HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal


From the Board Chair: Hands on the Present, Eyes on the Future

by Yehuda Neuberger, Prizmah's Board Chair Issue: Time

It is important that Prizmah practices what it preaches. We expend great effort in developing and supporting leaders, arguing that they must be capable of pivoting quickly in response to changing circumstances, while maintaining Jewish day schools as relevant, resilient and dynamic organizations. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown Jewish day schools at their best in this regard, providing education that is, for all its limitations, world leading, and nurturing a much-needed sense of community at a time of isolation.

Prizmah has jumped headlong into the COVID-19 era of education and school administration, vigorously supporting school leaders and teachers to ensure that schools can continue to thrive during this tumultuous period and beyond. We believe that the repercussions of the pandemic will be profound, pervasive and persistent. We also believe that the responses developed in the months and years ahead will introduce new opportunities for growth and innovation.

Since the very early days of quarantining and social distancing, Prizmah has been doing what it does best: activating its deep network to provide leadership, guidance, resources and support for day schools across North America.

• Our Reshet groups have seen unprecedented activity. The five leading groups posted 158 new topics, 150% higher than the monthly average before the crisis. The power of the network that Prizmah built has never been more clear.

• Through Passover, we hosted nine webinars for over 1,600 school leaders, development professionals, technology leaders, and recruitment directors to facilitate knowledge sharing that allowed our schools to lead the world in the transition to online learning.

• Our COVID-19 resources pages attracted 7,396 page views, allowing specialists to find critical information that supported individual schools, teachers, administrators and students through a previously unimagined shift in their experience of school and learning.

• We assessed the predicted impact of COVID-19 on the field, and are actively sharing that information with funders who are prepared to step up and help our schools and families. Simultaneously, we joined forces with other North American Jewish organizations to advocate for governmental resources, leveraging our collective power to ensure schools have the best possibility to overcome the economic hardships facing our communities.

Prizmah has been there to provide clarity and assurance during a time of doubt and uncertainty and is the leading source for information, guidance, and support for its day school leaders. We’ve connected day school leaders to each other to enable them to act and react effectively to a constantly evolving situation.

School leaders have been rightly focused on the challenges of maintaining connection and excellence in a distance-learning environment. However, as we continue to tackle the immediate challenge, we need to lift our eyes toward the horizon and plan for an altered future. Together with the dedicated, creative and thoughtful leaders of the field, we at Prizmah will develop and provide tools, strategies and leadership for the next chapter.

• We will help our schools provide an improved virtual learning experience for their students and families. Now that the immediate challenge of getting started online has been addressed, we are creating even more powerful learning opportunities by studying and sharing advances in distance learning, including discussions about asynchronous study, assessments and other critical tools. We are working with content providers and other partners to offer access to the very best resources.

• We will support our school leaders emotionally and physically as they navigate this multifaceted crisis. We are leveraging our network of leaders and are facilitating video meetings and webinars regularly to allow them to ask questions, share their successes and challenges, and learn from each other and the team at Prizmah. We are supporting these incredible professionals as so many of them are struggling with their own isolation, juggling their own families and professional obligations, and perhaps even dealing with illness or loss.

• We will address the needs of schools struggling financially because of the economic downturn. Schools are being challenged with increased scholarship needs, drops in enrollment, and declines in philanthropic contributions. Our early estimates indicate that revenues may be reduced by up to $230 million next year across North American day schools. We are actively supporting schools by helping them access governmental and philanthropic resources, and we are continuing to build solutions to help schools and communities through the current and upcoming financial troubles.

And we will not stop there. Today, Prizmah is providing the network, the strategy and the partnership to enable our schools to succeed. Tomorrow, Prizmah will continue to leverage those resources to identify and highlight the ways in which the field can move beyond the current crisis and emerge more focused and stronger than ever before. Prizmah’s board of directors, a remarkable group of leaders and passionate day school advocates, is hard at work modifying our operational plan in a manner that reflects and addresses the current reality, builds on our core competencies and maintains our focus on the areas in which we believe we can and must “move the needle” for the field. We will practice what we preach, by evolving to meet the needs of the field in new and creative ways.

I close by expressing great admiration for the efforts of the people who comprise the soul and the engine of our day schools: our educational leaders, teachers, administrators and staff members of all sorts. And I count among them the remarkable and dedicated staff members of Prizmah, who are literally working around the clock to be there for Jewish day schools, students and parents, today and tomorrow. Now more than ever, through our partnership, our collective efforts and wisdom will help us emerge from this crisis successfully.

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Time

This issue looks at ways that school stakeholders experiment to use their time more effectively or in service of particular goals. Time is considered one of the “commonplaces” of education, something assumed to be as unchanging as the classroom walls and the sports field. There are the daily schedule, weekly schedules, and annual calendars; calendars for development, admissions, sports, assemblies, and more. And then COVID-19 burst into our lives, ripping up all of those calendars, throwing our best-laid plans out the window and challenging us to recreate them as best we can, in the eye of an ongoing storm.

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