for other area Jewish day schools to build upon their academic excellence.

More than 3,200 students are enrolled in eight other Jewish day schools in the Greater Washington area, Mrs. Kaplan said.

“A gift of this magnitude will help build a strong Jewish affinity for our children and for our community,” she said. “Jewish education is one of the priorities of our community.”

About 268,000 people in the Washington metropolitan area are Jewish, the federation said. There are about 50,820 Jewish households in Montgomery County.

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