In an effort to attract more students, Gesher Jewish Day School in Fairfax wants to cut their commute time.
Beginning in the fall, the school will split into two its bus route from Arlington and Alexandria, according to head of school Dan Finkel.
Instead of the current single route, one bus each will run from Alexandria and Arlington. By doing so, Finkel hopes that a commute that can take up to an hour will be cut to about 35 minutes. Finkel said the goal was for both routes to have two stops each. It’s about a 19-mile drive from Alexandria to the school; 17 miles from Arlington.
The new routes come out of the school’s recently completed five-year strategic plan that incorporated data from a new demographic study of the Washington region. That study showed that Northern Virginia now has the most populous Jewish community in the area. But heavy Northern Virginia traffic remains a persistent issue, and Finkel said that he regularly meets parents who are interested in the school but struggle with the commute. Currently, about 23 students come from Arlington or Alexandria. Almost all of them take the bus.
“Every year in our admissions cycle there are conversations with people who are interested in the school and just find it geographically challenging,” Finkel said. “What we’ve learned is that in parts of McLean, Arlington and Alexandria, those areas have lots of potential market for us that’s untapped. And if we can do transportation well in those areas, it can have an impact on our enrollment.”
Finkel said that while the school projects to increase its enrollment from 115 to 122 next year, that’s lower than its peak of roughly 200 students around 2006.
Gesher’s strategic plan largely focused on how best to market the school as not only a strong Jewish education but a strong education broadly. The local demographic study and others have shown a drop in how many Jewish families seek out religious education for their children.
“What we know from research data for independent schools is that 75 percent of business comes from word of mouth, Finkel said. “So if we can serve our existing families with real excellence in transportation, we believe that can help the school.”