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Chaim Y. Botwinick

Day School Sustainability: A Bold Vision for Bold Leadership

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The True Guardians of a Community are the Teachers….. (Pirkei Avot))

Introduction

Over the past several decades, communities throughout North America have  formulated, developed and implemented a variety of creative and forward-thinking institutional and communal models in order to respond to the growing Jewish Day School/Yeshiva “affordability” and “sustainability” challenge.

Many of these models have begun to advance the Day School/Yeshiva “affordability/sustainability” agenda…but, as we know, we still have a long way to travel.

The terms “affordability” and “sustainability” are joined at the hip conceptually and are presented more often than not as being almost symbiotic.

“Affordability” by definition is the cost or price-point of an item or service  (schooling) which people are able to purchase with a degree of relative ease. “Sustainability” on the other hand, suggests the ability or capacity of a school to maintain levels of “affordability” which would attract and retain more families to our schools over an extended period of time.

This blog does not suggest ways in which Day Schools or Yeshivot can or should  become more “affordable”. To be sure, schools and communities have been working tirelessly on these challenges at lighting speed; and it is my hope and prayer that they will realize a significant breakthrough in our lifetime. The purpose rather is to address the challenge of day school/yeshiva “sustainability” as it relates exclusively to the financial conditions, concerns and exigencies affecting the successful engagement of instructional and teaching  personnel in our Jewish Day School and Yeshiva community.

The thesis or premise presented in this blog is based upon the guiding assumption or principle that in order for our schools to be sustainable and viable educational entities, they must respond to the growing dearth of high quality teachers and rabbeim in our classrooms, and the tremendous vacuum their absence creates in our schools. Bottom line… schools can always cut corners in order to develop more effective cost saving methods in order to help reduce per pupil costs or produce internal economies of scale scenarios. But, the cost of attracting and retaining outstanding teachers and Rabbeim currently outpace many of these solutions and cannot be replaced.

The Jewish Day School/Yeshiva personnel crisis is spiraling way out of control in ways never before imaginable. What makes our schools great are in fact their teachers, Rebbeim and faculty. And, the opposite is also the case. Underfunded and understaffed schools will eventually lead to academic lethargy and mediocrity. To be sure, even if unlimited scholarship assistance were to be made available today, and financial aid in abundance, most parents will not opt to send their children to a school staffed with inexperienced teachers, substitute faculty or teachers who exhibit instructional and pedagogic ineptitude. To be sure, our students deserve better. Therefore our capacity to  recruit and retain a high quality faculty must become our community’s top priority. Only then will our schools be able to promote and sustain themselves as institutions of academic excellence in Judaic and in General studies.

Finally, it is important to note that in spite of this personnel crisis, many of our communities have experienced tremendous success through the offering of innovative and creative  professional development, teacher in-service and pre-service training opportunities, inspiring coaching interventions and impactful mentoring programs. These initiatives should never be taken for granted; and, have in fact made a measurable difference in the quality and impact of many of our faculty. However, in spite of these offerings, schools are still struggling tremendously to attract and retain high quality teachers and Rabbeim – a growing phenomenon which is unabated and which negatively impact upon the quality of chinuch in our schools.

So, where do we go from here?

It should be very evident that in the absence of an infusion of significant  financial resources, these programs and others cannot possibly continue in perpetuity; are at risk of disappearing and will in all probability, not be sustainable over an extended period time.

As a result of this daunting reality, we are faced with one singular challenge …..the need and opportunity to strategically identify, leverage and allocate more dollars for teacher recruitment and retention. This includes a recalibration and major adjustment of our Day School/Yeshiva teacher salaries, the provision of teacher health benefits, special funding for relocation, housing allowances, sign-on bonuses, regularly schedule sabbaticals and a seamless commitment ongoing professional development opportunities.

One of the greatest lessons our society has learned from business and industry is that modern state-of-the-art facilities, abundance of product and creative marketing strategies are relatively useless unless the business or industry have the person-power and human resources/capital to ensure that the engine is running smoothly, effectively and above all, efficiently .

Education deserves no less!

The following is a proposal for the establishment of a Global Mega Endowment Fund that would hopefully begin to create a seismic cultural shift in the manner in which we support teachers, Rabbeim and instructional staff in our Jewish Day Schools and Yeshivot.

There are those thought-leaders in the community who feel that the establishment of such mega fund may be overly ambitious. Especially with such scope and magnitude. And yet, there are those who strongly opine that now is the time for creative, bold action and that we can no longer afford to wring our hands….. then,  shy away from bold actions which inspire our future. As they way, we are only being given one kick at the can. Now is the time to act! We must change the narrative.

A Global Funding Initiative for Jewish Educator Growth and Development in our Jewish Day Schools and Yeshivot (aka Global Mega Endowment Fund for the Jewish Future)

Today’s Jewish community is one of the wealthiest, financially endowed  communities of the 21st century. This reality is evidenced through its impressive charitable and philanthropic investments as well as the tremendous impact our business and philanthropic communities have had on the social, religious, economic and spiritual vibrancy and continuity of our community.

