Asking the Tough Questions: A Challenge to Jewish Day Schools

By Sarah Levy

How can taking an adaptive leadership stance advance our organizations?
How can we build capacity through non-traditional forms of learning?
How can we implement and evaluate personal and organizational strategy?
How can we ensure all students achieve proficiency and success?
How can we use data to drive instruction?
How can we collaborate for effective leadership?

While we at Jewish day schools are consumed with the affordability crisis, making tefillah and Judaics meaningful, and other questions specific to our world, we cannot dismiss questions like these. We cannot assume that because we are Jewish day schools, these questions do not pertain to us. We have to realize that, because we are Jewish day schools, and we are fostering the growth of the next generation of Jewish leaders, these questions are even more relevant and more important for us to consider.

At the end of June, Improving Schools: The Art of Leadership through the Principals’ Center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education brought together nearly 140 educational leaders from around the world, representing public schools and private schools, and including 18 Jewish day school leaders, sponsored by the AVI CHAI Foundation. For a week, we spent our days in Harvard programming considering the questions posed above in a big-picture setting, and we spent our evenings working in our smaller cohort discussing how they pertained specifically to the world of Jewish day schools including the specific challenges and opportunities of our unique settings.

While we came from all across North America and working in a variety of denominational schools, we all shared a common goal of strengthening the landscape of Jewish education for our students and as a whole. We recognized that we have to strive to advance our organization and build capacity and be strategic and facilitate student achievement and make data-driven decisions and collaborate … just like our peers outside of the Jewish day school world because it is what is best for our students.

Our students deserve an excellent education in order to best prepare them to tomorrow’s world, and they shouldn’t have to make sacrifices because they are also committed to finding that education in a Jewish day school setting, Our families should not have to choose between innovative educational practices at a secular private school and instillation of Jewish values at a Jewish day school. They should not have to choose between data-driven instruction at the local public school and learning Hebrew at the Jewish day school. They should not have to choose between growing intellectually and growing spiritually; our schools should be providing the space for them to grow in every way (academically, social-emotionally, and personally) through the lens of cultivating Jewish identity.

Questioning is part of Jewish tradition, and while not every Jewish day school leader was able to be with us that week in June, in the interest of our students, we must embrace questioning, and we must ask those tough questions. What questions are you asking today?

Dr. Sarah Levy is the Director of Jewish Life and Learning for Denver Jewish Day School in Denver, CO.