Analyzing BASIS

[BASIS (the Bay Area Schools Israel Synergy Initiative), an initiative funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation since 2008, strives to bring Jewish students and their families closer to Israel and to strengthen the connection of our youth to Israel and the Jewish people by making Israel a core part of every school’s academic program and culture. AVI CHAI commissioned a report on BASIS to identify the program components that seem to be leading toward enduring change poised to transform day school Israel education. The report, available here, was executed by Alex Pomson, Howie Deitcher, and their team.]

by Susan Folkman

The Jim Joseph Foundation shares with The AVI CHAI Foundation a deep commitment to Israel education. BASIS, the Bay Area Schools Israel Synergy Initiative, was one of the Jim Joseph Foundation’s earliest initiatives and one of its most complex in structure and programmatic goals. The report by Alex Pomson, Howard Deitcher, Daniel Held, and Pearl Mattenson  not only provides an astute analysis of dimensions that facilitated or impeded the program’s progress towards its goals, but it also offers a conceptual framework that will be very helpful to both funders and educators in planning future programs.

In particular, I was impressed by the insight gained by defining key program components and categorizing them according to their contribution to their impact on cultural and structural change in the schools (change was promised and enduring, change was positive but not enduring, or change was not evident). This analysis highlighted the importance of the structure of organizations in which change is sought, critical dimensions of that structure that define readiness, and the challenges created by having organizations with diverse structural readiness in the same program.

The report also emphasizes the benefits of having a well-conceived conceptual framework at the outset of a project, especially for a project that is innovative, dynamic, and complex. A conceptual framework allows those who are doing the actual program planning to be systematic as they lay out the organizational structure related to the goals and objectives for the various program components. Logic models often serve this purpose, but we need to be sure that a grand vision is driving the logic model and that all its pieces serve that vision.

Where we go from here is a question not easily answered by experts, let alone by a lay person. The recommendations contained in the report (p. 20) provide a good starting point for discussion: they are logical, but are they consistent with the analysis that precedes them? Are they feasible? Can we realistically define a programmatic end-point for all schools (Recommendation #1, “Developing a Clear Vision,” p. 20)? Will an end-point that would work for all schools be meaningful, or do we need to be more selective in matching end-points to schools or groups of schools? The issue of feasibility also pertains to the recommendations to involve other communities across the country (#2, “Identifying a Platform for Leadership and Coordination,” and #4, “Building Matched Cohorts of Participating Institutions,” p. 20). We clearly share these aspirational goals, but how do we get from here to there without complexity that threatens feasibility?

As this report demonstrates, BASIS was a bold effort to institutionalize Israel education in Jewish day schools. Because of BASIS, we now know more about external and internal factors that contribute to success of innovative programming as well as factors that reduce the chances of success. We need to be both aspirational and practical in our planning the next steps and to be sure to apply what BASIS has taught us. The report by Pomson and his colleagues and the concepts it introduces, the questions it raises, the insights it provides, and the recommendations it offers will be an important resource in these efforts. The report also illustrates the significant benefits of analyzing  a program from diverse disciplinary perspectives and why we need to have diverse perspectives represented  throughout the conceptualizing and planning process, as well as at the conclusion of all major initiatives in the field of Jewish education.

Susan Folkman, PhD. serves on the  Board of Directors of the Jim Joseph Foundation.

Cross-posted at The Avi Chai Foundation Blog.