When Prizmah’s founders considered names for our now year-old start-up, they made sure, like any parent, that the name would embody characteristics they would like to see the organization grow to represent. A prism has many attributes, and the name lends itself to metaphors about vision, light, and diversity of color, among others. We mostly think about prisms as a tool for seeing “through” in order to gain a different perspective. I would like now, on this occasion of Prizmah’s first birthday, to think about what we can learn by figuratively turning the prism around, to reflecting back and seeing “within.”
Summer is no doubt a time of reflection for many of us. With schools out of session and children engaged in all sorts of activities, with longer evenings and perhaps a less frenetic schedule, even some time away from work, it is a natural moment to take stock.
Prizmah marks its first birthday with great appreciation to each person–professional and lay leaders, teachers, students and families–who dedicate so much to making day schools a success. You who face challenges every day remain dedicated to offering exceptional Jewish educational opportunities for each child. It has been our privilege to work with so many day schools in Prizmah’s inaugural year, to learn about your needs, to deliver programs and services tailored to address key areas, to respond as new circumstances emerge, and to begin to develop plans for a vibrant future for Jewish day schools. Your contributions point to remarkable accomplishments:
- Over 1000 attendees were at the Prizmah Conference from 215 schools in 86 cities, including lay leaders and representatives from Federations and Boards of Jewish Education across North America.
- 150 school leaders, day school donors, and key stakeholders at 50 schools in 16 cities met with us as part of “listening tours” I undertook with Prizmah Board Chair Kathy Manning, in addition to many others in other meetings and consultations.
- 21 Reshet Prizmah networking groups launched, building on the strong foundations established by our founding organizations.
- 47 graduates completed our leadership programs (YOU Lead and Head of School Professional Excellence Project), ready for the next stage in their leadership journeys.
- 223 participants from 111 schools joined webinars in response to a spate of bomb threats against JCCs and day schools.
- $104 million has been raised by schools in Prizmah’s endowment-building Generations initiative, representing $5,170 per student, exceeding program goals of $2000 per student.
When I review this and other data alongside our learning in my first year “on the job,” a few key lessons emerge:
- What is happening in Jewish day schools across North America is simply amazing. The vibrancy and passion of teachers, administrators, and board members is ensuring that children are learning not only high-level content but also deep meaning and relevance. The value of Jewish day school education has perhaps never been stronger.
- Jewish day schools can help each other to thrive if Prizmah is successful in fostering the best possible peer learning and networking. Whether through a Head of School Reshet on Hebrew language learning or on a webinar about emergency responsiveness, the day school field literally bursts with people seeking and eager to provide advice and support to their peers.
- There is no avoiding the very real challenges schools face in recruiting and retaining families, staff, and donors. This is even more pronounced in smaller communities where population shifts make growth and stability more difficult. School leaders are demonstrating serious commitment to sharpening their edge and constantly improving how they serve their students, whether through enhancing Jewish studies, adopting best practices in STEAM education, or implementing thoughtful parent outreach. And we have seen many examples of schools working tirelessly to ensure that they are able to offer the best possible financial support to families requiring assistance.
- Time and again, I have witnessed how much shared learning surfaces when we give people from diverse denominations and backgrounds the opportunity to sit, learn, and help one another. At the same time, we know that there are unique needs within the various denominations. Our Reform, Schechter, Community, and Yeshiva day school Advocates are making it a priority for the coming year to deepen the way they support their respective schools.
- Working within a kind of educational “ecosystem,” with federation and central agency leaders, is a tremendous driver for coalescing vision and strengthening day school support across a community.
The achievements in schools over the past year and the accompanying learning have laid a solid foundation for next year and beyond. At Prizmah, your success is our primary goal, and you have set a high bar from which we aim to grow. As our name implies, Prizmah is really a mechanism for capturing and promoting the many lights and colors of the day school field–the schools, the leaders, the teachers and the students. We are a prism that reflects the bright and diverse light of hundreds of schools and thousands of school and community leaders. Your continued energy and creativity challenge us to be of good, relevant service to the field in the three core areas where we can be most effective: enhancing educational excellence, supporting schools’ financial vitality, and building support for Jewish day schools.
We invite you to visit Prizmah.org for a more comprehensive look at the programs and services available in 2017-2018, such as our Leadership Academy which encompasses work with leaders at all levels in schools, and our menu of coaching and training opportunities for school professionals and boards. Please stay in touch with us and reach out for more information. Thanks to the hard work and optimism of our dedicated board and talented staff team, we have formed a strong and unified team this year. Together, we will build on our efforts to serve and strengthen our Jewish day schools, making them first-rate destinations of choice for Jewish families.