By Stuart Zweiter and Jan Morrison
Jewish day schools, the dream and promise of the North American Jewish community of the late 20th and early 21st century, are facing multiple serious challenges. There is the well documented tuition crisis, there is the challenge of attracting talented individuals to enter the field of Jewish education, there is the challenge of motivating parents to send their children to the schools, and not as well-known but perhaps most importantly, there is the challenge of finding and preparing high quality educators to lead the schools. Leadership is the essential element in a school’s success and a key factor in effectively addressing the three other challenges mentioned above.
According to research literature, the principal or school head is the main factor in deciding the quality of education provided by any school, and Jewish schools are no exception. Strong, creative, visionary, collaborative leadership is the key factor in student success, parent satisfaction and teachers’ development and professional fulfillment. Various programs for professional development and ongoing support of day school leaders exist, but they are of uneven quality. Many day school leaders live lonely professional lives, buffeted by the winds of politics, funding, students’, parents’ and teachers’ varying needs, and sectoral issues in Jewish education.
There is something fundamentally flawed in the way we deal with Jewish school leadership. The system is chaotic, it is in many ways broken, and we have not yet found how to address this fundamental truth. There are things that we do not understand, some deep understanding of what to do, that research has not revealed and that leadership programs have not addressed. Something new, something visionary, something practically different, needs to be done to bring about overall, systemic change.
Despite the leadership crisis, there are superbly run schools led by master craftsmen and women who conduct the complex orchestra of students, parents, community, boards and dual curricula, skillfully and successfully, year after year. We submit that the knowledge required to bring about necessary systemic change lies with these leaders, and that this knowledge has never been mined. This kind of knowledge has been called professional knowledge or craft knowledge. Much of it is tacit, it comes out in the doing, yet deep knowledge of a craft or art can be brought to the fore and examined through dynamic reflection and discussion.
The newly created Jewish School Leadership Enterprise aims to begin to bring to the forefront the deep professional knowledge possessed by ten outstanding school leaders, through convening an intensive three-day meeting, a consultation that will revolve around the fundamental question, what needs to be done to bring about systemic change in Jewish school leadership? These ten outstanding leaders come from the broad ideological and geographic range of the Jewish community in North America. The Jewish School Leadership Enterprise will act as a framework for facilitating this convening and enabling the blueprint generated for moving forward. It is focused solely on addressing the leadership challenge facing Jewish day schools.
The intensive three-day meeting will be held October 29-31, at The Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center in Reisterstown, MD. The meeting will be facilitated by Stuart Zweiter, former day school head and recently retired director of the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education at Bar-Ilan University, and Jan Morrison, a former school head, and President and CEO of TIES, the Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM.
The first two days of the meeting will be structured to bring to the fore the rich professional knowledge of the ten participants, and from this knowledge base to generate concrete ideas for improving in a more systemic way, the uneven, chaotic system of Jewish school leadership recruitment, training, retention and support.
On the final day of the meeting a small group of day school lay leaders and funders will join the consultation to hear these leaders, to react to their findings and to share their own assessments and ideas regarding how the initiative might move forward. The anticipated result will be new perspectives, new ideas, new understanding and new vision of the next steps and priorities necessary, to systemically improve Jewish school leadership and to professionalize the field.
This initiative is generously funded by Lillian and Moshe Tabacinic and Evelyn and Dr. Shmuel Katz of Bal Harbour, Florida, active lay leaders in day schools who recognize the critical importance of working to find fresh and innovative ways to address the day school leadership challenge.
The ten participating school leaders are:
Nora Anderson, Carmel Academy, Greenwich, CT
Steve Freedman, Hillel Day School, Farmington Hills, MI
Tully Harcsztark, SAR High School, Riverdale, NY
Shana Harris, Bialik Hebrew Day School, Toronto
Yaakov May, Yeshiva Tifereth Moshe, Queens, NY
Amanda Pogany, Luria Academy, Brooklyn NY
Bruce Powell, de Toledo High School, Los Angeles
Naomi Re’em, Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School, Washington DC
Zipora Schorr, Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, Baltimore
Ari Segal, Shalhevet High School, Los Angeles
The Jewish School Leadership Enterprise enthusiastically looks forward to beginning this innovative approach to addressing the day school leadership crisis with this unprecedented convening and encourages you to join the conversation following the release of the results of this first phase.
Stuart Zweiter is a former day school head and recently retired director of the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education at Bar-Ilan University. Jan Morrison, is a former school head, and President and CEO of TIES, the Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM.