Securing and Growing Jewish Day Schools

by Rabbi Josh Elkin, Ed.D.

What will it take to make sure that Jewish day school education continues to thrive for future generations, even in challenging times? The incredible momentum of recent decades, as day school enrollment increased exponentially, requires renewed energy now. The current economic environment only underscores the need for schools to adapt the most professional management and leadership practices in order to thrive in the 21st century. Our field’s growth so far has been amazing and awe-inspiring; the challenges ahead must be met with new solutions.

Thirteen years ago PEJE began as a grant maker, seeding new schools financially and through expertise. As our mission expanded to lead the entire day school field as a capacity-builder, we created programs and initiatives to help schools in critical areas, such as fundraising, admission, and financial management. Now, we recognize our need to focus our activities in order to lead the field toward long-term sustainability and renewed growth.

We have learned that there are three key levers for day school growth and stability:

  • The professional leadership of our Heads of Schools and their capacity to inspire.
  • The volunteer leadership and strategic governance of our Boards.
  • The financial sustainability of our institutions.

We believe that investing time and resources in these three areas will transform the day school field. Schools will be positioned to provide exemplary and affordable education to more students for more years. PEJE initiatives equip current leaders for success, expand the pipeline of qualified leaders (professionally and at the board level), and increase Jewish day schools’ capacity for resource development. PEJE works in these inter-related areas at the individual, school, community, and national levels.

Many of PEJE’s ground-breaking initiatives in recent years demonstrate our belief in these levers and in the power of knowledge, data, and partnership to catalyze real and lasting change. These components continue to shape our field-building work very directly.

Knowledge, as we have learned time and again, is the most precious currency to stimulate school change and transformation of the day school field. Through diverse communication vehicles, we regularly share critical information with the broad day school field – including school professionals and board leaders, along with federation, central agency, and foundation leaders. Communities of Practice enable school leaders to gain access to knowledge and to apply that knowledge directly with others at their schools. At the PEJE Assembly this October, participants will closely examine today’s pressing issues and draw from the framework of a specially commissioned case study. Making use of expertise through work with a coach is a critical strategy for increasing a school’s “knowledge reserve.”

Data must be the basis for sound decision-making. The power of data-based decision-making has been well-documented in the corporate realm, the non-profit sector, and of course in schools. PEJE knows that leading the field depends on an accurate picture of current realities, and so even as we promulgate data tools (such as the Day School Peer Yardstick Parent Survey and the Strategic Financial Modeling Tool) for school and community leaders, we redouble our own efforts to track and measure the state of the field and the impact of our work.

Partnership is at the core of PEJE’s paradigm for the day school field. We view interconnectivity – within schools, communities, regions and across the Jewish world – as inseparable from individual accomplishment. We build collaborations, coalitions, and alliances that share power and mobilize each other for impact. We will continue to partner enthusiastically with the day school networks and with local, denominational, and communal organizations. These deep partnerships enable us to ensure that day schools fulfill their potential to foster an engaged and enduring Jewish people.

The matrix of professional leadership, strategic boards, and financial sustainability intertwined with knowledge, data, and partnership is, we believe, the framework for growing Jewish day school education in challenging times. Through leveraged investment in these areas, we will all be positioned to sustain the day school field and allow it to grow to the next level.

Rabbi Josh Elkin, Ed.D., is the Executive Director of Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education.

This post is from the series Growing Jewish Education in Challenging Times.