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Management Tips and Tools for New Incoming Day School Leadership (Part II)

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By way of introduction, Part I of this Blog (August 15, 2022), focused on a variety of school management tips and tools for new incoming Day School and Yeshiva professional leadership. It included best practices relating to: Administrative Staff and Faculty Meetings; Classroom (teacher) Observations; Individual Supervisory Teacher Meetings; Professional Development; and Parent/School Communications.

Part II of this Blog, briefly address several addition areas of focus and concern. They include:  The Parent School Partnership; Students with Exceptionalities; Budgeting and Financial Management; Governance and Board Relations; Fundraising and Financial Resources Development; and Strategic Planning.

As indicated in Part I, these management tips and tools are not comprehensive in nature. Their sole purpose, is to ensure that as new incoming Day school and Yeshiva Heads and Principals, these areas of best and model practice are at least on their radar and will need to be addressed sooner or later, by all incoming school leadership and management.  Remember, they are brief school management  tips and tools; they are not extensive or comprehensive by any stretch of the imagination

The Parent/School Partnership:

As we know,  parental involvement, engagement, collaboration and support have and will continue to occupy an essential aspect of the Jewish Day School and Yeshiva landscape.  The evolving impact of parent involvement and engagement on their children’s learning experience has shown to strongly influence student achievement, engagement and motivation. Moreover, parental involvement in education is widely understood as a key component for educational success. To be sure, the best predictor of student success may in fact be the extent to which families encourage learning at home, and involve themselves in their children education and school.

It is imperative that in the beginning of the year, Heads of School and Principals, together with their faculty and staff, develop a Parent Engagement Action Plan which details the variety of programs, projects and initiatives which parents can undertake during the school year. Its preferred that the School establish a Parent’s Council or Committee who will take ownership over the planning and implementation of parent/school engagement initiatives.

Several of these initiatives may include but not be limited to: parenting workshops and special lectures; select fundraising events;  back-to-school programs; teacher appreciation and recognition programs; BBQ’s and Parent Melave Malka programs; volunteer tutoring centers; lunch distribution, parent liaison projects; special holiday projects, bake sales, etc.

As we know, the list of parent volunteer projects are truly endless. The challenge however is to ensure that parents are always engaged in the school in deeply meaningful and in valuable ways. Parents are a tremendous resource and asset to the school. And, the more they are involved in these important initiatives, the more informed and vested they become in their children’s Jewish Day School/Yeshiva education. Heads of School and Principals must ensure that the school has a professional point-person who is responsible for overseeing these projects and one who can serve as the professional liaison between parent groups and the Administration.

Students with Exceptionalities:

Students with a variety of learning needs and styles are very common in most of our Jewish Day Schools and Yeshivot. These exceptionalisties range from children with learning deficits to students who are gifted. Once a school accepts these students into the school, the school has a moral and ethical commitment and obligation to accommodate their special needs and requirements through specialized teaching staff, remedial services,  tutoring, special programs, self contained classroom, resource rooms and through other accommodations. Some schools require parents to absorb the costs for these extra support services.

It is imperative that the school maintain these commitments at all times. And, if by chance the school defaults on this commitment, it must inform parents immediately. There is nothing more detrimental than a school that is not totally transparent about its special services to students with special learning needs.

For students who are admitted to the school, most, if not all of these special considerations should be indicated on either school transcripts, IEP’s or via references. Then there are instances when student learning concerns are not identify prior to admission, but rather identified by the teacher and administration during the course of the school year. In these select instances,  it is important for parents to be invited to the school in order to discuss the child’s disposition; and to determine a future course of action.

During the course of these conversations/consultations with parents, teachers and Head of School or Principal, it may be determined that the student requires counseling  or that the child needs requires a series of diagnostic tests (i.e. psycho-educational assessment, speech or hearing tests, etc.) in order to determine the exact nature and scope of the learning challenge.

