CAJE Called National Model (Part One)

Posted on 03/12/2021 @ 07:00 AM

Tags: Jewish Schools & Educational Services

The “Shelter of Peace” mosaic at The Rashi School by Joshua Winer

This article was originally given as an address to the CAJE/Federation Day School Committee meeting by Rabbi Marc Wolf, Vice President for Program Strategy and Impact at the national organization Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day SchoolsMarc is responsible for overall program development and evaluation, knowledge, management, internal program learning, and relationship building with the field leaders. Marc previously served as vice president East Coast at Shalom Hartman Institute of North America and held several major leadership roles at the Jewish Theological Seminary including Vice Chancellor, Director of Community Engagement, and Chief Development Officer. Marc is a day school parent and passionate advocate for day schools. He has dedicated his career to the importance of Jewish education.

Prizmah is the network of Jewish day schools and yeshivas, and we work with about 300 schools across North America. I want to express deep gratitude and appreciation for everything that the broader field does including school leadership, the community leaders, teachers, healthcare providers, parents, students, and what all of you have done to create the learning environments that have made schools successful in this incredibly challenging year.
There's been so much loss and trauma that will follow us as we slowly move out of the pandemic but I think that there is a collective sense of optimism about Jewish day schools right now.
I would like to focus on three particular areas and to give a quick overview of what we're seeing from the national perspective at Prizmah. They are the value proposition of schools, collaboration and coordination on the community level, and the pipeline of educators for Jewish day schools.
First, in terms of the value proposition, the pandemic response for Jewish day schools has really advanced the value proposition for Jewish day schools. People saw the response, and how day schools turned on a dime early on during the pandemic – shifting quickly, dealing with the closing of school buildings, and creating online learning environments. That response was built on a foundation that already existed – a drive towards excellence in teaching and learning, and creativity and innovation driven by teachers, administrators and staff. Before the pandemic, schools had invested in educational technology and training and explored innovation as the independent Jewish schools that they are. The learning environment that schools have developed was excellent to begin with, and that was the foundation for a solid pandemic response.
We have seen a lot of what educational technology can do, even more so, over the course of this year. I know that in the Miami community there has been a significant investment in this and in blended and online learning. We are currently partnering with you [CAJE] on a project on concurrent learning (concurrent learning is about hybrid teaching of students in the classroom and outside of the classroom at the same time.) In Miami as in other communities, the investment in educational technology and blended learning is first and foremost an investment in excellent pedagogy.
So that's the first area, the value proposition of Jewish day schools and yeshivas was increased by our schools’ ability to respond and create ongoing learning environments that supported good teaching and learning. This has been challenging, of course; and there have been ups and downs. Anybody who has spent more than a couple of hours on zoom on any given day can sympathize with some of the things that a lot of our students and teachers are going through. But teachers and schools have been intentional about doing what they can to balance that and to promote great teaching and learning.
The second piece that advances the value proposition of Jewish day schools is relationships. Jewish day schools have been excellent at building and maintaining solid relationships between faculty and students, between faculty and administration, between administration and parents, and the broader community. So many day schools stepped forward to become the convening center of communities over the course of the pandemic; bringing in health experts and talking about what was happening with the coronavirus; hosting conversations with community leaders and public officials to increase the trust that the community had in the schools. What parents experienced from their schools was advancing that value proposition, and they believed and trusted in their school leaders and the environments they were creating.
We heard a story recently of a school leader who has been greeting parents in the parking lot as they were dropping their kids off in the morning for school, greeting the children by name, and greeting the parents by name. New parents to the school who chose to come to a Jewish day school because they were providing an educational environment that they couldn't get in their former school said, “Wow it's really amazing that you know our names!” The thought from this school leader was, “Of course we know your names!” That's just the baseline of who we are as a community. We know people's names. What we used to take for granted in some cases – that deep relationships are built between schools and their parent bodies - isn't necessarily the case everywhere else and it's really helped advance that value proposition.
Financially, many day schools have fared better than expected. With the help of the PPP loans that a lot of schools received in the first round and with the community campaigns that galvanized support and raised funds to help schools develop their pandemic response, create the strong learning environments, invest in educational technology, and do the kind of training of teachers that was necessary. On the internal side Prizmah just conducted a pulse survey on school development and a number of schools adjusted their campaigns in the previous year from their previous goals, and by-in-large, they have exceeded and met their goals.
Schools have led and managed through the pandemic so far. Also, an uptick in enrollment has contributed to that stability, and many schools have fared better than expected. The combination of community campaigns, the support of FederationsCovid-19 campaigns, national support, enrollment increases, and achieving fundraising goals, have contributed to the economic stability of schools. Yet as schools look to the future, the financial stability of schools remains a question.
The last piece of the value proposition is an enrollment bump. There are a number of schools, I know particularly in the South Florida area (we’ve heard of the many New Yorkers who relocated over the course of the pandemic) that have experienced enrollment increases, and now the campaign is all about ‘how do we keep the kids?’ How do we keep the new enrollees? Particularly students who had come from public schools to non-orthodox day schools, who have parents whose heads were turned that have not been turned in the past. 
We're currently conducting a research project on this with a consulting group to interview 150 families whose heads were turned during the pandemic, to see what was it that actually finally got them to walk through the door, beside the fact that the school was simply open, and offering a better product. What was it that schools were doing that helped turn those heads? How can we build on this trend?
It's not only that there was an across-the-board 4% increase in the enrollment in Jewish day schools, it’s that the trend of a decrease in enrollment was reversed. Doing that in the course of one year is now laying the gauntlet in front of all of our schools and our communities. How do we keep those kids and how do we advance that value proposition moving forward?
The second trend we are seeing is in collaboration and coordination. One of the things that contributed to the success of schools and communities is an unprecedented level of collaboration and coordination amongst schools and their communities over the course of this last year. That's another thing that people are focusing on right now. How do we accelerate that? How do we invest in the level of collaboration and coordination that happened?
In Miami schools already work together a lot. You [CAJE and Federation] have set a model for that across the national scene. In many places, the schools don't work as closely as they do in Miami, and the idea of heads of school getting together for ongoing meetings was something that never happened in a lot of communities. Now it is happening across the North American landscape.
How do we advance that, and how do we take this as a moment to say: ‘Great, so you shared resources and you made decisions together. What does that look like to work even more as a system together? How do you talk together educationally? What are we trying to accomplish through the day schools and yeshivas in a local community?’


CAJE would like to thank Marc Wolf for recognizing the outstanding work we do for our day schools in the area of professional development, especially in the area of blended and online learning as well as concurrent learning. We especially want to thank Evelyn and Dr. Shmuel Katz & Lillian and Moises Tabacinic for their support of #JBlendMiami and their ongoing investment in Jewish Education.
CAJE would also like to thank the Greater Miami Jewish Federation for its support of Jewish education and its vital role in helping network and financially support our funded day schools though yearly allocations and with a special $2 MILLION SUPPLEMENTAL ALLOCATION to help mitigate the financial effects of the pandemic.