Mental Health Summit 2024

Engage in high-level learning and collaboration around mental health challenges and opportunities in Jewish day schools and yeshivas. This year’s theme is “In The Moment: Navigating Difficult Times With Dignity, Empathy, and Growth.” Over the course of two days of interactive learning and discussion, you will gain skills, perspectives, and approaches to navigating difficult times in your school.

Mental Health Summit 2023

An interactive series of four workshops will enhance your understanding of the confluence of students’ social emotional and neurodiverse learning needs and will allow teams of learning specialists, school counselors, and administrators to learn to access and direct behaviors, and collaborate and communicate more effectively, ensuring that all members of the school community can thrive.

Paul is Prizmah’s founding Chief Executive Officer. Learn more about Paul here.

A Tu Bishvat Message From Our CEO

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Tu Bishvat, amidst the kabbalistic traditions, delightful children’s songs, and dried fruit, has an important halachic role. To properly observe the biblically ordained laws of orlah (avoiding eating the fruit of a tree younger than three years old), we need to keep track of the age of trees. Enter the rabbinically decreed New Year for the trees, a date dedicated to tracking and marking time.

As we celebrate this day, we marvel at and rejoice in the growth and transformation of trees, which move from seeds and saplings to bearing fruit ever so quickly. Trees themselves mark the passage the time, each ring a sign of another year past. On Tu Bishvat itself, we track and celebrate growth.

A few weeks ago, my family in England had an unexpected brush with celebrity. My mother, a German refugee who survived the Holocaust as a hidden child in Nazi-occupied France, was photographed with my niece by the Duchess of Cambridge. Their photograph will be part of an upcoming exhibit of portraits commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

The Duchess published the moving portrait of my mother, together with photos of the two of them meeting at Kensington Palace, on her Instagram feed. After their initial meeting, my mother and Kate were again pictured together when the Duke and Duchess were guests of honor at the Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration event in London. Their voices and presence create headlines every day, and successfully shone a brighter light on the importance of this anniversary. Kate described my mother, together with a second survivor she photographed, as “two of the most life-affirming people that I have had the privilege to meet.” She described the purpose of the portraits as ensuring that “[their] memories will be kept alive as they pass the baton to the next generation.”

I keep thinking about the portrait she took and what it represents. The staging and lighting of the photograph were designed very specifically by the Duchess to capture this unique moment. A survivor of World War II with her 11-year old granddaughter, light streaming in from the hopeful east, wartime artifacts (my mother’s German identity card, marked with a “J” for Jude-Jew) shared across the generations. The photograph is very much a moment in time, a moment that marks time, bridging the past with the future. The image captures the gaze of a young girl learning through the shared experience of her grandmother, committed to re-telling that story in order to learn its lessons.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks articulated a crucial lesson he learned from Holocaust survivors, when he said: “To mend the past, first you have to secure the future.”  The photograph of my mother does this, aesthetically and generationally. Our shared work in Jewish day schools also does this every day, child by child, family by family, community by community. By securing our Jewish future through vibrant and sustainable schools, in some ways we heal the tragedies of our collective past.

So this Tu Bishvat, while I still chuckle at the thought of my mother rubbing shoulders with royalty, I appreciate how the day’s focus on trees and marking time can catalyze a deeper appreciation for the relationship between past and future. And I give thanks, both for the trees which beautify our world, and the hundreds of Jewish day schools in which tens of thousands of Jewish futures are growing to fruition.

 

 

 

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

Paul is Prizmah’s founding Chief Executive Officer. Learn more about Paul here.

The Power of Network

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As early as my second week at Prizmah, I saw first-hand the power of our Network of Jewish day schools. While getting to know a school leader, I was asked a question that reached to the core of the character of their school, and honestly was beyond my scope of knowledge. “I’ll get back to you on that,” I replied, thinking that our Prizmah team of experienced day school professionals would pull out just the right answer. But, when I shared the question with my Prizmah colleagues, instead of a “textbook” solution, their response was a list of five other schools who had recently grappled with the identical question. These peers provided that leader with better answers (gained through experience) than a single “expert” might offer. That is an example of the Network at work, and the knowledge of the field in action. There is no textbook, but there are plenty of solutions.

Being part of a Network means contributing and accessing the everyday “real-world” expertise that builds stronger schools, and a supportive, vibrant field.

