In the Issue: Value Proposition
“Some time later, the word of God came to Abram in a vision: ‘Fear not, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘Oh Lord God, what can You give me, seeing that I shall die childless, and the one in charge of my household is Dammesek Eliezer!’”
In this striking passage, one of several in which Abraham argues with God, God attempts to reassure Abraham with the promise of protection and blessings. Abraham refuses to be comforted; without children, no other gift has value to him. In Abraham’s eyes, children hold the ultimate value, the promise of a legacy, of futurity, of his life’s work and values being entrusted to another generation.
In our day, schools embody much of that sense of value to which Abraham gave voice centuries ago. They are so critically important for parents because a school helps to raise children to become the kind of people that parents wish for them, helping them to learn, through explicit instruction, modeling and communal norms, the middot expressed through our tradition and lived by teachers and parents today. Through the lessons they impart inside and outside of the classroom, Jewish schools endow students with the intellectual skills, emotional dispositions and spiritual depths to enable them to embrace Jewish community and tradition, each according to their own path.
This issue explores the elusive notion of a school’s “value proposition,” the elixir of elements—mission, leadership, faculty, culture, curriculum, physical plant, reputation, affordability, messaging, word of mouth, vibe—that draws people to a school. Authors approach the topic in its subtlety, its manifold range of hues and applications. They portray what value proposition looks like for various stakeholders—parents, students, donors, teachers, administrators and others. They express its embodiment in schools of different kinds, in different places, embedded in different communities. They describe how it has changed over time, and how schools have put great thought and effort into transforming themselves in order to project the value proposition that the community, the families and the times require.
The first section looks at the value that Jewish schools have for their community, both locally and more broadly. Adler, Maier, Perla and Rosenberg, Prizmah colleagues, present work we’ve done with schools to enhance their value proposition during this time as we emerge from Covid in strength, with many schools having grown in enrollment, fundraising, reputation and more. Pomson and Wertheimer draw upon their recent book to emphasize the powerful impact that day schools have on their communities. Simon shows how an old school undertook a dramatic overhaul to respond to the needs and expectations of its changed community. Soffer meditates on the relationship between our schools’ cost and their value, while Fieldman and Silverman describe a process for communicating a school’s value to the range of demographic groups that enroll children there. Building upon his study of Jewish leadership, Kopelowitz offers a powerfully different framing for understanding the value of Jewish schools for the Diaspora Jewish community today.
Articles in the second section focus on the value that Jewish schools hold for students and their families. Freundel presents a compelling argument on the value of Jewish immersion in its many facets. Eilath explores a Jewish approach to diversity through the creation of a community based on shared purpose. Dunn speaks to parents’ concern for the transition to high school; Berger looks at the impact of a day school education on college campuses. Weinstock marvels over the impact that her children’s schools have had on her own Jewish journey.
In this issue’s school spread, students who switched into Jewish schools during Covid tell us what surprised them in their new environments. The final section presents perspectives on ways that teachers both enhance a school’s value proposition and perceive it, personally and professionally. The first two articles showcase the work of faculty in transforming the school’s curriculum in line with a changing vision: Gomeringer and Rabinoff-Goldman on a high school repositioning itself to be more student-centered; Hassenfeld on a K-8 school centering on issues of diversity. Brown surveys mid-career teachers at our schools, offering ways for schools to augment their value for these teachers and inspire more of them to remain. Silverman proposes several strategies to develop teachers’ capacity to align their practices with the school’s explicit and implicit value proposition. Potasznik, a relatively new Judaics teacher, reflects upon a kind of courage that our schools foster among teachers as they balance the twin imperatives of student self-expression and drawing upon a teacher’s training, insight and experience.
As we enter the home stretch of the school year, may your students, teachers and staff, professional and lay leaders all feel and appreciate the world of value that your school brings to them, each and every day.