Only 300 people are allowed in the black box theater in the basement of the Weber School, according to a sign posted by the fire marshal. For the first time, that limit could be an issue.
Twenty years after its opening as the New Atlanta Jewish Community High School, Weber started the school year Monday, Aug. 14, with its largest freshman class (71 students) and largest total enrollment (268).
With 87 new students in total, the high school’s enrollment has grown 14 percent since last year and 25 percent in three years.
“We wanted to build responsible, thinking, Jewish adults to enhance our community, and nothing speaks louder than the fact that our vision and our message is being embraced by the whole community, ’cause they’re sending their kids and their grandkids,” said Steve Berman, one of the school’s founders and a former president.
Rabbi Ed Harwitz, who started as Weber’s head of school when the Class of 2018 arrived as freshmen, said during the first-day celebration in the school’s basement theater that the increased size means more choices in academics — 15 new faculty members this year and 30 new courses the past three years, including American Sign Language, AP microeconomics and macroeconomics, and social entrepreneurship fellowships — and in extracurriculars — from varsity gymnastics and intramural ultimate Frisbee to new music ensembles and the Sumo Robot League.
Just as important, he said, is something senior Eli Katz pointed out: The school has more voices.
Those voices “bring energy, intelligence and creativity to the Weber School, but also to our broader Jewish community and to the world,” Rabbi Harwitz said, meaning the school will have a greater impact today and in the future.
Aug. 14 also was opening day for the Davis Academy, the nation’s largest Reform Jewish day school, and Atlanta Jewish Academy, with preschool through 12th grade in an expanded space on one campus for the first time. The Epstein School, which got a head start on classes Aug. 10, began its first full week as preschoolers joined the older pupils.
Altogether, more than 2,000 students are enrolled in day schools in Sandy Springs, with Chaya Mushka’s students set to start classes Monday, Aug. 21. And that total doesn’t include the students in Toco Hills’ Jewish schools: Torah Day School, Temima and Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael.
The numbers indicate that community leaders were right a quarter-century ago when they launched Davis as a Reform option through eighth grade and Weber as a trans-denominational high school.
“There were times that we really felt like ‘Are we doing the right thing?’ People would tell us, ‘The community can’t support this; maybe we should allocate our resources elsewhere,’” Berman said. “So it’s gratifying to see. This really marks a watershed moment for the school.”
Another former president, Mark Cohen, said: “It’s exactly what, as founders, we had envisioned the school to become. … We love it to be bigger, but it embraces all the concepts that we envisioned as a school — the Jewish content, the Jewish cross-section, is really phenomenal to me.”