In the past year, day school professionals and lay leaders have connected, shared, learned, created, and driven impact through the Prizmah Network at an astounding rate.  1100 field leaders, from over 230 schools, joined us at the March, 2019 Prizmah Conference and collectively Dared to Dream; 163 schools participated in a Prizmah Reshet group (which had 200 new members this year); 1305 resources were launched in our new digital Knowledge Center and have been accessed by thousands of page views.

Online, at in-person gatherings, through emerging partnerships with federations and national leaders in education, Prizmah’s focus on Network points us in a strong direction to support individual schools and the day school field.

We just celebrated Shavuot, acknowledging the enormous gift—matan—of Torah. When we call the holiday “z’man matan Torateinu” or “time of the giving of our Torah,” we are actually celebrating a collective experience, as Torah is referred to in the plural possessive. Rashi teaches that both the Written Law and the Oral Law were transmitted to Moshe at Sinai. While the Written Law—Torah she’bichtav--speaks in one Divine voice, the Oral Law--Torah she’be-al peh, including the Mishnah, the Talmud, Midrashim--contains multiple voices across generations. There is an inherent intricate network of diverse voices and opinions offering insight, advice, and instruction.

The Oral Law provides a model for understanding our world and addressing the challenges we inevitably encounter. When we gain access to the experience of others, when we draw on past examples to inform present action, when we debate—even loudly—about our differences, we strengthen our ability to deliver on our mission. The Prizmah Network is predicated on just such a philosophy.

For our Network to fulfill its potential demands that we create space for the myriad voices to be raised, that we construct pathways for connection among practitioners, and that we encourage portals and access to other providers of expertise.

“Do what we do best and connect to the rest” was a kind of informal mantra we used in talking about Prizmah right from launch. Convening the Network means sometimes being in the center and sometimes stepping aside so that people can connect directly.  Oftentimes it means connecting to experts, providers or resources throughout the Network. Primarily, being the Network convener means making it easy to both access and provide knowledge for each other.

In the coming months, we will be concentrating our efforts on strengthening the Prizmah Network with the voices of even more day school leaders and practitioners. School leaders will be receiving information shortly about renewing or establishing their Network affiliation, while others in the field can engage by sharing resources, asking questions, and supporting the day school field. Together, we can ensure that the day school field has a living network that supports and creates tangible impact for individuals, schools, and communities, all working toward a vibrant Jewish future.

Ilisa believes that inspired, informed, and supported Jewish day school leaders are the key to healthy schools. As the Senior Vice President, Engagement at Prizmah, Ilisa works to help sustain and advance Jewish day school leadership through coaching and through serving as the director of YOU Lead, Prizmah’s signature leadership development program. Ilisa is a former head of school, an alumna of Cohort 4 of DSLTI (Day School Leadership Training Institute), and a sought after leadership coach with over 18 years of experience in Jewish education. She is a graduate of Barnard College of Columbia University and holds a master’s in Jewish education from the Jewish Theological Seminary. Ilisa earned her certificate of nonprofit board consulting from BoardSource and consults regularly with schools on governance. She is certified in The Leadership Circle Profile™ and earned a certificate in leadership coaching from Georgetown University. Ilisa is also an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) and member of the International Coaching Federation (ICF). Ilisa is deeply committed to developing strong lay-head partnerships and creating conditions in schools where leaders can thrive.

The Weight of Unspoken Expectations

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Thanks to numerous leadership initiatives, there are more opportunities than ever before for committed Jewish leaders to gain the credentials and connections necessary to fulfill their ambitions in education. There are clear pathways to leadership, as well as a growing “curriculum” of skills, mindsets, and knowledge that an aspiring leader needs to learn.

However, when a successful educator or administrator—or as we have seen more and more, someone who moves into day school leadership from the business world or other field—becomes a head of school, no amount of preparation can seem sufficient. The responsibilities of heads have become ever more complex. Heads of schools are expected to be visionaries, role models, mentors, community builders, conflict resolution navigators and more.

Added to the extensive head of school job description are many unspoken expectations. These expectations often reflect the nuanced responsibilities and leadership qualities required to effectively manage and inspire the school community. Failure to live up to these unarticulated expectations can negatively impact decision making, cause a strain on relationships with stakeholders, and result in burnout.

Many of the unspoken expectations placed upon heads of school are cultural in nature, or relate to prioritization of time and attention. For example, heads need to navigate unspoken expectations around their availability and accessibility outside of school hours, how they are meant to dress in school and on the weekends, which sporting and social events to attend for the community, and even when to arrive at synagogue. Inadvertent violation of unspoken norms can result in poor outcomes for heads of school. 

