HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

Dear Cooki

by Cooki Levy Issue: Bold Ideas

While I like to think of myself as a leader who welcomes new ideas and innovation and encourages significant input from my board members, parents and staff, I find myself in the position of being lobbied heavily by a large group of parents to launch a program about which I have serious doubts. They have gone so far as to raise money specifically for this project.

How do I stop this initiative which my administrative team feels strongly is NOT right for our school without disappointing and alienating the parent body and without seeming to be averse to outside suggestions or changes?

School leaders often walk the very fine line of genuinely wanting outside suggestions and yet having to protect and preserve the mission of the school and act in the best interests of the students. When new, unexpected ideas cross your desk, you should be as open as possible, willing to listen carefully and without preconceived opinions even if the proposal seems way out in left field. But sometimes even the most open-minded and generous HOS just cannot agree to institute a given proposal. So what to do when an untenable request (even demand!) comes to your desk?

  1. Have a clear process in place for the discussion and acceptance/rejection of innovative projects and programs. All stakeholders should have to answer the same questions:

What is the goal of the project?

What identified need does it address? Is this how we should be using our resources? What, if anything, are we giving up?

Is the project sustainable after the funds raised to support it are exhausted? What is the alignment between this project and our school’s mission, vision and philosophy?

Is this program already offered in another community institution (the synagogue, the JCC)?

  1. Never let the discussion be about the person who is making the recommendation. It’s about the project and the school, nothing else.
  2. Clear communication is paramount. Include the person(s) who are advocating for a certain program in at least part of the discussion about it. Listen well to their views and ask good questions that may help them see for themselves why it is not viable. Always be respectful: the idea is not a bad one just because it may not be workable at this time.
  3. If you think the project could work in the future, say so, and list the things that have to happen before it can be considered. If you do not have to say an outright “no,” then don’t. But if you firmly believe this will never happen, you must say so. Assuming that your board chair is not the person pushing this program, enlist him or her as your ally. Help him/her to understand clearly what the issues are and to actively support you in your decision. If you can get the rest of the board to help in the same way, even better.

As school leaders, we know that there are times when we must make difficult decisions and live with the criticism that follows. This will undoubtedly be the case here, but as in so many other areas, a clear and consistent message will help generate understanding and acceptance by the community at large. Will everyone be convinced? Certainly not. But making the right decisions for our school is our primary responsibility nonetheless.♦

Cooki Levy is the director of RAVSAK’s Head of School Mentoring Project. Previously, she served as the longtime head of the Akiva School in Westmount, Quebec. Dear Cooki accepts questions from all school stakeholders. To submit a question, write to hayidion@ravsak.org, with “Dear Cooki” in the subject line.

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Bold Ideas

Dream big! Sample a mix of current programs and blueprints for new initiatives, all dreamed up to be “game-changers” that can reconfigure day school education and possibly exponentially increase the impact of day schools on students and the Jewish community.

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