In the early 1960s, a group of dedicated lay and educational leaders in the Washington Jewish community recognized a growing need for a Conservative day school. "With more nerve than common sense,” pioneers including Rabbi Zvi Porath, Joseph Mendelson, Caryl Holiber, Paul Berger, Roberta Milgram and others founded the first Solomon Schechter Day School in the Washington area. Those who devoted their vision, support and spirit to this endeavor believed that the school would represent the “merging of the modern world with the great traditions of the Jewish people.”
The school began with one faculty member, Masha Spiegel, teaching “seven Jewish souls” in space borrowed from what is now Ohr Kodesh Congregation. The 1965 annual budget for teachers' salaries, books, school supplies and even jump ropes totaled $17,000!
By 1971 a second facility had been added at Temple Shalom to accommodate an enrollment of 170 students and a faculty of 25. As the school's popularity continued to grow, additional sites were added. Leadership envisioned expanding the school beyond its original Kindergarten-6th-grade model. After an in-depth evaluation to measure the viability of a Kindergarten-12th-grade community school, additional grades were established.
The late Charles E. Smith believed that the survival of Judaism depends on educating Jewish youth, and he worked tirelessly to raise funds to establish a Jewish day school to further that vision. By 1977, with a student body of close to 500, the school moved to 1901 E. Jefferson Street, the current location of our Lower School. Three years later our School was named for Charles E. Smith in recognition of his extraordinary contributions and continued fundraising activities on behalf of the School. Support from the United Jewish Appeal (now the Jewish Federation of Washington) was - and continues to be - also essential to the renewed expansion and vitality of CESJDS.
By 1991 four wings were added to make room for a student body nearly 1,000 strong. In 1997 the Board of Directors endorsed Operation Excellence, a two-phased project to expand and improve our School. The intent of this campaign was to ensure that the school's physical facilities remained superior, its long-term financial health be secured, and CESJDS would have the space to enroll the growing numbers of students seeking admission. The plan included the creation of more classroom space and the addition of state-of-the-art science labs, technology centers, language labs, a Beit Midrash and libraries. Gymnasiums, kitchens and cafeterias, music rooms, theatres and sports fields were also extensively refurbished. In 1999 the Annette M. & Theodore N. Lerner Family Upper School Campus was established at 11710 Hunters Lane, followed shortly thereafter by a renovation of the Lower School campus on East Jefferson Street.