Challenges and Opportunities on the Jewish Day School Landscape
JFNA has released “Challenges and Opportunities on the Jewish Day School Landscape: A Thought and Action Paper for Jewish FederationsDay School Landscape.” The report was prepared by Rosov Consulting for the Jewish Education and Engagement Office of JFNA.
The Jewish zeitgeist of late has emphasized the tuition challenge related to day schools. If one only read the Jewish media, one might think that this is the only thing happening in the day school arena.
Federation leaders see the “day school situation” in North America as comprising the following:
- Extraordinary leadership from heads of school where some of our most exceptional educational leaders are leading schools, and these schools can compete with the best private (secular) schools in North America
- Experimentation with “blended learning” models where technology can support children’s individualized learning in a group setting, where they can pace themselves and therefore have a more meaningful and appropriately challenging learning experience alongside their friends
- Resources from artists, scholars, media experts, and academia to help curricula be as rich, meaningful, and substantive as possible
- Efforts by lay leaders to make the development and community-building operations that support schools sophisticated and deep
- Burgeoning enrollments at Haredi schools even while community school enrollment is shifting and decreasing; changing identifications of schools (like Solomon Schechter schools)
- Experiments with tuition structures that have yielded true enrollment growth
It is also true that:
- The day school community is challenged to share the day school message throughout North America. Too many parents don’t try day school or they quickly abandon the idea as unrealistic. There is work to do in the area of marketing.
- Day schools are a particularistic project in a universal world; parents once enrolled their children for many reasons, some of which were about the continuity of Judaism (and the prevention of intermarriage). These ideas are more complicated today. There is a need to articulate the value of a day school education to those for whom it is not intuitive and for those for whom an exclusive Jewish community is uncomfortable.
- While some extraordinary professionals lead day schools, in other places, communities are challenged to find brave, creative, focused visionaries who can also lead a sophisticated lay Board and development project. When such professionals are found there is a challenge to support them well – and, therefore, to retain them.
- Of course, this is equally true for classroom educators, who are not always well compensated or supported, are therefore hard to retain, and who are the primary point of contact for our children.
- There is a tuition challenge. Middle class and upper middle class families are increasingly squeezed today and it is hard to prioritize paying tuition, particularly for multiple children. If schools can enroll even a few families this would change the resources to which schools have access.
- When parents walk in to tour Jewish day schools, they must always want to choose these schools, rather than leaning toward the elite secular schools they may otherwise choose. Feeling, reputation, and actual classroom happenings are all interrelated; these need attending to.
The day school challenge is not uniform and it is not simply or only addressed by looking at the cost. It is addressed by attending to excellence, from all perspectives. And, it needs to be addressed by ongoing cultivation of the schools and support for their leaders, attending to them continually and not only when they face an existential crisis.
The complete report can be found here.
JFNA is convening Federation and Central Agency lay and professional leaders to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing day schools and what Federation leaders can do to help schools grow.