Sixteen years ago, this north suburban school was founded with 24 students in four ­double-wide trailers attached to a temple. “The mission was to offer young Jewish adults an opportunity to engage in learning about their religion while engaged in exemplary education,” says Bruce Scher, academic dean and chair of the fine, performing, and literary arts department. This year, the school has 168 students and was named the best Jewish school in America by, a website that ranks schools. Where Rochelle Zell stood out: its low student-to-teacher ratio (12 to 1), high average ACT score (29), and glowing alumni reviews.

Scher says the speed with which Rochelle Zell has distinguished itself from other Jewish schools has everything to do with the seamless way it integrates a religious education with a general one. “We have, for example, an intricate interdisciplinary program between English and Jewish studies that has been very powerful for our young people,” he says. Think analyzing Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me in relation to the story of Cain and Abel. “It’s really about an understanding that the world is built on combined efforts and collaboration.”