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Chaim Y. Botwinick

The Jewish Day School/Yeshiva 2040: Dream, Vision and Reimagine (Part II)

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In Part I of my recent Times of Israel Blog entitled “The Jewish Day School/Yeshiva 2040” (9/20/22), I provided a brief overview of the successes and impact of our Jewish Day Schools and Yeshivot, and, a more detailed perspective regarding several of the challenges and opportunities facing these institutions in the future.

Part I focused specifically on the school’s physical plant. instructional personnel, the classroom of the future and financial resource development.

Part II addresses five additional changes – marketing and communications, students with exceptionalities, academic assessment. strategic planning and board governance.

As we know, each one of these challenges can potentially occupy volumes of pages, especially as we begin to think strategically about their impact upon the future of our Day Schools and Yeshivot.

Communications and Marketing:

Over the past several decades, we have witnessed a tremendous evolution of high quality state-of-the-art day school communications and marketing initiatives. These initiatives are due in large measure to an increased level of technological sophistication, training, and expertise now being employed by many of our day schools.

With the increased use of state-of-the-art social media platforms, websites and digital video and communications approaches, many of our pupil recruitment efforts and fundraising initiatives as well as their general approach to communications with parents and the community at large will become more sophisticated over time.

As our Jewish community’s marketing and communications capacity become more advanced and widespread, many of our Day Schools and Yeshivot will engage in joint marketing, advertising and public information initiatives. These initiatives can be planned and implemented on a communal level and at the same time maintain their institutional autonomy and independence.

With the use of shared technology and privately leased or owned satellite communications, Day Schools will be able to create and develop messaging  and communications portholes which respond to the needs of the communal collective. This includes parent communications and management platforms for  teacher/school parent communications, fiscal management, and billing, as well as the transmission of grades, test scores and student assignments. Each of these items will be coded and encrypted to ensure high levels of confidentiality.

It is obvious that individual schools will have individualized needs – especially when communicating with current and prospective parents, students and constituents. This is in addition to fundraising and advancement initiatives which are extremely complex, competitive and very labor intensive.

Just imagine how Open Houses, Parent Teacher Conferences, Curriculum Nights and  Back to School Events will be offered in the year 2040. With AI and AR technology, parents will be able to actually feel the school’s experience from the very comfort of their living rooms.

Is this a good thing? It may be for those parents who are time-starved or who are unable to make multiple school related commitments for their children. For others, the actual  physical user experience of visiting a school’s bricks and mortar school environment is more attractive and alluring. This is in addition to the ability to hear and speak with faculty and administration in real time on school site. Having said that, by the year 2040, many teachers, faculty and administrators may in fact be  more accessible remotely or virtually at these venues then in person. On site visits also enhances socialization among and between parents and faculty – a cultural nuance which would be dramatically missing in a virtual or remote metaverse.

As we know, marketing is a very specific and targeted activity which should reflect the  unique needs of the individual school. In these cases, a consortium of marketing and communications specialists would be engaged by the organized Jewish community in order to provide expertise, guidance and consultation uniquely suited  to the needs of individual schools.

One of the models which deserve future consideration was developed by the Federation in Baltimore about 25 years ago.

At that time, THE ASSOCIATED Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore engaged a full time marketing and communications specialist whose  assignment was to help, assist and guide each of the Federation’s agencies, including its day school and yeshivot. This was truly a successful communal effort with tremendous future replication potential.

As our Day Schools and Yeshivot become more sophisticated and competitive, the organized Jewish community will need to provide these institutions with a variety of high quality tools and vehicles in order to respond to their evolving marketing needs. This may be a good start which can lead to greater centralization of communal resources and services.

Finally, with the proliferation of new cable networks and network feeds, one can envision the creation of  a ” North American Jewish Education (satellite)  Network” which will offer local and regional communities with specific programming relating to trends and developments in Jewish day school education including: state-of-the-art applied Jewish educational research; new teaching and assessment approaches; teacher and principal spotlights; classroom innovation; professional development opportunities; marketing and fundraising news;  as well as human resources updates relating to teacher and administrator vacancies and recruitment efforts.

Not all households view cable network or for that matter even own a TV. In those select instances, these channels (read “communications portholes”) will be accessible via desktop and/or laptop devises with high speed connectivity capacity.

Students with Exceptionalities (Special Needs):

It is reported that 15%-20% of students currently attending Jewish Day schools and Yeshivot have some form of learning challenge. This figure does not include gifted students who also require specialized instruction in order for them to respond successfully to their learning needs and requirements.

Over the past several decades, special educational programs and services in our Jewish day schools have grown tremendously in ways never before imaginable. New teaching modalities, diagnostics and classroom structures in addition to new and innovative teaching strategies have afforded many of today’s Day Schools and Yeshivot with amazing  opportunities to respond more directly and effectively to a wide array of critically important learning needs.

