North American Jewish Day School Conference Opens

Hungry to examine issues and approaches changing the face and direction of Jewish day school education in the new decade, more than 600 leaders and educators at Jewish day schools across the spectrum of Jewish practice opened the North American Jewish Day School Conference in Los Angeles yesterday afternoon.

From making special education a priority within the Jewish day school framework, to harnessing technology to enhance and strengthen curricula and classrooms, to maintaining financially sustainable institutions of quality, the conference is addressing issues relevant to a day school movement committed to transmitting knowledge, enhancing practice, ensuring a vibrant future and solidifying its place on the educational landscape.

The conference is a joint initiative of the Solomon Schechter Day School Association, RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network, the Institute for University-School Partnership at Yeshiva University, and PARDeS: The Progressive Association of Reform Day Schools. This is the second year that the organizations, representing the arc of Jewish movements and educational approaches, have joined to organize the conference and explore common issues.

The theme of the 2011 conference is ‘The High Performance, High-Tech Jewish Day School of the Very Near Future’, underscoring how Jewish educational professionals are transforming their individual institutions – and the day school movement itself – into inclusive venues of educational quality and value utilizing proven, effective and emerging approaches.

“The future is by its nature something about which we can only speculate, but that limitation does not permit us to stand still,” said Dr. Jane West Walsh, executive director of PARDeS, in welcoming remarks. “We have an obligation to advance our thinking about what it means to teach and to learn such that our students are ready to face whatever the future has in store.”

The opening session focused on the effectiveness of Israel education in Jewish day schools. A presentation by Dr. Alex Pomson, senior researcher at the Melton Centre for Jewish Education at Hebrew University, highlighted challenges faced by educators seeking to reach sometimes skeptical and questioning students who, in the 21st century, have many alternate sources of information.

Following was the rollout of nearly 70 sessions and workshops throughout the conference, focusing on provocative issues, ideas, challenges and opportunities facing Jewish educational leaders, and including the promises and pitfalls of Israel education, new technologies, philanthropic support, and education for students with special needs.

Dr. Marina Bers of Tufts University, a member of the child development and computer sciences departments there, examined new technologies and digital learning environments in Jewish day schools, a major thrust in the field.

Attendance at the 2011 conference is up by about 20 percent from last year, and officials attributed the increase to the dynamic changes taking place within Jewish day schools and the conference as a venue for educators across practices to share approaches and learn together.

“The registration of hundreds of schools and organizational leaders for the second annual North American Jewish Day School Conference is testimony that our first gathering was a success and that convening the field focused on Jewish education is an integral part of our collective work,” said Dr. Scott Goldberg, director of the Institute for University-School Partnership at the Azrieli Graduate School of Yeshiva University.

Slated to speak at remaining plenary sessions at the conference are Ron Clark, Disney 2000 American Teacher of the Year and founder of the Ron Clark Academy, on Teaching Through Adversity – Facing Challenges and Making a Difference, and Dr. Maria Trozzi, assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine and director of the Good Grief Program at Boston Medical Center, on The Grief That Keeps on Giving: A New Paradigm to Support Families of Children with Disabilities.

The North American Jewish Day School Leadership Conference is sponsored by the AVI CHAI Foundation, the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education, The Covenant Foundation, ERB, the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, The Kohelet Foundation and several anonymous funders.

A full schedule for the conference is viewable at the conference website.