HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal


Dear Cooki

by Cooki Levy Issue: Size Matters

Within a 50 mile radius of my school are a number of other Jewish day schools and some private, independent schools as well. I am discovering that young and talented educators with great potential start their careers in my school, where we nurture and train them, and then accept positions in other schools in the community, when the possibility of career advancement appears.

How do I keep these educators on staff in the face of the employment competition from other schools?

Talk about a mixed blessing! Of course it is wonderful to be part of such a strong and rich community that boasts numerous schools. But the dangers of “poaching” are real, and you are caught between the legitimate desire to hold on to excellent staff and their right to seek the best possible position. I do not think there is any surefire solution to this human resources dilemma, but here are some suggestions that may ease the situation.

Create and enforce a communitywide policy on interschool cooperation. In most communities with multiple Jewish day schools, there is some kind of umbrella organization that brings together the heads of school for conversations about common issues and concerns. This group should be charged with writing policy related to how schools cooperate with one another, especially in areas related to student enrollment (may I convince a family to leave one Jewish school for another?) and to staffing (may I entice your Hebrew teacher to switch to my school?). If such policies exist, then moral suasion should prevent one school from “poaching” a teacher for a lateral move to the same position. If nothing else, establish a deadline after which such switches will not be tolerated unless all parties agree.

Have a competitive, consistent and transparent compensation package. In some communities, salaries are set by outside bodies like the local federation or a union collective agreement. In others, schools set their own pay scales and fringe benefits. Be informed. Know what the competition is paying, and endeavour to meet that level. It is very hard to convince someone to do the same job for less pay.

Ensure your staff members know as early as possible what to expect for the coming school year. Few people relish uncertainty. They like to know for sure that they have a secure position for the coming year, and, to the extent possible, exactly what their position will entail. Try to make your staffing decisions as early as you can, and communicate openly with staff. Ask them to make a commitment to you as soon as you are able to commit to them. Decrease the time staff members will spend looking for other options.

Provide meaningful leadership opportunities. Even if no openings in your school administration exist at the moment, let your potential leaders know who they are by entrusting them with leadership opportunities. Sometimes a smaller promotion in the school one really loves will entice a teacher to turn down a larger promotion elsewhere. Share your thinking about the longer-term opportunities that await (without making any promises you may not be able to keep). To the extent that you can, offer the opportunity to attend significant workshops and feel part of the larger educational community.

Develop meaningful personal relationships with your staff. No, I am not suggesting that you must be their friend or cross any boundaries. But you should be able to relate to each one on a personal level, share their tragedies and triumphs, and offer appropriate assistance and support, well beyond the school walls, when you can. Having a personal connection with a staff member will help build loyalty to you and the institution (and it’s also the right thing to do!).

Validate and celebrate your staff—all the time. Everyone loves to feel successful and essential. Make sure your staff knows that you feel that way about them. It is much harder to leave a place that offers strong emotional support, that simply makes you feel good when you go to work.

But, at the end of the day, there will be times when some of your most valued personnel accept positions elsewhere in your community. Be gracious; support and congratulate them; continue to foster your relationship with them. Who knows? They may come back to lead your school at a later date. I have seen it happen.♦

Cooki Levy is the director of RAVSAK’s Head of School Professional Excellence Project (PEP). Previously, she served as the longtime head of the Akiva School in Westmount, Quebec. Dear Cooki accepts questions from all school stakeholders. To submit a question, write to hayidion@ravsak.org, with “Dear Cooki” in the subject line.

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“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” Mark Twain ...

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Size Matters

In the Jewish day school ecosystem, schools can range from a few dozen students to more than a thousand. How does school size impact education, school governance and administration? Articles in this issue address a range of challenges and successes found in small day schools, while looking at the issues large schools face as well.

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