Five New Year’s Resolutions for the Jewish Day School Field
By Dr. Harry Bloom
It is that time of year. Secular New Year’s resolution time. Since I spend most of my waking hours managing the PEJE Atidenu Recruitment & Retention and Governance & Fundraising Academy programs (generously co-funded by The AVI CHAI Foundation), my New Year’s thoughts tend to be about day school sustainability. Not as stimulating as resolving to diet (not a bad idea, for me, at least) but very important nonetheless.
Here are my top five resolutions for Jewish day schools in 2016:
- Generously thank the devoted Jewish day school Board members for their countless hours of selfless service. And, give them the gift of governance training so that their time is most wisely spent and their impact magnified. We certainly need their focus on what matters (day school sustainability and Head of School support, in particular) and their brainpower, financial support, and advocacy!
- Research and implement tuition-setting policies that make our schools accessible to the vital middle-income families who do not feel comfortable participating in the financial aid process because they make healthy incomes but still cannot fully afford day school. Create policies and procedures that reflect realistic percentages of income spent on tuition, the realities of schools’ marginal costs, and the incremental benefits of filling empty seats.
- Set energizing – dare we say inspiring? – long-term goals for our schools based on a thoughtful analysis of their environments, what our schools are doing well, and what they need to do better. Design plans to accomplish these goals, and use the inspiring goals and plans as magnets to attract lay leadership talent and donors. People love to support a winning organization, or, next best thing, an organization poised to become one! A school without an energizing future vision will simply not get the needed support.
- Implement proactive – not reactive – student recruitment and retention processes that enable our schools to go on the offensive. Identify, cultivate, and attract mission-compatible families and students without assuming they will be automatically delivered by “feeder” institutions or voluntarily show up to an open house. There is a definite method to this, as taught in the Atidenu program, and no school can afford to be passive given the stark realities of the world of the Pew Report.
- Build endowments for the future while also maximizing annual fundraising. There was a great deal of progress in endowment building among day schools in 2015, but it is still the sad truth that only a small fraction of schools have significant endowment funds available to generate income to offset expenses and not place the whole burden on tuition-paying families. Let’s do much more in 2016!
Programs like Generations and Create a Jewish Legacy have created replicable methodologies that offer roadmaps to our schools in this arena.
Now for reality. As is the case with most lists of New Year’s resolutions, not all of these are likely to be brought to fruition by all schools in 2015. But, as Rabbi Tarfon said in Ethics of the Fathers, “It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either.” And, there is always 2017 to finish up!
Dr. Harry Bloom is Vice President of Recruitment and Retention, Annual Campaign, and Governance at the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE).