Moving the Needle at the RAVSAK/Pardes Day School Conference

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by Deborah Fishman

Over 500 day school educators, lay leaders, and administrators gathered in Los Angeles for “Moving the Needle: Galvanizing Change in Our Day Schools.” Hosted by RAVSAK and Pardes and geared toward Community and Reform schools, this day school leadership conference featured keynotes, workshops, networking opportunities, and “deep dives” into areas of field-wide interest.

Several pressing areas affecting day schools attracted significant attention. Most notably, in partnership with JFNA and PEJE, the conference presented a deep dive into day school finance and affordability, particularly as it pertains to small schools. Yet another deep dive, this time in partnership with The DigitalJLearning Network of The Jewish Education Project, explored educational technology and how to make it more effective in the classroom. Additional deep dives focused on design thinking and adaptive leadership, new paradigms in tefillah, Israel education, and student special needs.

Alongside these specific focus topics, the conference also maintained an emphasis on the big picture of day school education. It can be easy to engross oneself in important topics such as pedagogy, new technologies, and sustainability on the abstract and theoretical level. Yet, at the end of the day, education is about people – the children, the educators, the families, and the relationships and growth produced through all of their interactions. The conference sought to bring attention to engaging with these populations while being grounded in the holistic mission with which day schools serve their constituents and the wider community.

One impressive feature of the conference was the significant presence of lay leaders, who were invited to the concurrent Board Leadership Institute. Attendees included participants in Sulam 2.0, RAVSAK’s intensive Jewish lay leadership development program funded by AVI CHAI and an anonymous donor.

Conference participants also had opportunities to relate on a personal level throughout the conference, including through peer networking sessions and the in-person meet-up of the new RAVSAK Reshet for Judaic studies directors. In this online Reshet (Hebrew for network), those in similar positions across the country can exchange practices and develop professional connections.

In sum, the conference addressed how community day schools are filling their mission today and seek to find sustainable and educationally vibrant pathways for the future. This work reaches into spheres of modern life such as educational technology and affordability – while maintaining focus on the crucial people, such as lay leaders, parents, and those throughout the community whose engagement will make all the difference.

There is much more to be discussed regarding the burning questions which these issues raise. You can view some of these questions along with related tweets from conference-goers via Storify here.

Deborah Fishman is Director of Communications at The AVI CHAI Foundation.