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After successfully meeting 425 rigorous criteria, Chabad of South Carolina received word yesterday that its school is the first in the state to receive a prestigious accreditation.

For fourteen months, Columbia Jewish Day School administration, teachers, board and parents worked toward the goal of obtaining the seal of approval from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

The school already received NAEYC’s previous accreditation, based on its fulfillment of 120 criteria.  In 2006, NAEYC reformed its standards, and CJDS is the first school in the state, and among a handful in the United States, to meet the new goals. 

Plowing hundreds of extra hours into the process yielded positive results for current and prospective students, according to school principal Rabbi Meir Muller

“It made teaching a much more reflective process. We are all more aware of why we do what we do.”

NAEYC accreditation opens doors to parents who weigh the school against the high standards of University of South Carolina’s school, also in Columbia. 

“We have to present positive secular credentials before parents will consider sending children to our school,” said Rabbi Heshy Espstein, who has co-directed Chabad of Columbia with his wife Chavi for two decades. Receiving the nod from NAEYC also gives CJDS a boost as it kicks off a capital campaign for its new building.

To qualify, the school completed an exhaustive 400-page study, compiled student portfolios, assembled hundreds of individual files, and passed a thorough inspection in May.

NAEYC’s standards evaluate the gamut from sweeping philosophical approaches and teachers’ degrees in early childhood education to schedule for sanitizing classroom toys. Success depended on “everyone buying into the process, families, teachers and our board,” said Rabbi Muller.   

Pulling together for a common goal is an aspect that distinguishes Columbia’s Jewish community. They share space, holidays, and fundraisers: CJDS’s classrooms are housed in the educational wing of the city’s conservative synagogue. Rabbi Epstein lit the candles at the JCC’s Chanukah party. During the community’s Israel Bonds Dinner, rabbis from all synagogues divvy up benediction and invocation honors.

Proceeds from the Chabad’s fundraising auctions were shared with the JCC, and the local federation offers some support to the school. “We are all part of the same family,” said Jennifer Kahn, president of the CJDS board. With only 3,000 Jews in Columbia, “the size of the community makes cooperation necessary.”

That commitment to unity will not end with the construction of the new CJDS building. It’ll be built on the JCC campus.

“The idea is to grow the pie, not divide it up into smaller pieces,” said Rabbi Epstein.

CJDS’s student body reflects Chabad’s acceptance by the wider community. Of the school’s 100 students, Rabbi Epstein estimates 65% attend the conservative synagogue, 8% are members of the reform temple, and the rest are either members of Chabad or unaffiliated.

Shep Cutler, an engine behind the fundraising effort for the new building, sees Rabbi Epstein’s and Rabbi Muller’s “charisma and understanding” as the driving factor behind Chabad’s integration in the community.

“Because of their personalities, I can go to people for a contribution who do not go to the synagogue. It’s been a joy.”

Kahn said she’s glad her children Abby, 6, and Emily, 4, both CJDS students, are growing up with Chabad’s representatives in Columbia as role models.

“They are more welcoming than people expect them to be. It’s been healing and instructive for people to see that.”


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