Creating a Nonprofit Board in a For-Profit School

Leading Together

In 2008, our school began as a preschool licensed child care center, a for-profit business, with no ability to fundraise. This restriction forced us to maintain fiscal responsibility so as to ensure business sustainability. As a small licensed center, our mission remained strong in the face of challenges.

 

In 2016, we decided we were poised to grow. We extended the preschool program for one school year, and later opening an elementary division. The demand was high; the school went from 35 students to 91 over one summer break! Things got real, and fast.

 

The school needed a financial plan, a source of sustainable funding; hard-core decisions needed to be made. The important piece was ensuring that the mission stayed true and steadfast and that it would not be blurred in the face of financial need, growth or loss. To do this, we required a long-term projections that included staffing, physical space, benefits, and other common costs. We created a 10- year plan with a three-tier projection: high, likely and low.

 

Using this process, we arrived at a figure for a minimum number of students needed to offset these costs. Any additional students would bring revenue that would move to the capital account for long-term goals of adding a gymnasium, science lab and other wish-list items. The important piece in this model is that no financial aid can be offered; rather, actual funds of scholarships dollars must be put into the account in order to ensure that each student has the full tuition amount on the payment plan. Funds for the scholarships are raised through an annual drive and kept solely for the purpose of providing funds for families committed to the school and in need of financial assistance. Determinations of such are discussed with a small tuition committee consisting of a board member, accountant and faculty member. This model guarantees that the budget remains sustainable, since tuition fees do not need to rise to cover the shortfall from financial aid.

 

CREATING A NEW BOARD

 

At the beginning of the pandemic, we established a task force to determine what was needed to make the leap from a small program to a community school. The task force recommended that we become a nonprofit led by a board of directors. The task force team discussed the importance of a board of directors for representing the school within the community, generating strategic planning and providing financial stability. Three lay leaders undertook board training to carry out the transition from a small, private program to a budding Jewish Montessori community school.

 

The board in formation faced a steep learning curve, exacerbated by Covid. For starters, they need to craft a mission statement that captures the new school while staying true to its original vision. As one of the new members explains, “It is both exciting and frightening to join a board of a fledgling school with powerful ideals and lofty goals. It is also a complicated task for non-educators to understand and address the needs of teachers and administrators as well as students and parents.” Additionally, board members need to gain experience and comfort in their multiple roles of sounding boards, advisors, fiscal planners and marketers.

 

Even as the school has become a nonprofit organization, it continues to utilize the model it created originally to work to maintain its stable financial plan. While Covid has created a need for dramatic and vital fundraising, the goal is to get back on track with full tuition covered by each family whether from scholarship, government funding plans or other resources, thus keeping the school primed for long-term financial responsibility.

Maintaining a Strategic Lens Amidst the Time Pressures of a Pandemic School Year

Leading Together

This school year has been like none other, constantly grappling with new questions:

 

A confirmed COVID case in the first grade: Who’s been exposed and how long must the class quarantine?

New state guidelines have been released: Does this impact our travel policy?

A snowstorm is on the way: Can we proactively prepare for a digital learning day?

The in-school demands and protocols make staff communication more challenging: Is there a way to carve out additional meeting time for them?

 

Even in a typical year, it’s hard to balance the need for thinking strategically and longer term while in the throes of the day-to-day questions, twists and turns that come up at day schools. All the more so this year, when our time and energy are being stretched to the limit with myriad new questions.

 

At Hillel Torah, we’ve made it a point this year, when tackling the urgent issues, to also weigh the impact and progress our efforts will have on our bigger picture. For instance, when looking for ways to combat the challenge of remote staff communication, we decided to creatively carve out more dedicated professional development for teachers, solving a near-term need while also enabling teachers to grow and feel motivated during a challenging year. Similarly, even as the realities of quarantines precluding full in-person schooling nudged us to prioritize the technological innovation needed for digital learning now, it also led us to discuss how Zoom, digital assignments and a combination of asynchronous and real-time learning might play a role in the future of our school and the educational system at large.

 

Despite the demands on our time being daunting, it is our obligation, as members of the board and administration partnership, to carve out the time and focus on furthering our strategic thinking. In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey modeled his time management matrix as a 2-by-2 crossing of Urgency (tasks requiring immediate attention) with Importance (tasks with greater significance in achieving your goals). The most underserviced of quadrants—the Non-Urgent but Important ventures—runs the risk of getting squeezed even further amidst the pressures of the pandemic.

 

As such, here are a few proactive steps that helped us this year, for how to keep longer- term planning at the forefront during these hectic times.

 

Plan ahead. Create a workplan for your strategic endeavors, with clear guidelines about what you wish to accomplish by various points throughout the year. Avoid just “winging it.”

 

Schedule strategic sessions in advance. By placing meetings on the calendar in advance, you commit to having these discussions, rather than just “waiting for things to calm down” (which may never happen).

 

Trust your committees. Ensure committees meet regularly and feel empowered to make important decisions without layers of bureaucracy. Digital meetings tend to be more effective when limited to a smaller group of topic experts.

 

Effective meetings. Send agenda items and pre-read materials in advance, then manage your meeting to ensure all items get appropriate time, leaving space at the end to review and agree upon action steps. Following the session, send a timely recap about the decisions made and who is responsible for what moving forward.

 

Stay flexible. Inevitably, though, urgent items may sometimes end up needing precedence anyway. When this occurs, go ahead and press “pause.” But simultaneously adjust your workplan, reschedule your meetings and commit to carrying forward with your revised plan.

What It’s All About

Leading Together

The word “unprecedented” has probably been uttered more in the past year than in the 50 years prior combined. Certainly, the challenges faced by the entire world fit the term well. A year later, however, from the perspective of a member of the board and the medical advisory committee, some of the unexpected positives have been unprecedented as well.

 

Last March, when our schools transferred entirely online, we could never have imagined the creativity and outside-the-box thinking that would allow us to return back to face- to-face learning, with classrooms and batei midrash full of happy, active students (even if their smiles lie hidden beneath masks).

 

Teachers took on the challenge of planning and executing remote and classroom learning at the same time, often without knowing from week to week which would be in place. School administrators figured out space plans, attendance plans, daily schedules and myriad other challenges, without sacrificing vital curriculum points. Parents remained flexible, trusting that schools were doing the best that they could under difficult circumstances.

 

The biggest troopers of all have been the students. They have accepted the stresses, the differences and the losses, and made the best of it. Watching them continue to learn and grow, even as they are surrounded by so many restrictions, has reinforced the reason for participating in day school lay leadership in the first place—the privilege of having a seat at the planning table for the Jewish future.

 

Indeed, while the time requirements, stress, energy expenditure and overall investment of participating in day school leadership has increased commensurate with the challenges of the past year, in a strange way, so has the satisfaction. Our meetings go longer, particularly the medical discussions of ways to return to “normal,” but they are full of tangible accomplishments. The partnership with administrators and teachers is more palpable. The learning (trial by fire, trial and error) is constant. After all, nothing makes one realize how much talent there is in a group like a school board or medical committee as much as the frequent call for weighty decisions necessitated by the Covid pandemic.

 

Perhaps because the effects of our decision- making this year have been so immediate, board and committee leadership during the pandemic seems to provide a constant reminder of “what it’s all about.” Throughout, our school’s board and medical committee have reverted to one thought whenever things get challenging or confusing. As long as we remain focused on doing what’s right by our students, their families and their futures—our people’s future—things will generally come out right.

Profiles in Leadership

Leading Together

As Ben Franklin said, “In the face of adversity, comes opportunity,” and that’s exactly how our board has risen to the new challenges during the pandemic. Historically, our board has focused on fundraising efforts, but this year they pivoted to a support role for the school. There was magic on our board as they unified seamlessly with the school leadership, teachers and staff to further our one goal of in-person learning.

 

Michael, a father of three, juggles no before or aftercare, no busing and a full-time work schedule that makes my head spin. Still, he was eager for the board to focus on supporting and thanking the teachers for their commitment. He suggested that the teachers and staff could use a Shabbat with no cooking. He both fundraised and underwrote challah, dinner, sides and dessert for our staff. Even when the details were planned, he was overly concerned about ensuring that the security guards who work opposite schedules were provided meals. Down to every detail, Michael wanted everyone at the school to feel the same deep level of gratitude that they very much deserve.

 

Shiri, an author and mother of five (two of whom are GBDS graduates), stepped up to chair a committee to evaluate and rework the school’s mission statement. She worked tirelessly meeting after meeting, coordinating and debating down to individual words to ensure that the statement accurately reflected the school’s neshamah, until the committee got it just right.

 

Melissa, a full-time physician and mother of four students at the school, used her professional background to learn about and then advise the teachers on Covid-19 precautions. Over Zoom, she chaired the medical committee that closely advised on every aspect of the pandemic affecting the school. During that time, she saw that there was a vaccine gap; teachers who wanted the vaccine had to be in class during the hours that the vaccine scheduling was available. She arranged vaccine appointments for more than a dozen teachers within weeks.

 

If ever there was a year to support and shower our hardworking, resilient, strong teachers with love, this was it. And I am grateful to have been a part of it.

Developing Connections for Collaboration

Leading Together

Like so many day school boards, ours tirelessly serves the students, staff and families in numerous ways. Each academic year brings a colorful blend of challenges and opportunities with which we wrestle in order to brainstorm, make suggestions and, when necessary, carry out creative solutions to perpetuate our mission. The 2020-2021 academic year has been rife with opportunities to stretch our thinking and leverage our resources, largely due to the pandemic, which has led to innovation and positive growth for both our school and our board.

 

Perhaps different from most day school boards, we invite non-board members to participate on our committees. This broadens our perspective and enables us to design strategy beyond the immediate purview of our school. In our committees, we leverage the skills and experiences of board members as well as community lay leaders to advance key aspects of our school.

 

As our staff and students live our core values of wonder, empathy and tikkun olam (repairing the world) every day, so too do they constantly inform our work and priorities as a board. We are blessed to have learning partnerships (Repairing Together) with area community schools—Bruce Guadalupe Community School and Indian Community School— through which our students and theirs share, learn and teach across cultures, religions and customs. As a board, we are equally fortunate to have the leaders from these partner schools on our board, contributing diverse perspectives and best practices beyond our immediate community. Covid presented a common centerpiece upon which each board committee focused its skills and efforts. Our partnerships with these schools helped to strengthen our Covid response through shared learnings and economies of scale.

 

Serendipitously, our development committee was completely reimagined during the last board season and put into action this year. We assembled a broad representation of our community, with diverse skills and experiences, and are having great success bringing new energy to our annual campaign, broadening donor engagement, and designing and executing Covid relief efforts. Specific to our Covid campaign, we obtained funding to enable

 

HEPA filters in every room

Health screener for anyone entering the building

PPE for the entire year (gowns, masks, gloves, sanitizer and wipes)

More than 30 hand-sanitizing stations

5,000 additional KN95 masks

In-house substitute and additional teachers

 

Having a creative and passionate board development committee has elevated the fund- and friend-raising aspects of our work, during the Covid pandemic and beyond. We cross-pollinate with our marketing and alumni relations teams to ensure synergies across disciplines and advance our storytelling and base of support. These efforts have infused new energy into an often under-resourced aspect of board work and has laid the foundation for even more focused training for board members about the various ways they can individually contribute to our fundraising efforts.

 

One outcome of these efforts is donor re- engagement. Board members communicating the positive trends afoot at the school and our needs vis-à-vis Covid has resulted in past donors recommitting their support. And now we are working diligently to steward long-term support and engagement.

 

As our newly minted development committee finishes up this fundraising season, we are beginning to assess our learnings, outline improvements and define goals for next year. We’ll continue our focus on development, as that work is central to our growth, and we will set a strategic framework focused on targeted board activation, brand-building and storytelling, new connections and donor cultivation, and solicitation and gratitude.

Changing Pilots Mid-Air

Leading Together

Independent schools occasionally find themselves in a position of having to manage through a leadership transition. For Gesher Jewish Day School in Fairfax, Virginia, this period of challenge and uncertainty coincided with the onset of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

 

In January of 2019, our head of school requested to trigger a 12-month departure notice clause in his contract. Realizing the difficulty of finding a new head to start in the middle of a school year, we launched a search process with the job beginning summer 2020. The board felt that our administrative team could manage the remainder of the prior school year without a head in place; we’d just ensure strong working relationships between the administrators and the board. Just a few months of business as usual, right?

 

Covid-19, of course, had other ideas. Fortunately, by January we had come to terms with our top candidate, who would start providing leadership and guidance from afar well before her official July 1 start date. As the pandemic was spreading, I held regular calls with several of our administrators. We chose to repurpose parent-teacher conference days as faculty professional development days for training on some of the online tools we might have to employ if we had to go to remote schooling.

 

On Thursday, March 12, we messaged families that children should take home all school materials the next day in case we were forced to move to remote learning. As it happened, that day our governor announced all K-12 schools in the state must close—initially for a period of two weeks, which would, of course, get extended through the end of the school year.

 

We were fortunate that our students, parents, faculty and administrators were very adaptable to the changing circumstances. We tried to over-communicate, with seven Covid-related emails to families within the first two weeks of March, in addition to all of our regular email communications. After two days for transitioning, we began online learning. It was not without a few hiccups, but I was stunned to see my own children learning, laughing and truly enjoying school from home via online technology. The students quickly convinced their teachers to keep the Google Classroom open during lunchtime so they could “eat together” from their own homes.

 

Our incoming head, Aviva Walls, started leading check-ins of our admin team from the other side of the country, even as she remained in her prior position at a Jewish high school in California. She scheduled time to meet with every teacher individually— something that would have been part of her transition plan in-person, but had to be done online. The outreach helped our exhausted faculty to feel supported.

 

The board also sought ways to support our professional team through the early weeks of the pandemic. There was no playbook for the situation, but we tried to talk through issues and help guide Gesher to thoughtful and reasonable policies and processes to navigate through remote instruction. We also arranged a few morale-boosting gestures, including delivery of kosher delicacies from a local bakery to the homes of every employee.

 

After her cross-country move in the summer, Aviva immediately started exploring whether and how Gesher might be able to return to in-person learning for the new school year. We removed walls to enlarge classrooms so that desks could be appropriately separated; invested in semi-permanent outdoor tents to maximize our classroom space; upgraded our HVAC filtering system; implemented new cleaning procedures; and crafted policies for mask-wearing, hand-washing and a family pledge to reduce potential Covid-19 exposure outside of school, among many other steps.

 

Within our local community, Gesher’s positive reputation—enhanced by our success with online learning in the spring—coincided with a sense of dissatisfaction with the public school systems to drive a large wave of new applicants and enrollments. We maintained our standards for admission, with a particular lens to identify families who seemed like a long-term fit, rather than those looking for just one year of relief from the public schools.

 

Happily, as we look ahead at the 2021-2022 school year, the trend has continued. Total enrollment is poised to grow over 40% from pre-Covid levels, with a heavy concentration of new kindergarten and first grade students—a good sign for maintaining high enrollment for years to come.

 

We were very fortunate to have adaptable leaders, teachers and families throughout the evolution of the Covid-19 pandemic. With Aviva leading the team, the roles of lay and professional leaders are returning to something like normal, and Gesher is poised to emerge from the pandemic in a stronger position and set up for continued success.

A Community of Distinctive Contributions

Leading Together

As we read in Shemot, the building of the Mishkan was a collective achievement. Each member gave differently, each contribution was valued and in turn each participant felt valued. This year, our lay leadership together with the parents of the school learned to be more attentive to the needs of our administrative team and individual teachers. This experience has made us a stronger school community.

 

In his commentary on parashat Vayakhel, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes the following about a kehillah, community: “Its members are different from one another but they are orchestrated together for a collective undertaking—one that is involved in making a distinctive contribution.” Each separate contribution is a reflection of the person behind it.

 

After we all realized Covid-19 was here to stay and would significantly impact our daily routines, parent volunteers endeavoured to help the school navigate through a blinding storm. The school needed the lay leadership to strengthen their partnership with our educational professionals to assist and guide through the new non-educational responsibilities relating to the pandemic. Organically, there was a noticeable influx of lay volunteers, board members and school parents asking how they could help out the school through these tumultuous times. Each individual contributed in a most valuable way with special qualities and expertise.

 

Traditionally, the educational leadership oversees and implements a school’s policies, with periodic reports to the board identifying gaps and soliciting recommendations for policy changes. Covid-19 health policies went beyond the purview of our education team, leading us to form a Covid health committee composed of parents who are doctors in hospitals and private practices, nurses and public health administrators. The educational leadership has relied on the committee to navigate the ever-changing public health policies and to recommend strategies to put those policies into practice and monitor progress.

 

An ad hoc finance team composed of past and current school presidents and treasurers acted as a sounding board to our head for revising the annual budget. Revisions were made to account for the new and unforeseen Covid-19 related costs while balancing requests for temporary tuition assistance. Cuts to educational programming while maintaining lofty parent expectations are a tall order. Making these types of difficult decisions together under pressure while respecting boundaries truly magnified the mutual respect among lay and professional leadership.

