Energy, excitement, optimism, and passionate commitment: these are the words I would use to describe the discussions among the lay leaders who attended the Prizmah Conference. The 120 day school lay leaders and investors spent two and a half days learning together and engaging in conversations about how their involvement plays a key role to ensure a strong future for schools. If there was one resonating theme, it was, “How might we?”
How might we...
- Address issues of affordability so that more families feel able to choose day school as an option for their children?
- Attract and retain talented teachers?
- Ensure that we have a strong pipeline of leaders for schools, both a=lay and professional?
- Galvanize investors to make “big bet” contributions that change the trajectory of schools and communities
Conference participants engaged in robust conversations about the most significant trends in the field, including the opportunity to attract new families and the interest in investing in day schools. At the last Prizmah Conference four years ago, the number of students enrolled in Jewish day schools was on the decline. But between fall 2019 and fall 2021, net enrollment in North American Jewish day schools and yeshivas increased 3.7%, the first such increase since 2008, and the growth happened across all denominations.
This upward trend led to forward-thinking discussions that included examples of new community investments to address issues of day school affordability: from models that cap tuition for middle-income families, to examples of communal investments that foster collaboration and resource sharing among schools in a community. By learning from others about the investments being made in other communities, there is the opportunity to expand this work. As Lisa Sandler, Board President of Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy shared,“Hearing about the success stories from other communities across North America was inspiring. I am eager to bring this knowledge back—there is much we can learn from.”
We are at a pivotal moment for day schools. Research demonstrates that as many as one-third of current Jewish leaders attended Jewish day schools. Among leaders with children aged 14 or older, we find remarkable inter-generational leaps in Jewish educational participation, from 33% among the adults to 62% among their children. The message about the impact of a day school education is powerful: Jewish day schools ensure a strong Jewish future. Thus, investing in day schools is critical to ensuring that we have outstanding schools with strong educators, and that these schools are accessible to more families. This was the message that resonated among the leaders who participated in the Prizmah Conference.
Our goal is to translate optimism that permeated throughout the discussions into action. Our goal is to turn the questions of “How might we” into the big bets that address these questions.