American Hebrew Academy

American Hebrew Academy announced Tuesday it was closing immediately for financial reasons, according to an email sent to staff, students and alumni.

GREENSBORO — American Hebrew Academy plans to reopen for the 2020-21 school year, an announcement that follows a recent financing deal with a Chinese education company. 

"Boarding and day students of all backgrounds will soon be invited to apply for admission to the 9th, 10th and 11th grades, online," the private school said on its website Friday.  

The brief post did not mention the financing deal, nor were any details available about what role, if any, beyond providing financing, that Beijing-based Puxin Ltd. might have at the school. Glenn Drew, who was the academy's CEO and is still listed on the school's website as the contact person, has not returned a phone message left for him.

American Hebrew Academy announced in June it was closing due to financial reasons. The school, which opened in 2001 on a luxurious 100-acre campus in northwest Greensboro, educated Jewish teenagers from around the world. 

A public document from the Guilford County Register of Deeds shows a $26 million financing transaction between American Hebrew Academy and Puxin Ltd. 

"A deed of trust is when someone borrows money against a property," said Sheika Washington, assistant register of deeds for Guilford County. "That’s what this is."

Specifically, she said, the academy is borrowing money against its property from Puxin. 

According to Puxin's website, the company is a "successful consolidator of the after-school education industry in China." 

Puxin said it became the third largest after-school education service provider in China in 2017 in terms of student enrollment. The company offers study-abroad tutoring programs that help students prepare for admission tests and applications for top schools, universities, and graduate programs, according to Puxin's profile on Bloomberg.

"Since its inception, Puxin has acquired 48 schools and built a nationwide network of 397 learning centers across 35 cities in China as of March 31, 2018," Puxin said on its website. 

American Hebrew Academy opened in 2001 with money from businessman and philanthropist Maurice "Chico" Sabbah. BusinessWeek magazine estimated his donations were $100 million at the time.

The school offered an $11.6 million athletics center and pool. And it was built with every classroom in the science building having a smart board that could function as a conventional blackboard or as a computer connected to the internet — much earlier than public schools.

In a 2002 interview with Forbes, Sabbah said the school had $50 million in the bank, which would cover 10 years of operating expenses. 

However, in the early 2000s, the academy was entangled in a billion-dollar fraud suit that involved Sabbah, his company Fortress Re and a business partner. The school continued to operate, drawing talented students from around the world, but lost money every year from 2006 to 2017, according to tax data reviewed by the News & Record.

The school's final class — 34 seniors — graduated May 27. Total enrollment for the academic year was 134 students in a school initially built for 400.

In the wake of the abrupt closure in June, local Jewish community members reached out to the school. More than 120 people donated to a Jewish Family Services fund to assist former school employees, according to a list displayed in the September issue of the Shalom Greensboro magazine. 

Rabbi Fred Guttman of Temple Emmanuel in Greensboro said Friday he knows that most of the former American Hebrew Academy staff members now have other jobs, and the former students have been placed in other schools, but he was in the dark about the announcement that the school would reopen next year. 

"I don’t really know anything about it; I’m not in the loop at all," he said. "I don't know what it means." 

Staff writer Nancy McLaughlin contributed to this story. 

Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.​

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