The Curriculum Initiative Releases Report on its 16 Year History

The Curriculum Initiative
(TCI) has published Through the Prism: Reflections on The Curriculum Initiative, a report authored by Adam Gaynor, chronicling the organization’s development since its founding. Founded by The Samuel Bronfman Foundation in 1994, over the course of its history TCI has been funded by leading foundations including the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Joseph and Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds, and the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, among other funders.

TCI provided Jewish resources, student leadership opportunities, and cultural programming in independent high school campuses, as the only organization to serve this untapped market of unaffiliated high school students attending private independent schools. In the 2009-2010 school year alone, TCI engaged over 3,000 Jewish participants at 62 schools in multiple activities throughout the year. Today TCI’s work continues forward in regional programs, each managed through a regional sponsor, without a national office. TCI is integrated into the The Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education in Baltimore and into Jewish LearningWorks, formerly known as the Bureau of Jewish Education, in the Bay Area.

The report details the innovative changes and adaptations TCI made along its way to becoming a leader in multicultural Jewish education. Former board president Dana Raucher, the Executive Director of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, says, “Building on over a decade of work with the highly unaffiliated Jewish teen population in non-Jewish spaces, TCI pioneered an educational methodology that has broad implications to many other organizations working to reach this demographic.”

Through the Prism: Reflections on The Curriculum Initiative includes key lessons learned from TCI’s growth history:

Effective organizational operations, together with one consistent mission, may require willingness to shift methods over time.

  • Expect successful innovation to take experimentation over time. Start-up funding, along with the optimism and curiosity that stand behind it, typically must be sustained over years before young projects become ready to transition to other long-term funding and ownership.
  • Top-down funding that identifies a cause or goal may need to identify or create a market before it can generate local ownership of the project. Experimenting with ways to reach the target audience as directly as possible can help create or uncover a market for an educational program. A new organization whose mission is to change attitudes, or to bring a new perspective to an audience not yet engaged in its issue, may need to experiment with untried methods to reach and engage its population.

Designing effective educational vehicles requires a stance of respect for the learners, and for the milieu and teachers whom the learners trust and have chosen.

  • Learners, who have multiple overlapping identities, connect to Jewish engagement when it relates to their lives, passions, and holistic identities. As a result, TCI found that multicultural educational practices, such as operating as part of a school’s diversity agenda and inviting “Jews and allies” into programming, achieved higher participation rates for such students than other, narrower Jewish programs.
  • Professional expertise meaningfully increases impact. Investing in highly skilled professional educators with an entrepreneurial focus supports the development of high quality teen educational engagement.

The publication of Through the Prism: Reflections on The Curriculum Initiative is timely as the landscape of the Jewish innovation sector is shifting and the Jewish community is reflecting on the growth trajectories of post-start up organizations. Raucher says, “As many organizations are seriously thinking about their long-term sustainability, we hope that this report resonates with them as an example of how one organization honed its strategies over the years and explored creative solutions to growth.”

Also see Reflections on The Curriculum Initiative by Adam Gaynor, TCI’s former Executive Director.