In addition, heads contend with unspoken expectations around their leadership. They may need to navigate implicit norms concerning who has the authority to make decisions, how consensus is achieved, and what the expected level of input from various stakeholders is. They are asked to decipher unspoken expectations about their leadership style and how to communicate effectively with colleagues, board members, and parents. With good reason, few of these matters are likely to be (or should be) addressed in the interview process or job description, yet they contribute significantly to the confidence a community has in its leader.

While lay leaders work hard to share information with heads that could be helpful for their success, they often overestimate how effective they are in understanding the demands facing their heads. A recent NAIS study revealed that only 52% of the heads of school agreed that board members understand the demands placed on a head, yet 77% of board members and 100% of board chairs claimed that they do understand, underscoring a disconnect between how the board perceives headship and the head’s own lived experience in a challenging role. Having intentional and explicit conversations can help close this gap, ensuring stronger lay-head partnerships and longer tenure for heads in their roles.

Prizmah’s work in the field, provides us with a front row seat to some of the challenges and opportunities that contribute to the weight of headship. Here, we share five things lay leaders and heads can do to strengthen the lay-head partnership, reduce the weight of unspoken expectations, and secure the return on the investment in the leadership of the school.

Set Norms for the Lay-Head Partnership 

Taking time to assess one’s strengths, identify areas in which one needs support, develop a strategy for communication, and clarify priorities is critical to a strong onboarding process for a head of school. Leading Edge’s guide People-Centered Leadership: A Toolkit for Incoming CEOs and the Board Chairs Supporting Them can serve as a catalyst for meaningful and critical conversations between heads and board chairs. Honest communication is essential for leaders who want to retain a team who trust in them and in their organization. Time invested in developing the partnership does not slow down working towards achieving the mission. Rather, a school’s success hinges on this close partnership.

Name the Public-Private Tension, Make a Plan 

Prizmah’s recent exploration of the cultures and conditions of headship revealed that most heads of school thought that serving simultaneously as both a community leader and member was one of the most challenging aspects of their job. Interviewees spoke about the “blurry line between your personal life and work life.” One head of school articulated, “I feel like a big piece of being a head of school is that everywhere you go, people are judging your school and judging you.”

Boards can support heads by openly discussing this private-public tension and making a plan that honors the head and encourages and respects boundaries. Heads can ensure their own success by clarifying expectations about their responsibilities outside of school instead of leaving these questions exclusively to their own judgment or imagination.

Communicate with Clarity 

Clarifying and continually communicating around the key strategic priorities can mitigate the weight of the multiple demands on heads’ time and attention. According to the National Association of Independent Schools, 95% of board chairs agreed or strongly agreed that their board set achievable goals for the head of school and that the board and head collaborated on their prioritization. However, only 77% of heads of school agreed. 

This nearly 20 percentage point gap belies misunderstanding or disagreement between many heads and their boards on what the head’s role entails, as well as what is the board’s role in helping the head succeed. If not addressed, this discord can result in the unexpected departure of the head, either voluntarily or involuntarily. Working in partnership to set goals and metrics for success, communicating regularly on progress, and identifying additional sources of support necessary to achieve goals are critical.

Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable 

Sharing feedback with people with whom you have both personal and professional connections can feel uncomfortable. In her book Radical Candor, Kim Scott shows that personal care for leaders must be paired with challenging them. Too often, boards can fall into a trap of offering platitudes and encouragement without direct and instructive feedback. In a recent NAIS study, only 66% of heads of school agreed that the board provides them with periodic feedback on progress toward meeting annual goals, while 94% of board chairs and 85% of board members believed that the board did so. And while nine in ten boards reported that they give their head of school adequate time to achieve goals, only three out of four heads agreed. 

Structures such as a head support and evaluation committee can go a long way toward ensuring boards fulfill their oversight responsibilities. However, the structure alone is not sufficient. Board chairs need to get comfortable having difficult conversations and delivering direct feedback. Heads can work on any barriers that get in the way of receiving feedback and communicating directly with the board about what they need. It is essential that heads and lay leaders get comfortable with being uncomfortable in service of achieving mutual goals and advancing the school’s strategic priorities.

Draw on Support Systems that Work 

There are key structures within our school systems designed to empower heads of school and the boards who support them. An investment in the systems can reduce the weight of the role and the unspoken expectations inherent in the process. These include coaching for heads of schools and board chairs, flexibility around meeting times and virtual options for meetings, a head support and evaluation committee, and regular weekly board chair-head of school meetings. In addition, developing and harnessing the power of governance committees, utilizing board self-assessments, and conducting regular and ongoing board training will enable boards to be aware of their strengths and opportunities and position them to be strong partners to the head of school. 

All stakeholders need to recognize that when their head is successful, the school and each of its community members are as well. Developing intentional, ongoing modes of communication to address some of these unspoken expectations with respect and transparency can go a long way to lengthening the tenure of heads of school and, ultimately, securing the school’s ability to deliver on its precious mission of preparing the Jewish future.

Emily is the Head of School at The Rashi School in Dedham, Massachusetts. Previously, she served as principal at Claypitt Hill Elementary School in Wayland. She has over 18 years of experience in a variety of teaching and administrative school roles. Emily earned her master’s degree in education from New York University, and her bachelor’s degree in English literature from Washington University in St. Louis. 

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Gavi Elkind

Gavi is the Prizmah's Director of Leadership Development. Learn more about her here.

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Dr. Casey Weiss

Dr. Casey Weiss is a proud graduate of Pittsburgh’s Community Day School and is honored to be the head of school. She is a lifelong Pittsburgher and is proud to serve her community in this vital role.

New Beginnings: The Start of the Headship

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Two talented educational leaders, Dr. Casey Weiss and Emily Charton, will be assuming the headship this summer, Casey at Community Day School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Emily at The Rashi School in Dedham, Massachusetts. Gavi Elkind, Prizmah’s director of leadership development, sat down with Casey and Emily to discuss their leadership journeys and hopes for the headship.

Tell us about your professional leadership journey

Emily: 

From the beginning, the positions that have excited me have felt trailblazing. I started my career in charter schools. After I graduated from New York University graduate school, I became a founding ninth grade English teacher, and, along with a small group of educators, we built a school. 

When I moved to Boston, I stayed in the charter world. After I’d been at Boston Collegiate Charter School for two years, my principal accepted an assistant superintendent position in Maine, and she suggested I throw my hat in the ring for the principal role. This felt like someone tapping me and saying, “You can do this. You have a skill set that is primed for leadership and you should go for it.” I learned how to be a school leader as the principal of that institution.

After getting married and having two kids, I started looking for something that was closer to home. As I was going through my job search, I received a phone call from the director of teaching and learning at JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School. At the time, I was married to my husband, who is Jewish. My daughter had gone to the mikveh. We were raising our family Jewishly, though I was not Jewish. 

Walking into JCDS was life-altering: I felt the spirit and heart, I saw what was on the walls, I heard how the educators were communicating with the children, and I knew it was the place I needed to be. I became the principal of JCDS. It was a very special time, and I learned so much and grew a lot in that job. And at the end of my time there, I converted to Judaism. 

After four fulfilling years at JCDS, I felt called to return to the public sector, and I became a public school assistant principal and then a principal. I loved both jobs, but I missed the experience that I had at a Jewish institution of sharing deep, underlying values with my community. My former head of school, Dr. Susie Tanchel, encouraged me to look at the head of school position at The Rashi School, and a seed was planted. And then I received an email from the search firm saying that my name had been shared with them from a few people, and they were wondering if I wanted to have a conversation. When something comes up twice, you listen.

Casey: 

From the youngest age I can remember, I’ve been drawn to working with children. I got my start professionally at the Jewish Community Center of Squirrel Hill, working in the twos and threes room. I worked for our local summer camp, James and Rachel Levinson Day Camp. Those summers greatly informed my practice.

I received my master’s in education preK-6th grade from Carlow University, and taught elementary school at Colfax Elementary in Pittsburgh for seven years.  An inner voice said, I think one day, you might want to pursue leadership,  so I got my principal certification at Carlow.  Later on, I enrolled in the EdD program at Duquesne University, and I just became Dr. Weiss a few weeks ago! 

I focused my dissertation on understanding inequities in gifted identification, specifically for public school. Through a pilot and years of collaboration with a former colleague, we developed a multiyear system of intensive long-term project work for students. My case study was mixed methods, qualitative and quantitative, and it involved getting feedback from over 100 stakeholders about how that project work impacted their child’s lives, the staff member conducting the work, and the students themselves. 

