For decades, studies have shown the critical role educational leaders play in the instruction and learning going on in their schools. In both public and private education, leaders establish the culture that promotes every aspect of the learning enterprise: learning goals and curriculum, student engagement and achievement, teacher development and supervision, and ongoing learning and improvement for everyone in the school. For many, the head of school is the CCO – “Chief Culture Officer” – setting the tone and tenor of the school and everyone involved in it, from students and staff to parents and board members.
When it comes to Jewish day schools, leaders have the additional responsibility of implementing their school’s Jewish mission, seeing to it that students develop robust and enduring Jewish identities, which includes both content knowledge and affective dispositions relating to Jewish texts, religious life and practices, Hebrew language, and the larger Jewish people with its center in Israel.
Investing in day school leadership has been a priority of the AVI CHAI Foundation since it turned its focus on Jewish education in 1994. From early on, the Foundation’s goals were to increase the pipeline of leaders and to develop and strengthen the skills and tools of leaders currently serving in day schools. Featured in this newsletter are our two earliest investments in principal training – sponsoring day school leaders to participate in weeklong summer institutes led by Harvard University’s Principals’ Center, and preparing a new cadre of day school leaders through the intensive, immersive experience of the Day School Leadership Training Institute at the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at JTS. Applications for Harvard will become available in February.
It is no secret that since AVI CHAI began developing programming in this area, the job of the day school leader has become much more complex – and stressful. Enrollment and fundraising are relentless challenges constantly on the minds of day school leaders, and maintaining good relations with board members and within the community demand more and more of a leader’s attention. Over the last two decades, AVI CHAI has sought to train and buttress leaders with a variety of other, more focused programs, reflecting the changing landscape and contours of day school education in 21st century North America.
While the Foundation’s philanthropic portfolio in leadership support has broadened, its fundamental commitment has remained constant – to prepare and develop a cadre of skilled, dedicated leaders who will lead strong day schools in the education and nurturing of Jewish students committed to their Judaism, to their heritage and to the Jewish People.
Rabbi Dr. Michael Berger
Program Officer, The AVI CHAI Foundation