With the recent emphasis on student inclusion models, more Jewish Day Schools and Yeshivot of the future will be creating environments that more fully integrate students with exceptionalities  with mainstream student populations in the same classroom.

Today, many of our schools have ether separate self contained classrooms or resource rooms – depending upon leaning needs and requirements of students.

If current trends continue, the Jewish Day School and Yeshiva of the future will include classrooms staffed by mainstream teachers as well as teachers trained in special education. In fact, many of these teachers will team teach together, depending upon the composition of the classroom. These classrooms will become true learning centers for both populations. Teachers will work with special students in clusters via blended learning and computer aided instruction centers, while mainstream students are exposed to normative teaching learning environments.

Just imagine the classroom of the future……where each classroom will be structured in a way to ensure interactive student learning pods and groups or clusters of students.  Students with special learning needs will be exposed to normative teaching and mainstream learning. But, in addition, they will be offered special instruction, including remediation and tutoring.

For students with more advanced learning challenges, self-contained classrooms will be equipped with the latest state of the art technology and staffed by highly trained specialists.

With regard to gifted student populations, our Day Schools and Yeshivot of the future will be challenged to offer these students high level academic standards and requirements in both Judaic and General Studies. This challenge will also demand the engagement of highly qualified faculty who are trained to teach to the top academic tier of the school’s student population.

In addition to outstanding faculty, the use of technology platforms will be available to students for complementary independent study and course review as well as havuta learning.

Schools of the future will be prepared to offer mixed grade level courses in order to accommodate a critical mass of students. Class size will be kept to low  student/teacher ratios; and students with exceptionalities will be integrated into every aspect of the school’s educational and experiential program. This will again require additional trained teachers and staff.

Finally, by the year 2040, it is anticipated that schools which only respond to special student populations will become almost extinct….except in those instances where there are significant deficits which require specially designed building plant and classroom structures.

Student Academic Performance Assessments:

As our schools aspire to provide parents and students with more meaningful academic performance assessment and feedback, the grading system as we know it today may change dramatically over the next 20 years.

It is debatable as to whether today’s grading system is the most effective or meaningful method for assessing academic progress in out schools.

There are educational thought-leaders who posit that letter or numerical grades are fairly accurate in predicting the future of a student’s success. Yet, there are others who strongly  feel that assessing content areas are somewhat shortchanged when assessment is limited to a letter or a numerical grade.

The future of pupil assessment  and pupil academic performance in our Jewish Day School and Yeshiva, especially in General Studies, will essentially follow the future general trend of grading in the American system. As the general trend changes, so will the trend in Jewish educational institutions……..again, especially in General Studies core subject areas.

One of the most frequently asked questions regarding our current system of student grading or assessment is what at the end of the day will our students will be able to explain in their own words and what have they learned conceptually as opposed to rote memory. Theoretically, a student with no understanding of the concept being taught can still answer a question correctly.

Unfortunately (subjective judgement) our current grading system focuses way too much on outcomes as opposed to focusing on higher order concepts/thinking or on what the student needs to complete in order to achieve their “goal of understanding.”

In light of these challenges, and others, the future grading and assessment protocols for our Jewish Day Schools and Yeshivot will focus on a hybrid  grading/assessment system – a confluence between actual numerical grading and metrics which measure concepts, understandings, and higher order thinking. These protocols will apply to both Judaic and General Studies. In fact, many Day Schools and Yeshivot already have this process built into the manner in which they teach talmud and mishna, Higher order thinking and logic is and will continue to be a sine qua non of academic scholarship in these institutions.

Finally, one of the major future challenges facing our schools will be the need to train faculty in how to create these grading and assessment protocols and to  determination how these metrics will be interpreted based upon quantitative as well as qualitative and anecdotal data.

This is where a variety of computer web-based record keeping and reporting will be essential.  To this end, in the future, a series of algorithmic programs will be created in order to help guide teachers and assist administrators interpret assessment results, and help interpret assessment results and outcomes.

As we begin to reimagine schools of the future, we will be challenged to understand, appreciate and celebrate the multidimensional ways in which our students think and conceptualize information, facts, inferences and concepts. Education will not longer myopically focus upon remembering facts, although the memorization of factual information will always remain an important functional challenge to teaching and learning.

By the year 2040, our Jewish Day Schools and Yeshivot  will undergo a massive overhaul in the manner in which student academic progress  is measured and assessed. Our challenge will therefore require and even demand  that we be receptive to these changes and exhibit  patience to ensure its long-term impact and stability.

