One goal of all great schools is to establish a good working partnership with parents. Parents are not stockholders with voice and vote on administrative decisions, but they are “stakeholders.” Their large “stake” in the school is that it operates effectively so that their investment with their children and their tuition dollars is rewarded. In this sense, they are also customers or clients, as opposed to “friends” or “family members,” who on occasion expect accommodations from us that are not in either party’s best interest. The satisfaction of customers or clients is important for an operation to prosper.
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
Parents are the school’s primary clients—and often, the most difficult stakeholders to manage. Acquire wise guidance for engaging parents, turning them from clients to genuine partners in the work of the school and their children’s education. At the same time, learn tactics and strategies for working with “difficult” parents through effective policies and boundaries.
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The interactions between parents and schools occur in two locations: at school itself, where parents come into direct contact with school life, and at home, where children literally and figuratively transport school back to their families in their knapsacks. In the Spring 2008 HaYidion, I argued that day schools have in recent times taken on the roles traditionally played by synagogues in the lives of North American Jewish adults as Beit Knesset, Beit Midrash and Beit Tefillah; they have become places of meeting, study and spiritual inspiration, for adults.
We know what our parents think…they have no problem picking up the phone and letting me know just what’s on their mind.”
“We’ve surveyed parents before and got about 30-40% to reply.”
Parents of day school children are, as a rule, idealistic. That idealism shows up in the expectations parents have for their children’s school, which they want to be of the highest quality in both Jewish and general studies. And their idealism underlies their expectations that their own children will not only succeed but excel. And therein lies the root of many problems parents encounter both with the school and their own children.
This column features books, articles, and websites, recommended by our authors and people from the RAVSAK network, pertaining to the theme of the current issue of HaYidion for readers who want to investigate the topic in greater depth.
Arnee Winshall, the founding chair of JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School, and a nationally recognized leader in Jewish education, will assume the role of chair of the first RAVSAK Board of Directors at the upcoming annual meeting in January. Working with Executive Director Marc Kramer, Arnee will guide the transition from the original grassroots, Executive Committee structure made up solely of day school professionals to an international governing board of extraordinary lay and professional leadership committed to ensuring the future of RAVSAK.
Three wonderful weeks in Israel this summer reinforced why I love being in Jewish education. Walking the streets of Jerusalem, Haifa or Tel Aviv, sitting in cafes or hiking in the Golan bind us to our history and culture. Our school’s very special partnership with the Reali School in Haifa puts faces on the Israelis for all of us at Wornick; working with their teachers and administrators makes us realize how we share so many similar concerns. We also share a priority for what RAVSAK has long spoken of—amiyut: peoplehood.
The headline in the Forward reads: “The Jewish Mother Revisited: Goodbye, Mrs. Portnoy, Hello, Bad Mommy.” A forthcoming book is entitled Hell is Other Parents and Other Tales of Maternal Combustion. An article in the New Jersey Jewish Standard promotes “Helping Kids Thrive With the Coach Approach to Parenting.” On the parenting shelf of the public library sits Straight Talk About Your Child’s Mental Health: What to Do When Something Seems Wrong. Parenting in the Age of Anxiety is extremely stressful.
Listen into any teachers’ lounge conversation or administrative meeting, and it is only a matter of time before the talk veers towards an issue that is on the minds—and the nerves—of virtually every professional working in our schools today: the aggressive and disrespectful behavior of too many … parents. Whether referred to as aggressive, entitled, difficult, adversarial, helicoptering, hovering or high maintenance, such parents have shaken the traditional, deferential relationship between family and school unlike any school-related phenomenon we have seen in recent decades. As noted psychologist and independent school consultant Michael Thompson has stated, “Every teacher [and administrator] has been scarred by at least one threatening out-of-control parent.”
There is something to be said for the old adage that “there are no problem students, only problem parents.”
Early in my career I heard a story of a head of school who sent his children to a different school in town so that the challenges of working as a professional and being a parent would never have to become an issue. In my case it was for precisely the opposite reason that I decided to enter the field of Jewish education… I wanted specifically to be the head of school for my own children’s Jewish community day school experience!
Last year, the 235-student Hebrew Academy of Morris County (HAMC) in Randolph, New Jersey, decided to take part in the Butterfly Project, launched by the San Diego Jewish Academy with the goal of creating 1.5 million butterflies in memory of all the children who died in the Holocaust. Naomi Bacharach, director of marketing and development at the school, and other administrators did not want students to work on their art projects in a vacuum—they knew the project would have more meaning if they invited grandparents to take part as well, painting side-by-side with the children and sharing their families’ histories.
I think that all of us who work with parents know that since parents are getting more and more used to being approached about fundraising and are more and more involved in their child’s college experience, there is great potential to engage them as donors.
Should parents be board members? Pros: Since parents along with their children are the major consumers of Jewish Day schools, it is vital to the school to listen to their voices. Aside from fulfilling their role as parents, they possess many talents, interests and skills that are valuable assets and can be utilized by the board to fulfill its vision and strategic plan. Building a board is more than simply filling slots. It is about being strategic in the way a board looks at its composition and its operations. A board, under the guidance of its committee of trustees, should continually profile and evaluate its membership. Utilizing this information the board can identify, cultivate, and recruit new members who are well suited to assist the board in meeting its action plan needs. If potential new members are also parents, there could be an additional benefit. Parents have chosen the school as the best place to educate their children. Current parents who are pleased with the school approach their board responsibilities with a unique passion.
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