Tuesday’s end of the year program at the Temple Israel’s pre-school weighed heavy on the hearts of the teachers, administration and parents.
That’s because this was the final one.
After 15 years, the Joni & Stanley Tate Early Childhood Center in downtown Miami is closing to make way for the expansion of a charter school.
While the unanimous decision did not come easy for the 15-member board, it “was the best decison moving forward,” said board President Joan Schaeffer.
“We are all sad that it’s closing,” Schaeffer said. “This was a very difficult decision.”
The school, on the edge of downtown Miami at 137 NE 19th St. has about 60 children, ranging in age from infant to 5. The private school has been operating at a deficit for years, Schaeffer said. Leasing the building that houses five classrooms to BridgePrep Academy will allow the temple to expand its Jewish education programs for children.
It would also allow the charter school, which already leases part of the synagogue, to expand.
In a May 22 letter to parents, the board formally announced the June 20 closing and apologized for the short notice.
“The temple had no plans of closing the ECC …” the board wrote. “An opportunity presented itself which gave the temple a chance to secure its future for years to come.”
On Tuesday, little was said out loud about the pending shut-down during the brief program that included pictures of the children throughout the school year — planting seeds, playing on the playground and hugging friends.
The synagogue’s Rabbi Moshe “Tom” Heyn greeted the families via video message.
“It’s been quite a year,” Heyn said. “It’s sad that we won’t be together as we have been.”
The presentation also included a video of candid conversations with the children.
They were asked what it means to say goodbye.
Alexander Foumia, 4, explained it simply: “It means you leave away and never see them again.”
But the parents said saying goodbye to Temple Israel is not as easy.
Jennifer Ahrens, whose two children went to the school, said when she was first looking for a place for her daughter seven years ago there was a waiting list. Enrollment dropped over the years, she said.
“It was the place to be,” she said.
Ahrens said the thought of the school not being there was “heartbreaking.” She hopes that the synagogue will somehow continue to attract young families.
“It really was a community,” she said, fighting back tears.
Parent Jonathan Neuman said he was hoping his youngest daughter, 3-year-old Jessica, could follow in the footsteps of her older sister, Haley, and graduate from Temple Israel.
“If we could,” he said, “there’s no question that we’d keep her here.”