Strategic Planning:

As we move into the future, one of the most valuable tools for creating effective and meaningful Day Schools will be their ability to engage in comprehensive strategic planning and resulting changes processes.

Strategic Planning, as we know, has become an indefensible planning process for helping guide schools plan for the future as well as how they can sustain that change process.

In order for our Jewish Day Schools and Yeshivot of the future to continue on this trajectory, communities will need to develop and maintain a relatively accurate sense regarding the school’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and barriers.  As such, Day School strategic planning will no longer be a one-off occurrence or activity, or only introduced/conducted during times of institutional uncertainty, but rather an integral part of a school’s operation and infrastructure. In other words, Strategic Planning must be “refreshed and realigned” every year.

In order for schools to keep track of the wide range of Strategic Planning pathways, schools of the future will be dependent upon a series of algorithms which will be automatically built into the school’s planning design and administrative operation. This process will help make mid-course infrastructure and programmatic changes and or corrections in direction as required –  due to changes in the school’s financial, demographic  and communal conditions. It will also help to realign expectations , goals and anticipated school outcomes.

It is obvious that in the future, these strategic planning processes will not take place in a  vacuum. It will require an initial review of school needs and resources as well as a series of data assumptions upon which these algorithms will be based.  Eventually, many of the social and educational planning process for our institutions will be housed in web-base AI and VR  centers and managed by schools independently as required. The advantages of these centers is that they will automatically adjust planning assumptions and expectations based upon school environmental changes – whether they be financial, personnel related, or demographic.

At the end of the day, each Jewish Day School and Yeshiva will be responsible for its own strategic plan and direction. It is hoped that these planning processes will ensure meaningful and effective planning processes and results.

School Governance:

One of the most important dimensions of an effective school is its ability, commitment and capacity to create and maintain high impact and performing Boards.

Board governance by definition refers to the framework that gives structure to a Board and how it operates. Board governance defines the roles and responsibilities of board members and executives.

Boards ensure that the school is truly working towards its mission and serving the members of the community. The role of the Board member is to serve as a overseer for the school.

The purpose of this brief section on governance is not intended to detail the attributes or characteristics of an effective Board or how to build an effective Board. The purpose is rather to describe what school boards will look like in the future.

It is essential that we accept the notion that school board effectiveness is a sine qua non for a day school’s effectiveness. As such, Day Schools and Yeshivot of the future will need to create and support a Board governance structure and culture which are broad-based and comprehensive and, one which provides the school with lay leadership direction and oversight, in coordination with Head of the School.

So, what will these School Boards of the future look like in 20 years?

First and foremost, in addition to maintaining high standards, model practice and operating principles, all members of the “Board of the future” will need to undergo extensive vetting. interviewing, and reference checks. These requirements will be in addition to their participation  in a readiness survey which would measure whether there is a good/appropriate fit between a prospective Board member and the Board and School.

When comparing these requirements with today’s Board recruitment realities, it may appear that these future requirements for volunteer leadership participation are a bit stringent. Having said that, it is important to note that the appointment of Board leadership to a Board must be viewed as an honor and privilege, not as an entitlement…..and that ensuring the best fit  for the Board, school and board member is essential and a top priority.

Equally important will be the manner in which Board members participate in their Board  induction and on-boarding process.

As envisioned, each member of the Board, immediately following their initial appointment to the Board, will be required to participate in a series of Board Orientation Seminars relating to best practices. In addition, each member will be asked to serve as a member of two working committees which will offer their own specific orientation sessions.

Finally, in addition to the creation of standardized  By-Laws, term limits should be set for not longer than three years. At the completion of each of the three years, each Board member will participate in a Board Effectiveness/Satisfaction Survey. This requirement will be in addition to participating in an Exit Survey which will be administered upon the completion of a Board member’s term of office.

As communities become more aware of the critical role and responsibility of the school Board, and its relationship to school impact and effectiveness, it will view Board recruitment, development and retention as a top communal priority.

Postscript:

As I conclude Part II of this BLOG, I am hopeful that the future of our Jewish Day Schools and Yeshivot will be blessed with the leadership and resources necessary to successfully move into the future.

Many of the ideas, thoughts and suggestions presented in this series may appear to be ambitious. As such, they were not intended to overreach, but rather to challenge the status  quo so that we can more fully dream, vision an reimagine what our Jewish Day Schools and Yeshivot can look like in the future.

One final note….

The one area of significant concern which I have not directly addressed in this BLOG is the challenge relating to Day School and Yeshiva affordability.

This monumental challenge was addressed briefly in my discussion relating to financial resource development. Nevertheless, it does require a fuller discussion and treatment as it represents one of the most critically important challenges currently facing our Day Schools and Yeshivot today and into the foreseeable future.

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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