Rabbi Jon Kelsen
Dean, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah
What is the advantage of the day school model over that of the public or private secular school supplemented by (even excellent) Hebrew school? In a phrase: culture.
This issue offers insights and strategies concerning school advocacy, by which is meant the ways that a school promotes itself, markets itself and speaks about itself. Authors offer insights into what day schools should know about young parents, and the various means to reach them, both online and in person. Other articles consider how schools can take some of their core practices, such as teaching Hebrew and supporting diverse learners, and use them in their promotion. Additionally, the issue looks at ways that day schools can tap into the larger community and its institutions for purposes of advocacy.
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Over the course of this year, I had the opportunity to visit Rome and to work with leaders of its community day school. My intended purpose there was to assist them with a new strategic planning effort, but what I saw actually shed new light on the more familiar challenges faced by North American day schools.
Often we hear the concern voiced in our day school community, “If we become too inclusive, and have too many students with learning needs, will we develop a reputation as a ‘special needs school’ and lose other students?” or “Are we diverting too many funds to a minority of the school’s population?” We also know that some parents believe that their intellectually gifted children will get the best possible education only if they go to school with other equally gifted students.
If a prospective parent were to ask you as head of school, “How does your school teach reading?” you would have access to an overwhelming number of studies on how children learn to read and what methods are most effective. But if a donor who wished to provide support to advance Hebrew language learning asked, “What is the best way to teach Hebrew? That’s how I want to invest in this school,” there is no equivalent research on which to base an answer.
Our school plays a unique role in our Jewish community. As the only pluralist day school within a 100-mile radius, the school serves a diverse population of families. In order to ensure Rockwern is inclusive and appealing to a wide demographic, the marketing and outreach efforts must both be specific and adaptive. Seven years ago, Rockwern leadership partnered with The Jewish Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati to reinvigorate the student enrollment through a Tuition Affordability Initiative.
Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders. Henry David Thoreau
In the dramatic scene where the Torah is given at Mt. Sinai, we read that “all the people saw the voices and the blasts of lightning” (Shemot/Exodus 20:15). Much has been written and discussed about this synesthetic moment. What can it mean to “see” voices? Indeed, the paradox has led to less literal translations of the verse itself, with the verb ro’im sometimes rendered as “witnessed” or “perceived.” I prefer to hold on to the literal meaning of “saw,” to illustrate an idea that I feel is pervasive throughout our lives and particularly relevant for the day school field.
I like to believe that I’m passionate about a lot of things in the world, but the two causes closest to my heart are the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish day school movements.
Tracy: How can companies get marketing right?
Godin: Start by understanding that no one cares about them. People care about themselves. Anyone who tweets about a brand or favorites a brand is doing it because it is a
symbol of who they are —it is a token, it is a badge. It’s about them, it’s not about the brand.
At Ohr Chadash, we value the contributions of our school ambassadors. We recognize the importance of keeping our board members informed about what is happening in the school. We want our board members to feel confident when they speak to other members of the community and promote the school.
When coaching networking professionals, I’m often asked about Prizmah’s “webinars,” our virtual presentations offered by content-area experts, and “virtual roundtables,” conversations among a group of school leaders. These webinars and roundtables form part of a large, robust set of opportunities within Prizmah’s Reshet groups, networks for peer-to-peer connection.
Our school, like many others, offers optional Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs, where teachers across grade levels can come together and share what they are doing in their classes and learn from their colleagues. I have had the pleasure of facilitating these meetings for three years, with a cohort of five teachers each guiding a PLC. Throughout this time, our PLC work has been supported by Prizmah coach Melanie Eisen; we meet monthly to discuss our success and challenges in facilitation, and she provides new ideas and resources for each of the PLCs.
Commercial airline travel is a mundane experience. You wake up today in New York, and it is wholly unremarkable that in just a few hours you can be on the other side of the world. In fact for most, the most remarkable aspect of the flight experience is how unpleasant it is. With intrusive security screening, constant delays and a general “me first” attitude from fellow passengers, the experience of flying today isn’t any more pleasant than taking an intercity bus.
First we called them GenY. Then we called them Millennials. Now that they’re getting married and having children, they have become Parennials.
And, at our schools we call them: our parents.