During this time, I had two kids, and they started attending Hillel Academy in Pittsburgh. I fell in love with the yiddishkeit, the energy, the way the community takes care of one another.  I became the assistant principal at Hillel two and a half years ago, and it has been amazing. Upon hearing that my alma mater, Community Day School, would be looking for a new head when Avi Munro retired after 20 incredible years, I knew that I wanted to be there.

What does this transition period look like for you?

Emily:

Throughout this journey, I have loved getting to know the Rashi community. As I meet more and more community members, parents, board members, educators, and students, what rings true for me is that every person holds the same values, speaks to the consistent voice of the institution, and demonstrates such a love for the school. It’s been amazing.

I am incredibly grateful to the transition committee at Rashi. The committee has been thoughtful about events for me to attend and has continued to check in about constraints on my time and attention. I believe they are setting me up for success in all the right ways.

What has been most difficult is having my head and heart in two places at once. I love my current community, and I am working hard to set the next principal up for strength. I am also still running a school! I need to be sure I leave myself space to grieve leaving my current community—even as I am so excited about this next chapter.

Casey: 

I have had a highly intensive transition time. Thanks to Prizmah, I connected with Cheryl Finkel, who has become my coach and mentor. I meet with her weekly, which is a gift; I need this professional guidance, mentoring, and coaching. I’ve applied my doctoral skills coming off the dissertation to my transition, and I’ve taken a very deep dive into the school.

I’ve written a transition report that highlights major themes. I have interviewed and talked to over 200 stakeholders, internal and external. This is my city. I have the great fortune of having relationships with people from Federation and the JCC, and people that have been in my corner to help guide me and teach me, and literally helped me grow up. I now get the privilege of saying, “I am joining your ranks to serve our community.”

I continue to be elated and excited, and very ready to do the serious work of the headship. A critical part of the transition has been meeting weekly with Avi and gleaning her wisdom. Learning with and from her has made this transition special and unique. I offer a great deal of hakarat hatov to Avi, because she has allowed me to be in her building, explore, ask questions, and collect data. It’s been amazing.

What role has mentorship played in your professional journey?

Emily: 

I can’t overstate the importance of having strong mentors. When I struggle with a decision, feel challenged, or want to bounce philosophical ideas off someone, I go to my mentors. I’ve had such good fortune to learn with really smart, passionate, and insightful leaders everywhere I’ve worked who have nurtured my potential and helped me see it in others. It can feel lonely when you sit in these leadership seats, but having colleagues who have experienced what I experience, who have been in this position, who know what children of this time are living through, makes all the difference. 

Casey: 

Much like any other field, we can always become better. We’re lifelong learners. It’s really important to know what our strengths and areas of growth are. To me, mentorship is being able to acknowledge that I don’t know how to handle a dilemma or a situation, and I want to know how someone with more experience would handle it. Mentorship is going to be not only in year one, but for years to come. I am fortunate to have many dedicated mentors—and I am unafraid to ask this question: “How would you handle this?”

What inspires you most as you prepare to take on the headship?

Emily: 

We have some challenging work ahead, and I am excited to be fully and authentically myself as a leader, and to do what is best for the children. The Rashi educators and families are committed to it, and I feel like I have energy and passion and dedication to put all of that together and move Rashi into its next phase. We need to ensure that our Jewish families perceive us to be the choice for their child’s education and for their family’s communal experience. Our job is to provide an exceptional education and be an exceptional Jewish community. I’m excited to support the entire Jewish day school system.

Casey:

This education that I had from kindergarten to eighth grade directly impacted my decision to become head of school and impact the lives of others. It is my mission to serve the future Jewish generation. I have never felt more compelled to do this. That’s the Jewish lens of it. I also feel highly compelled for our school to be the best in class academically across the board. My mission is to engage, inspire, and push the next generation of Jews to be the best possible humans and advocates for our people.

What else do you want the Jewish day school community to know as your prepare for headship?

Emily: 

More than ever, we need to learn how to engage with one another in our Jewish community. We need to be able to sit in discomfort, to share multiple perspectives, and to be able to remain in community, even when our opinions differ. Our children need to see our community come together as a united whole for their educational purposes. I also want to say that grace and transparency and honesty and conversation goes a long way in supporting heads.

Casey: 

Jewish day schools are our future. To me, that is a global message. It is so interconnected with this moment in tome, which I have called the moment of reckoning in many ways for our people.