A Community of Distinctive Contributions

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.

Author
Ashley Ross, President, Netivot HaTorah, Toronto
Issue
Leading Together
Published: Spring 2021