 

The development team had to gear up for an additional annual fundraising campaign, The Day of Giving, this past December in efforts to bridge the gap from our operating budget. Goals were set lower than our spring Day of Giving campaign, yet the community raised more than in any other campaign in our school’s history.

 

The board immediately recognized the extraordinary work of our faculty under conditions of great duress. The board reached out to staff and teachers to offer their support, encouragement and appreciation for the stellar education they provide our children each and every day. These thoughtful gestures provided school staff the emotional strength and encouragement to continue as best as possible under the challenging circumstances.

 

After a long summer of staff planning with very little of a summer break, the board wrote a handwritten letter of appreciation to staff, expressing that “we were able to re-open our school because of the amazing work you do.” For Sukkot, the parents association partnered with the board to deliver challah and flowers to every teacher and staffer in the school, and members undertook to write small notes of appreciation to individual teachers of our own children throughout the year.

 

During the pandemic, extremely challenging decisions had to be made under compounded stress and time pressures. The relationship between lay leadership and the educational team have noticeably been strengthened on both communal and personal levels by appreciating and being more attentive and respectful about what each side needs to fulfill its roles to succeed and thrive. More than ever, we have experienced the true meaning of community through the contributions of everyone in our kehillah.

On My Nightstand Brief Review of Books That Prizmah Staff Are Reading

Leading Together

Shira Zamir

ETERNAL LIFE, By Dara Horn

 

This riveting work deftly blurs the line between love story, semi-historical fiction and sci-fi. Rachel, the protagonist, is a mother and grandmother in present-day America who (spoiler alert) cannot die. Her predicament is the result of a desperate bargain made 2000 years ago, just prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. We follow her through the years as she reconnects with a lost love, raises children (some of whom begin to sniff out the truth), and flashes back to the harrowing days of the Roman occupation.

 

The love story and scientific intrigue (a relative’s scientific experiments around immortality) are compelling, but the book really shines in the Jerusalem scenes. Horn elicits a visceral reaction from the reader as she places you inside the burning city, deftly describing the religious fervor, the deprivation, and the fear that led Rachel to make a fateful decision. Horn brings this pivotal period in Jewish history to life in a thoroughly engaging way.

 

 

Amy Adler

THE HENNA ARTIST, By Alka Joshi

 

In her debut novel, Joshi brings to life 1950s India with descriptions that ignite your senses. The sounds and smells were so vivid that I found myself closing my eyes, imagining the scenes and feeling like I was standing on the streets, watching the story unfold.

 

In the art of henna, the design itself is only a part. The true artistry lies in the experience the artist creates for her clients, the food she serves them, the oils, herbs, spices used to the make the henna paste and preparation of their skin to receive the design, and most of all, her touch (a combination of pressure and massage) that further prepares the skin and body. Only then is the henna painted.

 

Beautifully illustrated in the book, the careful preparation and thoughtfulness in her henna artistry is the same strategy she uses for her own life, as she moves from poverty to financial independence. Her patience and perseverance gives her strength to navigate the class system in India. She overcomes societal barriers and gossip to build a successful henna business, all the while knowing that with the slightest misstep, she could lose all that she had built.

 

 

Elliott Rabin

THE LOST SHTETL, By Max Gross

 

In a remote, forgotten region of Poland, a small shtetl named Kreskol, surrounded by forests, survives. It managed to elude the Nazis’ systematic destruction of Jewish communities by having already fallen off the map. The town elders made the decision decades earlier to change the town name in the hope of losing a bad reputation; instead, the town became forgotten, due largely to a report from a drunken census taker. Cut off from the outside world, the shtetl is ignorant of news from beyond: World War I, World War II, the Holocaust, the rise and fall of communism, all unknown.

 

Until, one day, a couple gets divorced, and the world is never the same. Husband and wife separately flee the town, and an orphan is sent out to rescue and retrieve them. The orphan returns several months later in a helicopter, accompanied by representatives of the Polish and Israeli governments and the press. The rest of the book chronicles the Kreskolites woebegotten return to history.

 

This debut novel, a recent winner of a Jewish Book Award, is a delightful read, combining the folklorish color of a Sholem Aleichem tale with darker hues of an I. B. Singer novel, and the plot twists of an unfortunate outsider reminiscent of Russian-American writers such as Gary Shteyngart and Lara Vapnyar. Underneath the sparkling surface lies an allegory of Jewish history and its combative, tragic confrontation with modernity in all its forms.

 

 

Alisha Goodman

THE NAME OF THE WIND (THE KINGKILLER CHRONICLE, #1), By Patrick Rothfuss

 

I was excited to start a new series by this acclaimed author, as sci-fi/fantasy is my favorite genre. This book did not disappoint. From the vantage point of a tavern keeper named Kvothe telling his story to a scribe, the book goes back and forth from the present to his past adventures, as we learn quickly he has magical powers.

 

Although Kvothe is presented initially as a simple tavern keeper, slightly broken, we see glimpses of the powerful image that he once was. We then start on his backstory, as he describes it to the scribe, and is joined by Kvothe’s devoted student, Bast. It’s an interesting technique to be able see the present day protagonist through the eyes of the scribe and student, and to hear his own voice in the telling of his own story. Each story that he shares of his past brings more light and understanding to the present. His commentary hints at so much more to come as well, which kept me intrigued about the parts not yet told.

Cultivating Change and Leading with Agility

Leading Together

In early February, leaders from 40 Prizmah schools met virtually to unpack their experiences this year in a session facilitated by Future Design School. They reflected on the impacts of the coronavirus on education, including ever-changing health protocols, steep technology learning curves, disparate levels of student engagement, scheduling and communication challenges. More importantly, however, they identified the one attribute of educational leadership that superseded all others in importance in the Covid-19 era: agility.

 

The pandemic underscored the vitality of pivoting quickly, of trying new things and of reexamining entrenched practices. What became critical was leadership that focused less on perfection and more on action. It was necessary not just to weather the storm, but also to see the potential for opportunities to empower people and to evolve processes, protocols and permissions within a school. Though this approach has long been utilized by entrepreneurs and business innovators, it is less commonly seen in schools, where leadership is often shared, and where measurement and adherence to standards take priority. A school that is led with agility is able to react to sudden and gradual shifts in the world and proactively cultivates a change-oriented culture to embrace new paradigms.

 

Agile leaders are equal parts collaborative and decisive. They exhibit a healthy mix of humility and chutzpah. They understand that momentum breeds momentum, and they reflect backward to look forward. Most of all, they are empathetic. They understand the needs and experiences of everyone in their orbit. Here’s how leaders and stakeholders in a school can work together to make it happen.

 

The New Normal

 

First, a learning community must collectively define its new normal. This means examining recent changes to assess their short-term effectiveness and longer-term potential, and also reinforcing a culture of agility within a school community. During our session with the Prizmah small school leaders, for example, we asked them to contemplate how they adapted communication channels, supported wellbeing, removed barriers, redesigned structures and systems, and enabled change in response to unprecedented circumstances. Crucially, we then worked with them to leverage these key learnings in order to anticipate change, reveal pathways, and stress test strategies and policies in the months and years to come.

 

Now, more than ever, leaders at all levels within a school must be prepared to expect the unexpected and to be adaptable to external forces. This does not mean that they all must speak with one voice; diverse perspectives are vital.

 

But it does mean ensuring that everyone is moving in the same direction and is equipped with the tools to take an open- minded approach to whatever lies ahead.

 

Take, for example, the downstream impact on schools of the redefinition of the 9-to-5 workday. Many businesses are rethinking the necessity for employees to travel daily between home and office. What does this mean for schools? Answering this question requires an agile approach, with board members, through their connection to the business world, offering insights into new options for work spaces and connections, and heads of school and their administrators translating these trends through the lens of the teachers, students and parents they represent.

 

Entrepreneurial Mindset

 

School leaders can foster an entrepreneurial mindset by removing barriers, valuing speed over perfection, emphasizing implementation and pivoting over time. Even the most deeply considered and exhaustively researched pedagogical approaches are often found to be fallible—including the times of day that learning takes place, the purpose and value of students spending time inside a classroom.

 

Covid-19 has brought about many revisions in our thinking. Though it took a tremendous toll on our world, the pandemic has the potential to be a vital incubator of new ideas and ways of doing things. Worldwide, schools have pivoted on things they thought were unchangeable. In some cases, there are benefits to these reactive shifts, such as school schedules that take a more intensive, less-fragmented approach and an increased emphasis on authentic, experiential learning opportunities. Virtual classrooms and journey-based assessment (valuing the process of learning over the end product) may be better than what they replaced. Identifying opportunities for growth at all times, even in the midst of a crisis, is the cornerstone of agile leadership.

 

One great illustration of this concept in action: Rundle Studio, a new initiative at Rundle Academy in Calgary, Alberta, that will be Canada’s first and only online school dedicated to the teaching and learning of students with diagnosed learning disabilities and/or ADHD. The idea emerged thanks to an entrepreneurially oriented leader at the school thinking deeply about what lies ahead for the school, and seeking ways to reach more students who would benefit from their program. We helped to shape the program through strategy sessions with Rundle leadership and key stakeholders. The resulting program will use a unique program-delivery system to maintain personalized connections while online, keep class sizes small and deliver the curriculum in ways that enable students with learning disabilities to reach their potential.

 

Adapting the Pace

 

Agility does not mean constant change for its own sake. It is incumbent upon leaders to maintain the trajectory of innovation but adapt the pace. School leaders must work together to listen to, support and empathize with the teachers, students and parents. It’s about being bold but also human, and providing a rhythm of innovation and iteration that works for the learning community.

 

During a recent strategy session, a Midwest school district told us that the pandemic helped them to recognize that some previous barriers to innovation were actually illusions. As a result, they sped up initiatives like promoting student agency and independence building, using virtual tools to foster community connections, and empowering teachers to push changes in assessment practices and expedite the use of innovative learning tools to make student thinking visible. But this agility was underpinned by a deep, established commitment to collaboration, and open lines of communication between all stakeholders, which requires ongoing nurturing in order to remain sustainable.

 

To help make this happen, leadership teams need to deploy themselves across the change management spectrum and give opportunities for teachers and staff to authentically surface new ideas and express their needs for development.

 

Empowering leadership from the middle of a school and creating space for change within different spheres of influence can be deeply impactful. Heads of school and administration can be the conduit to bring these changes to life by providing training and support to those struggling to keep up. Data collection and assessment must be conducted in a fulsome and actionable manner to understand each team member’s unique starting point in an effort to build their skills and competency in an individualized way.

 

Everyone starts somewhere on a change continuum. Just as it is vital to meet students where they’re at, leaders need to understand their team, know them deeply and help lead them through change. Agile leaders must know what kinds of support their communities need to bring new ideas to life.

 

Education is constantly evolving. Schools need to adapt to survive. Leading with agility allows schools to let innovation take root. Moments of change, consciously cultivated, can result in an environment that celebrates collaboration, action, empowerment and great ideas.

Aligning Instructional Leadership to Advance Student Learning

Leading Together

Schools are most effective in advancing student learning when there is alignment across roles, from head of school to classroom teachers. Based on our work at the Jewish New Teacher Project (JNTP) in more than 200 schools over 18 years, this article explores how leaders can create alignment across roles in a school, what alignment looks like, how it impacts teaching and learning, and what factors undermine alignment. We offer insights that establish the necessity of alignment up and down the rungs of a school’s professional ladder in order to create an optimal learning environment to advance student learning and growth.

 

WHAT DO WE MEAN BY ALIGNMENT?

 

The words that best describe alignment are “shared and agreed upon.” In a school, this can mean a number of things: shared values and priorities—between the board and administration, between administration and faculty, between parents and the various professionals in a school; a shared sense of mission, direction, purpose and philosophy so that the entire school community is working toward the same goals and students and teachers alike see their roles in advancing those goals; a shared sense of what is considered good teaching so that there is a standard of excellence to strive toward and by which to measure; a shared language between all the educators; a shared approach toward students. When there is alignment along these lines, the school works as a cohesive unit, and there is the greatest opportunity for success in advancing student learning and growth to the highest possible levels.

 

CREATING ALIGNMENT THROUGHOUT A SCHOOL ECOSYSTEM

Vision

 

The very foundation of school alignment is a well-defined vision and mission statement that is created with input from all stakeholders and, most importantly, is communicated often and consistently throughout the school community at every opportunity. Moreover, the school’s vision should be utilized to truly map the goals and programs of the school, indicating that the values have been considered and actualized in how the school works. It is important for administrators to be transparent about filtering decisions through the vision and to serve as a model for all constituents, professional and lay, to do so as well.

 

WHAT MIGHT THIS LOOK LIKE?

 

One school shared that their mission statement, along with a list of actionable core beliefs, is prominently displayed in writing in numerous places throughout the school building, and that different parts of the school community are actively engaged in conversations around unpacking what the mission means at different points in time. For example, when Covid hit, the school leaders challenged themselves to continue to achieve the goal of being a “dynamic learning environment that meets the needs of the whole child” during a pandemic. The school nimbly modified their schedules and pedagogical methods throughout the year. In the early fall when many schools remained closed, this school put in place weekly sessions where students engaged in a whole day of outdoor learning, allowing students to connect with their teachers and with each other and to forge the foundations of their relationships. Those students who remained at home enjoyed online scavenger hunts, cooking experiences with their friends and teachers, and even creating a short film to document their experiences and learning, to ensure that they remained engaged and connected.

 

Another school’s mission statement contains the goal of recognizing and nurturing the “divine spark” within each student. In practice, this idea translates into a focus on working with the whole child, attending to each student’s emotion, social, cognitive and spiritual development. This school feels so strongly about their mission of recognizing and nurturing the whole child that they are planning a complete overhaul of how their school is structured. While until now they have had a traditional pairing of Judaic studies head teacher with an assistant for half a day and the same arrangement in general studies for the other half, beginning next year they will have teams of Judaic and general studies teachers working together throughout the day. This will allow teachers to truly get to know the whole child and be invested in who they are and who they can become.

 

A third school strives to embed its mission deeply into its culture. Its annual summer planning time begins with an exercise that has teachers find themselves in the mission of the school. They use this language explicitly and consistently throughout the year.

 

It is important that all school staff are on the same page when it comes to school vision and mission. The mission should be shared with every potential new hire to ensure that every single person who works in the school is aligned with the school’s values and educational goals, and schools should only hire those individuals who are in alignment. In addition, follow-up, accountability and assessment of adherence to the vision should be part of goal-setting conversations, faculty meetings and even parent communications. In this way, everyone involved with a school is aligned around the school’s values, purpose and goals and are working cooperatively to achieve them.

 

Culture

 

The tone and culture of a school is set by its institutional leaders. In our work with schools, we have seen that culture encompasses attitudes and behaviors around two categories: the interpersonal and the educational.

 

Interpersonal aspects of school culture include personal caring and concern, positivity, deep listening, trust and respect. This is reflected in the ways administrators talk to staff, how teachers speak to students, how students speak with their peers and their teachers, and how the faculty/administrators and parents communicate with each other. When there is a positive interpersonal culture, there is collegiality among staff and students alike as well as expressions of appreciation, trust and an openness to learning. A positive culture encourages distributed leadership, such that all educators, novice to veteran, and even students feel they have opportunities to make suggestions, take the lead in teaching peers and bringing initiatives to fruition, and stepping up as informal leaders in the building.

 

In a positive educational culture, teachers see themselves and approach their work as professionals; they engage in reflective practice; there is clarity around roles, expectations and what success looks like; and there is a growth environment, where everyone in the building—adults as well as children—are supported in continual learning. Numerous elements can contribute to creating such a culture. A shared language and a shared approach to instruction are important.

 

So is a shared definition of what good teaching looks like. We use a set of standards based on Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching that offers both benchmarks and language for good instruction and provides an opportunity for teachers to reflect and assess their own practice. One school has created a school playbook that outlines the school culture, which they use to guide educational practice. Topics listed include who we are, working together, classroom practice, educational philosophy, portrait of a teacher, the child and the organization. They spend time reviewing the playbook with faculty at the start of each school year.

 

Another way to foster positive school culture is to use an instructional leadership approach that is facilitative. By using questions to clarify, probe and guide, rather than mandating and imposing solutions, a school leader encourages others to be reflective and to discover solutions themselves. The guiding questions remain long after the issue has been resolved, and people feel empowered to think creatively and resourcefully. Regular classroom visits, ongoing feedback and coaching aligned with school and teacher goals, as well as opportunities for self- assessment also foster a positive educational culture.

 

Collaboration straddles the interpersonal and educational cultures. One administrator pointed out that collaboration doesn’t happen on its own; schools need to schedule regular opportunities for teachers and staff to work together. At that school, time is set aside for collaboration at each level: teaching teams, departments, divisions and even full staff, so that educators can plan together, reflect together, learn together and look at student work together.

 

Another administrator suggests that “alignment comes from the infrastructure built around conversations and collaboration.” It is the continuity of dialogue, of always being in conversation around curriculum and learning practices and student work—in person and online, between teams and across divisions—that creates synthesis and keeps the school in alignment.

 

Shared Professional Development Experiences

 

A way to foster shared language and educational philosophy among teachers is through the shared experience of professional development. When a school is able to send multiple teams to the same professional development experience or when multiple staff, over time, participate in the same professional development program, the shared language, techniques and tools of that approach begin to create alignment in the school. When staff who participate in a program share their professional learning with colleagues who did not participate, they further disseminate the ideas and language, as well as the importance of professional growth, throughout the school.

 

One school points to a training that many teachers participated in a number of years ago. The thinking fostered by that shared professional development experience has become a shared language throughout the building and has helped the school develop a culture around good teaching, including an emphasis on student interactions, student voice, student choice, cultivating joint inquiry, and encouraging and celebrating the spirit of curiosity, exploration and empowerment.

 

Another school reported that they use professional development opportunities to “develop a shared value system.” One seminar led to the collaborative definition of a rich, caring and accountable classroom, values that the teachers then incorporated into their practice.

 

A number of schools we worked with reported that the shared language, reflective practice and, particularly, the ongoing analysis of student and teaching data that the JNTP training promotes have impacted even those teachers and administrators who did not participate in the program. With more than 30 educators from each school participating over time, these schools have invested in creating a framework that pushes all educators in the school, faculty and administrators alike, to be better, not just the participants.

 

Barriers

 

Weak leadership, poor communication, not facilitating collaboration, failing to invest in ongoing professional development for faculty and not having a clear school vision weakens the school at all levels. Some of the negative results stemming from lack of alignment include dysfunctional teams, competition among faculty, lack of clear roles and responsibilities, an authoritative and toxic culture for staff and students, and a fragmented approach to teaching and learning. All of these create disunity, inconsistency and confusion, and undermine student success.

 

Another major barrier arises when boundaries between the lay and professional leadership have been crossed, with the board assuming the role of educational leader and making decisions about curriculum and staffing. Gaining alignment across the roles in a school—in shared purpose, mission, values, goals or culture—is much more difficult to achieve under such circumstances, and the school’s potential for success is diminished.

 

Aligning the Field

 

School leaders set the tone for their schools. To be sure, they need the support of their board and community leadership. They also need to model and lead the school community in establishing the culture, values, environment, communication and academic expectations. Through their modelling and example, as well as their policies, they promote the mission as they set the tone of respect, collaboration, goal setting and priorities that become the shared and agreed upon norms of school life. This, in turn, empowers school alignment and fosters student growth.

 

Working to create alignment in one school can potentially impact the greater field of Jewish education, as well. As educators move from one school to another, and as schools visit and learn from each other’s best practices, the goal of alignment itself becomes a shared value. Perhaps the vision can be expanded to include not only alignment within each school, but among all the schools throughout the landscape of Jewish education.

Research Corner: Enrollment and Development During the Covid Pandemic

Odelia Epstein
Leading Together

The 2020-2021 school year and the Covid-19 pandemic brought unanticipated changes to the landscape of Jewish day schools and yeshivas. As the world was brought to a halt, the work of our schools was rapidly upended, affecting the work of all professionals in the building, including admissions and development professionals. Among the concerns of school leaders was an increased demand for tuition assistance, the impact of economic forces on enrollment and raising funds to cover significant additional costs related to reopening.

 

During the pandemic, the Prizmah Knowledge Center conducted four pulse surveys designed to take the pulse of how Covid has been affecting Jewish day schools and yeshivas. In a previous Research Corner, I went over a few of the major findings of the first two pulse surveys. Subsequent surveys were focused on enrollment and development.

 

Last November, Prizmah surveyed day schools to understand the effect of Covid on enrollment. Of the 78 schools that responded, 62% increased their enrollment between 2019-2020 and 2020-2021, while 36% of respondents reported a decrease. Overall, non-Orthodox schools increased enrollment by 4.3%, while Orthodox schools decreased enrollment by 1.8%. The net increase for all schools was 1.8%. Total preschool enrollment from the respondents declined by 18% during this time, most likely due to the difficulty of delivering online learning for preschool age students.

 

Of new students, an average of 31% came from public schools. This data point affirmed what we had been hearing from schools. We have launched a deeper study, funded by JCRIF, into understanding the experiences of parents who switched their children into a Jewish day school during Covid. Conducted by ROSOV Consulting, the study is designed to help schools retain these families and anticipate trends moving forward.

 

Prizmah’s most recent pulse survey, completed by 112 schools, explored the impact of Covid on fundraising. Forty-five percent of schools reported they did not meet their 2020 fiscal year goal. Despite the uncertainty of fundraising in the current economic climate, as indicated by reduced annual campaign budgets for the 2021 fiscal year, 79% of schools are expecting to meet or exceed this year’s annual campaign goal.

 

There are many unknowns about the long-term effect of these times on Jewish day schools. What educational and other changes that schools have made during this time will remain post-Covid? Will schools be able to retain the new families who came from public schools? Will there be lasting repercussions for schools that couldn’t meet their fundraising goals?

 

During this pandemic, Jewish day schools and yeshivas have demonstrated great value, resilience and commitment. My sincerest admiration and gratitude go toward all those who have worked so diligently to keep our schools and our children strong.

Building for Sustained Impact

Leading Together

Formed in 2019, the DEEP Consortium is a community of 17 independent providers of professional development that came together around a simple, yet lofty, vision: to learn from each other about effective practice and to leverage our collective wisdom and experience to advance the field of Jewish education as a whole. Though our individual missions, objectives and models vary—from introducing technology into classrooms to generating effective teacher collaboration to employing new curricula—we share the common goal of boosting the capacity of day schools to furnish the next generation of Jews with the highest-quality education possible.

 

We hold fast to the belief that the purpose of professional development is to promote deep and lasting change in schools, and we do so by engaging every school as a partner, ready to join honestly and fully in the collaborative enterprise of setting goals, driving real growth and, ultimately, elevating education for all students. We do not succeed unless the schools we work with succeed.

 

As such, we continually ask ourselves and the educators with whom we work a question: How do we ensure that fresh curricula or pedagogies or structures are adopted by the whole community and live on, long after we’ve left the building? Based on our decades of work in the field, here are lessons for building sustained impact.

 

Setting the Stage

 

The foundational awareness we bring to our work is the “power dynamic” in which we operate. As external providers, we cannot actually institute any modifications in a school’s educational program; we can only guide educators (administrators and faculty) to adopt and implement those modifications. As Debra Drang of Sulam puts it, “We have influence. We do not have control.”

 

Our initial task is to help educators to grasp the opportunities that exist to enhance their current sets of behaviors and expectations around student learning. Then, we must illuminate how making changes to those behaviors and expectations will improve student learning and growth. Though we each come to schools with different programs and emphases, we face the common challenge (and opportunity) of getting educators to embrace a growth mindset, where all strive to modify practice. Once we are able to inspire that desire for the new and demonstrate to our school partners how we can help them to realize their newly elevated aspirations, real change can begin.

 

The Pivotal Role of School Leaders

 

The possibility of implementing a novel program or structure in schools rises or falls with those who hold a position to empower change. When school leaders make transformed practice a priority and describe why such modifications in instruction or infrastructure or policies are necessary for student growth, all the rest follows more easily. But we’ve found that leaders must do more than state clearly their commitment; they must also constantly demonstrate it.

 

What does the demonstrated commitment of school leadership look like? The specifics vary, of course, but some examples offered by DEEP members include:

 

Facilitating sessions to analyze the current educational program and building consensus around how to address areas of growth (Gateways)

Participating in trainings in new instructional practices alongside teachers (Sulam)

Attending and contributing to teacher collaboration meetings to discuss student progress (Hidden Sparks)

Championing the progress and/or impact of implemented changes to the board, parents and donors (Hebrew at the Center)

 

Of course, the most vital step leaders can take is to hold staff accountable for implementing the newly introduced practices. For example, in formal or informal performance reviews, leaders can set the expectation that these innovations are now a core piece of teachers’ responsibilities. Likewise, in faculty meetings or teacher collaboration sessions, leaders can insert the reporting on the new practice(s) as a standing agenda item. In so doing, school leaders effectively turn our influence into a locus of control.

 

Changing Practice

 

Though differing in specific aims, DEEP members share an objective to induce educators to refine their practice, a process rooted in shifting what teachers should expect to do in and out of classrooms to optimize student learning. The only way to alter instructional practice is repeatedly to engage in activities that diverge from established habits. It is key to set aside the time needed for practice and reflection to take place. Over time, these different behaviors then become the new set of habits.

 

The kind of opportunities that DEEP members promote include:

 

Establishing communities of practice where teachers can candidly analyze what works and what does not and build consensus around specific practices (Pedagogy of Partnership)

Developing ongoing coaching (both internal and from our experts) to provide consistent feedback and practice (Jewish Interactive)

Creating high-dosage training to sufficiently change perspective and provide concrete strategies (Sulam)

Implementing varied modes of training (in-house workshops, cross-school training, individualized coaching) all rooted in the same methodology and using consistent language (Center for Educational Technology)

 

As external providers, we depend upon our school partners to ensure that these opportunities for practice happen. And, within the school, only leadership can put these in place and hold staff accountable for participating. In turn, we rarely work with schools through “one and done” engagements; our interventions extend over a substantial period of time.

 

Persistence

 

Reform of school practices is almost always gradual. Because of the elongated process of setting goals and developing consensus around changes needed, because learning new habits takes time and practice, and indeed, because growth in student learning can itself be difficult to measure in the short term, educators should not expect the introduction of novel instructional practices or curricular innovations to generate immediate impact. For that matter, school leaders should not expect that teachers will make rapid adjustments in practice. The success of experimentation with new pedagogy must be measured in years, not weeks or months.

 

This truth can certainly undercut the likelihood interventions will “stick” if school leaders, board members, parents or staff grow impatient with the pace of change. Resisting the temptation to decide something is not working when results are hard to discern can become exceedingly difficult.

 

As external partners, then, our task is twofold. First, we must lay out realistic timelines for detecting the impact of changed practices. These may include detailed benchmarks—which typically entail a mix of both concrete data and staff perceptions—whereby school professionals can take stock of where they are in the process. These checkpoints essentially form a roadmap of how much work has been done and, in turn, how much is yet to be done until the new curriculum or pedagogy or process can be considered fully embedded within the educational program of the school.

 

Second, as seasoned observers of the slow road to progress and successful innovation, we often need to act as cheerleaders. The gradual—not to mention erratic—nature of implementing school innovations can take a psychological toll on school professionals. They may, at times, even feel like Sisyphus pointlessly pushing a boulder up the mountain if they perceive that their work to change practice is not yielding improved results in their students’ learning. It then becomes our job to encourage persistence and assure these educators that change is on the horizon, if they continue to push forward.

 

Of course, we would not provide such an upbeat assessment if we did not honestly sense such potential for success. Indeed, there are times when schools are not achieving delineated benchmarks, and we must push educators to undertake significant revisions to their work plan. Knowing when to encourage persistence and when to shift course is one of the principal ways in which our expertise and partnership reveals itself.

 

Sustainability: The Ultimate Goal

 

What happens to all our efforts to strengthen educational practice in individual schools after we leave? Frankly, this question nags at us perhaps most of all, for while it may seem to school folks that we stand as somewhat detached (at least, emotionally) from their in-school work, we are, in truth, as invested in their success as the school educators themselves. This shared investment is what it means to be a partner.

 

To help promote the endurance of practices, we have found a number of strategies to be effective:

 

Embedding in-school experts to continue the implementation of practices or programs.

Providing ongoing access to a range of resources that we produce to support educators’ instruction.

Leaving schools with concrete plans for continuous improvement and next steps.

Encouraging “graduates” of the program to continue and build on their professional development with our own organizations or others.

 

In the end, we accept that we cannot guarantee that the effects of our interventions within individual schools will endure. But we move forward with the confidence that if we have been able to work with invested leaders and these leaders have built an accountability structure to maintain (and continue to enhance) an effective set of behaviors, all while preserving the long view along the winding path of reform, then the school’s capacity to educate will grow stronger. In no small measure, our partnership for bringing about deep and lasting change will have been worth the effort.

 

DEEP stands for Developing Embedded Expertise Programs. Contributors to this article include the Center for Educational Technology, Hebrew at the Center, Hidden Sparks, Jewish Interactive, Pedagogy of Partnership, Sulam, Jewish Education Innovation Challenge and Gateways: Access to Jewish Education.

Spotlight: Studying the Torah of Prizmah

Leading Together

Not long after starting my work as a Prizmah intern in the fall, I helped design and facilitate a program called Leveling Up for educators and administrators to study the lessons of the adaptations and changes made in response to the Covid-19 crisis and learn to leverage those innovations for a strong start to next fall. In doing this work, I learned the Torah of Prizmah.

 

Just as the sea of Jewish tradition is too big for any one mind and is best learned in chavruta—in partnership and community—so too the organization looks to its staff and its array of expertise to meet the varied needs Jewish days schools have today. The Leveling Up team brought together people with an array of skillsets: seasoned day school educators, experienced designers and master facilitators. Together, we developed a program that was richer, more meaningful and I hope more useful to the participants than any one of us could have come up with on our own.

 

From the adage Shiv‘im panim baTorah, There are 70 faces in the Torah, we learn that the tradition holds an almost infinite number of perspectives. This lesson was on display in the design process for Leveling Up, and I see it almost everywhere when I show up to work each week. The Torah of Prizmah operates on the same principle: In order to help day schools excel and thrive, deepen talent, catalyze resources and accelerate educational innovation, Prizmah focuses on the whole day school, not just specific parts. I love that Prizmah is an organization dedicated to making other organizations, day schools, the best they can be.

 

Additionally, I have learned how to work with data in developing reports to map the North American Jewish day school landscape in terms of enrollment diversity and affordability. By nature, I am a dreamer and a big-picture thinker. My time at the Seminary has indulged my dreaming plenty, but by interning here, I have gained skills doing the hard research that’s needed in order to give weight or structure to those big conceptual ideas.

 

Alongside my research on race, I have gained expertise in day school affordability and alternative tuition models in a way that very few people in the field have. I came into this organization in many ways as a day school skeptic and am not a product of day schools myself. This research has given me a richer vocabulary to talk to both Jewish communal professionals and lay community members about the importance of Jewish day schools, what their investment in a Jewish day school education can mean and what the return on their investment might look like. As so many other parts of the Jewish world are thinking about affordability and access, it was a great honor to do even a small part in helping Jewish day school education be affordable and accessible to more people.

 

Researching Jewish day school affordability was, in many ways, a mapping of the Jewish middle class—a section of the population for whom it is not always a given that Jewish education in a day school is feasible, worth their while or a good value relative to public education. I come away from this research especially, and my time at Prizmah generally, with a sense that the best Jewish day schools in the 21st century are, more than anything, institutions that focus on educational excellence across the board, where Judaism and Jewish culture are pieces of the holistic education for each student.

 

As a budding Jewish communal leader, I feel it is crucial to have as broad and as rich an understanding of the Jewish communal landscape as possible. I now feel much more equipped as a rabbi to help guide parents through that decision-making process, not just as a giver of pastoral care and spiritual guidance but also as someone who has a good understanding of the Jewish day school field.

 

By studying the Torah of Prizmah, I have been exposed to the full range of activities in Jewish day schools, from the classroom to the faculty lounge, the administrators’ roundtable to the boardroom. Thanks to my time at Prizmah, my training both as a Jewish educator and as a rabbi feels complete.

 

Soon-to-be Rabbi Jonathan Posner is finishing up his studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary. As part of his coursework, he has served as an intern with Prizmah for the past year. Following semikhah, Jonathan will begin a new role as a community rabbi working with Base Chicago.

Partnership and Support for Interschool Collaboration

Leading Together

Jewish day schools generally function as individual domains. A number of barriers prevent schools from working together to combine and synergize their strengths, including a lack of vision, trust, proper staffing and school capacity. When a group of five schools were able to develop the vision and proper staffing to work together, the added ingredient of a capacity-building organization actualized this reality.

 

SCHOOL PARTNERSHIPS

 

According to researchers, elements that make school partnerships successful include a commitment to improvement and a willingness to adapt new practices for the benefit of current and future learners and educators. Participants must share mutual respect, understanding and trust; have the ability to compromise; and understand that collaboration is in their self-interest. Other important factors include a history of collaboration, goal-sharing, flexibility, adaptability and an appropriate pace of development. This same literature points out that partnerships require hard work and an emergent process that takes time to develop; if they are successful, they can achieve more than individuals working alone.

 

Leading together” has come to mean something completely new for most heads of school in the time of Covid. We have had to rely on local health departments, state mandates and medical task forces rather than our school boards or board chairs. Even more importantly, we have had to rely on one another, as heads of school, to generate ideas and protocols, and to garner the emotional support we have needed to get through this unique time of crisis. For many, it has been the first time that peers in leadership roles have had to rely on each other so heavily. But in order to manage and guide their school communities in the most productive, efficient and effective manner, such reliance was essential.

 

CLOSE ALLIANCE FROM AFAR

 

Ezra Academy in Woodbridge, Connecticut, has fruitfully engaged in a partnership of leaders for the past six years. Our alliance is with a group of professionals who head day schools in small Jewish communities in Rochester, Greensboro, Omaha and Birmingham. Despite geographical distance, our partnership has created some of the most interesting, innovative and important learning experiences that Jewish students are having in day schools today.

 

The alliance serves to further the learning of our students, and to provide professional development for our teachers and a support network for one another across schools. This partnership has produced all of this and so much more. The by-products of our collaboration include a three-year innovative middle school curriculum, virtual learning experiences, group travel and students connecting to peers in other small communities.

 

Our journey as an alliance began over a long weekend in which we were brought together by a former mentor we had all shared. We spent a good part of the first day lamenting our common difficulties given our similar sizes, demographics and scarcity of resources. On day two, having establishing a sense of openness, free communication and non-judgmental frameworks, we shifted our focus from what we were unable to do to the possibilities we might encounter if we banded together. From this arose two mutual interests: the need to engage in the teaching of social justice and the desire to connect our middle school students with other Jewish teens. In order to accomplish these goals, we developed trust among our school leadership and staff.

 

Our school cultures had similar sensibilities, which informed the purpose of our collaboration. We each held fast to the notion of innovation through experimentation. We were committed to building community for our students and for our faculty through collaborative opportunities. We shared a vision and were committed to a unique purpose. As Jews, we understood our obligation to acknowledge injustice in our world and, more importantly, to act when we recognize it. We saw these Jewish concepts as a powerful avenue by which to engage and excite our middle school students, to help them become change makers and the leaders of the future.

 

SUFFICIENT WILL, INSUFFICIENT RESOURCES

 

J. E. Austin, author of The Collaboration Challenge: How Nonprofits and Businesses Succeed Through Strategic Alliances, described the elements necessary for success as clarity of purpose; congruence of mission, strategy and values; creation of value; connection with purpose and people; communication between partners; continual learning; and commitment to the partnership.

Although we had these elements, we still struggled to achieve our goals. We lacked resources including sufficient funding, staff, materials and time. The question remained: How would we move forward with our goals and plans without access to these fundamental resources?

 

It took almost three years to put together our sixth grade curricular unit. Our collective commitment to the process was just not sufficient. We were only able to meet once a year in person to work together. That meant paying for teachers to come along so collaboration could begin. It meant paying faculty to work on curriculum development over the summer, and it meant allowing for time during the school day for collaborative work among teachers. All of these endeavors proved complicated to achieve.

 

Being in three different time zones and having teachers with varying degrees of skill and knowledge with regard to Jewish and secular topics took a toll on the efficiency of coproducing our first curricular unit. Then came the challenges of how to teach virtually (this was pre- pandemic, so we had no experience to rely on). We managed to apply for and receive a small grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation, which enabled us to buy some hardware, but most importantly, it came with a coach to walk us through the virtual learning process. The second two years of the curriculum were built more efficiently, really as a desire to keep the momentum going to enable our students to have a consistent learning experience and using the lessons we had learned in struggling to put together our first-year curriculum.

 

The alliance schools had imagination, drive and ambition; yet, like many small schools, there was a scarcity of Judaics teachers. Additionally, the skeletal staffing, often found in small schools, inhibited the alliance from engaging in the necessary reflective time to further develop, strengthen, assess and document our efforts. Even with good staff and vision, the heads of school found themselves taking on the additional responsibilities required to facilitate these programs, and not one had the bandwidth to do so in the most effective and efficient manner.

 

A PHILANTHROPIC PARTNER

 

Enter Jewish Education Innovation Challenge (JEIC), which jumpstarted this undertaking by providing us with additional leadership and partnership. A grant from JEIC has enabled our schools to fund our needs for digitally enhanced collaborative learning and to reimburse teachers for their time and expertise in writing and reviewing curricula. Our work with Rabbi Shmuel Feld, JEIC’s founding director, has allowed each of our schools to identify the tasks and actions required to move its project forward. This included establishing a formal structure for collaboration, setting targets, constructing a deliverable and replicable action plan, assessing and refining our curriculum, building capacity in our teachers and leadership, and maintaining regular partner involvement. In short, JEIC helped by providing more thinking time, organization and curricular leadership, which provided our schools with greater capacity.

 

JEIC has given the leadership and faculty of these schools the opportunity to come together regularly, to articulate the educational philosophy, the content, and most importantly, the Jewish lens through which we build our institutions in which teaching and learning take place. Rabbi Feld has guided us in reflecting on what we have already accomplished and where we could move forward with renewed strength and capacity. The curriculum flows from the applied understanding of the verse in Micah (6:8): Do justice, love kindness enough to advocate for it, and begin the personal understanding of God, the nation of Israel and the Land.

 

In the true spirit of Jewish day schools, our association with JEIC has given us the opportunity to use, more strategically and intentionally, a Jewish neshamah (soul or spirit) to guide our endeavor. One of our lessons learned has been that with the right leadership, even successful partnerships can grow stronger, wiser and more committed, in ways they might not have been able to do on their own. The keys to making this partnership successful lie in producing trusting relationships, generating a shared vision, finding or developing the right staff, and partnering with organizations that add capacity and wisdom to our schools.

Get It Done: Project Management Principles for your School’s Development Efforts

Leading Together

You probably can recall a development team meeting where the brainstorming was exhilarating, you readily saw the impact it would have on your bottom line, and you were more than ready to get to work and make it happen. Flash forward six weeks, and it dawned on you that those great ideas never really made it anywhere. Even worse, it didn’t seem like it was a conscious decision to close down the implementation of these strategies. They just, kind of, petered out.

 

What happened?

 

Without a structured process to execute your strategies, they simply withered away. This is because good ideas don’t fail because they aren’t good ideas. They fail because they are not properly implemented. Principles typically employed by project management teams can ensure that your great development plans are executed successfully.

 

Project Management

 

DEFINING SUCCESS

 

Project management needs to be built on a strong foundation that defines why you are doing what you are doing. It demands a definition of success. How do you know when a project is completed, unless you define the goals from the onset?

 

In the words of Melinda Gates, from her TEDx Change talk:

 

In development, the evaluation comes at the very end of the project... I had somebody from an NGO once describe it to me as bowling in the dark. They said, “You roll the ball, you hear some pins go down. It’s dark, you can’t see which one goes down until the lights come on, and then you can see your impact.”

 

If you want to both reach your goals and get your staff excited about the project, you need to define success. This then will give everyone involved in the project an understanding of how they each fit into the campaign, how they are a critical part of the process. When that is clear, you can begin breaking down the tasks and giving out roles and responsibilities.

 

CREATING TASKS

 

With the goal in mind, you need to think about the steps involved to reach the desired outcome—in the simplest way possible. When you don’t define the tasks in a project at the onset, you will find that many unnecessary tasks are added to the mix. When you force yourself to spell out the steps, you will find that the work can be streamlined. Whatever time you invested in mapping out the project and its steps is going to be a tiny fraction compared to all the extra work you will be doing if you don’t go through this exercise.

 

WHO IS BEST FOR THE JOB

 

Now that you have documented tasks, you can proactively decide who is best suited for each one, and also get a good idea if you are overloading any one staff person or lay leader with the roles and responsibilities. This way, when your project is ready to launch, you can make sure that you have the right people and they are equipped to accomplish their assignments on deadline.

 

SETTING DEADLINES

 

Deadlines are tricky because despite our best efforts, they are fluid. There are two things to consider. Can the tasks be accomplished between now and project completion? Also, do the deadlines take into consideration when tasks are contingent on the work of others? The trick here is to set deadlines and to rely on weekly meetings to ensure you stay on track, and if it is impossible to maintain the set deadline, everyone involved will be on the same page for those adjustments to the timeline.

 

SCRUM/STANDING MEETINGS

 

At the heart of project management is the scrum or standing meeting. This meeting format makes sure all players know where the project stands by asking three questions: “What got done last week?” “What needs to get done this week?” “Are there any problems that could derail the progress?” A team that works in lockstep and observes the obstacles together will be more inclined to provide solutions and support each other for the sake of the project.

 

Project Management for Fundraising

 

When project management is used to ensure your annual, capital or endowment campaigns are kept on track, it fosters some remarkable results that go beyond hitting your campaign goals. Internally, it creates a heightened sense of collaboration and accountability. The team understands that it does indeed take a team.

 

Also, your volunteers will be more inclined to accept leadership positions knowing that their involvement is not ambiguous. When I started my career at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, Linda Hurwitz, a dedicated community leader who is now a leader on the national scene, gave me a valuable piece of advice: “If you give committee members something useful to do, it will engage them and move the relationship a step forward. If you waste their time, it will put them two steps back.”

 

Therefore, “We want you to get involved” is not a good sell. “We want you to do X, Y and Z, and this is where your job begins and ends” is a much more compelling ask. Of course, the job satisfaction goes way up when you can definitively say that you have accomplished your objectives, something that is most clear when relying on a project management approach.

 

WHAT IT MEANS FOR DONOR MOVES MANAGEMENT

 

Probably the most overlooked area for applying project management best practices is in the arena of donor cultivation and solicitation. Working with development professionals and lay leaders for the past decade, I can attest that the difference between a mediocre fundraiser and a high-producing fundraiser comes down to those who bake in the donor engagement by creating actionable tasks and embedding them in their schedule.

 

Many development professionals maintain a VIP donor pipeline of 75- 100 names, ranked by priority (their capacity, their interest in your work and how closely connected you are to them). But that is usually where it ends. Any engagement steps are usually managed in their heads. Their CRM database, which often has a moves management feature to track progress with potential and existing donors, is often ignored completely.

 

Every VIP donor should have an overall cultivation plan; weekly tasks are required to move those relationships along. Those tasks should be put into your calendar like any other campaign task. Need an introduction through someone? Put that on your calendar. Need to schedule an appointment for coffee? Put it on your calendar. Once these tasks are done, check them off your list.

 

CREATING GOOD HABITS

 

There are plenty of tools out there that allow you to create projects and tasks, make assignments and give deadlines. If you tried and failed to implement them, it is not usually the fault of the platform. You simply need to create some new habits that make these tools valuable to you and your organization.

 

Start with a modest project before trying to implement a project management system for your entire campaign year. Have a crowdfunding event coming up? Use project management to define goals, create projects for the campaign, fill in tasks, make assignments and plug in deadlines.

 

When you get a taste of the efficiency, the transparency, the accountability, the camaraderie and of course, the campaign results, you can be sure that you will begin rolling it out across your entire campaign and your organization as a whole.

The Advice Booth: The Gift of an Ask

Hannah Strasser Olson
Leading Together

How can I become more confident when asking for gifts for my school?

 

People are often surprised when I tell them how much I love asking for donations to Prizmah and other favorite nonprofits. I am among that rare breed of people who relishes each opportunity to get in front of a prospective donor and make the pitch. How do I do it? What makes me excited to do the thing that so many people dread? It’s less a magic formula, and more a perspective shift.

 

When approaching a potential donor, most people focus on what their organization needs. “We need a new STEM lab for our students.” “Our teachers need the opportunity to do some more advanced professional development.” And while each of these things might be true, they are coming from an organization-centered place.

 

What if you flipped that dynamic on its head? Rather than asking for a gift, what if you approached the conversation as though you were the one with the gift to give?

 

Here’s what we know to be true: Everyone is looking for purpose. Everyone wants to leave a positive mark on the world around them. Every time you give someone the opportunity to clarify their purpose and have an impact, you are giving them a gift.

 

Rather than asking for a STEM lab, think about what it would mean to that donor to be able to see students designing and building solutions to real challenges in your community. Rather than pitching professional development, imagine how good it would feel for your donor to honor the memory of their parent or loved one. That’s a gift that you can give them.

 

What about gifts that go to general operating support? The same principle applies. You believe in your cause. You know what your school accomplishes for the students who walk through your doors each morning. You want your prospective donors to feel that same drive and passion. An invitation to shared passion is another gift you can give.

 

If you want more confidence when it comes to giving this gift, stand down from your power pose and try these tricks instead:

 

1. Make sure you know your prospect. What moves them? What inspires them? What has made them laugh with joy or cry from sorrow? Make the goal of your conversation to move them emotionally, and then the donation will follow.

 

2. When you prepare your ask, choose language that speaks to who your prospect wants to be in the world: a hero, an educator, a good child or parent, an inspiration to others. That language is the bow on your gift.

 

3. Practice makes perfect. Start with people you know well or who are easier to get to yes. Or get a practice buddy and role play. Frame the conversation around the excitement you have in being able to offer your gift. Most importantly, make sure you practice saying the actual question… and then practice being quiet until your prospect responds.

 

By using this perspective shift, you’re not asking people to part with their money. You’re asking them to add to their passion. Inevitably, you’ll find that some people’s passions align with yours, and others don’t. Having someone say no to an ask isn’t a personal failure. It’s an opportunity to get to know more about what does motivate your prospect. The next conversation might just be the one where your passions align.

The Fourth W

Leading Together

Conventional wisdom tells us that a best practice for board composition is to have a distribution of the “three Ws,” namely, work, wealth and wisdom in as many board members as possible. The more board members that have some or all of these traits, the more effective boards will be. In Jewish day schools, there seems to be a fourth W that is present in many effective boards: “went here,” or a close family member of someone who did. This is especially true for schools and communities that have a long history. Alumni, parents of alumni and even grandparents are all rich pools of talent often willing to lend their skills and time to volunteer at their own or a family member’s Jewish alma mater in a board capacity.

 

While it may be true that having too many alumni as board members can sometimes run the risk of fostering groupthink, for the most part, alumni have many more positives to add to a board than any potential negatives. This, combined with the fact that there is not always an abundant pool of lay leaders in small to medium Jewish communities, makes it even more important to cultivate this source of potential board members.

 

At Addlestone Hebrew Academy in Charleston, South Carolina, a day school celebrating its 65th anniversary this year, over 80% of the board members are alumni of the school or are closely related. When surveyed about their motivation for serving, the majority of respondents told a story about a key relationship they or their parents had had with someone in the school when they were younger. Their current involvement in the school now seemed natural as a display of gratitude and reciprocation to give back to the school for what the school had done for them and their family in the past.

 

The following story written by a board member illustrates this phenomenon.

 

I often think whom I would be if I didn’t attend CHI (Charleston Hebrew Institute, the forerunner of Addlestone Hebrew Academy). I am forever conscious of a cheshbon hanefesh, literally, “an accounting of the soul.” Could I have inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings, could I have been more diplomatic, was I considerate, did I do the right thing? Granted, my mother’s training had a huge impact on these thoughts. However, I believe that my training at CHI molded me into whom I am today.

 

A few months before my mother passed away, she informed me that she had an outstanding balance on her pledge to CHI. She asked me to be sure to satisfy that pledge should it be outstanding at the time of her death. Sadly, she passed away within a few months after that conversation. She never forgot her obligation to the school and was so appreciative for the outstanding education that I received at CHI. When I moved back to Charleston a few years ago, I knew I wanted to give back to the school, and it is my privilege to do so.

 

What is striking about these types of responses is how much strong emotional connections, as opposed to purely rational explanations, play a major part in motivating board members to participate. One of the recurring themes from board members is the nostalgic memories they have of parents or grandparents who were volunteer lay leaders in the school’s early years, or the impact of Jewish role models and formative learning experiences that have remained with them through their years of schooling and beyond.

 

Alumni play a key role in the peer-to- peer solicitation of the involvement of new board members. Leading by example, current board members who are alumni have great credibility when recruiting others to serve on the board or committees. Camaraderie nurtured in youth remains a powerful motivator for adults looking to continue those relationships.

 

Our board has an alumni outreach chair who uses social media to connect with graduates from different years. This is not only to develop or solidify relationships for fundraising purposes but also helps identify potential “4W” lay leaders and creates a pipeline of talent for future board members. The asks start small, volunteering for an event or a committee role, ultimately helping to identify the next generation of future board members and leaders.

 

Perhaps most importantly, Jewish day school alumni have a clear understanding of the school’s legacy and ethos that its founders envisioned, what school accreditation models now call “purpose statements” explaining the compelling reason for why the school exists. They carry with them an intuitive knowledge of and appreciation for the school that is impossible to replicate. Spanning emotion and intellect, history and the present, alumni provide invaluable leadership for day school boards, confidently embodying the school’s past while lovingly building its future.

From Strength to Strength: Strategic Succession of the Board President

Leading Together

At Chicago Jewish Day School, a vibrant, multidenominational JK-Grade 8 school, our process for selecting new board presidents has evolved since our founding in 2003. We have learned that choice and placement of an effective board president depend upon the timing and position of the institution as much as on the individual thrust into the job. Inspired by stories of leadership succession in the Torah, we have come to see the process of transitioning a new president as essential for ensuring a successful tenure and a strong institutional future.

 

In the first decade of the school, the position of board president was filled by one of the school’s original founders. They not only lived and breathed the school’s mission and vision; they had strong relationships with the head of school, and they knew each other and the inner workings of the school well. This allowed for easy transitions from one president to the next; they had shared experiences and a common language, were in close communication and understood the institution’s history and challenges.

 

When the board looked to take on its first non- founder president in 2012, the executive committee understood that with a quickly growing student body, the school’s next major hurdle would be expansion to a new and permanent building. The board had an active “institutional advancement” committee, whose function was to search Chicago’s North Side for a new home. Because this search was identified as a top priority, the Committee on Trustees (COT, the school’s governance committee) advocated that this committee’s chair would be a smart pick for incoming board president. This garnered great support from the board at large. Under the leadership of this new president, CJDS identified a property with ample interior and green space that could be remodeled to enhance the school’s academic and social- emotional learning objectives.

 

The board’s next priority was to conduct a capital campaign so that CJDS could complete the move to its new home, which would enable the school to more effectively fulfill its mission and vision. During this period, the school was a rapidly expanding institution contending with financial stress, and the development committee played a crucial role in confronting the accompanying growing pains. Thus, the COT looked to the chair of the development committee, Anat, to lead the board, and in 2015, she was selected to be the school’s next president.

 

As soon as Anat ascended to the role, the process of transitioning to the next leadership began. Through deliberate and thoughtful discussion within the school’s COT, it was determined that development would remain the board’s top priority. Stacy, who had extensive development experience, was groomed to become the next president by leading the development committee. She had been identified by the COT as a strategic thinker who worked to advance the board’s objectives. Stacy also had a good working relationship with the head of school.

 

Under Anat’s leadership of the board, the school was set to embark on the creation of its next strategic plan, and it was critical to have a leader in place who would later have the skills to oversee the plan’s implementation. By spotlighting forthcoming needs, the COT was able to consider what specific knowledge, experience and professional expertise would be required of the next board leader. Indeed, it is not so much the board that selects the next president; rather, it is the board’s priorities and objectives, as determined by its strategic plan, that reveal who the best president will be. The hardest part in the process should be convincing the identified person to take on the responsibility that comes with the position.

 

A year before Stacy was set to begin her term as board president, Anat invited Stacy to begin shadowing her. With a 12-month lead time, there were opportunities for Stacy to begin attending select meetings and discussions, and to begin learning the ways in which sitting at the head of the boardroom table is different than being in a seat at the table. Attending regularly occurring meetings with Anat, as well as with other committee chairs, gave Stacy insight into the decision-making process, and the leadership required, at the president level.

 

Stacy also saw in action the ways in which a board leader must invest time to create a culture of trust and confidence within the board. Throughout this year, the two presidents had ample time to brainstorm future strategy and compare visions. Critical to this process, Anat shared with Stacy self-reflections of her own perceived strengths and relative weaknesses as board president. Being vulnerable created space for improved leadership under Stacy’s direction.

 

The transition process did not end at the moment when Stacy officially became board president. Even after, Stacy remained dedicated to continuing to learn about her new role, and Anat continued to engage and devote energy to support Stacy’s successes. Indeed, Anat and Stacy continued to view themselves as partners during the early months of Stacy’s leadership. Even today, Stacy does not hesitate to reach out to Anat if she is seeking counsel. In a formal sense, Anat remained on the board, returned to committee work, and joined a committee made up of former presidents that provides support to the board president and head of school.

 

Much of Stacy’s time as board president has been under the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic. As the school emerges from this very difficult period, Stacy is looking ahead and considering how the board can help lead the school during an unprecedented time and emerge stronger and more strategic than ever. This is, of course, made tougher by the social isolation and weariness of board and community members as a result of the pandemic.

 

The COT now faces its next challenge in board leadership: how to identify a board member who is uniquely qualified to lead during this upcoming period of recovery. At the center of this process is a determination to build off of the strengths of the past and strengthen board leadership for unanticipated challenges that will undoubtedly come tomorrow.

How Boards Should Transition to a Post-Covid-19 Environment

Leading Together

A well-designed board of trustees is like any successful group in that it needs a common purpose that is well defined, a variety of skill sets and experiences that complement each other, and a strong chief executive to partner with. Further, trustees need a clear understanding of what is expected of them, and especially of what areas of the school they should not be tinkering with. Paraphrasing from Jim Collins’ Good to Great, schools need to get the right people on the bus and sitting in the right seat.

 

During this time of the pandemic, we’ve seen that high-pressure situations tend to expose flaws and widen fundamental cracks in weaker organizations. Stronger institutions tend to stand out with their ability to weather almost any storm. A highly capable and effectively functioning board of trustees is one critical determinant of a school’s strength. And even in the situations where schools have strong boards, I believe the Covid-19 crisis taught us that every aspect of an organization can improve, or at least adapt to new realities.

 

The opportunity to reassess, reorganize and invigorate a school’s board of trustees coming out of this crisis is huge. This is, therefore, the time to implement new ideas and throw out the practices that did not work in the past. Toward that end, I would like to present two specific recommendations for constructing and operating boards of trustees for Jewish day schools going forward.

 

COMMITTEES

 

A well-designed board should have three standing committees: governance, finance and strategic planning. Almost every responsibility of a Jewish day school trustee can be found in one of these three areas, and every trustee should be assigned to one or more of these committees. It is through a strong committee structure and management that the optimal amount of support from the board can be generated.

 

In the governance area—I believe the most important of the three—the committee members should be responsible for identifying, onboarding and assessing trustees. This committee also should oversee the charters and bylaws for the board and its committees. When a governance committee (sometimes referred to as a committee on trustees) is fully empowered, it can bring the most talented and capable people onto the school’s board, guide them with the appropriate expectations and then provide feedback as to the trustees’ effectiveness.

 

Ensuring the school has the requisite financial resources to operate and be sustainable is the primary responsibility of a finance committee. This group of trustees should work with the head of the school and her administrative team when presented with annual budgets and longer-term financial plans. Trustees with strong finance or accounting backgrounds should form the core, but there is value in having a more diverse set of trustees participate as well. This cognitive diversity is particularly valuable when it comes to long-term projections.

 

Creating and overseeing the school’s strategic plan is one of the most important trustee responsibilities. In an ideal world, every school would have a three- to five-year strategic plan that is developed and updated annually. Exiting this pandemic, this kind of a strategic plan is likely to be even more valuable than it was just one year ago.

 

There are, of course, other committees that can and should occasionally be created for trustees. These should, in my view, be more temporary in nature as their existence tends to create an incentive for board members to wander into areas that are best left for the administration. Now is the time for a school to eliminate committees that oversee any compensation for employees other than the head of school. Now is the time for Jewish day school boards to step back from regular involvement with implementing fundraising programs or curriculum. The board is not a place to discuss how the fifth grade English teacher is handling students with learning differences, nor for conversations about individual staff members’ employment prospects.

 

During a crisis, as we have seen for the past 12 months, it is all-hands-on-deck and totally fine to throw best practices out the window in order to ensure a school’s sustainability. But as we exit the crisis mode, the time is coming to bring those best practices back—or establish them for the first time. Starting with the governance committee that can identify, recruit and orient new trustees is a great way to begin. I would argue that having this governance structure in place will make the school more attractive to community members without students in the school, who might otherwise not consider serving on the school’s board.

 

TIME

 

According to the recently released pulse survey of Jewish day schools, more than 75% of their boards meet between eight and 16 times each year. This level of meeting frequency is, in my opinion, way too often, as it leads to three problems. It prevents talented people from agreeing to serve on the board because of excess time commitments, it leads to meetings with content that is not appropriate for the board to consider, and it unnecessarily diverts the administration team to prepare for the meetings when they could be more focused on running the school.

 

It was certainly the case that when the crisis first hit in March of 2020, boards increased the frequency of their meetings to deal with a rapidly developing and unprecedented situation. The schools that were able to navigate the early phases of the crisis did so because of the coordination of the board and its head of school and the abilities of those boards to gather the resources necessary. Monthly meeting schedules became weekly ones; quarterly schedules morphed into monthlies. It is during a crisis that a board can truly leverage its backgrounds, skill sets and networks to do what is needed for the school.

 

The crisis period of school management is subsiding, and we are now beginning to emerge into a new normal. Boards should consider reverting back to their primary responsibilities now, if they haven’t already done so, of strategic planning, ensuring the availability of financial resources and managing the head of school. Boards that spend too much time in meetings, however, tend to forget what their key roles are. And just as extraneous board committees lead some trustees to focus on functions that are best left the school administration, too many meetings can easily lead to discussions of topics that boards should not be involved with. Less frequent meetings will also quickly raise the strategic level of presentations and discussions and put further emphasis on the important work of the board’s committees.

 

I have always been amazed that for- profit corporations with annual budgets measured in the hundreds of millions, or billions, can manage with boards of directors that meet on a quarterly basis. The largest Jewish day school in North America has an annual budget that is under $50 million and most are under $10 million, so we should be able to get the true board work done in four regular meetings, not 10 or 12.

 

In conclusion, the experience that most schools had managing their way through the Covid-19 pandemic of the past year has taught us all some wonderful lessons. Chief among those has been not to underestimate how much good can be accomplished by the collective power of a group of dedicated individuals like Jewish day school trustees. As we look forward, however, those same institutions should be looking to capitalize on lessons learned during Covid in the classroom and in the management of the school, with the institution of best practices for a board of trustees near the top of the list.

 

One final suggestion: Institute a limit on the number of current parents who can serve on the school’s board of trustees. Parents are inherently conflicted and can often time have a hard time switching “hats” when serving as a trustee. Certainly, having some parents on the board can be useful, but in my ideal Jewish day school board, there would never be more than 50% of the trustees with students in the school. We all learned the importance of community support for our schools in the past year, and now would be a great time to invite highly capable people from the community to join our boards.

Experiencing the Magic of the Organization: Making Boards Attractive

Leading Together

An interview with Phil de Toledo

By Ilisa Cappell, Vice President for Leadership Development, Prizmah

 

IC: Research has shown that all too often, lay leaders lament their roles. They may say things like, “I drew the short stick, and that’s how I got stuck being board president” or “I had a checkbook and a pulse so that’s how I got put into the role.” They may be told, “I promise you won’t have to do anything, come sit on the board, we just need to fill the seat.” I know you have the opposite perspective, that it’s an honor and a source of pride to serve. Could you reflect on how we talk about lay leadership and what for you is that source of pride in the work?

 

PD: Serving on a board should provide a tremendous sense of pride that you are doing something good for the community. Community only works if individuals get involved, and being on a board is definitely a good way to be involved.

 

As far as the comments you have heard board members make, I wonder if that’s how people really feel or if it is just a little bit of a humbleness. When you do get selected for a board or leadership position, someone has identified you, and there’s a natural feeling of being self-conscious, of having been singled out. Maybe that’s the root of it: People should feel a little less self-conscious of having been selected for a leadership position and feel a little more pride.

 

If someone really doesn’t want to do it, then they are not going to say, “I got the short straw, what am I going to do?” They are just not going to do it. A more positive and constructive approach is for the person to think, “I can do this,” and “Wow, that’s kind of cool that I was selected.”

 

So it is a mindset. And maybe when you do it enough times you realize that it is something that you will enjoy doing. You wouldn’t be involved if you didn’t have some passion about the organization in the first place. And you should feel good about that. It takes work, time, effort and brainpower. It can be stressful. But at the end of the day, you are doing it for a good cause, or you shouldn’t be doing it.

 

It may sound a little self-deprecating when you say it, but downplaying your selection actually has a bigger negative impact because it makes it less interesting or inviting for the next person to serve. It would be better if you just said, “What an honor to be in this position.”

 

IC: How do we keep people’s emotions positive and their engagement high during their work on the board?

 

PD: When planning for a board meeting, it’s crucial to think about how you want board members to feel when they get back into their cars after the meeting. You want them to feel good that they were at that meeting. Notwithstanding the sacrifices they had to make to attend the meeting, including braving traffic, you want them to say to themselves, “I’m really glad I attended. I’m really glad I’m part of this organization.”

 

This takes planning. It is important that, in advance of the meeting, the chair and the organization’s executive consider how to

create a meeting where board members will feel good that they attended and that they are part of the organization. It can’t feel like drudgery. If it is, board members won’t stay engage or won’t stay on the board very long, and they will not have interest in taking a leadership position.

 

It’s a virtuous cycle—or its opposite.

 

Board meetings require focused attention by the board members and usually have a lot of reports, including a financial report, an investment committee report, a fundraising report, etc. But there also has to be enough sharing of the “magic” of the organization. In other words, sharing of the successes, how the organization is executing its mission and how it is impacting lives. In the case of a school, it’s usually the stories of the impact on the kids. These stories put board members in the right mindset. Ensuring that board meetings include the “why” and the “wow” of the organization reinforces and validates why the board members are dedicated to the organization and that it is doing good for the community.

 

IC: The theme of this issue of HaYidion is leading together. What you were just describing sounds like work that you did in partnership with the head of school. Could you identify some of the key ingredients that you feel contributed to that relationship being successful and the ways that you invested in that partnership?

 

PD: I’ve always approached any situation with a new working partner, whether it is in the nonprofit or the for-profit world, with a relationship discussion. Early on in our relationship, we talk about how we are going to work together and what are our preferred work and leadership styles. We discuss how we are going to deal with situations where we have differences of opinion. It is a lot easier to deal with these key elements of a working relationship, and setting the framework for how you will work together, at the beginning of a relationship than it is to address it in the heat of an issue.

 

I am always very clear upfront that we will be candid and transparent in all our communications. It is important to create a two-way street in which each partner feels comfortable and safe being open and honest. In theory, the head of school works for the board, and the board is represented by the chair. The relationship is hierarchical, which can be uncomfortable. In practice, you want the relationship to feel like a partnership, so it is important to establish a relationship of trust and openness from the beginning. If it ends up feeling like a hierarchical relationship, then something in the relationship has gone wrong and needs to be fixed.

 

It is important to create an environment where there is a safe flow of communication and information. If there are things that I, the board chair, can be doing better, the head of school needs to feel comfortable, and feel the obligation, to tell me. And vice versa. It is important that both parties agree to this expectation from the beginning.

 

IC: It strikes me that there are two elements at play here that seem so core to who you are. One is self-awareness, your ability to be reflective on your own. Your ability to say, these are the things I need to be successful. Here is what I am bringing. Here is how you might experience working with me, here is how I can best communicate, and your ability to receive and deliver feedback is one piece. The other thing is leadership awareness. You are coming into this really thinking about it from a design and teaching perspective. A lot of the things you are talking about are things you would hear from classroom teachers or professionals in the field, really talking about how would I lead a group of my peers.

 

For lay leaders now, coming into these roles, what is some advice that you feel they may benefit from, to help them grow in these areas that may help them lead their boards?

 

PD: Actually, the advice I would give is to the head of school. An important part of their job is to help the board chair learn their role; in many cases, this is the first leadership role for the new board chair. Heads of school are uniquely in a position to help the chair get educated about how to do their role effectively.

 

I’ve seen relationships between board chairs and heads that haven’t been very effective. In some cases, the chair thinks too much like “I’m the boss.” That’s never a good mindset. Or some heads of school think, “You’re just another board chair, and I’m going to stiff-arm you because I know what I’m doing and I don’t really need you.” The initial interactions of the head of school with the incoming chair can be very critical for setting the tone for a good working relationship during the chair’s term.

 

There has to be some vulnerability and some understanding by the head of school that they need to attract people to be board members and leaders and that, at the end of the day, these people are their customers, they are their donors, and all of them have the ability to make different decisions. So the head of school needs to create the environment where people will make the decision that they are going to support the school, to send their kids here, that they are going to want to be part of this community.

 

Board leaders need to keep an eye on the big picture even as they work in the weeds. Take the budget: If the focus is just on the numbers and not on the mission or how people are going to feel, the board is going to make one set of decisions. If the broader context of the what the organization is trying to accomplish is considered, the board may take a more nuanced view. The board needs to keep in mind that, yes, there is a business element but we are a school, we are not a for-profit business, and we need to keep the mission top of mind.

 

The people who work in a school are there because they have a passion for educating our children, for creating our society. Being an educator is not the highest compensated role, but it really does make a difference in the lives of the young people they educate. Boards need to be sensitive to that. The board’s constituency is not just the parents, it is the entire school; boards need to make sure the teachers feel valued and appreciated.

 

Supporting the head is a key role of the board chair. The chair needs to provide public support for the head where that is necessary as well as personal support. It can be a lonely job to be the CEO of an organization, and the chair may be one of the few outlets for the CEO. All of the problems come to the head of school; they have to deal with all the difficult issues that arise from all corners, let alone from a difficult board. All the more so if the head is managing the organization during a heightened time of stress, for example during Covid. The board chair’s attitude should be, “Thank God we have this head of school. We need to really support him or her, because they have a really tough job.”

Transform Your Board into the Leadership Team Your School Needs

Deborah Shapira
Leading Together

When prompted to think of a successful, high-performing team, what comes to mind? Perhaps a professional sports team, one that has the best players in the league, an outstanding coach and a full trophy case. Excellent boards operate in much the same way as a successful athletic team. Sports teams rely on the team to work together as a cohesive unit as much as they rely on exceptional individual performance; similarly, successful boards require the group to work together as an effective team just as much as they require committed individuals to give of their time and expertise.

 

Many boards focus on finding great board members but spend little or no time on the work required to help those individuals form a cohesive team. The result may be a board that is less effective, and board members who are less engaged, than they might be if they work as a unit. If you have great people on your board, but feel that you could work better together for the good of the school, consider making one or more of the following changes to enhance the effectiveness of your team.

 

CREATE A BOARD MANUAL

 

The board manual is your board’s playbook. Compiling a few key documents to share with the board, and keeping them up to date, ensures that every board member has access to important information that guides the board’s work. In the past, board manuals were hard-copy binders that were challenging to keep updated, and that tended to gather dust on shelves. Fortunately, today’s online board manuals are easy to update and give board members effortless access to important materials. A board manual can be as simple as a shared Google folder, or can be maintained on a platform such as LiveBinders.com.

 

If your board does not already have a manual, start with something simple. The school’s mission statement, contact information and a short bio for each board member, and a calendar of upcoming meetings, are a great place to start. Once the board manual has been created, other documents can be added over time. Additions might include a list of the basic responsibilities of individual board members, a list of committees, and your board’s conflict-of-interest and whistleblower policies.

 

Your online board manual can also be a portal for board members to access pre-reading materials for meetings. This feature may streamline the process of distributing these materials and ensure that the materials remain archived. The manual will contribute to a shared sense of institutional memory, for both veteran and new board members, further contributing to the board’s ability to function as a cohesive team.

 

DEVELOP SHARED GOALS

 

Working toward common goals is a defining characteristic of a strong team. When individual board members focus on their own priorities, or aren’t sure whether or how their work contributes to the overall success of the group, the board as a whole will be less effective in its work.

 

Consider establishing annual goals for your board. These are in addition to the school’s strategic plan or any annual goals that the board or head of school have set for the school itself. Board goals will focus on the specific work to be accomplished by the board over the course of the year.

 

The goal-setting process is most effective as a highly collaborative exercise, in which board members brainstorm issues to tackle throughout the year and then reach consensus or vote to determine which are most important. Once the goals are set, determine a work plan for achieving them, assigning tasks to existing board committees or creating task forces as needed.

 

Use some time at each board meeting to check in on progress, and adjust the work plan as needed. This process will ensure that board members are working together toward shared priorities, rather than feeling unsure of how they can best contribute or, worse, working at odds with one another.

 

FOCUS ON BOARD COMPOSITION

 

When thinking of prospective board members, nominating committees often look for individuals with particular skills and characteristics considered to define a “good board member.” Is he a smart, thoughtful person? Does she have professional skills that will be useful to our school? However, in order to build your board into the team that your school needs for strong leadership, it is essential to see each board member not only through the lens of his or her particular skills, but also as a teammate who will play a specific role on the team. Put another way, your board needs members whose skills fill the gaps in your current board and whose dispositions complement one another and create a cohesive whole.

 

Consider the dynamics in your boardroom. Do different kinds of voices fill the room? When new ideas are raised, is one person a cheerleader while another is a healthy skeptic? When problems arise, does one board member work to analyze the issue while another seeks consensus among the group? Does your board sometimes have disagreements that lead to a deeper understanding of an issue? Ideally the answer to these questions is “yes”; if not, then your board might benefit from a careful analysis of its composition.

 

Try creating a board composition matrix to assess the current makeup of your board and to find gaps that can be filled as you nominate new members. Some boards limit their matrix to the professional skills and demographics of their members, but your board will benefit from including categories describing the dispositions of your board members as well. A sample board composition matrix offered on BoardSource.com includes the category “qualities” (for example, “motivator” and “leadership skills”), as well as the category “personal styles” (such as “mediator” and “visionary”). Download BoardSource’s matrix or create your own, and then fill it out to assess any gaps on your board that are preventing it from being the exceptional team your school needs it to be.

 

Once these gaps have been identified, seek new board members who exhibit the qualities and personal styles that are missing from your board. These are harder to assess than, say, professional skills, but it is not impossible to get some sense of a prospect’s personal style. Get to know a potential board member by inviting him to serve on a task force or work on a volunteer committee. Pay attention to the role she plays in that work, and assess whether that role complements the roles played by current board members. This takes some extra effort, but the benefit of having well-balanced discussions in the boardroom will make it worthwhile.

 

PROVIDE A NEW BOARD MEMBER ORIENTATION

 

An effective onboarding program, including a formal orientation for new members, is key to creating a feeling among board members that they are part of a cohesive team. However, a recent report from Prizmah, “Jewish Day Schools: Snapshots of the Field,” revealed that only 49% of Jewish day school boards provide a structured, formal orientation for new board members. Skipping the orientation leaves new board members hanging out to dry, without a sense of shared institutional knowledge. Orientations don’t have to be complicated, but they do need to happen consistently.

 

At a minimum, new board members should meet with the head of school and one or two veteran board members (often the board chair and/or chair of the governance committee). Share your board manual with the new members, and answer their questions about the materials contained in it. Talk through some key issues that were discussed at recent meetings, sharing any decisions that were made and the rationale behind them. Explain the board’s committee structure and share a sentence or two about how each committee functions. Investing an hour or two in spending this time with your new board members will help them integrate into the group quickly, rather than leaving them on the sidelines as they learn only by observing the board at work.

 

If your board has not provided an orientation for new members already, consider inviting your entire board to the first orientation that you run. Even veteran board members will benefit from taking a step back, reviewing the board manual (particularly if it is newly created), and considering the board’s work from the perspective of the newly appointed members. It may seem counterintuitive to invite long-time board members to a new-member orientation, but it will level the playing field and go a long way toward cultivating a sense of shared purpose.

 

ESTABLISH A GOVERNANCE COMMITTEE

 

A board’s governance committee is its coach. Like a coach, the governance committee is responsible for helping the team reach its full potential by recruiting new talent, improving individual and team performance through regular training, and motivating the team to succeed. In addition to overseeing the nominations process, the governance committee regularly assesses the needs of the board and addresses problems that keep the board from being a high-functioning team. The suggestions given above would each fall under the governance committee’s purview and would be implemented at the governance committee’s discretion.

 

If the recommendations shared here seem daunting, keep in mind that it is not necessary to work on all of them at once. Choose just one or two to get started. Each step you take will make your board a stronger team. Transforming a board from a collection of talented individuals into a cohesive team takes an investment in time and energy, but the end result will be a highly effective board that will be better positioned to help your school succeed.

Commentary: Leadership During a Crisis

Leading Together

THE 10 MOST IMPORTANT THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT NONPROFIT LEADERSHIP IN 2020

 

1. You find it in your own backyard.

 

2. You don’t need a title to lead.

 

3. Crises can turn people into neighbors.

 

4. Leaders do what they were sure was not possible.

 

5. Leaders pick up the phone.

 

6. Leaders are vulnerable.

 

7. Every leader has imposter syndrome.

 

8. Leaders invest in getting it right.

 

9. Leaders have absolutely no idea how much we need them.

 

10. The nonprofit sector is the single biggest source of leadership in our broken world.

 

From the blog of Joan Garry, nonprofit consultant: blog.joangarry.com/nonprofit-leadership

 

Gerri Chizeck, Head of School

Albert Einstein Academy, Annapolis

 

This year was different—and yet the same: People need to be trusted, appreciated, supported and challenged. This goes for faculty, parents, co-administrators and heads of school. The challenge for me as a new head was to build this trust and encourage a growth mindset, all while confronting the stress and reality of Covid. With little ability to hold casual daily conversations and other face-to-face interactions that build relationships and capacities, this was difficult. Almost impossible, but not impossible.

 

How am I getting through the year? By celebrating small moments and small victories. The appreciation of a student who says, “You listen to everyone.” A former student reaching out and writing, “You changed my life.” A colleague in another school asking for mentorship and advice. A new teacher brimming with enthusiasm over reaching students with new projects. Seeing someone try a new idea with their class, even if it didn’t work. A note from a parent saying, “I trust you with my child’s life.” Hearing spontaneous singing (even if squelched by Covid protocols). Feeling the support of board members who say, “Thank you.”

 

Small moments and achievements are building blocks for success and growth. I am thankful for them, hopeful for them to increase a hundredfold and eager for the day when singing will once again ring out in the hallways of our schools.

 

Chris Aguero, Head of School

Austin Jewish Academy

 

At the end of last summer, our health task force informed us that we would need to keep our occupied building below 50% capacity, eliminating in-person education for just over half our students. Members of the board of directors were initially reluctant to adopt the recommendations, and I faced a plan that I knew was best while also being tough, if not impossible, for many families to accept.

 

Hours later, our community came together to create Outdoor Academy under the clear blue sky of Central Texas. I discovered that we could achieve the impossible: moving teachers and students from their comfort zones into a space of possibility while also accommodating families whose students would remain online. In only a few weeks, together we erected outdoor classroom spaces, solicited major gifts, and organized a daily system that would facilitate classes 100% outside for more than half the student body—all by Labor Day.

 

Like Jewish communities the world over, Outdoor Academy students and teachers felt like they were wandering through the wilderness of uncertainty toward a goal that was far from inevitable. Seven months in, we have found a world teeming with promise, created with a unique recipe: trust, vulnerability, hard work and the chutzpah to dare.

 

Lisa Stroll, Head of School

Denver Academy of Torah

 

Brené Brown defines vulnerability as, uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. As the leader of my school, I cannot think of any three descriptions that better encapsulate what I feel on day-to-day basis.

 

There’s a tremendous amount of uncertainty in everything that leaders do: uncertainty regarding the future; uncertainty regarding their decisions; and uncertainty regarding the impact of their decisions. Despite confidence in my abilities, I am frequently plagued with these feelings. Nevertheless, when faced with critical decisions, it’s a leader’s job to be willing to take risks.

 

Taking risks, however, is quite different than engaging in risky behavior. As such, one need not be impulsive and frivolous. It’s my job to carefully weigh and methodically calculate each and every risk in order to maximize gain and mitigate damage. However, as the name suggests, any risk potentially opens one up to adverse consequences.

 

And this often leads to the most challenging aspect of vulnerability: emotional expo- sure. While I may not be 100% comfortable emotionally exposing myself, it is my willingness to do so that gives me the strength to forge onward in the face of whatever challenges I might encounter. These collective feelings are what makes me and all leaders vulnerable.

Preparing for Head Succession

Amy Wasser
Leading Together

Replacing a head of school is one of the most challenging tasks the board of a Jewish day school or yeshiva must undertake. Heads of schools leave posts for many reasons; some leave of their own volition, others are let go. Often the departures are planned, but sometimes not. According to NAIS, one in five new and interim heads of independent schools in the 2019-2020 school year followed a head who held the position for three years or fewer, while nearly one in three schools in this survey report having had three or more heads of school in the past 10 years.

 

At Prizmah, we estimate that there will be between 25 and 30 open Jewish day school and yeshiva headships each year. The tenure of heads in the day school field is slightly longer than that of independent schools, but the bench for prospective new heads is much narrower.

 

Schools cannot let the emotions that transition planning can arouse impede the effort to ensure strong continuous leadership. The greatest advantage a board can give itself in replacing a head is by planning for the task before it happens. This allows the board to contemplate the future leadership of the school strategically.

 

While knowing that succession planning is key to a school’s future, many boards do not have a succession plan in place. The nonprofit Bridgespan Group explores the idea that succession planning is “not a periodic event triggered by an executive’s departure. Instead, it is a proactive and systematic investment in building a pipeline of leaders within an organization, so that when transitions are necessary, leaders at all levels are ready to act.” This would include the lay leadership.

 

The past year has taken a toll on school leaders. Many have said that the experience of running a school during a pandemic stretched them to limits they were not even aware existed. Many heads are rethinking their futures and looking ahead to what is next. Many others, pandemic or no pandemic, are nearing retirement age.

 

Planning ahead for change will make the process of hiring the next head of school smoother and provide the additional benefit of engaging the current head in thinking about future leadership of the school without any threat to their position. So as not to ignite fear that the board is planning to oust the current head of school, the head should be an active participant in the planning process. Succession planning is good governance, not a way to remove a sitting head.

 

According to NAIS, there are five components of a successful succession plan:

 

  • Budgeting for the financial resources needed to support the level of search the board anticipates (internal, local, regional or national; with or without a search consultant).
  • Building board consensus on the future direction of the school and what its ideal state will be in five or 10 years, including looking at areas that need growth.
  • Developing board agreement on the professional and personal qualities the ideal next head of school will possess.
  • Defining the components of the ideal search committee, and ensuring the board has or will have those people to call upon.
  • Strategic communications planning, including information on the succession-planning process.

 

By preparing for the inevitable task of looking for the next head of school, it is wise to look closely at the current members of the school’s educational team. The most promising future leader may already be in the school’s offices or classrooms. An internal placement is often successful but needs to be done thoughtfully and with care. Who might be able to be groomed for a future headship? By identifying those people now, and giving them the support they need, the talent in the school is strengthened.

 

Professional coaching, usually from an external mentor, can build the capacity of future leaders. Undergoing a talent audit is another way to understand the capacities of the current staff. This helps measure skills against current, future and strategic needs and often shows room for potential growth and further engagement for many current team members. Building an internal pipeline in this way also allows for stronger retention of staff and faculty and is the basis of a plan for long-term growth of talent in your school.

 

It is important to remember that no one person can meet all the criteria you want in a leader. One aspect that makes being a head of school so remarkable is the myriad of skills one needs to do the job. Prioritize. What skills exist in other personnel? Decide what is really important for the future leadership of the school. Is it visionary education? A master operations manager? A religious role model? Having these discussions before beginning the search process will make the focus of the search committee much clearer and set them on a path for success.

 

Finally, when the time comes, be it next year or in five, how the school says goodbye to the outgoing head will speak volumes about how you welcome your new one. Change is hard, and the process of planning for an exit often gets overlooked by the work for the search. Stay true to the culture of your school and create meaningful ways for all stakeholders to say thank you to your outgoing head. The most seamless transitions occur when an exiting head and an incoming one both feel the school cares about them as people, not just as an employee.

 

With the right steps, leadership changes can bring more excitement and anticipation than stress and nostalgia. If you invest time now in exploring who you want to be led by and what your vision is for the future, you will enter into your next search prepared for a meaningful and lasting process.

The Head and Board Chair Partnership: Recipe for Success

Leading Together
A conversation with Hannah Senesh Community Day School’s head of school Nicole Nash and board chair Judy Schoenberg

 

There’s no question this year was hard on Jewish day schools. In challenging times, leadership is put to the test, and the quality of the board-head partnership has the potential to either promote resilience or compromise the school’s health.

 

The two of us are notorious for hosting board conversations in the form of periodic “fireside chats” as a way to convey updates and engage our community. This model has been successful in bringing the most pressing issues to the fore, while sharing our dynamic partnership in an intimate way. A sample fireside chat is below.

 

Senesh was able to stay open since September, primarily with in-person school for the lower school and a hybrid model for the middle school. What contributed to this success? Can you share reflections from how you and Judy have handled Covid? How were key stakeholders impacted?

 

Nicole: Throughout this time, we’ve had to balance the needs and desires of constituents while prioritizing the health and wellbeing of our community. This wasn’t always easy—even in our tight-knit community. From the very beginning, it was clear that multiple voices needed to be heard. We collected feedback through staff and parent surveys (one most recently about how to handle quarantine after Passover) to make important decisions that would affect students, parents, and the health and safety of the teachers.

 

More than just collecting feedback, we demonstrated that it is being acted upon to create transparency in the decision- making process. Trust and confidence in the school are critical. Communication to the community at each major decision point, and sharing how we got there, became the bedrock for our community being responsible for each other.

 

Occasionally we got pushback from parents, who were also managing their families’ needs and work demands. Clearly this is a challenging year for staff, and their feedback was instrumental regarding decisions around school testing, adding professional development days, and managing in-person and remote learners simultaneously.

 

A strong partnership between the head and the chair is the backbone of a functioning school. Can you tell us about what attributes make your partnership strong? And what are the individual qualities and skills you each bring that complement each other’s leadership? Give us a flavor about how the partnership works in action.

 

Nicole: During the first year of her tenure as chair three years ago, Judy and I spent time aligning our vision of how to work effectively together and getting to know each other’s leadership style, which were highly complementary. I’m an executor at heart, and the pandemic let these skills shine. Judy was actively involved in mentoring and supporting me as I built my professional leadership team and delegated more so that I could take on greater external responsibilities.

 

As a chair deeply committed to building a positive culture for the board, Judy invested time not only in me, but in growing board committee leadership so that we had high-performing teams and a thoughtful and productive board environment. This all paid off when we went into crisis mode: we had the foundation of being a listening and learning culture spearheaded by professional and lay leadership that cascaded down throughout our community and built trust.

 

If I had to isolate the qualities that made me successful during this time, I would say openness, resilience and a “make it happen” attitude. For Judy, I think she brought empathy, comfort with ambiguity, collaboration and calm. I would bounce ideas off of Judy before bringing them to our larger Covid task group; she was my daily sounding board. It was invaluable to have someone who was so involved to help me think things through before bringing ideas to our medical team.

 

Talk about how you used your mission to guide you during this process—related to your work with the board and the school program.

 

Judy: During Covid, the board responded to the challenges of the moment by keeping our vision, mission and values at the forefront of decision-making. They were our north star. It was fortuitous that the board had spent last year working on brand identity and messaging work, which included revisiting our mission and values as well as creating a new tagline for the school: Rooted in wisdom, ready for the future. And our response to Covid proved that this tagline was more true than ever!

 

Can you give some examples of how you and Nicole led with the mission and values “in action” during this time?

 

Judy: Guiding decision-making in mission and Jewish values was true whether the board was making financial or health and safety decisions for the school. Although the past year brought challenges that we would never have imagined, by living our values of hatmadah (perseverance) and areivut (responsibility), we met those challenges head on together. As we have walked this masa (journey), we have seen our board rise to be the best team we can be.

 

The board supported hiring new staff and invested in technology to ensure that the newly designed distance learning was successful for teachers and students. It prioritized financial aid for families who were hardest hit by the pandemic, and ensured that every student and staff member had PPE. The board ensured there was alignment between decisions and core values every step of the way. These parameters were guideposts that the school needed to ground us in a shared vision during this difficult time.

 

Nicole: In terms of the program, we led with our mission to plan social action projects during the pandemic, such

as our community fridge program and schoolwide cooking projects for local shelters, which both aim to provide food to those who are food insecure during this difficult time. We had weekly Zoom Kabbalat Shabbat events with upwards of 300 participants including current parents, grandparents, alumni, alumni families and staff. We had a meaningful virtual kesher day, with grandparents and assemblies to gather together for support and celebration. We’ve learned so much about engaging various stakeholders and aspects of the program (especially in regard to technology) that will be “Covid keepers,” new practices preserved long after Covid ends.

 

Did you have a Covid task group? What role did the head and chair play in that?

 

Judy: Along with professional staff and health professionals from the parent and alumni community, there were several trustees on the Covid Task Group, which formed in March 2020. Nicole and I were in lockstep about how the group functioned and its roles and responsibilities. The group is still working together to ensure the health and safety for students as the pandemic conditions evolve and change. We are so grateful for all their sound medical guidance, time and ongoing commitment to our school.

 

How do you manage the day-to- day demands of a crisis and think strategically about the school’s future at the same time?

 

Nicole: While we are very much in the present navigating new norms, in order to fulfill our responsibility to steward the mission, as a team, Judy and I have not lost sight of the future. In fact, Judy challenged me to lift out of the day-to-day management of Covid at the end of the summer to turn our attention to updating our strategic priorities, and I’m so glad we did that.

 

We are taking what we learned from the intensive self-study we conducted last year for our 10-year NYSAIS (New York State Association of Independent Schools) accreditation process to identify priorities and create a refreshed strategic roadmap that will guide us, with trustees and staff leading key task groups and committees.

 

Judy: Here we see the strong partnership and dedication during Covid to advance the health of the school come into play again, as we plan for a vibrant future, even during these uncertain times. As a part of this process, we also reflect on the impact of Covid in our community and beyond. Practices of reflection and being nimble that we have cultivated for years have helped us grow from our experiences now.

 

Can you share anything else about what’s up and coming that you’re looking forward to?

 

Nicole: This year, the professional staff and board have been engaging in diversity, equity and inclusion training to further realize the school’s original mission to build an open and inclusive day school. In 2018 the board passed a diversity statement, and we continue our work in building a school community, programs and policies that value difference, foster inclusion and belonging and support our students to be agents of change towards a more just world both within and outside the Jewish community. As diversity was a core area that came out of our accreditation self-study, this work is critical to moving our strategic roadmap forward.

 

We believe that our successful partnership is an effective model of how joint decision-making, creativity and communication during challenging times can have the unexpected results of greater engagement and trust—impacting school culture long beyond an immediate crisis.

Sanctifying the Volunteer-Professional Partnership

Elissa Maier
Leading Together

In his book Lessons in Leadership, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks writes, “A leader though he may stumble and fall, arises more honest, humble, and courageous than he was before.” It is not accidental that our organizational systems are dependent upon the partnership between volunteer and professional leaders. It is only through this sacred partnership that our work is sanctified and elevated, and it reminds us that we are engaged in the holy work of building a stronger Jewish world.

 

Through this partnership between a professional and volunteer (lay) leader, both leaders can grow their skillsets and knowledge base, and the ability to affect change is amplified. As in many relationships, a contract can be used as a means of setting agreed-upon parameters. A contract between a professional and a lay leader might include identifying the responsibilities and decisions that are professionally led and those that are decisions to be made by the board chair and the board. Other areas outlined in the agreement could include preferred methods of communication (email, phone or text), establishing regularly scheduled check-ins, and defining boundaries for personal time. Identifying situations that would require immediate communication, or areas that might be considered “gray” in terms of roles that would warrant a discussion regardless of who might ultimately “own” the final decision, is helpful.

 

While these are important items to address and agree upon, the lay-professional partnership can be enhanced in dignity and sanctity by drawing upon language from Jewish tradition. Just as Jewish organizations create missions and visions that embody the Jewish values they want to perpetuate, so too a partnership like this should be defined by Judaism and a values system, rather than a simple “secular” agreement. How much more meaningful would it be to elevate this agreement from a contract to a brit, a covenant?

 

A covenantal relationship is deeper and is defined by a shared understanding. It is recognized that decisions of one person directly impact the other person’s ability to be effective in their work. As in other covenantal relationships, such as marriage, we understand that the foundation of this partnership is built on trust. We empower our partner to be mindful of our needs and to make decisions that take these needs into consideration. Yes, there will be times when mistakes are made, but we trust that our partner will publicly support us through these challenges, protect us, offer guidance and share in the responsibility.

 

Some of the values that might definite a partnership within a Jewish organization or Jewish day school might include the following.

 

KAVOD/RESPECT

 

Fundamental to a sacred partnership is respect. Knowing that each partner enters into the brit with an agreement of mutual respect must include supporting each other and expressing perspectives, while also listening with a goal of understanding rather than just responding.

 

ACHRAYUT/RESPONSIBILITY

 

By definition, the leaders of a school or organization are responsible to ensure achievement of the vision and goals. This includes fiduciary responsibilities, management, development of strategic goals and evaluation of the achievement of these goals. With each leader taking ownership of their own areas of responsibility, a mutually supported model for success is created. Not only do leaders have a responsibility to the organization, they also have a responsibility to support their partner to enable them to do their work effectively.

 

HAKARAT HATOV/RECOGNITION OF GOOD

 

How many times do we jump to a false conclusion or read into a message incorrectly? What if we retrained ourselves to assume good intention? In a covenantal partnership, each leader begins with the assumption that their partner is making decisions in the best interest of the organization. This means that when a controversy arises or concerning information is shared by a constituent, we begin from the place of wanting to learn and understand without rushing to judgment. We assume the best intentions even before we know the facts.

 

NO LASHON HARA/WORDS MATTER

 

We are commanded through Jewish law to refrain from harmful speech and gossip. There is nothing more powerful than the words we share; they can elevate our work or they can corrode the sanctity of the partnership. Fundamental to a holy partnership is a commitment to ensuring confidentiality, not permitting or perpetuating gossip and using words to elevate rather than harm.

 

ANAVAH/HUMILITY

 

Judaism teaches that we are all shaped in the image of God. The role of a leader is not to be above those being led; rather, a leader is most effective when acting in service of others. Jewish tradition teaches that one of our greatest leaders is Moses, who is described in the Torah as “very humble, more so than anyone else on earth” (Bemidbar 12:3). When taking on a position of leadership, the question to reflect upon is how best we can “serve” as a leader. The most effective leaders and partners are humble.

 

In his book Management, Peter Drucker observes, “Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” For the lay-professional relationship to be most effective, it must be defined by trust, a shared vision and clear role expectations. Each partner commits to understanding and respecting the other, creating a safe space for exploring new ideas, and advancing the vision and goals of the organization together as a team. A standard and mundane contractual agreement can be elevated to a place of sanctity by recognizing the holiness of the work being done when partnering to fulfill a Jewish communal mission.

Building More Trusting Partnerships

Dr. Erica Brown
Leading Together

In my observation, professionals are more invested in the lay-professional relationship than are lay leaders. Professionals generally have more at stake. They gain more when these relationships are successful; they feel more supported, have more of a voice and enjoy more opportunities to share their expertise and experience. They also have more to lose if the relationships sour: Donations suffer, volunteer time dwindles, and sometimes even their jobs are at risk. The lopsided imbalance of power impoverishes both the efficiency and the holiness of this relationship.

 

Most Jewish organizations focus attention on the lay-professional partnership by emphasizing clear communication, division of roles, a shared vision of the work and respect. These are all critical aspects of high-functioning organizations, but they do not go deep enough. They almost always assume that if relationships are friendly, that is sufficient. Friendliness, however, is quickly erased when personality conflicts or disagreements arise between the professional and lay leadership. And at the very moment when robust debate is critical, self-silencing becomes the norm because it’s safer.

 

Within school settings, heads, principals, administrators and teachers are often afraid of lay leaders. Sometimes, they aren’t empowered to offer opinions or don’t feel sufficiently protected or valued, especially in a time of crisis. In my own leadership work, I’ve found that the issue rarely discussed, and the one that is most foundational to successful working relationships, is trust. Without genuine, two-sided trust exhibited in explicit and implicit ways, both publicly and privately, it is very difficult to achieve meaningful goals together.

 

Jewish texts have a lot to say about trust. Not surprisingly, the word for faith and for trust has the same root. Emunah is at the heart of our relationship with God, yet sometimes we forget that it’s also at the center of our relationships with others, especially in working partnerships where there are strong difference of opinion. That’s when faith is really tested and also really necessary.

 

There’s a striking Jewish text that brings this message home. Abraham’s task of building a new nation depended on two tasks: settling the land and starting a family. He is vastly successful at the first and unsuccessful, at least initially, at the second. In Genesis chapter 15, God promises the barren couple future offspring: “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them... So shall your offspring be.” God imparted a greater vision than Abraham could have even imagined. Without a clue as to how achieve this objective, Abraham, nevertheless, had immense trust in the future and in his partnership with God. “Abram trusted (he’emin) the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Rashi comments here, “The Holy One, blessed be He, accounted it unto Abraham as a merit, because of the faith with which he had trusted in Him.” With trust, all is possible.

 

Abraham had what Stephen Covey calls high trust, in his book The Speed of Trust. “In a high-trust relationship,” Covey writes, “you can say the wrong thing, and people will still get your meaning. In a low-trust relationship, you can be very measured, even precise, and they’ll still misinterpret you.” Strong relationships between board chairs, board members and professionals depend on high trust, where we give others the benefit of the doubt, assume good intentions and give each other encouragement to dream big together. In high-trust relationships, people are given the space to fail as long as there is honesty, clarity and encouragement. Inherently, we believe in the goodness of each person we work with and assume good will.

 

Covey describes 13 aspects of high-trust relationships: These include straight talk, demonstrations of respect, high levels of transparency, the righting of wrongs, and displays of loyalty—which include giving credit where its due. It’s also about the delivery of results, progress toward improvement, a capacity to confront reality together, clear expectations, accountability, listening before giving advice, honoring commitments and extending trust to others in order to be trusted.

 

In contrast, low-trust relationships (Covey actually trademarked both terms, as if trust could be branded!) are characterized by seven problems: redundancy (too much unnecessary duplication of functions or layers of management), bureaucracy, too much internal politics, disengagement, turnover of professionals, the churn of stakeholders and fraud—dishonesty and deception.

These are all signs that good will has broken down, that people don’t want to work together; in nonprofits, they are warnings that the overall goal has gotten lost in the shuffle. Bad relationships are highly distracting.

 

Covey believes that we all have trust accounts, but that withdrawals are bigger than deposits. If someone breaks that trust, it is difficult, but not impossible, to repair the relationship. In my own experience, some people are naturally trusting, and their default in personal and professional relationships is to trust first, be affirmed when that trust pays off and unpleasantly surprised when it does not. Others are more skeptical and suspicious. It can take a long time to build their trust, but once established, it’s rock solid.

 

Like Abraham, we’re willing to go through fire and move mountains when we’re in profound relationships of trust. But without trust, we get trapped in suspicion, gossip, petty insults and perceived offenses. It’s hard to keep people engaged, especially because, in Jewish spaces, we expect a higher bar.

 

My beloved teacher, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory, made an important distinction in virtually every one of his books that may be instructive in framing more trusting lay-professional relationships: the difference between contracts and covenants. Contracts are agreements between people or parties that are often situational, time-limited and to achieve goals that reflect self-interest. Ancient contracts often reflected an imbalance of power, where the powerful subjugated the weak for their own ends. In The Dignity of Difference, Rabbi Sacks writes,

 

The use of power is ruled out by the requirement of human dignity. If you and I are linked because, one way or another, I can force you to do what I want, then I have secured my freedom at the cost of yours. I have asserted my humanity by denying yours. Covenant is the attempt to create partnership without dominance or submission.

 

Rabbi Sacks favored covenants as a way to think of binding commitments among those who work with and care for each other while “respecting the freedom, integrity and difference of each” (The Home We Build Together). Elsewhere he observes, “A covenant is what turns love into law, and law into love” (Radical Then, Radical Now). We may be joined by law, but what binds us to each other is the love that underlies the relationship, and together we “voluntarily undertake to share a fate” (The Home We Build Together).

 

While it’s true that many boards and their chairs have power because of financial resources and authority vested in them by by-laws, professionals have the education, expertise and experience that should balance this relationship. Sometimes it does; often it doesn’t. A great lay-professional relationship in education is not transactional, an I-It contract of efficiency. It is a covenant of high trust, imbued with the sacred, infused with love, where we undertake to share a vision and a fate.

Leading from Within

Ilisa Cappell
Leading Together

Organizational agility has long been praised as a means to accelerate innovation. It is a term that emerged to characterize changes within the software industry over two decades ago and has since expanded well beyond into other fields. A November 2020 article published by McKinsey goes so far as to suggest that “to survive and thrive in this more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, leading companies are reaping significant benefits by embracing agility at scale.” Their research shows that “agile companies have outperformed others in adapting to Covid-19.”

 

Agile organizations are made up of individuals committed to a common purpose. To strengthen our organizational capacity, we must invest in strengthening ourselves as leaders, prepared to tackle the challenges, in partnership with one another. One key lever we can pull on is rooted in our emotions and in our awareness of how our emotions impact on our leadership. In short, strengthening our emotional agility will not only strengthen our individual capacity, but also ultimately our effectiveness as a team. (See the article by Sandra Nagy on page 60 for a view of agile leadership in action.)

 

Susan David, an award-winning psychologist, defines the concept of emotional agility as “a process that allows us to be in the moment, changing or maintaining our behaviors to live in ways that align with our intentions and values.” To increase the effectiveness of school leadership—both professional and volunteer—we need to invest in growing self-awareness and strengthening our own emotional agility.

 

HEAD AND BOARD: GAPS AND OPPORTUNITIES

 

A recent study conducted by NAIS and the University of Pennsylvania, "Survey on Factors Affecting Head of School Tenure," found that there are key areas in which the head of school’s and the board’s perception of performance differ, including fundraising, professional support and prioritization of goals. It is in this gap of perception that we also see great opportunities for growth and development.

 

The study found that heads of school are 22 percentage points less likely than board members to say that the board adequately supports the head in fundraising efforts. The gap is 18% between board chairs and heads, 95% to 77%. Some heads of school do not feel supported. And though 94% of board chairs report that the board provides feedback and allows adequate time for heads to realize those goals, only 66% and 77% of heads agree, respectively. At times, heads and boards perceive their performance very differently. Not surprisingly, in an NAIS survey of new heads, more than one in five found the head-board relationship to be the most difficult aspect of their transition into headship.

 

At Prizmah, our experience working with schools on governance and leadership development has taught us that what gets in the way lends itself to a technical solution. Systems and structures are critically important in ensuring success for school lay and professional leadership teams, but alone they are not sufficient. Research conducted by Prizmah in partnership with Rosov Consulting demonstrates that structures and systems, culture and norms and capacities and dispositions of lay and professional leaders all have impact on the lay-head partnership. For example, giving difficult feedback is sometimes elusive not because we lack the mechanisms or tools to collect it from direct reports and other stakeholders, but owing to discomfort and avoidance of hurt feelings.

 

We regularly see day school leaders struggling to respond to emotionally sensitive situations:

 

A stressed head avoids a conversation with her board chair about fundraising and the concerns she has about how they can work together to engage the board more deeply in development.

 

A board chair avoids a direct conversation with a head about performance because he is not sure how the head will react and how to say something that may be perceived as critical when he knows the head is working so hard in the midst of a pandemic.

 

When a board member asks about best practices in term limits for a Jewish day school board, behind the question may be a real concern about transitioning a long- serving board member into a different role and ensuring there continues to be a way for the valued individual to contribute to the life of the school. The individual may be a major donor or someone with deep ties in the community. It may feel like a desire to improve governance practices (follow best practices in term limits) is at odds with the dynamics and structures of the current board and what is best for the school.

 

These can be difficult situations that can be complicated to navigate. Emotional agility can help us to become more effective in how we respond. Prioritizing this type of work as individuals as well as a team is a key lever to strengthen our capacity to lead our schools.

 

EMOTIONAL AGILITY IN ACTION

 

We are leading at our best when we pay attention to the role our emotions play in our work. By behaving compassionately with ourselves and observing the patterns of our emotional reactions, we can unlock our ability to navigate challenging and pressing circumstances. By contrast, a reluctance to acknowledge our feelings prevents us from showing up as authentic partners committed to a common purpose; we inhibit our ability to fully connect with others; and we risk losing the opportunity to create work environments that invite others to thrive.

 

As a leadership coach, I was privy to a story about a school board member who was preparing to assume the role of president, and who in his work led a nonprofit. After a board training, he said to me, “In my professional life, I know how to handle employees who are having a difficult time or are not the right fit for the job, but I do not know how to have these conversations and lead a group of my peers who are also volunteers.” His willingness to be vulnerable in this moment, to express his unease at his new assignment and feel both the hope of what is possible and the weight of the challenges, was an auspicious starting point for the work moving forward. The training was not solely about getting the right structures in place to ensure committees were working effectively; it was about naming the fear of having to have difficult conversations with peers who may not be the best fit for serving on the board.

 

This dynamic is complicated, especially when our professional and personal lives are so connected in our schools. Our ability to hold these complex emotions, to name what is actually going on and then to identify the choices we can make to take the next best step forward, enable us to create trusting relationships and environments that will attract talented lay and professional leaders. The work of strengthening our emotional agility is an investment in the health and future of our work and our well-being.

 

In her book Emotional Agility, Susan David offers concrete strategies for strengthening this muscle. “Effective leaders are mindful of their inner experiences but not caught in them. They know how to free up their internal resources and commit to actions that align with their values.” She advises:

 

  • Recognize your patterns. You have to realize that you’re stuck before you can initiate change.
  • Label your thoughts and emotions. Labeling allows you to see them as transient sources of data that may or may not prove helpful.
  • Accept them. Respond to your ideas and emotions with an open attitude, paying attention and letting yourself experience them. They may be signaling that something important is at stake.
  • Act on your values. Is your response going to serve your organization in the long term and take you toward being the leader you most want to be?

 

This is work we must commit to in an ongoing way. Relationships take time to build and nurture. When setting up a lay- head partnership, whether you are new to the job or have been working together for a while, discuss how you will work together, what the behaviors look like that demonstrate you are in it together, and spend time getting to know one another. Consider being candid about where you need support and how you will communicate if something is not working well.

 

CULTIVATING “SOFT SKILLS” AS BUILDING BLOCKS

 

Prizmah believes the lay-head partnership is core to a thriving school. We believe in developing the capacity of professional and lay leaders alike to lead in environments that are built on trust, vulnerability, and open and honest communication. The work of fostering our self-awareness is integrated into all of our leadership programs, including YOU Lead as well as our Coaching Institute.

 

We call our work in leadership development Deepening Talent, because we believe this is work that requires us to go deep within. The work of leadership is not about finding quick solutions to complex issues; it is about our willingness to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We believe that courageous curiosity, cultivating awareness and compassion, and recognizing that we always have a choice in how we respond are dispositional skills that we can get better at over time. No longer dismissed as mere “soft skills,” these are fundamental building blocks for strong leadership.

 

The stakes are high. Leadership requires action in alignment with our internal selves, tocho ke-boro (matching our outside with what’s inside). Our schools and our leadership will be stronger when we work in partnership with one another, bringing our full selves into this endeavor.

From the Board Chair: Network / Net Worth

Yehuda Neuberger
Leading Together

If there is one overarching element of Prizmah’s work with the capacity to truly transform the future for Jewish day schools and yeshivas, it is the power of network. Defined most broadly, Prizmah as network has hard-wired lines of connection throughout the day school field, bringing into dialogue leaders who may not otherwise have even crossed paths.

 

In the past year, we witnessed over and over the immeasurable value of this network as professionals shared resources and strategies for keeping schools functioning throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Professionals opened up with one another about their successes and failed attempts, their unresolved challenges; perhaps most helpfully, they shared encouragement to get each other through even the most trying days. When leaders rise beyond the immediate frame of their school’s concerns and priorities and access diverse solutions to shared challenges, the “net worth” of the network expands exponentially.

 

Board members know this intuitively on a kind of micro level. At any given board meeting, when lay leaders share diverse perspectives and experiences, the discussion and decision-making process are greatly enriched. Good ideas cross-pollinate within schools or organizations when leaders tap into what they have learned from other settings.

 

Board members can follow the lead of their professional counterparts in the day school field by more actively and formally tapping into the greater power of network beyond their schools. “Leading together” is not limited to the team at one school, nor to professionals alone. Networking for volunteer leaders may vary from the strategies in place for professionals, but Prizmah is determined to uncover, nurture and promote such models.

 

Networks require give and take. Sometimes being part of a network means asking for help or getting a fresh idea; sometimes it means contributing a response or volunteering a novel perspective. The value of a network increases the more that participants “give” and “take.”

 

We can make this happen even more for lay leaders in Jewish day schools and yeshivas. While Prizmah builds networking for lay leaders into its gatherings and convenes day school “tracks” at communal events attended by lay leaders, we want to do more in this area. Whether through formal means of connection like the Prizmah Board Leadership Reshet or through informal peer-to- peer relationship building, board members can “give” and “take” to create learning networks for better leadership. Through the use of benchmarking tools such as DASL (Data and Analysis for School Leadership) and direct follow-up, board members can intensify their connections to their peers at other day schools.

 

When recruiting new board members, be sure to seek out members with strong access to external networks and experience on other boards. Empower board members to develop relationships with board members across the day school field; consider designating specific members for targeted outreach or networking.

 

Prizmah is here to support lay leaders who seek connection. In our work on the Prizmah board, many of whose members are veteran board members from schools in their home communities, we develop policy for a national, field-facing organization by leveraging the learnings from each individual school and leader, professional and lay alike.

 

Although the lay leadership network is newer and less developed, its potential is enormous. Join us in building on our lessons learned in the professional space, as we seek to enhance and broaden connections across all levels of school leadership.

 

From the CEO: The Blessing of Leaders Rightly Timed

Paul Bernstein
Leading Together

As much as we might like to think of our schools or organizations as “well-oiled machines,” the truth is that the mechanics of leadership are actually quite messy. To take one example, the common practice of transitioning board chairs every couple of years means that there is a deliberate recalibration of a core driver of school success: the relationship between lead professional and board chair.

 

Proverbs 15:23 teaches, “A ready response is a joy to a person, And how good is a word rightly timed!” I take from this the recognition that there is such a thing as the “right time.” I might even paraphrase the verse to say, “How good is a leader rightly timed!”

 

I have been blessed in my tenure at Prizmah to have partnered with three extraordinary board chairs and look forward to welcoming my fourth, David Friedman, later this summer. Each relationship has taken shape against the backdrop of Prizmah’s own development. Our founding board chair, now Congresswoman Kathy Manning, helped birth Prizmah and establish the shape of this new organization at the beginning of its journey. Ann Pava, veteran of school and community-level leadership, brought her vision to a strategic plan that established clear priorities for a unified Prizmah, no longer a merger of legacy programs, as well as guiding us toward a sustainable future after the sunset of The AVI CHAI Foundation. Yehuda Neuberger, our current chair, strengthened the core identity of Prizmah as a network organization, and led us through Covid.

 

As Prizmah has emerged from its infancy, developmentally, we have had leaders to serve our corresponding stages. Board chairs are not only the CEO/head of school’s key lay partner, but are also instrumental in guiding the entire board to fulfill its role in setting and steering the strategy of the organization. At Prizmah, we benefit from a dynamic, hard-working board, and we are constantly evolving ways in which our board and professional team connect and support the ultimate success of the day school field and our organization.

 

With the nomination of David Friedman as Prizmah’s fourth board chair, we mark another developmental milestone. David is the first chair to have joined Prizmah after the organization was up and running. Having met David thanks to a generous connection by a head of school, we invited him to join the board, and I am pleased that our relationship has developed against the backdrop of a growing and maturing organization. This fact characterizes our relationship, and, I hope, the productive work we will do together.

 

When we talk about structuring partnerships for success— whether it is establishing weekly meetings, as I have done with my board chair, or taking the time to nurture the personal side of the lay-professional relationship—we mean the intentional efforts we undertake to equip both partners with what they need, when they need it. Clear roles and priorities mitigate the inevitable changes in personality and relationships.

 

The tools needed to succeed in working with a board chair are widely documented, from setting and tracking annual objectives to a clear, shared understanding of our respective roles. Making sure there are “no surprises” for my chair aligns our ability to work together at a moment of key decisions. If our communication is sufficient and open, it becomes easier to navigate the boundaries in my role as executive, and theirs as lay leaders. Disagreements do happen, and difficult moments arise; I have had to develop ways in which to adapt to well-founded concerns, while working through the arguments for decisions where I may not have sufficiently made the case for the direction I believe to be right. This process normally sharpens the outcome.

 

As I look forward to welcoming David as the next chair, I am aided by the way in which he has been a partner in recent discussions between our current chair and me. The transparency we try to model is valuable in strengthening continuity of strategy, as well as fostering the culture of the organization and the relationship.

 

This issue of HaYidion contains findings from Prizmah’s research on lay leaders and how their involvement in school, relationship with professional leaders and personal temperaments all contribute to thriving schools. I count myself—and Prizmah—to have been blessed with partners in our board chairs and members who guide and fulfill their role as “critical friends,” who contribute generously to our success, and who help advance our work in support of the broader field.

 

As much as we might like to think of our schools or organizations as “well-oiled machines,” the truth is that the mechanics of leadership are actually quite messy. To take one example, the common practice of transitioning board chairs every couple of years means that there is a deliberate recalibration of a core driver of school success: the relationship between lead professional and board chair.

 

Proverbs 15:23 teaches, “A ready response is a joy to a person, And how good is a word rightly timed!” I take from this the recognition that there is such a thing as the “right time.” I might even paraphrase the verse to say, “How good is a leader rightly timed!”

 

I have been blessed in my tenure at Prizmah to have partnered with three extraordinary board chairs and look forward to welcoming my fourth, David Friedman, later this summer. Each relationship has taken shape against the backdrop of Prizmah’s own development. Our founding board chair, now Congresswoman Kathy Manning, helped birth Prizmah and establish the shape of this new organization at the beginning of its journey. Ann Pava, veteran of school and community-level leadership, brought her vision to a strategic plan that established clear priorities for a unified Prizmah, no longer a merger of legacy programs, as well as guiding us toward a sustainable future after the sunset of The AVI CHAI Foundation. Yehuda Neuberger, our current chair, strengthened the core identity of Prizmah as a network organization, and led us through Covid.

 

As Prizmah has emerged from its infancy, developmentally, we have had leaders to serve our corresponding stages. Board chairs are not only the CEO/head of school’s key lay partner, but are also instrumental in guiding the entire board to fulfill its role in setting and steering the strategy of the organization. At Prizmah, we benefit from a dynamic, hard-working board, and we are

constantly evolving ways in which our board and professional team connect and support the ultimate success of the day school field and our organization.

 

With the nomination of David Friedman as Prizmah’s fourth board chair, we mark another developmental milestone. David is the first chair to have joined Prizmah after the organization was up and running. Having met David thanks to a generous connection by a head of school, we invited him to join the board, and I am pleased that our relationship has developed against the backdrop of a growing and maturing organization. This fact characterizes our relationship, and, I hope, the productive work we will do together.

 

When we talk about structuring partnerships for success— whether it is establishing weekly meetings, as I have done with my board chair, or taking the time to nurture the personal side of the lay-professional relationship—we mean the intentional efforts we undertake to equip both partners with what they need, when they need it. Clear roles and priorities mitigate the inevitable changes in personality and relationships.

 

The tools needed to succeed in working with a board chair are widely documented, from setting and tracking annual objectives to a clear, shared understanding of our respective roles. Making sure there are “no surprises” for my chair aligns our ability to work together at a moment of key decisions. If our communication is sufficient and open, it becomes easier to navigate the boundaries in my role as executive, and theirs as lay leaders. Disagreements do happen, and difficult moments arise; I have had to develop ways in which to adapt to well-founded concerns, while working through the arguments for decisions where I may not have sufficiently made the case for the direction I believe to be right. This process normally sharpens the outcome.

 

As I look forward to welcoming David as the next chair, I am aided by the way in which he has been a partner in recent discussions between our current chair and me. The transparency we try to model is valuable in strengthening continuity of strategy, as well as fostering the culture of the organization and the relationship.

 

This issue of HaYidion contains findings from Prizmah’s research on lay leaders and how their involvement in school, relationship with professional leaders and personal temperaments all contribute to thriving schools. I count myself—and Prizmah—to have been blessed with partners in our board chairs and members who guide and fulfill their role as “critical friends,” who contribute generously to our success, and who help advance our work in support of the broader field.

 

In the Issue: Leading Together

Elliott Rabin
Leading Together

Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.

Helen Keller

 

Leadership is traditionally conceived as the estate of a singularly capable individual, perched on a mountaintop. Such leaders uniquely own the vision of the organization and the permission to implement it. They act as both composer and conductor, attuned to performers’ contributions, correcting when they lose the note or rhythm. Solitude is the very aether in which they work. If they feel a twinge of loneliness, they would never permit themselves to show it. The entire hierarchy of the organization, it was thought, would crumble should the leader step down or be pushed aside.

 

While good leadership is, of course, critically important, we now know that there is more than one model of leadership. Leaders come with some “leadership” qualities, and they can be, and often need to be, coached and trained in others. Each school must find the right leader for its mission, community and time. The right leader for one school is not necessarily right for another school, and the same school might look for a different kind of leader even when the previous one was highly successful.

 

Most importantly, leadership is a collaborative enterprise. It is not a quality that resides within the head of school or the board president, but rather between them, in their capacity to work together amicably and productively. A great head of school who has a terrible relationship with the board chair will not succeed. According to a recent NAIS survey, “42% of heads and about 33% of boards report having experienced a strained head-board relationship in the past 10 years.” The chemistry between this critical leadership dyad sets the tone and empowers the magic for everything else that transpires in a school.

 

This issue of HaYidion trains its lens on the relational quality of leadership in Jewish day schools. It starts with that thorny lay- professional partnership. Cappell, Prizmah’s vice president of leadership development, maps out what we’ve learned about the school head-board chair relationship and the programs and services we offer to strengthen it. Brown discusses a covenant as a paradigm for removing the power imbalance in this relationship, and Maier shows what this covenant might look like. A dialogue between Nash & Schoenberg explores their head-board chair partnership, while Wasser offers guidance for the two to work together on head-succession planning.

 

The third string in the “threefold cord” of school leadership is the board, the focus of the second group of articles. Shapira, a Prizmah board member, presents the recipe for a board to function together effectively, like a winning sports team. An interview with de Toledo elevates the importance of speaking about the value, the prestige and honor, of board service. Levy insists upon committee structure and use of time as key ingredients for successful board functioning. Geva & Raviv recount their school’s thoughtful process of board-chair succession, and Paul describes the cultivation of alumni for the board of a small school.

 

The school spread showcases the extraordinary dedication of boards during the pandemic. Remaining articles describe relationships within and among schools. Halper proposes setting up the development team according to principles of project management. Waynik relates how an outside funder provided wisdom and resources for a consortium of small schools to ramp up collaborative initiatives. Farbman conveys how schools can work with their consultants to turn one-offs into lasting improvement. Bruder & Safran Novogroder examine ways to ensure alignment of vision throughout a school, and Nagy suggests adaptable leadership as critical for empowering stakeholders to thrive during change.

 

Please take note of the proliferation of advertising in this issue, thanks to the deft work of Jessie Katz, Prizmah’s sponsorships manager. Our advertisers are organizations that are invested in serving the field of Jewish day schools, through their expertise and creativity.

 

As we anticipate hopefully the end of the pandemic, I wish all of you a time of health and regrowth. May we know the joy of reconnecting in person, of relaxing from the threats and stresses, and of renewal of purpose during this season of Shavuot.