HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
From the desk of Rebekah Farber, RAVSAK Chair
As usual, the first couple of months of the new school year have been filled with excitement and enthusiasm, especially having coincided with the Jewish high holidays. We spent the entire month of September trying to balance school duties, shortened school days, and interrupted currriculum with praying cooking and entertaining. It was both exhilarating and exhausting. October came with great relief and the first real chance to assess the state of our schools, of our boards and of our network, RAVSAK.
I am thrilled to report that the state of community Jewish day schools this academic year is very good. Our schools, with rare exception, are reporting stable enrollment numbers, with a few even reporting significant growth. And while affordability remains a challenging issue, the greatest number of schools reported that tuition was less a factor in student attrition, in great part due to valiant efforts to increase tuition assistance, than it has been in previous years. While the occurrence of the High Holidays so early in the school year certainly honed our juggling skills, schools reported that it also set a tone of reverence and reflection from the very beginning of the academic calendar, which reminded our staff, faculty, students and parents that we are first and foremost Jewish schools driven by a Jewish mission.
Just as the holidays piled atop one another in September and the beginning of a very busy school year, so too has the RAVSAK team been blessed with a superabundance of activity and innovation, all seeming to come at practically the same time (much like Thanksgiving and Hanukkah this year!).
I am thrilled to report that RAVSAK is growing! As we move from a transitional organization to a fully mature one, there are major changes in several areas. Our staff has increased in size and scope. RAVSAK has expanded our roster of talented professionals to include several new team members, listed on page 66. Welcome to Debra Shaffer Seeman, Jeremy Willinger, Betty Winn and Patrick Zagdanski. We know they will play an integral part in advancing our mission and providing valuable resources to our network of Jewish day schools.
One of the results of these new hires is that we have completely exhausted the possibility of cramming any more people into the RAVSAK offices on West 97th Street and we will be moving! Our new headquarters will be at 254 West 54th Street in midtown Manhattan and will provide a much better physical environment than we currently have. We look forward to sharing pictures of our new offices and news of the move in the next issue of HaYidion.
The RAVSAK Board has been very busy meeting the challenges associated with these wonderful changes, focusing primarily on fundraising, and stewarding our Jewish community day school network in a time of major field upheaval and the many conversations occasioned by the Pew Report. We held a two day meeting at the Capital Retreat Center in Pennsylvania in October (see page 41), and set the following goals for the Board for 2013-4:
1) Recruit new Board members: The growth of the Board is critical to RAVSAK’s future, to our organization’s health, the strength of our programs and our ability to serve our constituent schools. Recruitment presents an opportunity to be joined by partners who share our vision and passion for Jewish day school education.
2) Build out support for RAVSAK: Each RAVSAK Board member is responsible for raising additional funds aside from his/her personal board gift. Board members will identify institutional and foundation relationships and make connections.
3) Strengthen Board cohesiveness and enthusiasm: Board members will find organizational connection points to invest time and knowledge. Board members will provide more connecting information, i.e., sharing emails with each other to ensure we know what each other is doing; monthly organizational updates from the executive director to inform and stimulate discussions; Board committees to work on their individual agendas and provide updates to the whole Board.
Now that I am getting into the “meat” of my job as Board chair, I am finding the work truly inspiring and worthy of my focus. I am meeting wonderful heads of school and board members in our network and it is a great honor for me to be a part of this extraordinary network of professionals and lay leaders determined to raise up generations of academically strong, morally sound and Jewishly literate young people.
I eagerly anticipate seeing you at the January RAVSAK-Pardes Conference in my home town of Los Angeles, which will be a truly exciting and purposeful event. Our goal at the conference, as in everything we do, is to be forward-thinking, high-touch field leaders, advancing the cause of high quality Jewish education in the 21st century.
Rebekah Farber is chair of RAVSAK’s Board of Directors and co-founder of the New Community Jewish High School in West Hills, California. Rebekah would love to hear feedback on RAVSAK’s work and engage in conversations with the field about what is happening at our schools worldwide. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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