Similarity in schools’ names causes confusion
TORONTO — It happens all the time, according to Joan Schoenfeld, principal of the Downtown Jewish Community School (DJCS).
“It” refers to confusion between her school and the Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School, both of which are located in the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre (MNJCC) on Spadina Avenue at Bloor Street.
The two schools have received each other’s invoices, deliveries, and even calls from teachers looking for jobs, said Schoenfeld, who has been principal of the supplementary school since its inception in 1979.
Until the Downtown Jewish Day School (now the Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School) was founded in 1998, DJCS (the supplementary school) was the only school in the building. The initials of the two schools – DJCS and DJDS – only added to the confusion. Their respective websites are djcs.org and djds.ca.
But the supplementary school appears to be a well-kept secret. “No one knows about it!” said DJCS’ marketing manager Jo Michaels.
Schoenfeld – who has a master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Toronto and a principal’s certificate from the Jewish Theological Seminary – recalls that the school was established after Jewish Family & Child Service (now Jewish Family & Child) conducted an outreach project in the mid-1970s.
At the time, she said, there was almost nothing Jewish at the JCC’s southernmost branch, and there was no Jewish school downtown. “The Jewish community at that time was moving north.”
But a JF&CS survey to learn about the downtown Jewish community showed that a lot of young families – many from outside the city – had moved downtown and didn’t know what Jewish resources were available to them, she said.
Schoenfeld, who had moved here with her husband from Baltimore in 1970, fit the demographic. She ended up chairing the education committee that resulted from the survey.
By the late 1970s, her children were school age. Rachel, now a rabbi at a Reconstructionist congregation outside Boston, and Devorah, now a Jewish studies professor in Chicago, were among the new school’s early students.
Josh Matlow, Toronto city councillor for Ward 22, St. Paul’s, is also an alumnus, Schoenfeld said. By coincidence, he spoke at the MNJCC Sept. 5, the day Schoenfeld spoke to The CJN.
The school – which is egalitarian and has more than 150 students from junior kindergarten to Grade 7 – has always been pluralistic and diverse, Schoenfeld said. Families range from secular to traditional, and parents include interfaith and same-sex couples.
Unlike many supplementary schools, DJCS is not affiliated with a synagogue, but it partners with the First Narayever Congregation, Shir Libeynu and the Annex Shul.
As well, students receive a free MNJCC membership, and the school offers joint programs with the JCC and other downtown organizations.