The following is a guest post by Ariella Siegel, Partnership/Admissions Coordinator at Temple Sinai/Jacobson Sinai Academy in North Miami Beach, Florida.
I was not born a Jewish day school admission professional.
Before taking my job, the only experience I had of Jewish day school was, well, attending JDS as a child.
I began my current job in the middle of a transition. An interim head of school had been there for three months, making drastic changes that staff and faculty could barely keep up with. She was a real powerhouse of a woman, and I took my cues from her, valuing the direction and mentorship I received. But she was a busy lady, and I was often left on my own. So I found resources. The PEJE community, including the admission Community of Practice, was and has been extremely helpful. I also met and established relationships with the other admission directors to Jewish day schools in the area. I toured other schools, reached out to people in the community, spoke with staff, did research online, consulted with as many people as possible. Yet when I got back to my office, when it was just me and a big pile of work that I didn’t know how to do, I felt nervous, unsure, and very alone. How would I get through this? How could I achieve the high expectations I set for myself? How could I keep from messing up, doing wrong, and making mistakes, with so many balls in the air and unknowns abound?
I actually did well throughout the year. I eased up on myself. Certainly my supervisors were kind and understanding of the learning curve. I implemented new, short-term processes. I revamped old processes. I made sure students were enrolled properly, parents were billed correctly, and that people understood we were one school in three buildings. I learned to give tours, to use our software system, to knowledgably answer questions about the school.
But I still felt something was missing. And then we got a new head of school.
She is a wonderful, remarkably intelligent and capable woman, who arrived in a whirl of positive energy and can-do attitude. And she was adamant that staff go to professional development conferences, myself included.
So I recently attended a three-day ISM (Independent School Management) conference—thanks to both my administrator’s belief in PD and a generous PEJE subsidy—and while there I focused entirely on the Admission 101 sessions. What I took away from this extraordinary experience was this: the idea that I am not alone.
I am not alone in the constant reassessment of systems, in procedural difficulties, in questions, doubts, fears, and concerns. The sense of understanding and support I felt from these other attendees was amazing. I found the value I sought in seeing how other independent schools function, how my challenges were the same (or different) from others, and how we’re all doing our best to be our best, to help our schools grow and thrive and continually improve.
How will I apply this to my day school work? I will be easier on myself, I will be better prepared for what lies ahead, I will have an arsenal from which to pull in order to do my job to the best of my ability, and another community to tap into to help make that happen. I would strongly encourage everyone, not just admissions directors, to attend conferences such as these. The knowledge, support, and confidence I gained there is priceless, and the sense of community is one I’ll carry with me throughout the year.