It all began in 2007 when Rabbi Yossi and Baila Gansburg purchased a former school for children with special needs to house their Chabad center, Chabad Lubavitch of Coconut Creek and West Pompano Beach in South Florida. Now, seven years and 70 students later, they are poised to open a state-of-the art, 33,000-square-foot facility.

“After we purchased the Chabad House,” recalls Baila Gansburg, “we were approached by parents of four children who had gone to a school that had closed, asking us if we would consider founding a school for their children.”

A longtime educator, she networked with therapists, experts and other professions to get the project off the ground.

South Florida Jewish Academy opened its doors in the fall of 2007. Working closely with parents to create highly individualized curricula for each child, the faculty welcomed students with autism, Asperger’s, dyslexia, ADD, ADHD, LD, Auditory Processing Disorder, Down’s syndrome and other conditions.

One such student was Matthew Lesser, who has a “learning difference” and transferred there from a Montessori school in 2010 before he started seventh grade.

“Matthew’s experience has been absolutely wonderful,” says his mother, Lori Lesser. “His conversation level has improved, and he’s thriving academically and growing socially. He is so happy to go to school and cannot wait to get there every morning.

The school now caters to 70 children from kindergarten through 12th grade.
The school now caters to 70 children from kindergarten through 12th grade.

“The Judaic program has also given him so much,” she continues. “He loves the prayers, wearing tefillin and learning about Jewish history. Learning and living Judaism has given him another part of himself that he—and we—can be so proud of.”

As enrollment continued to grow, the school expanded to include a high school and now caters to 70 children from kindergarten through 12th grade, with a dual enrollment program with Broward College in Coconut Creek, Fla., for qualifying students. It is now a fully inclusive school, facilitating each student’s growth according to his or her abilities.

The “inclusion program,” in which children with special needs are in the same class as neurotypical (mainstream) peers, is the only Jewish program of its kind in Florida, according to Gansburg.

Always on the lookout to advance their students, the school installed the first Spacecraft Sensory Suite in North America, designed to encourage interaction via switches or the touch of a hand. The equipment can be used for calming sessions, sensory diet or interaction, depending on the individual needs of the child. Gansburg is “extremely happy with the progress our children have made since the implementation of the sensory suite into their daily schedule.”

As the school burgeoned, Gansburg began looking for a larger facility that would accommodate its ever-expanding needs.

The Spacecraft Sensory Suite can be used for calming sessions, sensory diet or interaction, depending on the individual needs of the student.
The Spacecraft Sensory Suite can be used for calming sessions, sensory diet or interaction, depending on the individual needs of the student.

Advance on Many Levels

On the evening of Aug. 18, she was joined by the mayor of Coconut Creek, Lisa K. Aronson, in addition to city commissioners, local officials, police officers, firefighters, university officials, parents, students and supporters for the grand opening of a new 33,000-square-foot campus on the site of a former private technological school.

Gansburg is excited about the opportunities that it will afford the students. “Many children with special needs are extremely bright and do very well with technology,” she says. “The equipment in the new school will allow them to advance their careers and college-readiness skills, and really help them advance on so many levels.”

Lesser adds that she is looking forward to many other advantages as well: “There will be brand-new chemistry and biology labs, an auditorium where students can present and work on their public speaking, a new cafeteria and just about anything a school can possibly need.”

She also points out that the new campus—at 3700 Coconut Creek Parkway, right off Florida’s Turnpike—will make the commute that much simpler for families all over South Florida aiming to give their child a customized Jewish and secular education.

The equipment in the new school will allow students to advance their careers and college-readiness skills, and help them advance on many levels.
The equipment in the new school will allow students to advance their careers and college-readiness skills, and help them advance on many levels.

“I am very thankful,” concludes Lesser, “that my son will grow in academics and Judaics in such a wonderful, flourishing environment.”

For registration and donation information, readers can visit the school’s web site, www.floridajewishacademy.org.

There is a dual enrollment program with Broward College in Coconut Creek, Fla., for qualifying students.
There is a dual enrollment program with Broward College in Coconut Creek, Fla., for qualifying students.
The new campus—right off Florida’s Turnpike—will make the commute that much simpler for families aiming to provide their child a customized Jewish and secular education.
The new campus—right off Florida’s Turnpike—will make the commute that much simpler for families aiming to provide their child a customized Jewish and secular education.