Day Schools Come Together to Think About What’s Next
By Alex Pomson, Managing Director
The work we do at Rosov Consulting is most rewarding when the ideas we launch into the public domain gain traction and the data we gather helps and informs our clients’ work. Right now, we’re living through such an experience.
About six months ago, we were approached by Beth Cousens and Rachel Shtern at the Jewish Federations of North America’s (JFNA) Education and Engagement Office. They asked us to produce a report that captured the burning questions facing the Jewish day school field, and that explored how local federations and the umbrella federation movement could support the day school sector.
For me, personally, this was an opportunity to return to a field of interest to which I hadn’t given serious attention since joining the team at Rosov Consulting in 2012. The assignment seemed like a slam dunk. One of the last pieces I worked on before leaving the university was a review of literature on non-orthodox day schools. I knew this field like my backyard.
It turns out that when you don’t tend your yard for a while things get a little wild. And it has been an adventure coming to grips with what’s changed. Working with my Rosov Consulting colleague, Avigail Muller Waknine, we talked with 15 people who have a deep understanding of the day school sector. In addition, we reviewed 10 years of writings in the day school field. What we learned became — with the sure guidance of the team at JFNA — a new report, Challenges and Opportunities on the Jewish Day School Landscape, an analysis of five major issues confronting day schools today, and an exploration of how federations can help schools tackle these issues.
At the recent General Assembly in Los Angeles, JFNA brought together almost 100 people for a half-day conference to discuss the issues surfaced by the report: educational excellence; day school leadership; financial sustainability; student recruitment; and making the case for day school education. The event finished with a case study, based on data our team collected in a particular community, and written in a business school style so as to bring the report’s contents to life. The energy and smarts in the room were electric. As Paul Bernstein, CEO of Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools, put it:
“This was a landmark event, bringing together people who don’t usually sit at the same table, in order to figure a way forward for day schools.”
My take away from this event, one in line with a headline finding from the report, is that this is a field that needs to think anew about how to make the case for its special value. While we heard from outstanding Heads of School about how they make a case for their own schools, this is a charge bigger than one school. The nation’s day schools, JFNA, and Prizmah need to convey, as broadly and as compellingly as they can, what schools offer young people, what they offer their families, and ultimately what they offer Jewish communities. Challenges and Opportunities offers insights and data that can help schools make these cases in relevant, impactful, and effective ways.