Spotlight on… Reshet Prizmah
Jewish day schools that reside in small communities face challenges not often shared by larger schools in larger communities. Among these challenges are isolation from other Jewish day schools, small school populations, and limited resources, both financial and human. A group of six heads of school from small communities—Debra Abolafia from the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School (Birmingham, AL), Sam Chestnut from The Lippman School (Akron, OH), Beth Cohen from Friedel Jewish Academy (Omaha, NE), Tracie Glazer from Hillel Community Day School (Rochester, NY), Allison Oakes from Lerner School (Durham, NC), and Melanie Waynik from Ezra Academy (Woodbridge, CT)—are collaborating with Lynn Raviv on the development of a 6th through 8th grade curriculum that seeks to address these issues and serve as a model for future collaboration and resource sharing among small communities around North America. Lynn has worked with all of these heads previously as a coach in Prizmah’s Head of School Professional Excellence Program, which provides intensive support to heads early in their tenure at a day school.
Engaging in the concept of “social justice” and its enactment through day schools’ commitment to Jewish values and identity, each school is asking their students to examine the links between Jewish, Jewish American and Civil Rights experiences. Teachers and students from participating schools will work collaboratively and interactively throughout the school year, with a culminating shared civil rights, Jewish identity-based, authentic educational trip at the end of each school year: Birmingham and Selma in 6th grade, Washington, DC in 7th grade, and Israel in 8th grade.
The group is currently in the planning and design stage of their three-year initiative. Through multiple virtual meetings, independent and collaborative work, this group has found that the emerging model allows for robust, effective and economically efficient professional development for all participating schools in the areas of best practice-based curricula creation, Design Thinking, and the authentic integration of secular American and Judaic studies at the middle school level. The design of this pilot initiative includes the ability to scale up in order to include new cohort groups, schools and disciplines, and even possibly new grade levels. The group is currently seeking funding to support the initiative and is looking forward to sharing their learning and achievements with the field.
These heads of school understand that working in collaboration and bringing together teacher leaders from their schools promises two outcomes with exceptional potential. First, it will provide their faculty and students with a precious opportunity to build community and a shared sense of purpose among the six schools. The impact on students' social learning leads the work, as students in schools from smaller communities often do not have a larger Jewish network in which to build ideas, knowledge and shared experiences. The program increases the number of students in a “classroom,” creates a community of practice for teachers, provides a collegial lifeline for heads of schools, and addresses the unique situations of underserved Jewish day schools in small communities.
Second, the program is meant to serve as a model for collaborative thinking and joint educational initiatives for schools in North America to follow. By connecting values and learning to action through expanded social circles for students, strong collaborative professional development for faculty, and cutting edge curricular offerings, this program uses innovation to address their schools’ specific issues surrounding recruitment and retention. Following this model of collaboration, additional leaders can address their own school’s particular needs with the support and partnership of colleagues. The leaders of this initiative plan to share their process and document learning through school-based documentation, Hebrew and English newsletters, articles to the field, and conference presentations.
As Allison Oakes explains,”This program is a way to expand our community beyond our geographical location. Though we have few professional and financial resources at our disposal, by coming together our students will have the opportunity to understand the global reach of the Jewish community.” Melanie Waynik agrees and adds that "different community perspectives and Jewish lenses make the collaboration that much more exciting and broadening." In addition, she describes the excitement in adding new dimensions to her school’s learning. “Collaborations like this one will help my school leaders to think outside the box in other areas and encourage us to take risks and be courageous educators.”
Prizmah is deeply committed to the power of the Jewish day school network, supporting schools that come together to invest in strong educational experiences for their communities. Through Reshet Prizmah, our networking portfolio supervised by Network Weaver Debra Shaffer Seeman, we connect both professional and lay members of day school communities one to another for collaboration, support, guidance, experimentation, and plenty of laughs along the way. The initiative featured here exemplifies the potential of day school leaders to create a transformative educational experience by leveraging the power of their networks.
At Prizmah, we believe that collaboration and networking among schools are some of the most powerful opportunities afforded to school leaders. Prizmah hopes to support and encourage such efforts going forward. School leaders interested in laying the groundwork for similar types of collaborative initiatives are invited to contact Debra Shaffer Seeman at firstname.lastname@example.org.