The Power of Systemic Change

In the past, improvement initiatives in complementary Jewish education settings have been piecemeal. Though they could be effective within small areas of the schools, these efforts were not bringing improvement that filtered down to the overall experience for all stakeholders, from congregation President to the individual student. NESS (Nurturing Excellence in Synagogue Schools) is different.

NESS began in Philadelphia in 2003, and was adapted and replicated in the San Francisco Bay Area, thanks to a grant from the Partnership for Effective Learning and Innovative Education (PELIE) in 2008. The systemic change approach of NESS means all the main elements of the school are improved simultaneously, working in concert towards the same goals. This creates a powerful, internally reinforcing system that can move the school to a place where the students are absorbing the knowledge, skills and values that the community has identified as their goals.

Two recent, independent studies have confirmed the power of systemic change initiatives for complementary Jewish education in these two NESS communities.

The convergence of these independent reports is notable, both describing multiple shared areas of remarkable success and giving similar recommendations for their continued effectiveness.

The three takeaways are:

  1. Systemic Change Works: The range of stakeholders – parents, students, teachers, education directors, lay leaders and clergy had very positive impressions of the Jewish educational experience at their NESS-participating congregational schools.
  2. Evaluation + Sharing = Learning: Thanks to PELIE’s funders’ commitment to evaluating programs it supports, and to sharing the results of those evaluations, we can learn how to most effectively apply systemic change initiatives.
  3. Not Just Synagogue Schools: The key components of NESS’s success – assessment, data-driven analysis and a comprehensive approach that aligns stakeholders’ efforts – are not limited to synagogue schools.

“NESS has been a transformational process. Our kids are learning, and the assessment of the curricula and the impact on school culture proves that. We have never had this number of people involved in one single issue around so many kids and so many places throughout our entire community.”

Janis Sherman Popp, NESS Advisory Co-Chair for NESS WEST
Jewish Learning Works

The reports and further analysis can be found at: