From the Board: Stronger Heads for Stronger Schools

Zipora Schorr

Rabbi Sacks boldly declared what most of us in the field already know. But we also know that, particularly outside of the Orthodox world, educational quality is the driver for enrollment and success of the day school. Of course our families are attracted to the values that we stand for. Of course they are seeking a sense of Jewish identity. Of course the appeal of being a part of a close and embracing community is strong. All that said, without a sense of academic excellence, our schools have minimal ability to compete with the independent school world, and even the quality public schools in the demographic areas our families populate.

Focusing on specific ways to help our day schools achieve this excellence, RAVSAK undertook a research project which identified a primary component of day school success: professional leadership. The resulting report studies the Jewish day school head—from role model, to influence, to leadership, to skills, to expectations—and to longevity and compensation: from the sacred to the mundane.

The study helps us to reflect on the “headship” by confronting important and sometimes difficult realities, which should lead to some strategic planning and future decision making.

First, the day school world does not differ significantly from the independent school world, which makes the following conclusion by NAIS quite dramatic and relevant to us: with 69% of heads planning to retire in the next 10 years, and 78% of responding administrators indicating that they are not interested in pursuing the head of school position, the independent school community (read Jewish day school community) could face a serious leadership crisis in the coming decade.

This potential crisis has significant implications for the strength of our schools. Thus, the next conclusion of the study focuses our attention on a possible solution. Day school heads are, for the most part, lifetime day school educators, with 80% of them having held previous leadership positions in the day school world. This points us to a strength and a challenge—with an obvious solution inherent in the data. If the road to leadership is “largely through promotion from within,” training and mentorship programs become that much more important for midlevel administrators, and learning on the job becomes an expectation.

An important reality that has become dramatic is that the job description for heads has changed radically. The study shows that “heads of school demonstrate a high level of self-awareness” and see their greatest strength in the interpersonal realm. With changes in expectations including community outreach, development and fundraising, finance and budget, and strategic planning, there is a clear mandate: heads need—and want—training, mentoring, and strong support. All that will inevitably result in stronger leadership, stronger heads, and stronger schools—which translates to stronger enrollment and a stronger future.

As members of an organization that has a bold vision, we are uniquely positioned to confront the challenge ahead of us. RAVSAK has candidly asked the questions and, underpinned with authentic data, provides us with resources and direction to discover the answers.

Zipora Schorr is the director of education, head of school at Beth Tfiloh Dahan in Baltimore, and a member of RAVSAK'S Board of Directors. [email protected]

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HaYidion The God Issue Spring 2015
The God Issue
Spring 2015