As envisioned, the Global Endowment Fund for the Jewish Future would involve a comprehensive financial resource development strategic partnership or an alliance between the Jewish Agency for Israel, The Government of the State of Israel, Jewish Federations of North America, major philanthropic family foundations and corporate philanthropies, private venture capital investors, business and corporations as well as national Jewish day school organizations, and the Jewish Day School and Synagogue movements.

The dollars raised via this Endowment Fund would be designated exclusively for Day School/Yeshiva teacher compensation, enrichment programs and teacher growth.

This mega fund, to be comprised of a one-billion dollar endowment, would generate significant funding in perpetuity. These dollars would be available to all North American full-time Day School teachers, faculty and Rabbeim on a matching basis. The match (to be determined) would require each recipient school to earmark a specific amount to teacher compensation.

 Proposed Resource Development, Allocations and  Distribution Processes:

It is obvious that raising, allocating and distributing  endowment dollars in perpetuity will not be an easy undertaking. At a minimum, it will require  tremendous determination, grit, trust, leveraging, due-diligence, transparency and perspective. It will also require bold leadership who have a shared vision and who are willing, able and passionate about investing in our Jewish future.

In order to embark upon a one-billion dollar strategic fundraising collaborative partnership of such magnitude, all of the convening bodies will need to engage in a series of very extensive and comprehensive in-depth roundtable think-tank conversations. These conversations must be very carefully structured and organized to ensure the integrity, autonomy and respect due to each partner entity or benefactor. Some of these will require public fora; others, will neccesitate one-on-one conversations and consultations. Either way, the ultimate goal and objective are the same. We must rise above the politics which divide us and coalesce around an undeniable and long overdue leadership entity which guarantees our Jewish future.

At the risk of getting ahead of myself in this blog, the ultimate goal and objective (which may take up to three years of cultivation, brainstorming,  deliberation and consensus-building), is to have all entities agree to the concept, theoretical construct, and commitment to earmarking and designating  significant resources in order to support the human resources condition of our Jewish day school and Yeshivot in North America.

These conversations will need to be staffed and facilitated by our most outstanding and knowledgeable thinkers and thought-leaders in Jewish education and in the Jewish world;  as well as financial experts and visionaries who have the ability, capacity, willingness and credibility to move our communities and all stakeholders forward. Indeed, a herculean challenge of epic and monumental proportion.

At the end of this extensive planning process, I am hopeful that the Global Jewish Day School community will experience the realization of this vision, with significant major gifts that are earmarked for this Mega endowment. As indicated, this reality may take up to three years (maybe even more), depending upon the speed in which donors, benefactors and organizations are convened, engaged and contribute to this Mega Fund.

Allocations and Distribution Process.

The allocations and distribution of funds to North American Jewish Day Schools and Yeshivot will necessitate a respectful and equitable process which adheres to strict matching criteria as well as the establishment of legal regional oversight entities in order to ensure transparency compliance at the highest level.

Although dollars from the mega endowment will be used exclusively for the enhancement of instructional personnel, still to be determined will be the requirements and criteria for funding, a clear articulation of a school’s reporting obligations and responsibility, legal requirements, recording and reporting requirements; and a well define administrative infrastructure.

It’s important to note that, as envisioned, the Mega Endowment Fund will not make any qualitative determinations regarding the quality of a teacher or Rebbe who are recipients or potential recipients of these enhancements. The engagement, recruitment and retention of teachers and rabbeim will be the sole responsibility of the school’s administration, Board and Hanhalla.

Finally, it is important to note that this writer is purposefully not suggesting, recommending or proposing and criteria for funding or conditions for eligibility. To do so, would compromise the future planning integrity of this proposal ….and, as a result, usurp the integrity of an open and highly transparent planning process.

Postscript:

As we know, a bold vision demands bold leadership. It also requires a communal zeitgust and a sense of urgency.

The establishment of a Global Mega Fund is a vision which in this writer’s modest opinion has no limits. To be sure, the only limitations we will encounter will be our inability to respond to this challenge.

Will it be easy? Absolutely not. But, when in history has “difficulty” ever stopped or deterred our progress. We are a global community of close to 15 million Jews. We are resolute, strong, viable and strong. And above all,  we aspire to be unified through achdut and partnership.

The future viability and sustainability of our Jewish  Day Schools and Yeshivot are greatly dependent upon our ability, belief and capacity to attract and retain quality teachers into the future. There is no room for compromise; and, no room for shortcuts,

Now that our communities recognize the amazing impact and power of our Jewish Day Schools and Yeshivot on our Jewish identity, continuity and spiritual survival, it is now time to help them fulfill their mission, vision and purpose in ways that are unencumbered and meaningful.

Together with HaShem help and guidance,  we can make this happen.

About the Author
Dr. Chaim Botwinick is a senior executive coach and an organizational consultant . He served as president and CEO of the central agency for Jewish education in Baltimore and in Miami; in addition to head of school and principal for several Jewish day schools and yeshivot. He has published and lectured extensively on topics relating to education, resource development, strategic planing and leadership development. Dr. Botwinick is Author of “Think Excellence: Harnessing Your Power to Succeed Beyond Greatness”, Brown Books, 2011
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