When classes begin this month at Atlanta Jewish Academy, the area’s only Jewish day school running from early childhood through 12th grade will be on one campus for the first time.
The school, formed in 2014 through the merger of Greenfield Hebrew Academy in Sandy Springs and Yeshiva Atlanta High School in Doraville, embarked on a $10 million capital campaign in 2015 to build a unified campus on the former GHA campus on Northland Drive.
Phase 1 of the campus plan, which marked its groundbreaking in February 2016, is nearly complete and is on track to be ready when classes start Aug. 14.
The former site of Yeshiva Atlanta, which served as the campus of the AJA Upper School on Raymond Drive in Doraville, was sold in 2015 and partially rented back to AJA until the new building in Sandy Springs was complete. It is slated to be used as a DeKalb County charter school.
“The ability to create a early childhood through 12 school allows us to find synergies both educationally and academically and leverage it in a way that just can’t be done if you’re not in that environment,” AJA Head of School Rabbi Ari Leubitz said. “I suspect that this is a wave of the future in that we will see more schools try to combine and be able to achieve these academic efficiencies.”
The new building, which cost $9 million and connects to the existing school, is 19,000 square feet and features three state-of-the-art science labs, a beit midrash and a student commons with breakout rooms for study sessions.
The classrooms in the new Upper School were designed for flexibility with a modern educational vision. There are no teacher desks in the classrooms, and teachers will often move around, according to Upper School instructional leader John Wilson.
Outside, the new Upper School features a separate entrance and parking lot, as well as a regulation soccer field and outdoor basketball court. The AJA board is trying to raise an additional $3.5 million for a competition gym on the campus.
“Now that we are on one amazing campus, we will really be able to integrate and ensure that there is educational alignment in every aspect of the school,” said Ian Ratner, the former board president who chairs the capital campaign. “Getting everyone on one campus will allow the Lower School and Middle School kids to see amazing, positive role models in high school so that by the time they get to that age, staying at AJA will seem natural.”
Rabbi Leubitz said the additional benefits of having all the students on one campus include access to high school classes for high-achieving middle-schoolers and a streamlined curriculum for easing the transition from eighth grade to high school.
The AJA Upper School has an enrollment of just under 100 students, and the new building is designed to hold twice that many. AJA is zoned to have up to 720 students in Sandy Springs; last fall the enrollment was around 500.
“We combined two great institutions with a long and rich history into an even greater one,” AJA board President Alan Minsk said. “We are here for the entire Atlanta Jewish community, and we believe bringing the two campuses together onto one campus is yet another step in building a beautiful home for our children, where they can grow and prosper to become Jewish.”
The dedication of the new building, including a mezuzah hanging, is scheduled for Oct. 29 during AJA’s annual L’Chaim event.