Never Let A Serious Crisis Go to Waste….Implications for Schools (Part II)

On August 24, 2020, I posted a BLOG on this platform entitled “Never Let A Serious Crisis Go To Waste: Implications for Nonprofits (Part I). The post was intended to set the stage for Part II which describes in more detail the challenges and opportunities of merging and/or consolidating Jewish Day School and Yeshiva programs, initiatives and services.

Not unlike other nonprofit institutions, the merging and/or consolidation of Jewish Day Schools and Yeshivot is probably one of the most difficult, challenging and complex processes a community can undertake. This is due in large measure to the variety of  deep-rooted philosophical, religious, cultural and social disparities and differences that exist between these institutions as well as the wide range diversity of  constituencies they serve.

For decades, communities have tried tirelessly to merge Jewish Day Schools and Yeshivot – some with success; others which failed. It is therefore imperative to learn from these experiences.  But first and foremost, communities and their institutions  need to make a compelling case for embarking down (or up) this road.

The mounting pressure  placed on our schools to compete for philanthropic support (read “fundraising”); attracting, recruiting and retaining high quality faculty; the increased costs in maintaining effective administrative infrastructures including plant operations; as well as increased costs for consumables, are just several of the daunting challenges facing our schools. To be sure, these challenges and others are now exacerbated by today’s global pandemic – a crisis of epic proportion.

At first blush, one can safely assume that these exigencies  have always existed when operating Jewish day schools. Having said that, we are now living  with a new realization. Today’s global health crisis and it collateral negative impact on our economy, communities and schools has created a new sense of urgency  —  a “game-changer” which  now demands bolder and more innovative solutions and responses.

One of the many potential responses to this challenge (as detailed in Part I) is the exploration of Yeshiva/ Day school mergers or consolidation of programs, services and educational service delivery.

Institutional/Communal Considerations:

In order for schools to even consider the possibilities of a merger or program consolidation, there must first be a shared vision within the institutions willing to merge and between the potential institutions regarding institutional purpose, goals, philosophy objectives and student outcomes.  It is therefore recommended that schools first consider the consolidation or amalgamation of select services and programs prior to even considering a comprehensive full-scale merger. Its almost similar to courting prior to marriage.

To this end, it is imperative that the Boards and senior leadership of the schools first identify agreed upon programs and initiatives which would be more effective and impactful ( for both institutions) if they were consolidated, amalgamated or merged.

Several Jewish Day School programs and services to consider for joint consolidation may include:

  • Joint purchasing of school materials, supplies and consumables;
  • Back-office bookkeeping , payroll administration and HR requirements;
  • Recruitment, retention and training of faculty and support/clerical staff;
  • Teacher training programs and leadership development initiatives;
  • Group and individual Insurance (liability and personal) coverage;
  • Parent educational programming via seminars, workshops and webinars;
  • Joint bus transportation arrangements – including the sharing of costs for fuel, maintenance, insurance and staffing;
  • Joint staff meetings in order to encourage the sharing of new creative teaching modalities, and innovative teaching models.

The implementation of these joint opportunities are obviously easier said than done. They will require tireless planning, deep trust, confidence and above all a transparent willingness, readiness and eagerness to share ideas and initiatives — whether they be operational or educational. At the end of the day, it will also require the sublimation of institutional ego and the reduction of institutional barriers and silos.

It is for this very reason that the consolidation of services be viewed as a precursor to school mergers. It may take months, years or longer to develop these important institutional and cultural relationships. But, if at the end of the day they do  stand up to agreed upon benchmarks for success, than the school(s) will be in a far better position to proceed on a critical path towards a possible merger.

A Strategic Planning  Approach to Effectuating School Mergers

Once there is a true and sincere willingness on the part of a school’s Board and its professional leadership to pursue a school merger, both institutions will want to engage in a comprehensive strategic planning process. This process should respond to the following macro challenges: why merge? how to merge? and when to merge?.  On the micro level, both institutions will need to review and assess their strengths, weakness, what opportunities are present in merging as well as  a determination regarding potential threats to the autonomy of the institution. Only after this exhaustive review process is in place can the two potential schools move on to the next level of strategic planning – namely implementation.

These  strategic planning considerations should be viewed as a preliminary step towards merger. Once deliberated upon and documented the following four (4) strategic planning  phases should be considered:

  1.  Phase One: Exploration –  research and discovery phase where the schools get to know the other school and ensure that its a “good fit’. This includes a review and sharing  of mission, and vision statements, value propositions; as well as an articulation of benefits derived from a merged or consolidate effort ;
  2. Phase Two: Analysis – this phase enables the schools to understand the potential positives and negatives of the merger or consolidation;  it requires a clear articulation of how programs and services will be enhanced, improve and/or expanded;
  3. Phase Three: Design – both institutions work on a joint “blueprint” which would simulate actual joint programming and operations. The simulation would include cost and value  benefit analyses and well as measurable outcomes;
  4. Phase Four: Integration – once the simulations are in place, the schools would begin to experiment with a series of joint programs in order to determine efficacy, effectiveness and impact.  These will include short, mid and long range impact and buy-in as well as a comprehensive analysis of human, financial and material resources needed to move forward.

Through this critical planning process, it  is absolutely essential that school leaders – lay and professional –  pay close attention to “cultural alignment” by looking very closely at the impact of joint efforts on the religious, social and cultural status and integrity of the institution. More often than not, by phase four, any difference that arise are usually quickly resolved.

Finally, school mergers and program consolidation can help schools grow their services and impact, achieve the kind of operating scale that promote sustainability and usually tend to solve problems of redundancy and economies of scale as well as respond to  underfunded or undercapitalized  programming and services.

A Word of Caution:

  • Never merge or consolidate programs/services because funders demand it;
  • Never merge or consolidate programs/services in order to rescue a failing institution;
  • Cost -reductions should never be the sole purpose or goal for a merger or the consolidation of services or programming;

Remember……School mergers and consolidation of school services and programs should only be considered if it/they enhance quality, accessibility and impact…….and,  if they create a school environment conducive to high quality student learning and student engagement.

(courtesy)

At the end of the day, that is what effective schooling and high quality “Chinuch” is all about.

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
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