Finally, once a determination is made regarding the student’s learning and/or social/emotional disposition, based upon the results of the diagnostics (whether it be recommended teaching strategies or approaches)  it is imperative that the school develop a learning plan in order to help the student succeed.

Students should never ever fall between the cracks, lest the school default on its moral commitment and obligation to parents.

Budgeting and Financial Management

All schools, with no exception, should have a professional administrative infrastructure in order to ensure best practice in budgeting and fiscal management.

This means that the school’s  fiscal operation must be staffed by experienced personnel with expertise in accounts payable, accounts receivable, bank reconciliations, payroll, IRS reporting and the entire range of non-profit fiscal management and bookkeeping requirements and accounting practices. All of these functions, with the exception of payroll (which can be outsourced), must be an integral part of the school’s administrative infrastructure.

Best/model practice in school fiscal management  strongly suggests that the school’s line-by-line budget must be developed by the Head of School together with the School Board. Following this process, the Budget is ratified and approved by the School Board. Any changes or variations must be approved by the Board. The Board approved Budget then becomes the school’s permanent fiscal guide and road map for the school year.

Depending upon the size of the school, it it highly recommended that the school board establish a Budget and Finance Committee which is responsible for day-to-day oversight (not micromanagement)  in partnership with the fiscal management professionals and staff.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the Head of School/Principal to ensure the school’s fiscal transparency and accountability. This means ensuring that all expenditures are vetted, authorized and approved. It also means that all funds are expended in accordance with the Board’s approved budget. Any deviation must be approved by the Board.

Governance and Board Relations:

The partnership between the Head of School/Principal and the School Board of Directors is one of the most important key functions for a school Head/Principal.

For starters, it is important to understand  and respect the role and function of the Board. Simply put, the Board is responsible for establishing  school policy,  ratifying and approving the school ‘s budget, fundraising and evaluating the performance and effectiveness of the Head of School/Principal.

As a new incoming Head of School/Principal, it is essential that these relationships and differentiated roles and responsibilities are articulated and understood from the get-go. Remember the School Board sets school policy and the Head of School/Principal is responsible for implementing policy.

Throughout the year, the school Board may want to create or establish standing committees in order to address areas of interest with greater focus, attention and specificity. They may include: budget and finance; branding and marketing; fundraising; security; pupil recruitment; and, setting tuition levels, to name a few.

Its is the responsibility of the Head of School/Principal to help identify those areas which require working board committees and to ensure that each of these committees are staffed with appropriate professional leadership and resources.

As new incoming school leadership  begin these conversations with the President or Chair of the Board, the sooner the school board’s responsibility and effectiveness is ensured. Begin by creating a Board Governance  Plan for the coming year as well as  opportunities for the board to engage in its own leadership development. via workshops, seminars, retreats, and the review  best practice literature and case studies.

Fundraising and Financial Resource Development:

All  large scale school fundraising activities involve a collaborative partnership between the Head of School/Principal and the school board.  As such, depending upon the nature of the relationship with specific donors, there will be times when its more appropriate and even effective for members of the Board to solicit donors; and, there will be times when the school professional leadership takes the lead. These decisions are based upon  relationships with donors and donor familiarity. The ideal would be for board members and the Head of School to solicit donors together. Its important to note that more often than not donors give to people not to institutions.

Donor cultivation is an activity that is usually shared by the Administration and the Board. Again, the cultivation of donors  is based upon trust and familiarity with the donor.s as well as knowledge regarding their philanthropic interests.

The intricacies and complexity of school fundraising models vary from school to school. But, always keep in mind that there are several fundamental best practices which are generic to all schools.

They include:

  • The creation of an updated data base of current and  potential donors with appropriate “giving” information and history on each donor;
  • The creation of a “Case for Giving” and a Menu of Funding Opportunities;
  • A fundraising plan with specific  goals, time frame,  projects and assignments.
  • The creation of a Donor Recognition Campaign;
  • The creation of marketing and fundraising collateral material require to promote the school’s brand and impact;
  • The creation of Endowment Gift Opportunities and Legacy Giving programs; and,
  • The creation of a Capital Campaign (if required or necessary)

Ideally, the school should engage a Director of Development or Advancement in order to coordinate all of the aforementioned responsibilities. If that is not possible from a staffing and/or budgetary perspective, the Head of School/Principal must assume part of the responsibility by reassigning internal tasks and by engaging or redeploying  more support personnel. Either way, fundraising and development efforts, if taken seriously, should be front and center and should never be relegated or pushed to the school’s “back-burner”. Moreover, the role of the Head of School/Principal in moving these important strategic activities forward is paramount.

Although this added responsibility, in the absence of a Director of Development or Advancement can be somewhat stressful and overbearing , especially for a new incoming head of school or principal,  it is essential that the Board’s Fundraising Committee and members of the Board step-up their game and begin to engage in fundraising commensurate with the school’s Fundraising Plan, needs and requirements.

Strategic Planning:

Joining a school for the first time as its new Head of School or Principal can be both exhilarating and daunting.

As the  learning curve of the new incoming Head of School or Principal increases, so may the urge and or motivation for organizational change. This may encompass a change in personnel,  organizational structure, programs, curricula, or even a change in the school’s mission, vision and value proposition.

As the new professional leader begins to formulate specific organizational or personnel  changes in order to improve the school’s impact and effectiveness, there are a variety of avenues which may be considered.

One of the most common approaches when attempting to effectuate school change, or redirect and enhance  a school’s trajectory, may be through a Strategic Planning  Review Process.

A Strategic Planning Review Process, although somewhat less ambitious than a standard  or traditional Strategic Planning Process, affords  school leadership, Administration and Board with a golden opportunity to review the school’s strengths and weaknesses in a very non threatening manner. It also enables the school to identify specific opportunities yet to be determined in order  move the school forward in a more meaningful way

Finally, as a new incoming school leader, the results of the Strategic Planning Review Process  becomes invaluable.  It will help validate or reinforce many of the short or mid range plans and changes leadership aspires to make.  A secondary advantage is that these changes are  anchored in an official Strategic Review Process as opposed to the changes coming solely from a new incoming Head of School or Principal. Its just a lot safer and less potentially contentious……especially if the recommended changes  require significant staff or personnel changes or a paradigm shift in the manner in which the school functions.

Conclusion:

in sum, I am hopeful that Parts I and II of this BLOG will provide the new incoming Head of School/Principal with a more enlighten perspective regarding select best/model practices. To be sure, these School Management Tips and Tools only begin the scratch the surface of the wide variety of challenges and responsibilities the new incoming leadership will face.

Following 30 years in this business, when closely examining the Jewish Day School and Yeshiva leadership landscape, I cannot think of any other profession that requires more diversity of skills, experience and expertise, than that of a  Head of School/Principal for a Jewish Day School or Yeshiva.

Is it possible for a new incoming Head of School/Principal to take on all of these new responsibilities and roles successfully within a two year period?  Probably not. It would be a very tall order and a very unrealistic expectation.

Having said that, the challenge for the senior incoming professional is to develop an understanding and an appreciation for the management skills which are required; and, to  prioritize those that require primacy  and priority.

How and when the new incoming Head of School/Principal endeavors to successfully accomplish these tasks and responsibilities will necessarily indicate the manner in which the school’s management and leadership will grow and flourish.

About the Author
Dr. Chaim Botwinick is currently Principal of the Hebrew Academy Community Day School in Margate FL and Executive Coach and Consultant. He served as president and CEO of the central agency for Jewish education in Baltimore and in Miami. He has published and lectured extensively on topics relating to education, strategic planing and leadership development. Dr. Botwinick is Author of “Think Excellence: Harnessing Your Power to Succeed Beyond Greatness”, Brown Books, 2011